A Twist of Enjambment

I love poetry. But when I learned poetry appreciation in elementary and secondary school, emphasis was placed on meter, and literary devices, and figures of speech.

It wasn’t until my first year of university that I formally learned to read poetry for meaning and emotion.

I think this exploration of poetry should be reversed or at least mixed, so as to maximize the learning of both the content or heart of poems and the tools poets use to create them. Poetry and poetry education would be so much more fun if we did this.

The Joy of Word Play

The ultimate writer’s and poet’s dream is to write a description or phrase so vivid that the writing ceases to exist and the reader or listener either falls into the description or phrase or jumps out of it, then utters, if even in his or her mind, an awed “wow”.

I have been trying to identify one such turn of words for close to 40 years.

It is a beautiful enjambment, with a bit of something else, found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Sea Bell, a poem worthy of both mechanical and cognitive appreciation for its elegance, emotional impact and message.

“Spiders were weaving, in the mould heaving /
puffballs loomed about my knees”

Tolkien, The Sea Bell

What is That? — A Mystery

Poetry as you know typically contains verses or lines. Each line contains a thought — a creature of meaning, or portion of a thought.

When a verse and a thought finish in the same place, we say they end stop. The thought stops or completes at the end of the line. But, often, the thought continues or strides over into the next verse. The first verse is then a leg or jambe of the thought and the continuation of the thought is called enjambment (striding over).

That is what happens in the couplet quoted above from The Sea Bell. “Spiders were weaving, in the mould heaving puffballs” is one thought enjambed across two verses.

But, “puffballs” is also the start of another thought: “puffballs loomed about my knees“. It serves double duty. This is a neat literary device — one of those “wow” devices, and there is no name for it.

Another Example

Recently, I found another example, while continuing to research the example from The Sea Bell.

“cuckoos are here with joyous /
shades of dark green arise!”

LiteraryDevices Editors, Short Examples of Enjambment, #5

“Shades” tethers “cuckoos are here with joyous shades” and “shades of dark green arise!” together.

Additional Devices

As English Tutor points out, “puffballs” is also a metaphor for mould or balls of spider web, and “shades is a personification as they have been shown as human beings arising to enjoy the voice of cuckoos”.

These added figures of speech colour the double duty “puffballs” and “shades” play in their respected poems. But they also confound the double duty.

Enjambment and Something Else

Enjambment is the continuation (literally, the striding over) of a thought over the end of a poetic line. It’s flip is the end stop, in which the thought ends with the line. Carrying a thought over two or more lines is common practice, perhaps more so than the end stop. But then there is the phrase that simultaneously ends one thought and begins another, often as part of an enjambment. The phrase knots the two thoughts together, creating a surprising and gratifying word play.

As nearly 40 years of wondering, research, experts, forums and just plain lurking have failed to name the device of “puffballs” and “shades”, I’ve come to the realization that any name may be so rare or non-existent that people just don’t know what it is.

So, I figured, in the spirit of writing what you want to read, that I should generate a name for this device myself.

I propose to call this special form of enjambment “within two thoughts” (intra duas cogitationes) or “knot of two thoughts” (nodum duo cogitationes).

Which do you like? Or do you have another name for this flecto enjambment (“twist of enjambment”)? Are there other unrecognized literary devices or figures of speech that you think deserve affirmation?

The Edge of Magic: Story Building, World Building

Late January, 1996. A fire broke out in my apartment building, damaging the hall below the one I lived on and the apartment next to mine. I was absent, fortunately.

That weekend I attended a short fiction writing workshop led by Candas Jane Dorsey at the Black Cat Guest Ranch in the Alberta Foothills.

I was working on The Lost Room, Version 1, Chapter 12. Candas was revising her first book, Black Wine. Plenty of writers from her writing circle attended as did others from around central Alberta, including Amber Hayward, owner of the ranch.

Candas had just decided to reorganize Black Wine into two converging timelines, since a linear telling of the story did not engross readers. With the new organization, as you read Black Wine you follow what seems like two stories. But then you get the feeling that the events in the stories could not be synchronous. They finally converge and become one story that concludes Black Wine. (The point of convergence is also in the first chapter.)

When I returned home at the end of the weekend, I found my apartment building pitch dark, hauntingly empty and oppressively acoustic. I did not step in beyond the threshold, which was a fateful decision. The floor just beyond my apartment door was gutted from wall to wall; the drop to the hall below in the echoing blackness would have been agonizing. I ended up spending a few nights at my cousins’.

Challenges to Story Building: Throughlines vs Timelines

Stories unfold in three dimensions: spatial, temporal and structural. These effect how a story is told: events occur in the same place or in different places; synchronously, sequentially or discontinuously; and in a certain told order and layout. The nature of the story changes as these dimensions change and interact.

The Edge of Magic, my current short-story compendium, consists of three cycles: the Keeper of Dreams Cycle, Trapper Cycle and Possession Cycle, and a few chapters connecting The Edge of Magic to The Lost Room. These cycles follow different, albeit interacting, throughlines, fundamentally making them separate story arcs, like the two stories in Candas’s Black Wine. Yet each feeds and is fed by the others.

Which brings me to The Witcher, by Andrzej Sapkowski, which I just started watching on Netflix. This series follows three characters — Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer — as they interact with a large cast of supporting and recurring personae.

I just watched episodes 4 and 5, and abruptly realized that the three characters are not coursing different stories at the same time, but are in fact traversing three converging timelines, as Black Wine traverses two. The throughlines of Yennefer and Geralt meet in episode 5, while the actions of Geralt in episode 4 produces the storyline of Ciri, as revealed in episode 5. (This was the source of my realization. Prior to this episode, I believed the three throughlines were synchronous.)

The Edge of Magic was designed this way from the start. The Possession Cycle always was the last cycle and Keeper of Dreams and Trapper cycles mixed, with the Keeper of Dreams Cycle spanning more time than the Trapper Cycle.

The fringe between a novel that progresses serially through three timelines and one that metes out the timelines in parallel until they converge is perilous. Either novel could fascinate readers, leave them indifferent or repel them.

In the case of Black Wine and The Witcher, the parallel development of each of the timelines worked great.

Since The Edge of Magic naturally evolves along three converging story- or throughlines, with a chronological order to them, with the push of Candas’s Black Wine and Sapkowski’s The Witcher, I organized the throughlines of The Edge of Magic in parallel. I am interested to see how the experiment plays out.

One of the exhilarating acts of writing is world building. This is particularly true when the world matures as the story evolves.

What do you think? Do you like stories like Black Wine and The Witcher that play with story structure to tell a possibly more engrossing story?


Challenges to World Building: Light and Gravity

A major difference between writing a novel with dependent chapters and a compendium of short stories that contribute to the same overall story is that each story stands alone in the compendium while simultaneously kneading and building the story and world all the stories are set in. At the same time, building the world influences the story and the individual stories. It adds to a lot of edits, revisions and rewrites, which I thrive in.

Tals, the setting of The Edge of Magic, has always been set in a small pocket universe (it is the pocket universe), since the pocket universe has always been destined to merge with Stiefrasta in the Stiefrastan stories, including The Lost Room. The universe of Tals is the Gift, or Bridge Hub, of Stiefrasta.

This brings a few challenges to world building for The Edge of Magic. Since the pocket universe of Tals drifts through space-time in the Split Universe, it has no consistent external interaction with the outside universe. So how does it experience night and day? And why does it have a ground and a sky when it does not experience asymmetric (up-down) gravity consistently?

As you can imagine, this influences all the stories in The Edge of Magic. I have been building the world of Tals, while writing the stories of The Edge of Magic, for a couple of years now, but it was not until recently that I started exploring questions like these. Sure, I have been using skinlight to allow for daylight, and lack of skinlight to account for night. But really this is an avoidance solution that allows me to write stories while I continue to create Tals.

I have answers, but I am going to keep them secret so you can discover them as you read the compendium. I still have to refine why ground and sky exist — the solution I have now is weak. I think you will be pleased with my solutions when I am done.


