Saturday, May 28, 2016


A winner has been chosen! Congratulations to Dalton Cortner! Please check your e-mail for more information, and thank you to everyone who participated!

Hey all! I'm giving away a signed paperback copy of Frendyl Krune and the Blood of the Sun to one lucky winner! To win, enter the Rafflecopter below! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Writer Within: Building Your Catalog

Happy Saturday, one and all! And after days of rainy weather and thunderheads, I can honestly say it's wonderful to see the sun shining out here again. I've missed it. Rain is great, don't get me wrong! It makes everything so green and helps the new plants take root. Yet, the sunshine is why I love where I live, so it's nice to see it again.

Today I want to discuss something that I feel is paramount to the success of any author, and that's building a catalog. You've published your first book and exhale, both relieved and excited, because you're about to start rolling in the dough. And don't lie--every author has this expectation after their first work is released. And their second. And third. It's an expectation society has built up for us all, even if we know deep down that it's not likely, and actually, rather impossible.

And then the sales don't come.

I told everyone right before my first two books came out, "I don't expect much success," but deep down, I was hoping, and when that hope was shattered, I retreated to seriously reconsider my work and my career choice. I stopped writing entirely for a long time--almost six months. At one point, I decided to try again, and finished my third book. After my first two books flopped, and my third, and fourth, and well, my eBook catalog currently boasts more than 10 individual eBooks (8 titles overall), I'm still not seeing much success. Some days, the lack of interest in my work is truly disheartening.

But rather than give up--because if you know me, I'm stubborn and refuse to walk away from something I love so much--I resolved to try a few different things. The foremost was that I wouldn't walk away. I refused to stop writing. Once that choice was made, I developed a plan.

First, I wanted to grow my catalog beyond the seven books and short stories I had out. The more books I have of high quality, the more interest I'm going to garner. It's only a matter of time before something clicks and word spreads. To grow my catalog, though, I needed to do something crazy. I needed to write all the time. Before, I wrote a few thousand words a day, and would do other things, such as take care of the house and run errands. No more! Now I write from about 8 in the morning until my husband comes home around 5:30, and sometimes, I write later than that. I don't often take lunch breaks, or any breaks, for that matter. Writing isn't just a full-time job anymore. It has morphed into my sole reason for existing. If I don't meet my word count and editing goals for the week, I get angry with myself and figure out what I can do to make things better, to increase my focus, and to force those words out, even if they're terrible. These are, after all, the first drafts.

I think the important part here is that even after not earning more than a few dollars a quarter, I'm still writing. I'm still pushing and still fighting. I refuse to let the depression defeat me. This is a choice you need to make for yourself, but once you make it, things will change forever--both inside of you, and out.

Next in growing my catalog, I decided I needed to stay in front of readers all the time. So I began to work on my serial novel, Axis of the Soul. I initially planned to release one 3,000-word part a week. Because I'm writing so much, there's a good chance I'll be upping that to two parts released each week. I'm still deciding if that's something I can realistically do while maintaining quality on my other projects. True, I want to put out a lot of new work, but I also want to maintain high quality and consistency within each and every one of my works. This is super important to me, because each book and short story is part of a larger epic taking place. For my plan to work, everything has to make sense and be consistent with everything else.

Other than building my catalog by writing and releasing new works, I'm also constantly updating my blog and checking what posts do well and which ones don't. I've noticed that interviews get huge numbers while these more personal posts see far fewer. That's all right, though. The larger numbers during my interview posts means there's a substantial chance someone who has never read my blog before might like it enough to start following me. It's a dream one can aspire to, anyway. And because of that, I'll keep posting what I love discussing--which is writing, Inrugia, and the cultures I'm creating. ;)

I have also started pushing my newsletter more, though I'm seeing little return in that, since I just began a few days ago. When it comes to things outside of writing, I've learned I can really only focus on building one at a time and maintain quality in my work. First, it was Twitter and Facebook (which, I'm proud to say, after a few weeks of hard work and interaction, I've upped both by more than 20 followers each!). Next is the newsletter, and once I have a decent readership there, I'll be pushing my Patreon pretty hard, and then roll back to Twitter and Facebook, and so on.

Why do all of this? Well, because this is what I want to do for a living. Beyond building my catalog, I have to show people that I've built it. Readers don't know that I have so many titles out, simply because to the majority of them, I'm invisible. While having a large catalog and eventually gaining a following is inevitable, I can bring readers to my catalog as it grows while doing other things to actively build a following. Writing a lot of books and short stories isn't enough. It just isn't. You also have to work hard at bringing other aspects of your love for writing to readers.

I have a few more ideas simmering in the back of my mind, and will give those a try. Until then, though, this is what I'm doing. Writing all the time, and when I'm not writing, I'm blogging or tweeting or posting on Facebook or working on figuring out this newsletter business. I'm also pinning and planning and soon, maybe even Instagramming. Who knows? All I know is that this is what I want to do. I want to be a writer, so I'm putting in all of the hard work I can to make this career a reality.

What do you do to build your catalog, and eventually, your readership? Have you ever felt like giving up? I have, but I pushed through it. If you have, please don't quit! Remember--it's all about gaining someone's interest. Build a relationship with readers, and you'll do fine. :) Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Writer Within: Writing a Serial Novel

Is it Friday already? Goodness! That's exciting.

Today, I wanted to talk about my (albeit brief) experience writing my first-ever serial novel, Axis of the Soul. I have to say, so far, I love it. Writing a part a week has proven almost cathartic, since it offers me something to do in my spare time and a break from some of the denser manuscripts I'm working on.

I'll be the first to admit that I had no idea what I was doing going into this. All I knew was that I had a story I wanted to tell and a character who I thoroughly enjoy writing about in the Frendyl Krune series. Kel, who's Frendyl's second cousin, is probably my favorite character to write in that series, simply because she says whatever she wants and does as she pleases. Are there consequences to that? Oh yeah. Of course there are, but it's still refreshing to have someone who says the things others might not want to here, someone who's open and honest and true to herself.

In Axis of the Soul, Kel has mellowed a little, mostly due to age and experience in life, and also in part because of her occupation. While Navyni became a high lord and Frendyl is on his way to becoming one of the youngest and most well-respected knights in the Amüli Kingdom, Kel applied her knowledge and skills toward becoming an assassin for the Order of Kravaldin. She's one of the best, though it's interesting to see how she does her job first-hand.

Part I was truly enjoyable to write, as it introduces readers (and myself) to a part of the amüli world beyond the kingdom and Isle of Forfeited Souls where most of the Frendyl Krune series takes place. Kel's journey takes her far beyond the lands she traveled as a child and brings her to the Empire of the Blue Sands, which I discussed in a previous blog post. Here, she not only encounters numerous peoples and cultures she doesn't quite understand, but others who seek to stop her at any cost.

While not every chapter will be high-octane, they are all exciting and pieces of a much larger story that, in the end, will do more than leave readers satisfied. As a writer who often plans as she goes, this is an interesting take on my method. I've put more planning into this story than most of my others, because I realize that I can't easily go back and make changes to the tale.

Overall, I'm excited to try something fresh and new, and hope you'll enjoy reading Kel's story.

What are your plans for this weekend? Share in the comments below!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Writer Within: Ecosystems

Happy Thursday, everyone! Let's get started. And warning. This is a topic that I'd list under "Pet Peeve" when it comes to writing and reading.

