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.

Advertisements

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.

Interview

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.

Author

JT: Jocelyn Tollefson

Interviewers

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.

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

Poetry:
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.

The Write Group

Van Gogh and the Moon

One of the many things I love about writing clubs, such as the Write Group, is the surprise writing exercises we do in them. Today, two of my students — not already members — joined the Write Group and I prepared tic-tac-write prompts to inspire our creative juices.

This was the perfect exercise to entice my students and draw them in. They enjoyed themselves, which really is the point, and one even overcame his shyness and read his response plus a few other works aloud.

Prompt: Tic-Tac-Write

The tic-tac-write board is a 3×3 grid with nine prompts in it. These prompts have setting, character, plot, event, perspective, atmosphere, starters, object and random slants to them. They are arranged so that prompts along a single line — either row, column or main diagonal — could form a story with some creative thought.

These combinations are not so obvious that a story can be written without some thinking, and the writer need only pick any three prompts on the board, rather than only those in a line. This arrangement ensures that the writer has plenty of story prompt options to choose from.

In today’s meeting, I handed out four unique prompts (given below), which increased the variety of story writing that the group shared afterward. The group loved them and the stories they produced.

Board 1

Humour Write a letter to yourself. Was it my fault the doorbell rang?
House in the middle of the block This morning, in my garden, I had a conversation with a little bird. He told me everything! About time I got out of that cookie.
Someone dies. Give your favourite item baggage using anthropomorphism. Solve a mystery using clues left behind.

Board 2

Rewrite a nursery rhyme from a character’s point of view. You got laid off today. Caramels
Smelly as a skunk Van Gogh Shut up and deal!
Procrastination Raisin pie Let us go then, you and I.

Board 3

Easter without eggs Write a palindromic piece. Sisters
I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was I meant to be. Baby blankets Minor character takes over scene, then leaves.
Beer, book, bed Promises made Bumblebees

Board 4

Your car shutters. Straight, crooked Drawing straws
The train whistle blew. Stop scratching! A banana, marbles and a bag
Orange The wind picks up. What’s that?

Van Gogh and the Moon

I picked Nursery rhyme — Character POV; Van Gogh; and Let us go then, you and I from Board 2, and worked in Procrastination and Caramels from the same board. Here is my response.

Van Gogh and the Moon
© Shawn Urban

Let us go then, you and I,
over the moon and across the sky.
No there is no time to paint.
The sun comes up,
then it will be too late.

Yes, the stars are beautiful tonight.
And the sickle of the moon is great.
But look there now,
the moon nigh fades.
Let us go then, you and I.

Van Gogh, Van Gogh,
why do you procrastinate,
admiring the dish and the spoon?

The cat on his fiddle
will play all night,
though that will end soon.

Van Gogh, Van Gogh,
chewing on your caramel,
with sugar rotting your teeth,
the dog is not barking to play with you,
but to tell you that time will not wait.

Let us go then, you and I,
Van Gogh, before the moon disappears.
Look already your stars are gone.
There is nothing left for you to paint.

Van Gogh, spit out that caramel.
We must jump and leap over the moon.
And look here what you have done.
The sun is up, the moon is gone
and you have ruined this nursery rhyme.

I wish you all a great today and a creative tomorrow.

Prompt Sources

@djeurope

This morning, in my garden, I had a conversation with a little bird. He told me everything!

Figment Daily Themes

Write a letter to yourself. — January 5

Give your favourite item baggage using anthropomorphism. — January 6

Solve a mystery using clues left behind. — January 24

Weird Fortune Cookies

About time I got out of that cookie.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock — C.S. Lewis

Let us go then, you and I.

I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was I meant to be.

All other prompts were supplied by members of the Write Group or me. (Just in case some of these come from elsewhere, let me know and give me a reference and I will check it out and credit the source here.)

The Write Group: Recruiting New Members

This post is cross-posted and extended in my professional blog, Digital Substitute.

I have had three deep passions throughout my life so far and the good fortune to experience them all. I love nature, so I became an ecologist. I love learning and passing on my passions, so I became a teacher. And I love storytelling and penning pictures in others’ minds, so I became a writer.

In a previous post, I discussed the change in teaching style when one engages with students outside of the lesson and in camps and clubs. About a month ago, I attended a Don’t Hibernate Fair in my town. This fair is designed to connect clubs and people. I attended a table and recruited new members into the Write Group.

This was an exhilarating experience for me. I have been in many clubs and organizations, but this was the first time I recruited new members to a club. I had thirteen people sign up and express keen interest. Best of all a few of these are students I sub.

Tonight is the first meeting of the Write Group this year. I am thrilled at meeting new faces and old and seeing more “foxes around a risen altar whisper and trade incantations from crinkled scrolls“.

The Write Group

© Shawn Urban

Picture the purls penned on our paper.

And through the darkness they slip and slide
along old pathways worn far and long.
They move through shadows between dim lights
and enter boldly through locked doors.

Many a stranger, who dare disturb
the wisping, quillling lychnobioi,
find there quietly sleeking olden owls
in steep stairways and hidden chambers.

Up the attic they gather and hide,
foxes around the risen altar,
whispering, trading incantations
from crinkled scrolls pro- found words they read.

They walk the pattern and weave the life
of heroes, monsters far long away.
In deep sanctity purling riffles,
and joining as one in common task.

And strangers observe shut gates open,
and in hidden truth locked knowledge.
For in that attic the Write Group writes
and through the darkness they slip and slide.