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21st-Nov-2012 11:55 am - Writer Wednesday: Karen Azinger

Originally published at finding my words. Please leave any comments there.

I’m pleased to welcome today’s guest author, Karen Azinger.  Find out about her epic fantasy saga, her advice for beginning writers, her favorite comfort food, and more…

1.  First things first…a name and bio:

Karen Azinger

I am a chemical engineer, who became an international business strategist, who became an epic fantasy writer, and it is a dream come true.

2.    Where are you from and what’s your favorite thing about where you live?

I live in Portland Oregon. I love living in nature. I love the forests, the ocean beaches, the snowcapped mountains, and the Columbia Rive Gorge, beauty in every compass direction.

3.    Tell about your latest book.  What made you want to write it?

I am writing a five book epic fantasy saga, The Silk & Steel Saga. The first three books, The Steel Queen, The Flame Priest, and The Skeleton King, are published and getting great reviews. The fourth book, The Poison Priestess will be published the end of November. I write what I love to read. I love sweeping epics that capture the reader with tangled plots and complex characters and breath-taking vistas. I love castles and knights but I also love to write strong women who will never let you underestimate the “weaker” sex again.  I wanted to write a saga that would surprise readers and make them think while taking them on an irresistible adventure.

4.    Where can people find your books?  

Online at Amazon or Barnes&Noble. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=karen+azinger

6.    What inspired you to be a writer?

I’ve always loved fantasy and I wanted to give back to the genre a little of the joy that reading fantasy has always given me.

7.    Who is your favorite character in your stories? Why?

I have four characters that I love to write. Kath because she lets me swing a sword and indulge my love of adventure. Queen Liandra because she is based on one of my heroes from history, Queen Elizabeth I, and because she is so brilliantly strategic. The Priestess because she is wicked good fun. And Steffan, because he is so very male and such a walk on the Dark side.

8.    What is your favorite comfort food?

Right now, I’d have to say homemade apple pie.  

9.    What character from your stories was the hardest to write?

The Mordant is the biggest challenge because he embodies a thousand years of evil.

10. What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?

As an indie author, the biggest challenge is definitely marketing, how to get the word out about your books and find new readers.

11.  Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Write what you love. Write and keep writing and get as much feedback on your writing as you can. And keep reading. Read always, because reading a good book should challenge you to write better.

12. Who are your favorite authors and why? 

There are three authors who most inspired my own writing. JRR Tolkien because of his unparalleled worldbuilding. I fell in love with Middle Earth, from the Mines of Moria, to Rivendale and the Argonath. George RR Martin has taken fantasy characters to a new level of complexity. I’ve modeled my writing style on Game of Thrones, with each chapter told from the point of view of a different character. And lastly, Frank Herbert’s Dune. Frank Herbert was a master of incorporating complex themes like environmental science, religion, and politics, into the weaveof his story, turning Dune into a classic. In writing my saga, I’ve tried to learn from all three of these masters. I know this is reaching for the stars, but why would anyone ever reach for anything less?

15. Where can people find out more about you and your books?

You can find me on Facebook or on my author webpage http://www.karenlazinger.com/

16.  What question(s) did I forget to ask?

Tell me about your latest book?

The Poison Priestess is the fourth book of The Silk & Steel Saga. While Kath and her companions chase the Mordant into the far north, the southern kingdoms erupt in Flames. The Lord Raven marches south, unleashing a holy war against Lanverness. Vastly outnumbered by a ruthless enemy, Queen Liandra spins desperate gambits in a dire struggle to save her kingdom.

New alliances and new awakenings hatch deeper levels of intrigue. The Oracle Priestess and the Lord Raven form a tenuous alliance, while deep in the Southern Mountains the Kiralynn monks stir, revealing more than prophecy.

Armies clash, battles rage, and cities fall, as lives, loves and crowns hang in the balance, but swords are not the only way to wage war. Treachery, deceit, assassins, and the power of seduction will face-off against steadfast courage, forgotten magic, and the power of truth. The Poison Priestess is the fourth book in this epic tale of Light versus Dark.

14th-Nov-2012 11:29 am - Writer Wednesday: Nancy Kress

Originally published at finding my words. Please leave any comments there.

I’m excited to welcome author, Nancy Kress.  Find out about her latest book, who her favorite character is, what fueled her desire to start writing, and more…

1.  First things first…a name and a bio:

Nancy Kress is the author of 31 books, including 23 novels, 4 collections of short stories, and three books on writing.  Most recent works are FLASH POINT, a young adult SF novel from Viking (November, 2012) and AFTER THE FALL, BEFORE THE FALL, DURING THE FALL, a stand-alone novella from Tachyon Press (April, 2012).  Her work has won 4 Nebulas, 2 Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (for PROBABILITY SPACE).  Nancy lives in Seattle with her husband, SF writer Jack Skillingstead, and Cosette, the world’s most spoiled toy poodle.

2.  Where are you from and what’s your favorite thing about where you live?

I’m from Buffalo, NY.  I currently live in Seattle, and my favorite thing about it is that it is not Buffalo.  Seattle has a vibrant cultural life, greenery in the winter, gorgeous views, and (almost) no snow.