With that in mind, let me be honest. One thing that drives me absolutely insane in fantasy stories is horses. Not only horses, but birds. Fish. Cats. Dogs. Basically, Earth animals set in a foreign world, drive me mad. Unless that alien planet has had some connection with Earth (and has for quite some time), these animals do not belong on an alien world. And... let me be honest, most fantasy books take place on alien planets. Now, let me be clear: the inclusion of Earth species doesn't mean a book is bad, it just means I'm less likely to be intrigued or drawn into the world. Simply because I prefer not to have Earth species be native to Inrugia doesn't mean that you can't have horses or dogs or cats on your fantasy world. I just ask that you truly consider why those animals are present. For example, horses make sense in J. R. R. Tolkien's work, because it takes place on Middle Earth, which is essentially Earth. I have a tougher time believing that they belong in J. R. R. Martin's work, though, because the various lands are not intended to be an early lore for any part of Earth.

Due to Earth's role in my series, Inrugia posed a large problem to me for a long time. I wanted the ecosystem to make sense, but I also wanted to make sure that Earth's own ecosystem didn't end up taking over the unique flavor of Inrugia. I wanted to draw from reality (Earth) and create a fictional world where animals and plants are at peace with their habitat. Thus began the long process of creating various species that exist on Inrugia.

During the early phase of creation, I often asked myself what sort of theme I could rely on. What, for my world, made the most sense when developing creatures? Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance are, for the most part, grand examples of how to create an ecosystem that fits with the world. Note that he does have horses, chickens, dogs, etc., which to me is beyond strange, since he created amazing creatures like axhounds and other carapace-covered animals. He drew from the sea to inspire his new ecosystem, which, awesome. Love it. Hate the horses and chickens, love everything else. I adore the rockbuds and the shalebark and the massive greatshells. I'll always cringe when someone rides a horse, but I suppose that's all right. Note that if he had filled the niche of a horse with a carapace-covered creature, that would have made a lot more sense, even if he had decided in the end to call it a horse.

So, Sanderson's idea of pulling from the ocean gave me a great launching point. The three deities created life on Inrugia (at least according to lore), and the deity given the most credit is Batrisk, who is associated with bone (Matrisk with flesh and Katrisk with blood). Because of this, I decided to give the majority of life on Inrugia bony armor (especially life associated with the ground or water). Not carapace, mind you, but something thicker, heavier, and more reminiscent of Devonian period ocean fauna. Fish all have bony plates, same with beasts of burden, and recbrether (literally bone-armored tree). Insects are a little different, but most anything larger than them are covered in some form of bone, and if they aren't, boils and pock marks are the norm, along with mutated feathers or other consistent mutations. I also worked with the other two deities. Birds have mutated flesh (Matrisk) and various carnivores have blood-related alterations that have changed their physical appearance quite a bit (Katrisk). I strove to make everything as alien as I could while still touching upon familiar themes, especially in early books in the Chronicles.

While working out the kinks of Inrugian life, I kept in mind how life on Inrugia has changed, who changed it, why, and what those changes meant for species other than denrana, ekra, and amüli. For example, ekra are created from the bones and flesh of deceased creatures; does that mean an ekrim can create a zombie animal, or does it turn into an ekrim as well? The answer: it turns into an ekrim. What about denrana? Do they hold any power over their environment? Turns out, they do, but mostly in the way of eating the souls of other living creatures. And amüli? How do they impact their world? That one was a little trickier, but I think I managed to find a balance. The answers to those questions shaped the ecosystem of Inrugia and the creatures who wander her surface.

"But what about the crows? You're totally obsessed with crows!" you might shout, especially if you've read The Soulbound Curse.

Okay, yes, I am a bit... over-the-top when it comes to crows, but the very first thing I made sure to mention about the crows on Inrugia is that they are an invasive species brought to the planet by a High House. A few mating pairs escaped captivity, because crows are freaking smart, and then bred and bred and bred until they overwhelmed the local ecosystem. Crows play a significant role in my story and aren't simply mentioned for the sake of being mentioned. The same goes for cats or dogs, which there are very few of, because they're expensive to import from Earth and care for. I'd argue that any Earth species on Inrugia is invasive and, in my opinion, makes sense. Someone brought them there and their presence becomes a rather clear mistake.

While not every fantasy story needs its own creatures, I do feel that even Earth-based fantasy should have some sort of reasoning behind creatures such as horses, dogs, etc. being part of that world. Make the ecosystem work with the world and the strangeness you seek to build, not against it. The more you create, the more original the creatures and flora, the more likely you'll immerse readers in your world.

How do you construct your ecosystems? What do you do to make something unique and playful without losing sight of the reality needed to structure your fantasy planet? Share in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wonderful Writers on Wednesday! Interview with Author J. W. Zulauf!

Welcome to Wednesday's new blog series, Wonderful Writers on Wednesday, which features authors at Evolved Publishing! Today, please join me in welcoming author J. W. Zulauf. His whimsical Balderdash Saga is full of adventure and amazing characters--and I should know! I've read them all.

Can you describe the setting of your current book or work-in-progress? What do you love about this setting? What do you hate?

I’ll speak on The Balderdash Saga as a whole, being as I’ve very recently closed the lid to this coffin tale. The main installments—there are three—have a strange Tim Burton-like backdrop, and they take place in an underground kingdom called Balderdash, following the lives of corpses that have been brought back at the hands of a shaman. Now, I call it a backdrop because it really is just that. The premise can sound scary at first, but really the reader is focused on the characters, causing these macabre details to fall to the wayside. This is actually what I love about it all, though. I love odd places, and I can honestly say that I don’t hate any aspect of this story’s setting.

How do you write a convincing setting? Do you wing it or do you plan everything out first to make sure you haven’t forgotten something?

A story for me is like a storm coming in off the horizon. I see the shape and color of the clouds. I see small streaks of lightning, maybe feel the rumble of thunder, and for a brief moment, I watch it creep across the sky, barely a thought. I might look away, but before I know it, the clouds are rolling in so fast, I can hardly run for cover. They tumble across the sky like waves crashing on a beach, and then a blanket of details and information washes over me so hard and quick that I’m swimming in character development and setting and plot, and then I start writing. I don’t really map things out on paper, but my mind files things away, and to be honest, if I forget something, it wasn’t meant to be in the story.

Literature comes in all sorts of media forms; other than written literature, what media form do you find to be the most inspiring (film, graphic novel, comic strips, etc.)?

I would have to say video games. This is going to sound weird, I’m sure, but I missed out on a lot of these things. When I was younger, I played outside, and when I wasn’t playing outside, I was diving into video games. I didn’t invest a lot of time or money into comics and graphic novels, and I missed out on a great deal of film. Back then, the games were story like and character focused, and they always seemed to carry me away. I mean, video games are where the inspiration for The Balderdash Saga came from. I wanted to create something I could love as much as I did the Zelda games with a princess, magic, and adventure.

What first inspired you to begin writing? How old were you?

This is a weird question that always seems to have a different answer for me. I feel like all my life creation has been in my mind. I’ve wanted to do everything under the sun, from acting to playing music to drawing, but no matter what my interest temporarily went to, it always came back to writing. I think the first time I can remember ever being interested in writing was when I was very young. Somewhere in the 8-11ish range. My mom had purchased me a typewriter from a yard sale, and I remember typing up some stuff that was surely inspired from reading through R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. Say Cheese and Die, if I remember right.

What do you love most about writing?