Do you have any questions about Tals, The Edge of Magic and my story and world building?

I plan to keep you apprised as I develop the compendium, without of course spoiling the fun of the overall story and its component shorts, though a few teases, such as those I embedded in this post, are not out of the question.

I wish you all a great new year — new decade. May both be better than the mess we have been going through recently.

Keep writing,

Motifs, Tale Types, Mythemes and More

How does your story work? Can you take elements from it to transform other stories? Can you mix elements to create new immersive experiences?

I love breaking down stories and poems to see how they tick. This probably stems from my elementary and secondary schooling, but a big motivator for me is jubilant curiosity.

Stories have certain tricks and tools they use to help them flow.

Mechanical elements of story and poem: Setting, alliteration, character and more

Mechanically, they have beginnings, middles and ends; rising and falling action; climaxes; conflict; atmosphere; setting; denouements or fifth acts; conflict or struggle; and characters. These instrumental elements parallel the mechanical devices of poems, like lines and stanzas; rhythm and rhyme; and literary devices and figures of speech.

The good folks at Literary Devices unpack these mechanical devices into literary elements (theme, character) and literary techniques (alliteration, personification), which they rightfully apply to prose and poetry.

But there is more to poem and story than mechanical elements. In fact, without meaning there is no story.

Cognitive and emotive components of story and poem: Motif, tale type, function and mytheme

The heart of poetry and story is more intuitive than their mechanics. A poem does not have to have any literary techniques and it can still be a poem. So also can a story.

Every idea, every word has story in it; it would lack meaning and influence otherwise. Stories are built from tinier stories, poems from underlying poetry. It is more than subtext. It is structure and motif and interpretation.

These cognitive and emotive components bring affect and meaning to poem and story. Unpacking story in search of meaning reveals these components.

But what are they?

Unpacking stories by extracting story components

There are two types of cognitive story components: brick-like story chunks and skeleton-like story structures. The story chunks are pieces of story or groups of these pieces that serve as building blocks found across stories. Motifs and tale types represent this type of component.


A motif is a packet of distinct narrative, a persistent, indivisible and defining detail of story, more than an idea, but less than a complete story in itself. One might equate it to a prompt, a prod that arouses imagination. A motif is specific enough to direct that imagination yet not detailed enough to close a story. Because motif is a component of story, narrative is a better descriptor of it than prompt.

Motifs are units of story meaning. Combining motifs builds story; you can unpack stories into their component motifs. These motifs are different from story elements in that they carry narrative or meaning in them. They also exist across many stories, building stories both similar to and very different from each other.

Stith Thompson studied motifs in folk literature, finding that stories with common and related motifs frequently were related to each other, often being versions of common ancestral stories. Story migration is then possible to map by tracing motif correlations and mutations.

Tale Type

When motifs combine and form self-sufficient groupings or plots that occur in several stories, the stories with these common plots or motif groupings are called tale types. Like motifs, tale types suggest story trees, indicating versions and mutations of story, and their localizations and migrations.

Tracing story origins and evolution through their motifs and tale types can be very entertaining and informative. Many people make careers out of studying these story relationships. Others, like me, use them to unpack stories and inspire new ones.

Unpacking stories by analyzing shared structure and analogies

Motifs and tale types analyze story through its narrative components. They illuminate story relationships and cultural exchange as well as story evolution and origin.

Another way to interpret stories is through their structure. Structure is more closely related to the literary elements than motifs and tale types.

Propp Function

Propp functions are components of plot. They are unpacked by extracting the details of story elements, particularly plot, then analyzing the relationships and order of these details. Propp functions are common, ordered kernels of plot. They are like landmarks most stories pass through.

There are many analyzes of story plot similar to Propp functions, some longer, many shorter. They are all related to what Joseph Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey and what Claude Bremond and Elaine Cancalon dub the network of possibilities (initial situation, actualized event, non-actualized alternative events). What these analyses do is map out how a story unfolds. They unpack the elements of story.


Mythemes are contextual analogies that expose subjective culture-specific meanings. Lévi-Strauss argued that story meaning is culturally subjective: what you read is all in your interpretation. Stories, particularly folktales, enable us to make sense of our world by setting up parallel, yet unreal, situations in the stories. The situations in the stories are usually comparisons, and so are the situations in our world. The function of stories then is to create analogies drawn from the stories to our understanding of our world. These analogies Lévi-Strauss calls mythemes.

Mythemes are structural and subjective components of story. They do not make sense across stories nor across cultures, so they differ from motifs and tale types. They are contextual and dependent on interpretation — you and I read different stories in the same text. Yet, like motifs and tale types, they are built into many stories. They also do not follow an ordered pattern of elemental components, making them different from Propp functions and their ilk. In fact, Lévi-Strauss rejected plot as an important element of story.

To Lévi-Strauss, story models the world to reveal everyday enigmas. Mythemes provide meaning in the story that translates to our experiences and world. In this sense they are cognitive components of story, like motifs, tale types and Propp functions.

A revised curation of motifs, tale types, functions and mythemes

A few years back I curated the 1958 Stith Thompson Motif Index for private research and reference. I used a Russian reference as a base. I since added research into AT and ATU Tale Types, Propp Functions and Lévi-Strauss Mythemes to create a thorough, though hardly exhaustive, study of story, particularly folk literature.

I recently edited and updated that reference and made it responsive to different screen sizes for others to enjoy and use as a resource.

My mirror is now easier to navigate with executive indices and links to the longer, unabridged list. I also cite a few examples of motifs in tales. I also link to sites that hold many examples of AT and ATU tale types, including the Ashliman Collection and the Multilingual Folk Tale Database and to sites that demonstrate Propp function analysis.

My analyses of Propp Functions and Lévi-Strauss Mythemes are more original syntheses of the literature and less curation of others’ work, like my motif and tale type sections.

The reason we study stories and poems

Story comprehension or appreciation is often the least favourite component of language studies. It is easy to understand that readers and listeners would rather listen to and read a story than analyze it. Yet there is a joy in picking the mechanics and concepts of a story out. And there is a function for a writer and teller to do so. Deeper meaning is revealed and more elegant story creation is possible through story unpacking.

From a teaching perspective, I believe the best way to appreciate and comprehend story is by writing story. Place the appreciation in context, give it a purpose and make learning it fun. And don’t forget to include analysis of the cognitive components of story. For writers, story appreciation or comprehension models examples of story creation. And for readers, it can reveal deeper details.

I’d appreciate your thoughts on my updated reference — particularly if you find errors — and your interpretation of motifs, tale types, Propp functions and mythemes.

Book Creation: The power of role playing to engage, market and connect

When I was a kid, up to age 16, I loved to play, master and create Dungeons & Dragons games. The thrill of these games for me lay in the act of creating stories, places and characters while designing and playing the games.

This thrill complemented and fed my drive to write, which by this time was already well developed. I was in fact outlining my second book, Oenn, and just conceiving The Lost Room during this time.

My association with Dungeons & Dragons was my first taste of publicly sharing my writing, an early form of a writing group for me. The interest of others for more of my games made me quite prolific in game creation and writing, and is a testament to the potential of good writing groups.

Role playing games then, though limited in their storytelling depth and scope, bestowed a special boost to my writing development.

Around this time, I discovered a single choose-your-adventure book, The Forest of Doom by Ian Livingstone. It was a good book for its purpose (I take it out and replay it occasionally), but it lacked the substance of comprehensive story and the collaborative socialization of multi-player Dungeons & Dragons.

The idea of choose-your-adventure books intrigued me. I still think about their potential, but also their shortfalls. For me, a growing writer bursting with story, writing full stories and poems dominated my attention and practice. Choose-your-adventures and even Dungeons & Dragons took a back seat, present but neither driving nor co-piloting.

The Book of Briars

Jump ahead a few decades to a couple of weeks ago when I read a guest post, How to Build a Readership & Sales — Before Publishing Your First Book, written by C. J. Bernstein in Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 Readers blog.

I highly recommend you read this article. Nick says it himself, “sometimes, a story lands in my inbox that I just can’t ignore”.