I would say the sense of purpose it gives me. I’ve never been overly crafty with my hands like most of my family. I’ve never been a computer whiz, and no matter what types of jobs or hobbies I’ve taken on, writing has been the one thing that makes me feel like I’ve truly accomplished something. It also helps control my mind. My brain just seems to go so fast all the time, and I can honestly say, I don’t know what peace and quiet means. All I do is think, think, think, and writing gives me the avenue to channel some of this nonsense going on upstairs.

Thank you for your time! Is there anything you’d like to say to readers?

I tend to say this a lot, but it can honestly never be said enough. Reading can change the world! Always read. Put books in your kids’ hands. Put books in your hands. Give the gift of reading. Be proud to be smart. Most of all, thank you for reading my stuff and this interview.

Grab a copy of any of the Balderdash Saga through the Evolved Publishing Website. You'll just adore this set of tales for readers young and old!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Writer Within: Linking a Universe Together

Happy Tuesday, everyone! I hope your week is going well. Mine is! :)

I've been asked a few times why I write The Amüli Chronicles, and more specifically, why I work with characters that I've written about before. The truth is, I don't always choose. In some cases, the characters make it clear that they have more of a story to tell. Such was the case for Frendyl Krune, who made his first appearance in The Soulbound Curse. Out of the numerous characters named within that book, he was the first and firmest to state that he needed his own story to be told.

From the Frendyl Krune series emerged more characters, who in turn desired their own works. Thus, Axis of the Soul came into being, which will explore Kel's life after the events of the Frendyl Krune series.

Now, I suppose the biggest reason I continue to work with characters readers see in various stories is to maintain consistency within the world. I'm a firm believer that interesting characters will always draw out their own tale, whether or not I'm the one to write it. Still, if the characters and plots are interesting enough, one series eventually leads to another, which in turn leads to another, and another, and so on.

There are so many stories within the amüli world that I couldn't possibly write them all, even if I had a lifetime to do so. I find myself thinking about a farmer or a miller or a miner from time-to-time, wondering if there's a story there. What's that character's struggle? Why is it important? How can I transform a labor-intensive task into a powerful obstacle? These are the questions I ask when a character comes to me with a story. I want to know who the character is, of course, but I also want to ensure that there's some connection between one character's tale and the grand theme that needs to be played off of in the greater Amüli Chronicles as a whole.

Some day, I will likely return to the stories of those who aren't mentioned by name in any of the series I'm currently writing. For now, I'm content working on character that are already established. This creates roots for readers to grip onto. I also must note that I can't begin to say how many series I've enjoyed where one set of characters is thoroughly explored only to be replaced by other characters that I have no connection to. Such a drastic change rips me out of the larger arc of the world, and often times, if I can't find a connection, I don't return to that series. This happens not only with books, but with television series and movies. If a creator spends a massive amount of time developing a set of characters, I as part of the audience, want more of those characters. I don't want a rehash of the original (Legend of Korra) or something entirely new; I want to continue the tale that was told before. Perhaps from a different perspective, but one that I can connect with.

This is why I link together every story and every character in The Amüli Chronicles. It might take a long time to get everything the way I want it, but until then, there are plenty of characters and tales to explore.

How do you link together your world? Do you do so one book at a time or with entire series? If you do write all of your work in the same world, why? What about that setting is so powerful to you? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Writer Within: Building the Empire of the Blue Sands

Happy Monday, everyone! Today's To Do list is rather long, but I wanted to take a few minutes to write about my method when developing new lands for The Amüli Chronicles.

Late last week and into the weekend, I spent a great deal of time sketching the map for the Empire of the Blue Sands. This land and its people are mentioned briefly in Frendyl Krune and the Stone Princess, but have been in development for quite a few years. Since beginning the most recent and final iteration of The Soulbound Curse, I've spent time working through what lands beyond the Amüli Kingdom (later, the Amüli Republic) might look like, what differences their peoples may have compared to the Amüli Kingdom, the various cultures, and the reasons behind those cultures' existence.

While some peoples of various lands, such as the Isle of Forfeited Souls and the Empire of the Blue Sands, have maintained their physical similarities to post-Transition amüli, others have not. Those I'll expand upon later, of course.

The Empire of the Blue Sands is quite different from the Amüli Kingdom in a number of respects. First and foremost, it is, of course, an empire. A single ruler, in this case--and forever and for always within the empire--an empress, oversees and maintains all of the city-states beneath her control. These city-states range from the border of the Avdenahvin (which one can see crosses the borders between the maps of the Amüli Kingdom and the Empire of the Blue Sands below) to the Peaks of Eleiandae to the east.

Unlike the Amüli Kingdom, the empire is comprised of city-states that agree with one another on a single platform: religion. No matter the disagreements between the individual city-states on other subjects, religion unifies the empire in a way that the Amüli Kingdom can never be brought together. It also should be noted that the Empire of the Blue Sands is a great deal larger in land mass than the Amüli Kingdom, but because of Venaeyn's Blessing, the amount of useful land is minimized quite a bit, and the empire has a smaller population than the Amüli Kingdom.

When developing the empire, I had to keep all of this in mind. I had to think about what the subsequent and prior rulers would have called various city-states and how that would have impacted the growth of the empire as a whole. As I named parts of the empire--specifically, cities--I didn't second-guess the words that came to mind. Sometimes I do, but in this case, I let the city-state names simply come to me, and it seems to have worked well.

As for the titles of geographical locations, those I named after great heroes of the empire. Venaeyn is the first of Vilboyen's lovers (if you haven't read Frendyl Krune and the Snake Across the Sea, I suggest you do so if you would like to learn more about Vilboyen), the woman he deemed his only true love. There's more of a story there, but I'll wait a bit before revealing anything more about Venaeyn. ;)

In the case of Maltalik's Expanse, the Sanctuary of Elmyk, and the Peaks of Eleiandae, these are all places named after heroes and heroines of a time long past. Every single one of these figures are mentioned in the Doctrine of Our Lady of the Blue Sands and holds some significance to the rise of the empire and the role religion played in its dawning.

Not every developmental stage is the same for the various lands of Inrugia. For the Isle of Forfeited Souls (Frendyl Krune and the Snake Across the Sea and Frendyl Krune and the Stone Princess), I wrote the book first, exploring the geography and cultures first-hand through Frendyl's eyes, and later created the map based off of the book's descriptions.

There's a lot more to discuss about the Empire of the Blue Sands, and some of it will be revealed in Axis of the Soul as the serial novel continues. Keep an eye out for a new part every Monday!

There are many other lands on the amüli homeworld to explore, and about 1/6 of the landmass has been revealed at this point. I look forward to exposing more of Inrugia as new stories unfold.

How do you create countries, empires or kingdoms? What's your favorite method of developing maps and cultures? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Writer Within: Managing Multiple Projects

Goodness, it's Thursday at last! For some reason, I kept thinking every day this week was Friday. Even Monday felt like Friday. Makes for a bit of a long week, doesn't it? Oh well. That just means I have more time to reach my writing goals this week.

I'm not the only author who works on multiple projects at the same time, not by far, and I'm quite glad this is the case. Because I'm not, it meant there was an enormous number of blogs and articles for me to peruse when I first began juggling projects. I needed to find something that would help me stay on track and reach my goals, while not being intrusive or annoying (alarms, for example, are both intrusive and annoying, and actually break my focus).

After a few years of searching, I still couldn't find something that worked well for me. During this time about a year ago, I was averaging about 1,000 words a day. Some days, I'd average more, some days far, far less. There were even days where I (gasp) didn't write at all, either because I wasn't "feeling it," or I simply had other things I needed to do. Things became a little more desperate when I began writing full-time and when I changed my release schedule with my publisher. I've known forever that writing is what I want to do with my life, and to do so successfully, I needed to overhaul my daily goals and make sure I was, at the bare minimum, doubling my daily output.

But none of the methods on the blogs I read were working for me. I tried everything from alarms to listing my goals and projects every morning (my most recent attempt before my current one), and still I could not get in the groove. Sure, for a day or two, I'd bust out more words than usual, but then things would settle down and I'd space out my goals and just... stop writing as much.

"Not good!" I said, and I went back to the whiteboard--literally--and erased all of the lists and tables I had charted up for the week. I needed something else, something that I could use to hold myself accountable.

And then, I created this.

Note that I still have troubles with realistic goals. I'm working on it, I swear! However, I my output has increased a lot. Other than Tuesday, which was what I term a Black Day, I've done pretty good, keeping my daily word count above 4,000. Thus far, this method had proven the best for me. I list out the projects I want to work on each day of the week, and then below, have a chart where I can keep track of my successes or failures to work on certain projects. This is a pretty good system of accountability for me, because everything is listed out. I can literally see my accomplishment on each and every project, and it really helps me keep my projects more balanced.

While I have yet to know if this method will work for me in the long-term, I'm pretty happy with the short-term success right now. This specific method allows me to keep juggling my numerous projects while keeping in mind my due dates, and helps me prioritize fairly well. There are a few books I haven't worked on this week (Rise of the Four Kings being the most notable), simply because I had other priorities. I may reconsider how I approach this method, though, and try to do at least 100 words on every project, even the ones that I shouldn't technically be working on.

I'm a stubborn person. I'm also very driven. When I decided to be a writer, I said, "I want to be a powerhouse. I want to go into this a furnace whose bellows don't quit. I want to stoke the flames in myself and in writers and artists all around me."

That's my goal. Not just in writing, but in life. It's what keeps me going. Driving to be that powerhouse is what pushes me hard every day to keep writing, keep supporting my fellow authors, and keeps pushing me to always do more, to always do better, and to always fight for what I love.

How do you keep track of multiple projects? Does your method seem to work well? Share in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wonderful Writers on Wednesday! Interview with Author K.M. Hodge!

Welcome to Wednesday's new blog series, Wonderful Writers on Wednesday, which will be interviews with authors at Evolved Publishing! Today, please join me in welcoming author K.M. Hodge! Her newest release, Red on the Run, is an action-packed thriller with interesting characters and a unique twist on the genre. Let's dive in!

What first inspired you to begin writing? How old were you?

Like most writers, I have always been writing in some form or fashion. Before I knew how to write, I would make up all kinds of fantastical stories and force my family to sit and listen to them all. When I was in the third grade I got in trouble for selling my stories on the playground. For the most part I wrote a lot of poetry, but in high school I started my first novel. I didn’t finish that book until eighteen years later!

Got in trouble for selling stories! Wow! That's not very fair. What’s your favorite genre to write in? Why?

I love writing suspense and mystery novels. It was the kind of books that I grew up reading.

Awesome! Is there something you like to do to that genre to give it a unique twist and make it your own? How do you change the genre while keeping it recognizable?
I like to make my characters more realistic and relatable. I do this by giving them issues like addiction to drugs, alcohol or sex. My stories are also written for women and give voice to a lot of important things that women go through like domestic violence, sexual assault, sexism, fertility problems, and much more.

Those are some really heavy topics. I'm glad you bring the gravity of them to your work. Who’s your favorite character that you’ve written? Now how about in literature as a whole? How are these two characters similar and how are they different?

My favorite character is my hemingwayesque writer, Jason Knettle, who becomes the focal point in Black and White Truth, the second book in my Syndicate-Born Trilogy. My favorite literary character is Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Both men are hard to love, but once you see passed their protective façade, you can’t help but love them.

Jason sounds rather interesting. Now, tell us a little about your current work-in-progress, if you can. What’s your favorite scene that you’ve written so far?
I am working on the second book in my Book Cellar Mystery Series, Texas and Tiaras, that I co-write with Melissa Storm. My favorite scene so far is an emergency meeting of the book club. The youngest character’s interaction with the sole male character was a fun interaction to write. It’s such a fun, light series to write.

That's good! A change of pace is always welcome, I think. Thank you for your time! Is there anything you’d like to say to readers?

I love talking to my readers and hearing what they think about my work. I reward my loyal readers with free ARC copies of all of my books. If you would like to be on my VIP list sign up today

I'm glad we got to speak with K.M. Hodge! If you want to read more of her work or take a look at Red on the Run, just click the image below! You can also visit her and learn more at

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Writer Within: Developing the Denayn

Happy Tuesday, everyone. I hope your week is going well and you're enjoying some nice weather. It's been rainy and cool here since last Friday, and I love the rain! It refreshes everything, and I planted a bunch of flowers just in time for nature to water them. Exciting! I think, though, that they're ready for some sunshine. We'll see what the day brings, eh?

Yesterday and in a few of my previous blogs, I talked a little about the denayn and their former physical forms, the denrana, and today, I'd like to expand upon them a little more. This blog will discuss the early history of the denrana and their first recorded interactions with the amüli people.

You may wish to use this map for reference.

Long ago, roughly fifteen hundred years before the amüli underwent the Transition, the denrana dwelled in the lands north of the Maervydoi Mountain chain, a desolate, cold expanse of forests and fields unknown to the amüli at this time. The denrana held two enormous cities and numerous smaller hamlets and towns. Their empire reached from the Seiryn Ocean to the west, to the Eyrgre Ocean to the east, and south to the innards of the mountains, and north to the edge of the world; until the Amüli Kingdom underwent expansion a few years later thanks to Bertrys Aneys, the first Aneys monarch, no other empire or kingdom had ever been so large.

The denrana's capital city, Gahorin, sat upon an estuary, and unlike the amüli, who feared deep water due to their wings and avian forms, the denrana were adept sailors and had explored much of the western coast of Lasmyl, all the way to the southernmost tip of Iesmyl, by sailing through the Shattered Seas.

The denrana also made their way from one of their northeastern ports (now no longer in existence, even as ruins) to the northern tip of Vasmyl, where they met an ambitious amüli by the name of Bertrys. The explorers befriended the young amüli, and did all they could to learn of her culture and where she had come from. At the time, Bertrys revealed little of her personal history, only claiming that she and she alone could unite the then-scattered clans of amüli and benefit the people as a whole. She was determined to find her way to Madirakov, the small city between a strait and the Maelyn Mountains, and the denrana were only happy to help her reach her destination.

Upon arrival in Madirakov, Bertrys quickly usurped the current Grand Prince of Madirakov, taking his youngest son as her husband (Ayev) and murdering the rest of the royal family. The denrana, who had returned home to send out new explorers and scholars to learn more of the amüli, were surprised to learn of the events that had transpired since their departure. When one denrana by the name of Hava'alanii, who had been the first to befriend Bertrys initially, attempted to find out what had happened, the self-proclaimed queen stated she would not rest until all lands, from the glittering Eyrgre Ocean to the north and east, to the Plaious to the south and the Seiryn to the west, all belong to her.

Hava'alanii attempted to reason with her, explaining that there was much to the world other than controlling land--knowledge, magic, and so on--but Bertrys would hear none of it. Hava'alanii offered to stay behind when all of the other denrana returned home, if only to advise the young queen and try to guide her and teach her how to become a benevolent ruler. The denrana was convinced that their two peoples could achieve great things together and begin a golden age where all peoples of Inrugia prospered.