Let me summarize for you. C. J. wrote a book. He had no fans, no followers. No one knew his book existed. And he bet his family’s financial stability on the chance he could sell it and future books connected to it. Sounds familiar?

With all the unsure, and let’s face it low yielding, ways of promoting a book and building a platform out there, he wanted to find a way to engage fans who craved The Book of Briars (his book) and writing, something that would really involve them.

So, he wrote a choose-your-adventure prequel to his book and world. Then a choose-your-character prequel to that to immerse his potential readers into his story world. And he advertised that, once, in Facebook. (His guest post in Nick’s blog serves as more advertising, as intentionally does this post.)

His marketing went viral. Strangers flocked to his choose-your-adventures and formed a society, the Mountaineers. C. J. not only grew a following but a lively fan base, not just people craving his work, but people already enjoying it and wanting more.

Hmm. Did I mention the interest of others in my Dungeons & Dragons modules? I know how C. J. is feeling and expect great writing from him.

Read C. J.’s guest post on Nick’s blog. Not only does it describe how C. J. came to market his book with choose-your-adventures, but it also describes the awesome concept behind The Book of Briars. And while you’re at it, enter C.J.’s Magiq world.

The Edge of Magic

As you may recall, I am writing a compendium of independent, contemporary, magic realism shorts, tentatively The Edge of Magic, that have been organized into a story world through a common world map, connected elements and a sweeping underlying story.

The underlying story is wrapped into cycles: the Possession Cycle, Keeper of Dreams Cycle, Trapper Cycle and Lost Room Cycle. Each cycle contains a number of stories.

(And for those of you who have been with me for a while, the Lost Room Cycle does indeed connect The Edge of Magic with my Stiefrasta stories. You might consider The Edge of Magic a coquel to the Stiefrasta world. It has in fact a specific and vital niche, a tangent point, in Stiefrasta.)

I have outlined and written several origin and connecting tales that bind the complete independent fictions of The Edge of Magic together into the underlying story. These tales bring unity and continuity to the compendium and the world. They also, however, fit tightly together, making them less stand-alone stories and more chapters. This has the adverse effect of featuring the independent fictions like out-of-place sore thumbs, even though the book is designed around them — they are its purpose.

To rephrase, the underlying story, which I meant to keep subtle, threatens to overwhelm the star fiction shorts.

Enter choose-your-adventure stories.

First, yes, I think I would enjoy marketing The Edge of Magic with a choose-your-adventure exploration of Tals, the world of The Edge of Magic. That would be exciting.

But, the concept of choose-your-adventures has potential in The Edge of Magic itself, as links and conveyors between the independent stories.

Grouping the stories in a cycle into a self-contained adventure that in turn is interconnected with other adventures so that all cycles and all stories are visited, though in any order, can bring structure to the compendium and underlying story. This would emulate Bateman’s dynamic object-orientated narrative structure with the stories serving as nodes.

I might reverse the role of adventures and stories, where adventures might become nodes (gates) in the compendium, rather than the stories being nodes (narratives) in an adventure.

Either structure would make The Edge of Magic a hybrid adventure-compendium.

Now, I don’t think I will do this exactly. There would be problems with those wanting to play the adventure stalling on the stories and with those wanting to read the stories having to endure the adventure. As I mentioned above, and as confirmed by the resources I provide below, choose-your-adventures are great for reader engagement and immersion, but are limited as media of alluring story.

The choose-your-adventure stories do give me an out from the interdependence of the origin and connector stories of The Edge of Magic. Even if I do not include choose-your-adventures in the book, just having the possibility of them allows me to shift the connectivity of the origin and connecting stories to the adventures, enabling the origin and connecting stories to stand alone, independent from each other and free to be written in a variety of styles and scopes.

I like this idea.

A Pique (Pun)

As a gift for reading this far into this post, I offer a short excerpt from one of my Edge of Magic stories, The Wicked Slaver. This is one of the origin stories for the book. The excerpt comes from page four of this story.

A deafening drip shattered Ceap’s thoughts. The drip chimed around the forest cavern, reverberating in the darkness and back to him. Ceap stiffened. His skin crawled. The drip fell into the dark water beneath him.

“You never could do anything right, Ceap. You couldn’t even walk decently without falling.”

The voice rasped into his ear. Even so it still lulled him. The darkness hid all other sound. Even the forest whispering was silenced. It had been silent for a while.

“Grab him and let’s get going. The sooner we are back in Andhorm, the sooner we sell him and make some money.”

“You hear that, Ceap? Drod’s eager to get you to market.”


Interactive Story Creation

Interactive Story Programs

Interactive Stories

Review: Sapling: The Broken Halls by Dan Gillis

Sapling CoverTwo years ago I reviewed Dan Gillis’ debut novel, Sapling: The Blade of Ahtol. This was the first book, in a series of four, set in a world built for many series. The book was great. It is the kind of epic fantasy, equal to Tolkien, Brooks, Card and Rowling, that I love to read.

And of course there is more to come.

If you are looking for a new fantasy book to read this Fall or this year, Dan recently published his second book and first sequel to The Blade of Ahtol, Sapling: The Broken Halls.

This book is better than Dan’s first book. The story, characters and action are richer and deeper than those in The Blade of Ahtol. Here Dan really delves into Aeredia, its history and its magic. I love the new creatures and the new plot twists. The story escalates and the line between good and evil blurs into a rolling grey.

The following is my review of The Broken Halls. I gave it five-stars.

Review of the Broken Halls, Book 2 of the Sapling Cycle in the Aerluin Weave saga, by Dan Gillis.

Halls CoverThe Broken Halls: oppressed with history and ghosts, the ruins of the once great and mysterious Order of the Open Hand, and the key setting of Dan Gillis’ second book in the Sapling series. Tales are told of the fall of the Halls of the Order and the surge of evil in Kenhar. Tales are told of betrayal and Defiler treachery. Now the holdings stand in ruin and no one approaches. But mysteries and magics reside here and the company of Firah, Zen and Shien are bound to these and so must enter the Halls to escape their destinies. Tohm is lost, roaming wild somewhere in the wilderness, a hook jabbing into the company. And things more deadly than ghosts roam the Halls and the woods around them.

Dan Gillis has done it again, only much better. Sapling: The Broken Halls is deeper and more magical than Sapling: The Blade of Ahtol. The events continue from those of the Blade of Ahtol, but the action and the direction of the story are brand new. The characters are reintroduced and further developed, as are Aeredia, its captured magic and their histories.

The Broken Halls differs from The Blade of Ahtol in that the companions take off on separate adventures, facing unique problems and dangers. The adventures interact like a jigsaw with each critical piece enriching the whole story, drawing the reader deeper into the expanding story of Aeredia and the Weave of Aerluin. And they culminate in epic events that astounded me.

Dan has a knack of involving the reader in the richly developing history and character of heroes, villains and settings alike. He repeatedly plays with the fine, twisting line between victim and offender, friend and foe. I pined over the tragic life of Nuril, and the trap of events that led to her joining the Blade of Ahtol. Events and tunnelled decisions cast all the characters like dice into the roles they try to struggle out of. This is Dan’s goal, to explore the reaction of people placed in difficult positions. In like vein, he gives the settings of the story life and personality too, making them active and ambivalent characters — victim and offender, friend and foe — in the story.

I am glad I read this book. Sapling: The Broken Halls reminds me of the first three Shannara books written by Terry Brooks. I read the latest books from Terry and Dan at the same time. Dan’s story and storytelling are as good as, if not in many places better than, Terry’s. I wish the first chapter depended less on the closing events of Dan’s first book, so that The Broken Halls could stand more steadily alone, but the book itself is rich and reads like a story unto itself. A reader unfamiliar with Dan Gillis and Sapling: The Blade of Ahtol could easily read this book and fall in love with the rich world of Aeredia and Dan’s writing. If you liked The Blade of Ahtol, you will love The Broken Halls. I highly recommend it to any fantasy fan and student of the human condition. It is worth the read.