It wasn't long before Bertrys grew leery of Hava'alanii and the perceived attempt to manipulate and change her, though Hava'alanii had no intention of doing such things; the denrana only wanted to see the fledgling amüli kingdom flourish. Still, Bertrys's lack of trust ended Hava'alanii's life, and when news reached the denrana lands that the brash amüli queen had murdered one of theirs--and one who came from the First Lineage (equivalent to a royal family)--the denrana reacted swiftly and prepared for war.

What happened next would alter the history of Inrugia and the impact the deities had on the mortals of this world forever.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Writer Within: Developing the Amüli: Part Three

Hi all! I hope you're having a good Monday! I am. This morning has already been pretty productive despite the rainy weather outside.

Today, I want to continue the discussion I was having about the amüli and their transformation from large avian creatures to bipedal humanoids. We've already covered the why of the Transition, what it is, and what amüli looked like before they changed. If you don't recall, here's a before and after image:

Remember the denrana? I briefly mentioned how they changed forms as well, and this was their own attempt at evading the life debt owed to the gods (also known commonly as the blood price). By trying to avoid repaying the gods, the denrana instead ended up cursing themselves into eternally hungering for the souls of other creatures. But I'll talk about that more in another post. The reason I bring up the denrana is their importance in the amüli's decision to change their physical forms. Had the dnerana not first tried--and failed--to lengthen their lifespans and sever their connection with the three deities, the amüli might never have wanted to do the same. They may not even have realized they could do such a thing. Draemyn Pex, the amüli responsible for the Transition, used what little notes the denrana left behind in founding his research and experiments, and ultimately, that information is what led to the Transition's success.

In the last post, I mentioned Soullessness. Let me give you some background on how it came about and what it means. When the amüli first underwent the Transition, they believed their new physical form was the only drawback to immortality, and so went about their merry lives for a long time, convinced they had outwitted the gods. It wasn't long before the extent of their change began to show. The Transition revealed to amüli that once their first human host, or Soulbound, was on the brink of death, the amüli's soul could be changed to a new host. This process soon became widely known as Rebirth. After Rebirth, an amüli's age would regress slowly until they were around the same physical age of their new Soulbound, and then they would age naturally after that, soul still intact.

Rebirth could be done over and over and over again, and in the earliest years of the afterglow of the Transition, many believed Rebirth was a never-ending cycle. At least, until amüli who underwent Rebirth fifteen times or more began to show signs of madness. More on that in another post; the point I want to make here is that amüli learned quickly that their immortality wasn't quite perfected, and that they still eventually had to end their own lives. Death, however, was no longer an option.

Once an amüli's soul was destroyed, that amüli didn't die. Instead, they faded into a comatose-like state, their body decaying, but at a far slower rate than those of deceased mortal creatures. At first, amüli merely burned the bodies of those who had gone Soulless, but as more research around Soullessness and what it meant was conducted, the amüli learned that those who went Soulless were still alive. Well, at least in a sense.

Soulless amüli still hear, see, think, and feel their surroundings, but they cannot speak, blink or interact with the outside world. They become trapped within their bodies, but unlike comatose humans, don't require any sort of life support systems. They don't need food or water, and though their bodies do eventually decay over time (as in a study conducted by a number of amüli theorists), death never truly occurs. Even after decay, signs of life still exist upon the bones. The ekra term this an imprint of the previous owner of the bones, and have to weave spells to keep the previous owner's consciousness from overtaking that of the new ekrim.

As Soullessness became a more widespread phenomenon, the amüli began to realize that their fate, much like that the denrana, could not be undone. In exchange for living hundreds of years, an amüli would eventually be forced to succumb to a Soulless hell--if madness didn't take them first.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Writer Within: Setting Your Goals

Hi, all, and happy Sunday! Sorry I didn't post yesterday. Things are always hectic for me on Satruday, and for this weekend, yesterday was no exception--it was actually busier than usual!

Today, I'm taking a break from the Developing the Amüli post to discuss how I set my goals and how I stick to them. This isn't just an important topic in writing as a career; it's a vital one. Too often I hear writers talk about how they can't reach their goals each day, which is understandable--well, to an extent. It's very important to set achievable goals for each day if you're going to write professionally, and then to adhere to those goals as strongly as possible. If you find that you aren't reaching your goals four or five times a week, that means something needs to change.

Now, life happens. Everyone has a day here or there where they simply can't meet their goals, either from being ill, family matters or any multitude of things that come to pass. This is part of living, and of course, take care of yourself first. ;)

I mentioned a while back that I write in cycles. I'll work on a project (or as is the current case, multiple projects), finish the largest of the bunch, and then stop writing for anywhere from a few days to a week. This is how I work, and this is the cycle I design my goals around. In an average day, I write between 8,000-10,000 words. Sometimes more. I always, always hold myself to my 8,000 word minimum, though. Why? Because I know that's a goal I can reach each and every day (other than my designated burn out days). I stick to it by allotting a certain word count to each project every morning. Yes, I do this each morning. I wake up and examine my project, figure out which ones need the most attention to reach my upcoming deadlines, and then I focus on that project first and the others last.

Probably the best thing I ever did was, ahm, borrow my husband's white board. Well, permanently borrow it. Okay, so I stole it. Whatever. The point is, I have a platform on which to write out my weekly schedule, and then a way to check things off of my list every day. I love wiping off a title or a goal. Best. Feeling. Ever. I think that's one of the reasons I adhere so well to my writing schedule--I have a tangible sense of accomplishment when I wipe away one of the titles I worked on that day.

The next thing I want to stress is don't compare yourself to me. I simply can't say this enough. I'm lucky enough to be a full-time writer. This is what I do, 9-12 hours a day, sometimes more. And I treat it like a job every day. I wake up, make my coffee or tea, and go to work. I allow myself an hour lunch (sometimes less), and I write the rest of the time. Structure to me is so, so important. Without it, I wouldn't get any writing done. But this is what I want you to take away from this: you're not me. You're you. You write differently than I do. At a different pace, with a different cycle, and probably for different reasons.

Keep this in mind when you set your writing goals and when you work to achieve them. How fast do you typically write? 500 words an hour? Great! That's awesome! So, set your goal a little lower. Aim for 400 words in an hour. Next, how much time a day do you actually have for writing? Two hours after dinner? Okay, plan around one hour or an hour and a half. This way, if you do have more writing time, you'll exceed your goal, but if you don't or if something comes up (family, pets, friends, spouses, and so on), you can manage your time around those other important things in life.

Next, look at your target completion date. Ask yourself if it's realistic. This is honestly something I still struggle with. I often assume I can reach goals faster than I actually can; even though I write quickly and edit well, I need to learn to leave myself more time so that the editing stage can be done four, five, or even six times. Even though I have a solid writing schedule, I'm still learning about how I function with other aspects of being a writer. This takes time, so don't be discouraged. :)

How do you make your goals? Are you able to achieve them most of the time? Why do you think that is? Share in the comments below!

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Writer Within: Developing the Amüli: Part Two

Happy Friday and welcome to the second installment of Developing the Amüli. Let's get started!

"So," you may ask, "when did amüli become humanoid? And more importantly, why?"

It was always very important to me to have the reason for the amüli changing to more human forms be something we could accept and understand and not a just because reason. After all, being a giant bird with a barbed proboscis seems pretty awesome, right? I'd love to be one.

Well, it would be awesome if the average life expectancy wasn't 25 years. Less, if you cast magic often, and when you can only give birth to one surviving egg out of every clutch, well. Life as a human seems much more fruitful, doesn't it?

One good rule of thumb for writing a book--especially a fantasy book--is to have one unique thing about your world, and have everything after that be a direct result of that one unique thing (the wonderful Jeff Altabef mentioned that once, and though I didn't know him at the start of The Amüli Chronicles, I honestly believe that it's true). Inrugia may seem to be a mess of unique and strange laws and events, but I promise you, all of those came from one core event: The deities lending life to amüli, ekra, and denrana.

Because the deities lent life, it was expected to be returned. Each time an amüli cast magic in the pre-Transition era (which requires the power of one of the three deities to be passed through the soul), part of that life force was taken back. The more one cast, the shorter one's life became. Few amüli ever lived past their 30th year, and for ekra and the denrana (later denayn), 30 years was a long, long time to survive. Magic couldn't even be written out of one's life. An amüli without magic didn't survive long on Inrugia; before the Transition, amüli were mortal, and thus survived according to the law of mortal wounds.

Another issue was how fickle the deities were when offering life. As I mentioned above, an amüli would be lucky if one egg out of a given clutch was offered life and hatched. This meant the amüli population, and therefore ekra (as ekra are literally built from the bones and tissue of recently dead animals), were strictly controlled by the deities. Namely, Batrisk, whose life-giving powers outshone those of his siblings. It was he the amüli most often sought to bless their eggs with life, and he who most often refused. Matrisk could give life, but hatchlings rarely survived long, and Katrisk could heal, but not actually give life.

With the amüli population declining at a steady pace and magic becoming more and more useful over the centuries, the amüli people needed some way around the blood price (the price owed the deities in return for life).

Centuries earlier, the denrana had attempted to find a way around their strict and short mortal lives, but their change had resulted in them becoming denayn, literally soul-eaters. They could no longer survive without devouring the souls of other Inrugian creatures, and the amüli were acutely aware of the consequences of trying to outsmart the deities and ignore paying the blood price.

Still, they yearned for more. They yearned, and not just for longer lifespans, but immortality, and thanks to Draemyn Pex, they were given it. Immortality came at a cost, however, and at first, amüli who survived the Transition were shocked to find they had mouths, fleshy, soft skin, and no longer looked the same as they had before. This was believed to be the only price for immortality for a long time, and most were content to appear ugly and humanoid in exchange for an everlasting life.

The Transition was a period of time roughly two thousand years ago when amüli souls were given over to human hosts on Earth (these hosts were later called "Soulbound humans," or "Soulbound"). Because an amüli's soul was no longer within its body, an amüli could cast magic without restraint. Aging still occurred, but wounds that would have once killed an amüli no longer did. Beheading, gutting, even a stab to the heart or brain wouldn't cause more than a bit of irreversible pain, maybe some brain damage, but so long as the soul wasn't hurt, the amüli could survive and heal from just about anything.

At the same token, magic, which had always been dangerous, became more so once amüli souls were removed from their bodies. It no longer caused instant death, but magically inflicted wounds could no longer be healed. The body was scarred with pock marks and boils, and the wound would weep and spread, eventually striking either the heart or the soul-casing (the empty organ where the soul once was held). Once the infection struck either of those places, the amüli became Soulless.

You'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what being Soulless means, though! ;)

What do you think of this twist on mortality and immortality? Do you test mortality in your own works? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Writer Within: Developing the Amüli: Part One

Happy Thursday! My gosh, only one day left until the week is over and you can enjoy your weekend. Tell me your plans in the comments!

A few days ago, I discussed how the ekra came to be and how they changed over time, both physically and as a culture. Well, around the same time that the ekra were redesigned, so were the amüli. I want to note that amüli have always looked the same way that they do now, but other aspects were added and their internal workings and history have changed over time to better suit the laws of Inrugia and her history.

Back when I first began developing Clae's story (in 2002), amüli were called angels, which can't be too surprising, considering they appeared rather angelic. Such as in this illustration of Ayev of Madir (now Madirakov) and a much older illustration of Bertrys Aneys.


The term amüli came about long before the name for the ekra people, and to be quite honest, I'm not sure where it came from. I do recall, however, after my first use of it in public how people loved it. Feedback on forums and in my writing groups was enormous. Numerous people who rarely replied to my posts came forward to state that they loved the way the word looked and how it sounded. Someone suggested I add an umlaut for clarification of pronunciation, and I'm glad I did.

Progression after the amüli were given their new name was slow. First, the name, then the realization that maybe amüli hadn't always looked humanoid. I wanted to design and develop a species that had a reason for appearing human and keeping their wings. After all, there are hundreds of stories available about angels, and I've never been one to fit into the mold. My creations were no longer angels, and their history needed to reflect that.

Over the following years, I worked on a few various conceptual drawings of what amüli might have looked like before they became humanoid. It wasn't until early 2012, however, that one of the designs stuck.

This isn't the first drawing I did of the pre-Transition amüli design; that, unfortunately, ended up being lost. I spent a great deal of time trying to design a creature that would coexist on Inrugia with beings such as ekra, recbrether, denayn, and other monsters. I wanted something familiar (avian design) but with a bit of a twist, and this, while not a complete example, is the design I finally chose.

This design took me months and months to figure out, and this specific example is of a female amüli. Males have a larger crest and longer feathers under the chin; they also don't have poison on their barbed proboscises. The feathers are perhaps my favorite part of the pre-Transition amüli design, but those will be discussed at length in another blog post.

Like the ekra (since the ekra use amüli bones and body parts to create their own), amüli had long legs with opposable thumbs. They also had air sacks used to communicate, which I would like to explore in another blog, and large, round eyes similar to Earth's raptors. Quite a change from this form the their current one, wouldn't you say?

Since the development of the amüli is such a large topic, I'm splitting the process into multiple blog posts. Tomorrow, you'll learn more about why the amüli became more humanoid.

What sort of creatures have you developed for your manuscripts or published stories? Where did you find the creation most difficult? Why? Share in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Writer Within: Writing from the Heart and Editing from the Stomach

Can it already be Wednesday? Where did the week go?  I woke up thinking today was actually Thursday, so maybe that's part of why the week feels like it's gone by so fast. I also have had tons of stress dreams about my wedding. It's a bit more than a month away; time to start stressing, right? Right.

That aside, today I want to discuss art from the heart and the gut. More specifically--since this is a writing blog--writing from the heart and editing from the stomach. What does it mean to write from the heart? This answer should honestly be different for everyone. Every writer should have a response that doesn't mesh with the next person's--why? Because each of us wants something different from our writing. We want to write and produce something unique from everyone around us.

Some people may consider writing from the heart to mean writing about love; others, it could be writing what you know; and still more people may think that writing from the heart means writing whatever you want, no matter the topic or genre. All of these answers are right in their own way.

So what does it mean to me? And what about that whole editing from the stomach bit?

To me, writing from the heart represents staying true to my characters, to their actions and decisions, and maintaining an overall consistency within The Amüli Chronicles, and also making decisions quickly, even if they aren't always the right ones for the story. It means listening to my heart and my stomach and knowing the difference between what my heart wants me to write and what my stomach says is the right direction for the tale I want to tell. In most cases, I usually trust gut intuition instead of my heart. If I write something and my heart thinks, "Well, that was a bad choice," I usually ponder over what my stomach thinks. This may sound silly, but the two work together--sometimes even with my brain--to help me create a strong balance between what I want to see in my story (heart) and what my story needs in order to be stronger (stomach).