As Dan’s editor, I also read the first few chapters of Dan’s third Sapling book, Sapling: Circles of Fate. I guarantee you will enjoy the first chapter; it amazed me.

Dan has also started a second series set in Aeredia. (Did I mention I have seen the world map of Aeredia and that you and I have read nothing yet?) This second series is called The Sky-Spinners. It is written in first-person present tense. I have not read nor edited any of the first Sky-Spinners book yet, but look forward to the opportunity.

Finally, Dan is also working on his dystopian science fiction character story, D.O.V.E., some of which he has read during several of our Write Group meetings.

I plan to interview Dan about The Broken Halls. This interview will complement his Blade of Ahtol one, focussing more on the craft of writing a series and building a sustainable world.

Check out Dan’s Ad Infinitus Creations site and his member section in the Write Group blog for more information on what Dan is doing. And visit Amazon to read Sapling: The Broken Halls. You can follow Dan on Twitter @AerluinWeave.

The Edge of Magic, the Land of Tals and a Soundtrack

A few months ago, I described a dream I had of mapping several of my magical-realism shorts together to create a world and a short-story collection. This post is an update of my progress.

Since the stories are fantastic folktales — magic-realism shorts, I decided to title the book The Edge of Magic and the land Tals. Yeah, Tals ranks right up there with Fantasia, Wonderland, Faerie and similarly trivial names, but for now I like it.

Obviously, many of the tales are complete. A few need polishing to make them publishable. Consistency and unity are concerns, since the stories were never written to fit together. I am undecided whether I want to rewrite them for consistency or publish them as is.

However, I have outlined a few connector and origin stories and am currently writing one of these. This story, Glint and Bite, will serve as the origin story of two of my already complete ones, A Pril of the Thirst and A Giant or a Nack?. It is coming along well.

I even mapped the landscape where this short is set. The map is not necessary, but I wanted to materialize the Stair that I visualize for the story.

I also created a soundtrack for the story, something new for me that was actually quite revealing. This is what I wanted to share with you today.

Glint and Bite: The Soundtrack

The music in the soundtrack captures the tonal flow of the story, rather than the events and characters. The lyrics in some fit the story, but those of others do not. Some work well on their own; others interact. Some juxtapositions are creepy. They will definitely pull you in and raise the hairs on your neck. The songs mirror the mood I want you to feel when you read the story.

Several of the songs go together to stimulate an overarching mood. I rarely listen to music, so I made the best selections I could from dozens of YouTube searches. No doubt other songs would capture the mood I want you to feel better than these. If you have suggestions, by the way, I’d be willing to consider them over some of these songs.

I compiled the songs on a playlist on my Youtube channel. Here I categorize and describe them in more depth.

Glint and Bite Soundtrack
© Compiled by Shawn Urban, June 29, 2017


The Living Years — Mike and the Mechanics


This is the setting of the story as viewed from one of the characters who live in the valley. The songs, except the last one, reflect this character’s love of the valley. The last song is actually a playlist of ice-thawing sounds.

Beauty : Start of Time — Gabrielle Aplin

Paradise : Children (Dream Version) — Robert Miles

Echoes of Ice : Playlist of Videos

Watching Glint

Here the viewpoint character is rejoicing in the life of a loved one, who also lives in the valley.

Proud, Happy, Serene : Happy — Marina and the Diamonds

Nostalgia : Childhood Nostalgia — Emotional Film Soundtracks

Owe : I Am — Nichole Nordeman

Gratitude : Gratitude — Nichole Nordeman

Care : Lullaby — Libera

Enter Kids

Two young teens intrude in the valley as the viewpoint character watches Glint. Here I wanted to capture the spirit of adolescence and all the freedom, potential, hope, dreams and audacity of this age.

Narcissism : Children of a Miracle — Don Diablo and Marnik

Own It All : The World is Ours — Eleven Past One

Able : Young Blood — Bea Miller

Ah, flirting. The boy’s efforts to woo the girl and her aloof teasing causes him through the next three sections to up his game toward recklessness.

Boy Hitting On Girl (Part 1)

Promise : Rule the World — Take That

Infatuation : Magic — Coldplay

Desire : Music to Watch Boys To — Lana Del Rey

Woo : Can’t Pretend — Torn Odell

Impress : Everyday Superhero — Smash Mouth

Girl Admiring Boy

Notice : Secret Admirer — Lisa Punch

Falling : No Name — Ryan O-Shaughnessy

Encourage : Keep Holding On — Avril Lavigne

Boy Hitting On Girl (Part 2)

Want Me : I Want You to Want Me — KSM

Pay Attention : Attention to Me — Nolan Sisters

Together Strong : We Can Move the World — Alessandro Fortin

Entice, Exhilarate : Everything is Happening, the Clouds Have Parted, I’m Free — City of the Sun

Glint Dying (Part 1, Placeholder)

The killing of Glint is sudden and surprises everyone. The story skips from the recklessness of Everything is Happening, the Clouds Have Parted, I’m Free to the anguish of Wait. In the story the transition is abrupt, but the soundtrack makes more sense with this expository placeholder. What do you think? Do you like the soundtrack with or without this song?

Earth Song — Michael Jackson

These next two sections are my favourite in the story and soundtrack.

Bite Angry (Part 1)

Glint’s death is the inciting incident. It pivots the story which quickly turns dark. So obviously in the soundtrack I want to build Bite’s loss and anger.

Sad, Loss : Wait — M83

World Changed : Slipped Away — Avril Lavigne

Slow Rage : Arsonist’s Lullabye — Hozier

Revenge : Everybody Wants to Rule the World — Lorde

Bite Attacks

This is where the action peaks. This is also where the soundtrack reveals a surprising (to me) twist and dramatic irony in the story. Notice the change in tone from the last song to the next one. I hope the story is just as creepy.

Disarm, Lure : Children of the Night — Kate Covington

Promises : Paparazzi — Greyson Chance

Attack : Wild Hunt — Dorian Marko

In the story a lot of events occur quickly and simultaneously. So while Bite is overwhelmed with loss and rage then attacks the confused teens, Glint tries to calm Bite, and the girl begs for forgiveness and peace.

Kids in Danger

Trouble : Run Boy Run — Woodkid

Confusion : Hide and Seek — Imogen Heap

Trapped (Betrayed), Regret : Toy Soldiers — Martika

Anguish, Determination : Star Trek Voyager Pop Intro — Jerry Goldsmith

Glint Dying (Part 2)

Forgive, Accept : Daddy, You Can Let Go Now — Crystal Shawanda

Love, Goodbye : My Heart Will Go On — Celine Dion

Always With You : I Will Always Be With You — Sheena Easton and Jesse Corti

Girl — Sorrow, Forgiveness and Peace

Girl to Bite : While My Guitar Gently Weeps — Regina Spektor

Girl to Boy : Silhouette — Aquilo

Glint Dying (Part 3) — Girl Dying

Both the girl and Glint die here. This section bridges Glint and Bite and A Pril of the Thirst.

Glint’s Gift : Live Your Life — Yuna

Transcend to Pril : Music to Help You Uplift to Higher Frequency (0-282 [4:42] sec) — AwakenByArchangels

Boy — Sorrow

After Glint and the girl die, shock and regret overwhelm the boy.

Regret : Forever Young — Alphaville

Miss : I Found — Amber Run

End Theme

Resonance : Time — Libera

Silence : The Sound of Silence — Simon and Garfunkle

Epilogue — Bite Angry (Part 2)

The story ends with this bridge between Glint and Bite and A Giant or a Nack?.

Boy Anger : Evil In Me (Requiem for a Dream Remix) — Thomas Edwards

Descend to Nack : Footsteps — Pop Evil

Dream Grammar : Elan — Nightwish


Interview: Melhara with Jocelyn Tollefson

Author Jocelyn TollefsonOnce again the Write Group is proud to announce the publication of one of our member’s works, the third book from our group in as many years.

I have the pleasure and honour to introduce and review this novel and interview its author.

Melhara Review

Melhara is the debut dark-fantasy novel of Jocelyn Tollefson. It is the story of Kyra Parker, a reluctant half-witch who is compelled and possessed by a demon and sets off with him to incite Armageddon. Her family and friends struggle vainly to save her and mankind. And with each chapter, the stakes build higher.

Melhara is set in a contemporary fantasy world, where humans, witches, angels, demons and hybrids of these roam the world, albeit in human form. Mix in with these devils, dragons and other creatures and the bestiary of the world of Melhara becomes quite elaborate.

But Jocelyn does not stop there. She also unfolds the intertwined origin stories and histories of several of the beings introduced in Melhara. She even rewrites the story of the Garden of Eden, explores the seven different planes of existence — including Earth, Hell, Atlantis (which she reveals to be Heaven), the ghost plane and the dragon plane — that house different types of creatures, transverses the channels that connect these planes, and broaches the seals that bind Hell. Much of this history is retold from the demon Alastor’s point of view, so favours the fortunes and worthiness of Hell. I really enjoyed this imaginative history.

The characterization and relationships in Melhara are well developed. Jocelyn writes a formidable story with fresh, rich characters. Her female characters are particularly well explored. They are truly female rather than males dressed as females, which are a common cliche in many other fantasy and fiction works. Jocelyn explores individuality, the complex working of family and value of the individual and group in addition to her main possession-Armageddon story. Value of the individual is particularly illustrated in the role of Xavier, Kyra’s oft-ignored yet instrumental son.

A main theme of Melhara perhaps is that each person is able in his own way, but it is together that many problems are solved. Strong relationships strengthen and ground us, help us cope, and empower us to accomplish more than we could alone. In Melhara, Jocelyn explores this power of relationship in the furtherance of both evil and good, and evil and good deeds. She also explores the different and dynamic types of love in different relationships. Jocelyn has cited the theme of accepting and embracing who you are, what you can do and who you are meant to be as key elements to your happiness and destiny. Her message of not fighting fate and changing your outlook on life not only rings resonantly in Melhara but echoes in her own life.

In her own words, Melhara is about love, sacrifice, compassion and self-doubt.

I enjoyed this book. The characters were engaging, the mythology intriguing and the story easy to read. Jocelyn created a world I want to continue exploring with characters I want to continue following.

The book could have used more proofreading and beta-reading in some places, but overall it was a great read.

Jocelyn obviously plans a sequel to Melhara. She ends Melhara with a temporary win. The sequel promises to be bigger and more perilous with more powerful and ready enemies, more hazardous threats and deeper problems, tougher challenges, more responsibilities and greater risks for Jocelyn’s heroines and heroes to overcome.

One word of caution for those interested in Jocelyn’s Melhara: it contains explicit, though not graphic, non-incidental language and content. The violence level is typical of other dark fantasies.

You can find Jocelyn’s Melhara many places, such as Amazon. It is a good story.

Jocelyn’s Bio

Jocelyn is new to the Write Group. She had already written Melhara before joining us and self-published her book, on her own, while she participated in our writing club. She suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) and this condition plays deeply in the themes of her book. She is currently working on the sequel to Melhara as well as other works, including a story, loosely autobiographical, about a woman with MS. During Melhara‘s launch, Jocelyn donated part of the sales of her novel to the Jayman BUILT MS Walk in Edmonton, Alberta.


I had the honour to interview Jocelyn about her book and writing. In addition, she asked me to include her interviews with Bella Online and Bookworm Review, which never made it to publication. This is an excerpt of what Jocelyn had to say. You can read the complete interview here and buy Melhara at Amazon.


JT: Jocelyn Tollefson


BO: Bella Online

BR: Bookworm Review

SU: Shawn Urban (The Write Group)

SU: Congratulations, Jocelyn, on the writing and publication of your first book, Melhara.

JT: Thank you Shawn.

SU: Share some things about yourself. Who are you?

JT: I’m a writer (and now an author), a home reno addict and have been a single mom for six years. I love reading, writing, drawing and painting as well as other craft projects like furniture restoration, building shelves, and making jewelry. I love camping and playing slo-pitch. I don’t drink beer ever but I like vodka. I hate the cold winter months but tolerate it. Come January/February every year I long for summer to come back or an escape to a tropical destination but convince myself it’s only a few more months.

BO: Can you tell me a little about your latest book?

JT: Melhara will be my first published novel. The story follows one woman’s journey into darkness as she battles her demons, struggles against destiny and creating her own path. Kyra Parker is a wife, mother, career woman and hiding the fact that she is also a witch. She has been avoiding her abilities and second guessing her reality since childhood. She can no longer hide from her destiny when the demon from her nightmares catches her and she is left with no alternative but to join him.

BO: What inspired this story?

JT: Sometime after my son was born I started to have this recurring dream about being held captive and fighting demons. (Do you ever have those dreams where you can control your thoughts and actions or are aware you are dreaming so you try to will your way through the plot? I do, quite often.) No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t escape. The dream kept repeating over the years with different variations and eventually I became annoyed enough to write it out and change the loop of defeat. It sat for years as I added to it until it became half a story then I decided to really work on it and turn it into a complete story. After three years of working on it weekly, Melhara was born.

SU: What did you want to share with Melhara? Did you have a message in mind when you wrote [it]?

JT: I started out with wanting to share the different types of love we all experience in different relationships. The dynamic between friends, husband, mother, sister, and child, and how they can be a strength and a weakness at the same time ended up being part of the primary theme focused on love, sacrifice, compassion and self-doubt.

The prominent theme or message in Melhara overtook the plot with a subtle or hidden message that holding back your talents or denying who you are meant to be will keep you from your destiny and keep you from being happy.

BR: What are some of the values you want your fans to take away from your novels?

JT: Embrace who you are and don’t fight fate. When you change your outlook on life to see there are other ways to live and paths to take, you can embrace the opportunity to learn and grow in to something more. Sometimes you overlook your destiny because you are focused on the picture in your head of the dream life you think you want and overlook the things that would actually make you happy and feel complete.

Or maybe that’s too much and I just want readers to be able to identify with characters or at least understand their motivations as they pick out their favorites and enjoy the story as they step out of their lives and into a different world.

SU: What is your favourite part of Melhara?

JT: Either the moment when Kyra is turned into a dark witch or … I can’t say without giving away too much of the plot but you’ll know it when you read that part as it will probably be one of your favorite moments too.

BO: What is your favorite part of the book?

JT: My favorite parts of Melhara involve Kyra’s conflict with the character Celista; she’s devious and delightful to write.

SU: What does Melhara mean?

JT: The word Melhara is actually a combination of two words, Melarki and Sahhara, from two different languages (Saharki is the name of another creature in the world of Melhara). One [Maltese Sahhara] means witch and the other [Irish Melarki] means angel.

SU: Who is your favourite character in Melhara?

JT: The favorite character question is one I like to ask my readers after they have finished the book. I find it interesting that everyone has different favorites. My favorite character is Celista. (She’s one of the “bad guys”.) I’ve noticed that in most movies and books my favorite characters usually tend to be the bad girls — I mean who doesn’t like Harley Quinn, Cat woman, Mystique and Jean Grey when she’s the phoenix, Angelina’s Maleficent, Queen Ravenna from Snow White and the Huntsman, or Mother Malkin from Seventh Son? I could write a list a mile long with all the female villains I love …

BR: When did you first discover speculative fiction and how did it affect you?

JT: Oh, wow — the answer to this question could actually date back to before I knew what fiction was and my mother would read bedtime stories to me. But the speculative fiction stories that I really started to notice, and actively sought out to find and read more, were stories I read in middle school from R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike.

I fell in love with witches, vampires and other stories filled with supernatural creatures. I love the way a book can transport you to alternate reality and fully submerge you into that world. There are many nights I can’t put my book down and stay up too late, telling myself, ‘just one more chapter’ until I can’t fight my eyes drifting shut any longer.

It’s exciting when the imagination and creativity that go into world creation and character development bring everything to life and make you feel like you are a part of that world and actually connect with the characters and feel like you know them.