I typically write listening to my heart and my brain, and then edit using my stomach. A good example of this is the events in Volboyen's Labyrinth in Frendyl Krune and the Snake Across the Sea. This book is easily the most difficult one I've written to date. It's also where I learned how to balance what I wanted to write and what I needed to write. The events of that tale were powerful and difficult for me personally to work through, and after more drafts than I'd like to admit (six or seven compared to the two or three needed for Frendyl Krune and the Stone Princess), I finally realized the events I kept fighting simply needed to happen, even though I didn't personally want them to.


That's the way it is for writers, though. We may want something to happen with all our being, but it's just... not right for the story. The events don't mesh with the way we need characters to grow, mature, and change, and learning to do what's best for the story--and not ourselves--was the most difficult lesson I've ever had.

Once I figured that out, the writing for Frendyl Krune and the Stone Princess and Frendyl Krune Origins: The Sandstone Script went so much faster; seriously, I finished and polished both in less than three months, which is hugely fast for me. I trusted my head and heart when writing the initial drafts, and then my gut when I edited.

In some cases, I want to flip the way I write. For The Soulless King, I trusted my gut more than anything--especially while writing, which was new for me. This is mostly due to the huge difference in the types of topics covered in the Soulbound arc vs. the Frendyl Krune series. I have to say, it made a huge difference in how the story flowed and where the characters ended up. While working on Frendyl Krune and the Nightmare in the North, I want to try relying more on my stomach than my heart and see what happens--see if the story telling will be similar to The Soulless King or if it will keep in line with the rest of the Frendyl Krune series. This particular book will be taking a few dark turns, and while I know what I want to have happen, I need to keep an eye open when editing.

When you write, what do you do? Do you follow what your heart says, or do you get the same gut feelings I do when a scene needs to be added, cut, or left alone? Which do you ultimately listen to? What does writing from the heart mean for you? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Writer Within: On Burning Out

If you're a writer, an artist or a person in general, you've burnt out before. Well, probably. If you haven't, please share your secrets. I implore you. You'd help a lot of people.

Burning out is a fact of life. There comes a point in everyone's life where they've simply had enough and have to stop whatever it is they're doing and recharge. Some people, like my dad, ignore their burn outs and rarely take the needed time to rest and recharge. And that's when I wish I could approach him and say, "You need some time to yourself. Not just a day or two, but a week or two." If you set aside your personal health when you're already burnt out and continue trying to push forward for years and years and years, there stands a good chance that your recharge time will need to be a heck of a lot longer than it would have been initially, or that you may not recharge at all.

Some people burn out faster than others, and some rarely crash. To those people, wow. I'm glad that you're able to push forward when the rest of us want to collapse. Kudos. :)

As for the rest of us who tend to burn out on, whether on a cycle (pretty much every time I complete a project, I need a few days to recharge and not think about anything) or not, it's about learning to manage your time and your burn outs properly so you remain productive. Now, note that there's a huge different between being tired and burning out. Honey, everyone is tired. All the time. As soon as you become an adult, you're never well-rested again. That said, a good night's sleep is always a bonus and helps me focus a lot better than my average night of sleep, during which I'm lucky to get three or four solid hours of deep slumber.

How do I manage my time when I've burned out on writing and art? I typically focus on my house, my yard, and other chores. I want to keep busy, but rest the part of me that is too far gone to function. Typically, that's my mind. Chores are menial, which means I can give my brain a break while still being productive. If you physically burn out, find something else to do that won't cause your body stress. If you're burnt out physically and mentally, dude, take a hot bath or a nap. That will help, and you can get back to work faster.

Allowing yourself time to rest is crucial to a productive lifestyle. I may be on the computer almost all the time, most of the time writing, researching or trying to amp up my marketing skills, but I do realize the benefits of walking away from the screen. In the evenings, I watch Netflix with my husband and relax, because it's good for us to spend that time together. This is different from using burning out as an excuse to binge-watch my favorite TV show. I want to keep being active, keep doing things, because I always feel more accomplished and a heck of a lot better after I do something. Weeding the yard, planting flowers, straightening the house, doing laundry--these are all things that I need to get better about doing on a regular basis, but I have found I'm more effective at getting them done during days where I'm too burnt out to write more than a few hundred words.

So, I guess in a way, this is my secret. I've had a few people ask how I can write so much so fast and not burn out. Well, I do. Like I said, most people do. I just manage my time away from writing differently than other people. When I write, I write. When I don't, I find other things to keep myself busy.

That said, I need to go weed the back yard. It's too beautiful to stay inside right now, and there aren't too many weeds anyway. ;)

How do you recover from a burn out? What are your methods? For me, Netflix isn't a method, but I know some people feel much better after they have watched a few episodes of their favorite show. If you're one of these people, what shows do you like the best? Share in the comments below!

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Writer Within: Creating and Overhauling Marik Aneys

It's already Monday! I hope everyone is having a good start to their week so far. I know this week is going to be busy on my end of the world. Between wedding planning, writing, and kicking my cartography business into gear, I have a lot to accomplish this week. That's good, though. Busy hands means I won't have time to be bored!

Today, I want to discuss a character near and dear to my heart: Marik Aneys.

Marik began as a jerk named Jake. He wasn't a kind guy, and he was the second character I created after Clae's original design. Marik hasn't changed much appearance-wise over the decade and a half that I've been writing this tale, but his personality has shifted quite a bit. Back when I first drew him, Jake emitted a sort of... personality that I wouldn't think endearing to readers. In fact, my very first reader (my mother) hated him with a scathing passion. And he wasn't the sort of character you loved to hate. He was just a terrible character.

Turns out, Jake was also Clae's older brother initially, though I think it was some sort of ruse to trick readers and that he and Clae were really cousins. I don't know. Fourteen-year-old Kira was a weird chick. Since it made no sense that a half-human amüli would have a pureblood older brother by the same parents, I nixed their sibling relationship pretty quickly and turned them into cousins.

As you can see by the drawing above, I didn't know a great deal about Jake at the time, just that he was an aggressive person and that he was involved in Clae's life. As time wore on, Jake transformed. At some point along the line, I decided to ditch traditional English names (except in two cases) for something a bit more exotic, and then used those names to start building and polishing the amüli language of Beokasvo. Jake's name transformed to Marik, which is comprised of two Beokasvo words. The first is firstborn, or mar, and the second is blood, or ik/ic/ac/ak. Clae's name also changed from Clei to its present spelling, which means to outlast.

Something strange happened when I changed Marik's name. His personality mellowed quite a bit. Almost overnight, which I recall thinking rather odd at the time. He became more reserved and observant, and while he still maintained a temper (a family trait, I think), he managed to become far more likable, at least for the most part. I remember thinking as I worked on the fourth or fifth draft of the series, "Gosh, I like Marik a heck of a lot more. I like writing him more. I think he might be my favorite character." And he sort of is. Anytime I consider ending my writing career, Marik is the most persistent in keeping me on track; not the loudest, mind you. That honor goes to Clae and Eti and Kel. He's just the one who keeps telling me to write more, even if it's terrible.

Marik went from picking on Clae and being a brutal bully to caring for his cousin and acting as his only friend, which was a strange transition for me at the time. This was the sudden, quick change I mentioned above. I think there's a reason for it, though. At the end of the first major draft of the Soulbound arc, Clei and Jake became good friends, and that might be why Marik and Clae started out as companions in The Soulbound Curse and the earlier drafts of that novel. Perhaps they worked off of the friendship they'd built in past drafts; then again, they may not have. The characters changed so much that I'm not sure they'd be recognizable by anything other than name and a few similarities in appearance.