BR: What is the hardest part of writing speculative fiction? How do you cope with that?

JT: I found the hardest part of writing this type of story is showing vs. telling how the rules of magic work and how each character has a set unique powers, as well as the magical elements they share.

Several revisions and rewrites helped to make the scenes stronger and clearer for the readers. I had a lot of feedback from my beta readers and editors that helped improve any sections where the readers felt confused or unsure of the magic being used. It is important that they know who has the ability to use what powers as the witches each have a different elemental power but share the rest of the other active and passive powers. Then of course, different types of demons and angels also have another set of magical attributes and limitations so it doesn’t work well if it’s confusing.

SU: Who has been the biggest influence on your life and/or your writing? What lessons did that person teach you?

JT: I think everyone that we share our lives with influences us in different ways, some more than others. So obviously my rambunctious 8 year old son has been the major influence in my life and the inspiration for the child character in my book. Although, my son has the opposite personality from the child in my novel but I did use some of the things he says in the dialogue for the character.

J.K. Rowling is amazing, not only as an author but as a woman. She’s brilliant and beautiful, witty and charming and speaks her mind. She’s a powerful figure but remains down to earth and has a good heart. I watched a movie/documentary based about her life and felt really inspired by her story.

BR: What are you working on now?

JT: For fantasy, I’m working on the sequel to Melhara, where Kyra’s powers continue to grow and her journey forces her to face new demons as she struggles with her guilt and fear. The outline for the next two books has been done for a while but I only have about 10,000 words written for the second book so far.

I’m also working on outlining a different fiction series about a girl growing into her own while living with MS (multiple sclerosis). It is going to be loosely based on my life and the challenges I’ve had with relationships, career, my son, and depression, but written in first person with each book haven’t a different focus in the theme. Still a fiction story meant to move people and inspire them — not a biography.

SU: What are you working on now?

JT: The sequels to Melhara are my writing focus right now. The adventure will expand into the other planes of existence and Kyra’s inner turmoil of the damage she has done. The secondary characters will get a lot more in-depth exploration as they fight to deal with the after effects from the first novel and we will learn more about Lilith and Celista’s backstory.

BR: What are your professional and/or personal goals for the next decade?

JT: Professionally, I have five more books in my head plus a bunch of short stories I would like to write and have published. I’m going to keep learning and improve my writing skills. By the time a decade has passed I hope to be a full-time author with at least one best-seller on my resume.

Personally, as a mom living with MS (multiple sclerosis) for 10 years, I want to help find the actual cause and a cure in any way I can. Which is why I started a promotion to donate $1 from every sale of my book (eBook and Paper copies) from February 1st 2017, to March 9th 2017, to the MS Society of Canada through the Jayman BUILT MS Walk in Edmonton, Alberta. I’ve taken part in the MS Walk for years. I missed the last two because I had a rough couple of years fighting my illness and trying to stay in the work force by managing day by day. We all wear many labels: wife, mother, career woman, housekeeper, cook, dog walker, sick person, etc, and juggle to balance our lives, but sometimes I can only manage one or two at a time which can be a disappointing challenge that leaves me feeling guilty for not being able to be the energetic mother that I want to be. I’ve met so many other people that deal with this illness through support groups and fundraising efforts — all with different stories of struggles and triumphs.

I would also love to move somewhere tropical where the sun shines most of the time, fruit and vegetables grow in your backyard all year round. I have lived in Alberta, Canada, my entire life with the -20 Celsius (that’s -4 Fahrenheit) winters and wouldn’t cry if I never seen that cold again. Mind you, the entire winter is not always that bad and there are sunny days with that temperature but there are too many cold days like that for me. Sometimes the cold is even worse or the wind chill turns it in to -60, so basically, if you are outside for any length of time or your car breaks down, you’ll die. Just kidding — well, kind of.

SU: You are donating a portion of your sales of Melhara to the MS Society of Canada. Would you like to comment on your sponsorship of this great cause?

JT: This year is my 10th anniversary since I was diagnosed with MS when I was 24 so I wanted to do something special to acknowledge the milestone. I’ve always done fundraising the traditional way of just telling people that I am taking part in the Jayman BUILT MS Walk – Edmonton and asking them to donate/sponsor me — and I still will — but this [book sales] idea is a unique way to spread the word about MS and raise extra money.

SU: How can readers contact you or learn more about your books? Where can they read some of this story or other pieces of your work?

JT: My author website www.JocelynTollefson.com is a great first stop. It has everything all in one place and links to get to other sources of information.

Anyone can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook or Twitter. Or send me an email through the link on my website. I have a Goodreads author profile, a Facebook author page and Facebook Melhara page, and have recently joined the world of Twitter.

BO: Where can people find Melhara?

JT: Melhara is available now at:

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/689448

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N5GMUNY?ref_=pe_2427780_160035660

Amazon.ca: https://www.amazon.ca/Melhara-Jocelyn-Tollefson/dp/0995308616/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1488909954&sr=8-1

Amazon.co.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Melhara-Jocelyn-Tollefson-ebook/dp/B01N5GMUNY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488910029&sr=8-1&keywords=melhara

Indigo/Chapters.ca: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/melhara/9780995308619-item.html?ref=isbn-search

SU: Thank you, Jocelyn, for sharing your first story with us and agreeing to be interviewed. I hope your work inspires others in their lives and writing.

Continue to read more of this interview at Stefras’ Drive.

To learn more about Melhara and Jocelyn, visit Jocelyn’s website and her Write Group member page. You can follow her on Twitter at @melhara2017.

World Creation: A Book From a Map

For fifteen minutes after every lunch when I was in grade six, from her desk in the far front corner of the room, Penny Gwillim read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to our class. I was already a storyteller by then, but those stories read by Penny Gwillim inspired me to write.

Tolkien populated his world with story. Every named element — person and place — had a purpose and story built into it. Every horizon hid a land beyond. Each name and land had a history and significance. This built boundless depth and breadth into Tolkien’s world. And, as these persons and places overlapped, so their purposes and stories intertwined.

Today’s post is about world building. It is about creating endless story potential by mapping instead of outlining.

My favourite Tolkien quote is this.

A story must be told or there’ll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are most moving. I think you are moved by Celebrimbor because it conveys a sudden sense of endless untold stories: mountains seen far away, never to be climbed, distant trees (like Niggle’s) never to be approached — or if so only to become ‘near trees’ (unless in Paradise or N’s Parish).

— J.R.R. Tolkien (1945)

He also extolled, in the same letter (1945), “the heart-racking sense of the vanishing past”.

Tolkien’s underscoring of names and unexplored-places-beyond-horizons with histories and stories, to me, is a powerful way to build worlds.

Plotting and Pantsing

I am a plotter and a pantser. I typically write short stories and poems on my computer with no plotting nor sense of where the story is going, other than the steeping inspirational idea. Many of these stories and poems comprise my best writing. They sing and dance for others and me. Long stories and “important” poems I sketch, write on loose-leaf, then after several versions revise and edit further on computer.

The sketch is my tool of choice: a quick list, map or outline of places, events, scenes and characters that I typically then ignore and pants around. On the continuum of pantsing to plotting, I believe most writers do some form of sketching a little in each story. Usually I sketch after I get a good start on a story.

A Sudden Insight

I have been writing several unrelated magical-realism shorts over the years. I label these as fantastic folktales. They are subtle stories, with that unmistakable undercurrent of impossibility and fantastic flowing through them. They are explorations of my imagination and my craft, vents of my passion. They have different styles, different characters, different premises, nothing really connecting them.

One morning a couple of weeks ago, I woke with the idea of creating a map for one of these stories. And to this map I added the landscape of another story, then another. Suddenly, these stories all fit together. They even had a chronology to them. Further, the map and story element connections suggested several connector and origin shorts. And under them was that hidden undercurrent of overarching fantastic which suggested it own story.

It seems so obvious, with that map and the similarity of the genre of the stories, that the stories belong together, that beneath them was a larger, suggested, untold story.

Several of the stories are ready for publishing. Others need fleshing and tweaking. But this is a project I am excited to pursue. This is a book I want to write.

It would be just if my first book contained a selection of my short stories, which each took a short while to write, rather one of my long ones that I have worked on and played with for so long. And to discover this potential in an odd urge to create a single-short story map is thrilling.

My Take on Plots and Maps

Plots come in many forms. Some plots originate from intuitive exploration (pantsing). Some from first drafts. Some from outlines. Others from maps.

Maps also build worlds (more) and, unlike the constriction of outlines, manifest unending stories, just like Tolkien’s names and horizons.

Every map is an outline to endless stories. Details and names infill a world with story. Horizons in space and history inspire a broader and deeper world and more story.

A Comparison of Outlining and Mapping

Outline maps out a story. Like a pathfinder of new lands and events, it explores the lands and events and chops a route through them. The path it picks clearly leads further travel through the lands and events. But it also restricts the possibilities of exploration. It winds from point A to point B, however complex the labyrinth of its trail. Further travel may head off the outline, but in doing so will clear its own route — its own outline — between A and B.

The outline is a good guide and even its winding and rolling trails and oxbow loops can be revised into a smooth road.

Map outlines a world. It does not blaze a trail from point A to point B, but instead suggests wilderness (forests, oceans, city blocks), encounters and adventure between and far beyond the two points. The map opens new places, new events and new context to explore — in fact, uncounted places and events, and burgeoning context. But more importantly it reveals endless new places, events and context to explore once the current story is complete. And a map can be grown. Its limits can be pushed deeper and farther beyond what the map revealed before. Horizons always have story beyond them. Unnamed places can always be named.

The map is an atlas of unending potential tales. It is not direct and smooth like an outline, but it reveals possibilities and twists the outline misses.

Used together, the map and the outline can guide the writer to and through grand stories. The outline unearths and shepherds a story. The map opens and reveals a world of stories. Just like Tolkien emphasized.

How do maps influence your stories and build your worlds? Join the conversation. Comment below.


World-building Resources

Culture-generating Resources

Map-making Resources


Tolkien, J.R.R. (1945.) Letter 96. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. First Edition, 1981. Carpenter, H. and Tolkien, C. London: George Allen & Unwin. P. 125. https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/the_letters_of_j.rrtolkien.pdf.

Interview: The Blade of Ahtol with Dan Gillis

I am honoured to announce the publication of a new epic fantasy and to present my second interview on this blog.

My last interview, with Malyn Mawby, featured her incredible scrapbooking and blogging journey, 10minutes, for the Art House Projections 2012 Sketchbook Project.

Author Dan Gillis This interview features Dan Gillis, a good friend and member of the Write Group, who yesterday published his first book, Sapling: The Blade of Ahtol.

The Blade of Ahtol is an epic fantasy novel. It follows a band of outcasts who find themselves hounded by evil forces. I will start my post with my review of the book.

Sapling Cover Review of the Blade of Ahtol, Book 1 of the Sapling cycle in the Aerluin Weave saga, by Dan Gillis.

Since Llian wandered and Aerluin was lost, evil has steadily crept across the lands, building itself to conquer all of Aeredia.

The pickpocket, Firah, joined by her burly patron, Tohm, a bartender; Zyr, a monk shrouded in layers of mystery; and Shien, an expelled patriot seeking heirlooms stolen from his family, venture out and soon find themselves thrust together and targets of the spreading evil. They attempt to flee, only to be doggedly pursued by their enemy and even by their allies. When they also become afflicted with madness, possession and magic they cannot control, how can Firah and her companions survive to save Aeredia and Aerluin?

Sapling: The Blade of Ahtol is set in a world of conflicting magic, where demons possess humans, and monsters enslave farmers and villagers. Factions clash in their struggle for control and in all of this is a violent race to find someone to embody the growing evil or the essence of Aerluin. In the midst of this turmoil, Firah is a sensitive; she is attuned to the magic moving through Aeredia, making her a receptacle for good and evil. Her sensitivity makes her trackable and constantly dogged by those who would possess her. In a world where loyalties shift and alliances and adversaries switch, any move, even flight, is dangerous.

I like Gillis’ Blade of Ahtol. Dan pulls us through a complex world using engaging characters, a rich story, a dynamic pace and embedded backstories. Dan’s attention to detail provides a history even to the geology and conflicting magic in his unique world. His clashing cultures develop different perspectives on this history and their often-hostile interactions. The atmosphere is tense, even in the enervating and the tranquil sequences between his fast-paced, yet clear, fight scenes. These calculated fight scenes are meaningful to Dan’s story and his world; they are not contrived conveniences. In similar fashion, Dan manages to expertly embed, rather than insert, informative backstories, and ulterior motives and goals, into his epic tale. This last is refreshing as backstories are often the bane of story flow; here they contribute to the fiction. Dan also sprinkles liberal doses of humour and romantic tension throughout his story as well as interesting cues specifying change in point of view, timing and scene, and visual icons, matched to a calendar explained in an appendix, identifying the date of events in the novel.

I had a few chances to listen to Dan reading portions of this riveting tale and love the way the story reads when he recites it. I think any reader who is interested in fantasy and suspense will love this novel. I highly recommend it.

Check Dan’s novel out. It is a good story.

To mark the occasion of the publication of Dan’s first book, I interviewed him about his novel and writing practice. Here is what he had to say.

SU: First, congratulations, Dan. It is incredible to watch the editing, revision and publication processes in action.

SU: Share some things about yourself. Who are you?

DG: I am a teacher of a most imaginative group of people, that being junior high. They inspire me everyday, to say nothing of general source material for teenage characters. I think of my creative experiences in my young teens [adolescence] and I want to foster that same feeling in the youth today. Its most rewarding with the self-proclaimed non-writers who learn to create amazing tapestries of imagination. Anything creative I have grown to enjoy and participate in; namely painting, sketching, digital media, photography, guitar, drama/theater, martial arts and starting a family. I guess you can say I received a lion’s share of creativity and I have tried not to bury it in the ground.

SU: That is interesting. I also felt most creative when I was a teen and I see it all the kids, from Grade 5 to Grade 12, that I teach. I believe kids are the most creative people in the world.

SU: What were your first stories and poems like? What were they about?

DG: What a range of stories took shape!

In one case a boy is taken by a secret organization and a small micro-computer is implanted in his brain. When he escapes and remembers nothing, he is thrust into chaos as the organization tries desperately to recover their investment. He is most surprised when the computer comes online and assists him in his attempts to escape recapture. I was 15 when I imagined that one.

In another yarn, my sister and I collaborated when I was 18. Beings have come to earth. They are time travellers and are fleeing their world in destruction. The earth story is somewhat dystopian, with an oppressive government that has the earth locked down. The travellers decide to help a young boy and girl with their struggle.

My poetry was lively and comedic. Teenage angst rolled out occasionally, but for the most part it was lighthearted fun. Classic titles include “To Live and Die in LA (Language Arts)” and “Pass the Napkins Please.”

SU: Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?

DG: My father once wrote a poem for each of his children, which was placed in each of our personal journals. I was very young when I received mine. I have treasured that poem for decades which symbolizes a father’s love and creativity. I know my father loved to read and maintained a personal library of his favorite books. Most were academic, but it was clear that poetry and humor were integral to his preferences. My dad has supported me in all my creative and academic pursuits and has never faltered. What more of a treasured friend and mentor could I ask?

SU: How would you describe the Blade of Ahtol to someone who has not read any of your work?

DG: I have found this sort of question a challenge because of the scope of the project. Sapling falls into the genre of epic or high fantasy as just one of many unique and varied stories to be told in Aeredia. The Blade of Ahtol is an introduction to the world and establishes a context for the power that drives the conflict for all the narratives that will follow in the Aerluin Weave.

The fantasy genre is certainly replete with many worlds and characters. While I have endeavoured to create an interesting and unique mechanic to the genre, my joy of writing is in the exploration of the human condition. As such, the Blade of Ahtol is as much a character study of those who struggle against the corruption of power in others as it is in themselves. I have always found this a compelling theme to write about. Firah is very much the catalyst for the reader’s discovery; a character who knows little of the world outside and is caught up in the power games of others. While the narrative is written from various perspectives, the general flow of the novel follows the young girl along her journey. Firah is a character that you can become very attached to – faults and all.