Marik's change in personality ignited some major alterations not only to the Soulbound arc, but also to the amüli homeworld. It was a pretty slow process, but I can't deny that he was the one who started the drastic shift in the entire story--from other characters to the actual, physical appearance of Inrugia. One of the major changes he underwent was becoming more involved in politics, which gives him a reason to be around during The Soulless King and subsequent novels in the arc, and allots him a sort of power his former iteration may not have held. Second, he went from making rash choices--like Clae currently does--to thinking things through (at least, the majority of the time; Marik made a huge mistake in The Soulbound Curse, and it's not one easily remedied, but he was pretty emotional at the time and being manipulated didn't help much) and being more logical about decisions vs. outcomes. I tried to take these traits and use the same logic to develop each character's motivations and goals, which helped to clear things up quite a bit in the overall story within the Soulbound arc and the greater Amüli Chronicles.

His impact on Inrugia itself wasn't something I'd noticed until fairly recently, though. Way back when I first started writing, Inrugia looked like this:

But with Jake's upgrade to Marik, the shift began for not only he and Clae, but for the entire amüli and ekra species. This was around the time I finished reading Amy Thomson's The Color of Distance (amazing book, by the way; if you can find a copy in good condition grab it and read the heck out of it), and as I mentioned in my post about the ekra people, I pulled back from writing so I could revamp the ekra species as a whole. I also worked on smoothing out the amüli, their relationship with humans, their relationship with ekra, and their relationship with their planet and the gods (who, before this point, had only very minor roles in the series and no major impact on the way magic worked).

Marik's transformation urged me to make everything more realistic and less haphazard and fantastical. Inrugia once had dragons. Dragons no longer exist there, but now, massive bone-armored monsters wander the north and beasts covered in thick, stone plates graze in the south. From the need to turn one character from a nonsensical bully into a reasonable, likable person whose emotional torment is understandable, came the transition of the entire world of Inrugia.

No longer was the planet made up of only two continents, but now the Amüli Kingdom only covered a small portion of the world. The floating islands were transformed to the Shattered Seas. A reason for the world's massive crater was created, and lands beyond become the focus of other tales (Frendyl Krune and the Stone Princess, Frendyl Krune and the Nightmare in the North, Frendyl Krune and the King who Steals Hearts, Axis of the Soul, The Glass Heart). Inrugia became a much larger place and the peoples and cultures inhabiting the planet developed into a multitude of fantastic and sometimes terrifying varieties.

While Amy Thomson's book is probably the major reason I made so many changes, I do like to credit Jake as being part of the influence behind the overhaul. Marik, to me, is a much more fascinating and well-rounded character than Jake ever could be, and after him came many, many more characters I enjoy writing about.

And, by sheer happenstance, Marik is Kira M. backwards. ;)

What books have impacted your writing the most? Have you completely rewritten and developed characters because of something you read? Why did those books (or that single book) have such an impact on you and your writing? Let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Writer Within: Building the Ekra

Can it be Sunday already? Boy, the weekend certainly flew by fast. Sorry for my post being a bit late today; I woke up to a string of e-mails about some things I needed to get done ASAP. But now that I have a little time, I want to discuss one of the main species on the planet of Inrugia, the ekra.

For those who haven't read my blog post detailing the origin of The Amüli Chronicles, the ekra first began as a sort of vampire species, and were loosely termed vampires in the first eight or nine drafts of what was eventually to become The Soulbound Curse. Ekra initially looked like this:

And while they maintained a few key differences from the vampires of Earth lore--namely, their symbiotic relationship with blood-mites--they still weren't quite where I wanted them to be yet. Over the years following the creation of these creatures, I slowly constructed a culture surrounding them. In 2003, I decided that there were about 30 clans of these vampires wandering the Inrugian wilderness. Most had come from a fallen city off the coast of what was then the Floating Islands of Aka'thea (now the Eye of Ilanderi and the surrounding Shattered Seas). The city of Ya'Schnare--still by the same name--was where the vampire culture had come to witness the falling of the deity Ilanderi-karais and the ensuing shattering of the western lands, and where the deity had, in the original version of The Soulbound Curse, saved the vampire people from slaughter.

This tale has changed quite a bit, as ekra did not settle Ya'Schnare until hundreds of years after the event forming the Eye of Ilanderi, the Shattered Seas, and the Lacefields, simply because if a city had existed on the outskirts of the Eye of Ilanderi at the time of the event, the city would have been obliterated.

Once Ya'Schnare was demolished, both in the present history of Inrugia and the previous drafts, ekra broke apart into 30 clans and became nomads. Each clan has a strict hierarchy, adhering to the need for new ekra only when older ones die or leave the clan. Population control is extremely important to the ekra people, because they live within the balance of nature instead of segregating themselves in cities as the amüli do. Therefore, they realize that their numbers cannot be too vast, or the strain on the environment will outweigh what can be provided.

About six or seven years ago, I read The Color of Distance by Amy Thomson, and that book has stayed at the top of my list of all-time favorite reads ever since (note that this book came out long before James Cameron's Avatar, okay? He likely read it and borrowed heavily from her work). Thomson's creation and design of an alien culture with a strange and, in some ways, barbaric method of life, opened my eyes to what could be accomplished by changing the then-vampire culture. I also wanted to explore things that might seem barbaric to us, or to amüli, but were perfectly normal parts of life for ekra--and not just normal, but had a reason for existing.

So, at that time, I stopped writing and dove deeply into re-framing how the peoples of Inrugia came to be, how their cultures worked, and why amüli look so humanoid. I didn't like the idea of amüli--and therefore ekra--appearing humanoid simply because I wanted to write about angels. The next few years entailed a lot of rewriting and drafting of amüli and ekra history, and the end result?

The ekra became a non-gendered species that reproduced by building their young from the bones and flesh of dead animals--amüli included. This is why most newer ekra, like Eti, are bipedal and have some human and amüli features.


While this design isn't exclusively what all ekra look like, it is one of the more popular designs when older ekra build the next generation. It's an effective form and doesn't rely heavily on smaller bones that may have been lost to time. It also makes good use of skin and muscle, and allows the new ekrim to walk either bipedally or on all fours.

In redesigning the ekra culture, I also worked heavily on how their symbiotic relationship with blood-mites impacted them. What did blood-mites actually do? Initially, they were what infected a vampire's victim and turned them, but I didn't much like that idea. It seemed too... well, staged. There was no real reason behind the blood-mite, and I needed to change that. Fast-forward a few years, and the blood-mite became the circulatory, digestive, and healing systems of all ekra.

An ekrim could also fight with a blood-mite in a combat style known as vretbah and the blood-mite could survive a short time outside of the host body--and the host could in turn survive without the mite. The blood-mite could move about on its own and had its own level of intelligence, and truly became a living creature of its own merit, which made for a much more powerful relationship and species overall.

In The Soulbound Curse, one of the main point of view characters is an ekrim. Eti and other ekra play a large role in the workings of Inrugia as a whole, and their relationship with the amüli people, both past and present, will have an enormous impact on the larger story within The Amüli Chronicles. I am still exploring the ekra culture, and in my upcoming short story, Paper Sun, you will be exposed to an ekra exclusive story and the inner workings of several separate clans. No amüli and no humans are shown in this story, only ekra. I think it's important to have stories that are exclusive to such a fascinating species, because while the Chronicles are primarily about amüli, they aren't the only sentient creatures inhabiting Inrugia.

How many species have you created? What are your favorite alien species an author has created? Why? Share with me in the comments below!