SU: What is your favourite part of the Blade of Ahtol?

DG: Hands down, the part I love to read the most is the interactions between Zyr and Nuril, particularly the encounter during the skirmish of the White Guard and the Blade of Ahtol. This backstory was the most taxing to write as I felt so much for Tehsa and the threads of fate which change her life. As with most writers, I have a vested interest in all my characters and the troubles I create for them. As I indicated earlier, I get attached to the characters and they feel very real to me.

SU: What is your favourite part about writing?

DG: Creating images with words is a rewarding undertaking whether in narrative or poetic form. The more subtle but effective device work is the ultimate challenge. I am always trying to refine this craft and make the writing richer and more efficient.

SU: What is writing to you?

DG: Writing is a form of expression as much as any other medium such as art, drama, martial forms and many others. Each medium offers a special form of communication to the recipient. Out of all the forms of creative expression I love writing for the ability to convey the thoughts, hopes and desires most accurately. Yet, it lacks in perfect description of character and settings without a laborious diversion from the plot. Cinema is a direct contrast of these points, offering perfect visual clarity, but limited to verbal dialogue as far as understanding motivation. In this way, I imagine my writing in many forms at once to understand the full effect. Often I will imagine my sequences in cinematic display. I create maps to get a sense of distance and scope of the world. I draw on my knowledge of martial forms to guide characters into combative sequences. A friend of mine at the time of writing created music specifically suited to each chapter; it was tremendous. So writing is only one sibling in the Creative family and without every member involved it can feel slightly dysfunctional.

SU: Did the writing of the Blade of Ahtol influence your life? How?

DG: This was the first novel I ever tried and it certainly opened my eyes to the reality of published writing. Thankfully, the traditional market is changing with the ever increasing options of self-publishing. I once queried a series of agents with the rough novel and received a healthy dose of reality. I learned then the amount of work and sacrifice that would be required to complete the project. I took the challenge and worked hard with my outstanding editor to produce an amazing piece of work. Now with self-publishing, I can strike off one of the ol’ bucket list of life accomplishments.

SU: What is your creative process like? What happens when you sit down to write?

DG: I find that when I am teaching certain units in Language Arts that it triggers my own creativity. I also have noted that while I am out for long bike rides my brain tends to linger upon my various projects. It feels like peeking into doors. Sometimes inspiration comes rapidly and I must pull over and start entering my ideas into my phone (my memory should not be trusted for when I get back home). The synopsis of ideas generally comes then, the framework if you will, and when I sit down and write the stylistic forms simply come along then. I certainly have felt more creative when I feel my body is healthy.

SU: What advice would you give to a beginning writer? Why that?

DG: Allow for the expansion of ideas. As you reflect upon your plot you will find ways to improve, expand and enhance your text. Don’t rush your revisions, allow time for the creative process to continue. There are wonderful additions that can happen in this critical phase.

Oh, and listen to your editor.

SU: Can you describe something you wrote that was so stimulating that you could not get your mind off of it?

DG: Well, I hope you’ll excuse me for getting sentimental and personal. When the day came to propose to my wonderful and dear companion, I had a feeling of what to do. To propose to her with a poem seemed to encapsulate all of who I was. When I sat down to pen that most sacred and vital verse, I felt like a channel had opened to a source of power an Ashori could only dream of. I felt it flow from me so easily and I almost felt like an observer. There was no construction or revision of any sort. When I think of the marvel of that night and the twenty minutes of sweet joy where my soul and pen were in harmony – I am forever grateful. That was my greatest achievement and not to mention it would be an insult to inspiration.

She said yes.

SU: Congratulations.

SU: Did you have a message in mind when you wrote [the Blade of Ahtol]? What did you want to share from it? What did you want to keep?

DG: I did not have an intended message to convey initially as Sapling began as a creative outlet to explore the cellars and attics of my imagination. Much of university study was literal interpretations – I needed a place to go where I could shape the rules and outcomes of my own creations. How liberating! I know that Sapling is a study of loyalty and personal sacrifice. That theme grew powerfully as I created the story.

SU: Did you get out of this story what you expected and wanted? What did you learn?

DG: I learned that great ideas are only the beginning. There is a whole other craft that goes unmentioned far too often and that is the genius of editing and the art of clarity. Thank you, Shawn for your expertise, keen eye and clever mind.

SU: You are a Language Arts teacher. How do you inspire your students to get the most out of what they explore, create and investigate?

DG: Finding the joy in reading often takes that special spark of entertainment. I love doing readers theater with the students, trying on voices and being animated. I also dive deep into the story with the students and encourage them to try and find books in their genre of interest. We have had much success noticing elements of stories and the writer’s craft. When they create their own stories, I encourage them to expand their writing using their favorite stories as models. This includes all the techniques that lead to interesting ideas. It is certainly rewarding to see struggling readers or writers have the creative ‘aha’ moment.

SU: What are you working on now?

DG: I am revising and editing the second book, Sapling: The Broken Halls, which was written in the same year as the first book [(2004)]. I am halfway through DOVE which was mentioned earlier in the interview [read the full interview]. Another intriguing project that been ongoing is a supernatural thriller called Crossing Over. I don’t think I can be pinned down into any genre, or at least my brain doesn’t seem to think so.

SU: How can readers contact you or learn more about your books? Where can they read some of this story or other pieces of your work?

DG: I have creative works scattered over various places. Readers can go to my dedicated creative works page at Facebook called Ad Infinitum Creations. You can follow me on Twitter @AerluinWeave. Over at Tofield Write Group I have a member page. For a look at my poetry and graphic poetry you can check out Lands of Myth. Some interesting forum writing I did with my good friend Talia (check out her youtube channel) turned out some wonderful machinima in the Guild Wars setting. It is entitled the Fire of the Covenant and encompasses two full series of episodes. Zyr was featured here, and I even snuck in some voice acting. One of my favorite scripts about the afterlife was featured in this series. Some of my graphic novel work is found at my old guild’s hangout page. I am sure you will all love Keryn (also featured in the video series) who happens to be one of my favorite characters. I wouldn’t dare argue that point with her …

Ad Infinitum Creations: https://www.facebook.com/adinfinitumcreations

Ashes & Steel / Rebirth http://cv.englishmist.com/?page_id=121 (Halftoe)
The Fall of the House Ridow http://www.landsofmyth.com/Forum/index.php?topic=122.0 (Dan the Skald)

Fire of the Covenant: http://cv.englishmist.com/?page_id=221 (et al)
The link to my forum writing was for video scripts written by my good friend Talia based on our Forum RP.

Graphic Art:
Fire Dream: Fire of the Covenant Spin-off Comics http://cv.englishmist.com/?page_id=217 (Great White Norn)

General Art and Storywork:
Ad Infinitum Creations scrapbook https://m.facebook.com/adinfinitumcreations?ref=bookmark (Ad Infinitum Creations)

The link for the actual writing which I write under the Halftoe pen is here:
Private writing palette http://cv.englishmist.com/forums/index.php?topic=5789.0 (Halftoe)

SU: I would like to thank you, Dan, for agreeing to be interviewed. I hope your work inspires others to share their own experiences and stories with the world.

This was an excerpt of my interview with Dan. You can read the complete interview here and buy the Blade of Ahtol at Amazon.

To learn more about the Blade of Ahtol and Dan, visit his blog and his Tofield Write Group member page. You can follow him on Twitter @AerluinWeave.

Blogging The Write Group

The Write Group has a new blog. We have moved from our wiki on Wikispaces and expanded into our blog on WordPress.

The Write Group is a writing club with members who write fiction and non-fiction in either prose or poetry forms. We write in many genres and write everything from two-liners to novels. Some of us are professionals, some are hobbyists. We have everything from published writers to others who are just starting out.

Come peruse our blog and other resources.

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