3.  Tell about your latest book.  What made you want to write it?

FLASH POINT is about a near-future United States in a very depressed economic state—even more depressed than at the moment.  Sixteen-year-old Amy tries to earn money for her dying grandmother by taking a job as a contestant on a new TV reality show.  The show invites viewers to predict how the seven teen-aged contestants will behave in various bizarre ‘scenarios.’  The contestants themselves don’t know in advance when these scenarios will occur or what they will be, and initially—and disastrously—Amy often guesses wrong.  Each scenario on the show becomes riskier than the last as the producers attempt to drive up ratings. Meanwhile, the United States moves toward riots and then revolution by unemployed and desperate citizens.  The political situation is exploited by the show.  I wanted to write this book as a way of weaving together for young people an exciting story and political economics—something I was completely ignorant of at that age.

4.  Where can people find your books?

The most recent ones, plus some of my backlist, are all available through amazon.com, and as ebooks for the Kindle, Nook, etc.

5.  What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m writing a long novella (35,000 words) for an interesting project launched by small-press publisher Arc Manor.  Called the “Stellar” series, each volume will consist of a novella by an established writer and a novelette by a “protégé” writer, the two connected in some fashion.  Mine is concerned, as much of my writing is, with future changes to the biology of humans.  No title yet.

6.  What inspired you to be a writer?

There was no inspiration—more like desperation.  I was a stay-at-home mom living far out in the country with one toddler and another child on the way.  When my son was napping, I wrote stories in order to use words of more than one syllable.  I hadn’t, unlike most writers I know, planned on this as a full-time career.  And yet for twenty-three years now, it has been.  But, also like most writers, I had always loved books and read constantly.

7.  Who is your favorite character in your stories? Why?

I wrote two thrillers, OATHS AND MIRACLES and STINGER, which did not do well despite very good reviews.  Because my name was on them, they were shelved with science fiction, which they’re not, and the thriller audience never found them.  But my protagonist, hapless fledgling FBI agent Robert Cavanaugh, is my favorite of my own characters because he is so quirky, clueless, and (to me, anyway) lovable.

8.  What is your favorite comfort food?

Chocolate.  Always.

9.  What character from your stories was the hardest to write?

Hmmm, let me see…none of them were “hard” in the sense of my not knowing who they were, since I decided who they were.  But Robert Cavanaugh certainly took the most research.  When I began, I knew nothing about FBI procedures, organized crime structures, or the RICO statutes.  I do now.

10.  What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?

The rejection.  In the beginning, everybody gets rejected (except Robert Silverberg, who sold his first story and just kept on doing that), and rejection never really goes away.  To be a writer you need not just talent but a certain temperament: stubborn (this is often graced with the term “persistent”), resilient, and self-directed enough to keep working when nobody is providing any outside structure, feedback, or paycheck.

11.  Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Write a lot.  Read a lot.  And listen to criticism from qualified people (editors, established writers, good readers) even if you don’t like it.  It may or may not be right, but at least consider it carefully before you decide it’s “not supportive.”

12.  Who are your favorite authors and why? 

Ursula LeGuin, Jane Austen, Somerset Maugham.  I could name half a dozen more and they all have the same qualities: absorbing characters whose stories add up to an interesting viewpoint about the world.  Plus prose that is a pleasure to read (LeGuin’s lyrical, Austen’s satiric, Maugham’s relentless).

13.  What books have most influenced your writing?

Everything I ever read.  I find it impossible to trace direct influences from this writer or that, at least not now.  My first novel, however, THE PRINCE OF MORNING BELLS, was a Peter Beagle pastiche—a fact noted by every single reviewer who read it.  I was learning by conscious and deliberate imitation.

14.  What tools are in your writer’s tool-kit?

A computer and coffee mug?  No, I know what you mean.  At Taos Toolbox, the two-week intensive workshop I teach every year with Walter Jon Williams, I spend time talking about the shape, content, and purpose of individual scenes.  For me, learning to write in well-constructed scenes made the difference between stories that didn’t sell and those that suddenly did.  That’s a major tool.  So are the two basic questions that shape plot: What do these people want?  What can go wrong here?

15.  Where can people find out more about you and your books?

I blog at http://nancykress.blogspot.com regularly, and tweet at nancykress.  One of these days I’m going to redo my web site, which is three years out of date.  Real soon now.

16.  What question(s) did I forget to ask?

Oh, I don’t know… Was my childhood happy?  Do I ever dream about elephants?  What would I do with ten million dollars?  Who will I vote for in the upcoming election?  But we run out of time and space, alas.

7th-Nov-2012 03:45 pm - Writer Wednesday: Beth Cato

Originally published at finding my words. Please leave any comments there.

Please welcome guest author, Beth Cato.  Find out about what she is crazy obsessed with, what she’s working on now, her favorite author, and more…

1.  First things first…a name and bio:

Beth Cato is an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, with stories in Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and Stupefying Stories. Despite how often her husband’s co-workers beg, she will not quit writing to bake cookies all day long. Information regarding current projects can always be found at http://www.bethcato.com. Sometimes those projects do include cookies.

2.  Where are you from?

I’m from Hanford, California, located in the smack dab middle of the state. I live outside of Phoenix, Arizona now. Both places smell like cow manure.

3.  Tell about your latest story.  What made you want to write it?

My story “Overlap” is in the new anthology Cucurbital 3, published by Paper Golem and edited by Lawrence M. Schoen. Every story in the book had to use three prompts: madness, darkness, and mattress. My story’s about teleportation, and I had to overcome a lot of my own insecurities about writing hard science in order to get the tale out. In the end, though, I think I created one of my favorite stories.

4.  Where can people find your stories?

I have a full list of my publications over at my bibliography. A lot of my short fiction is available to read for free online, and most everything else–like my Chicken Soup stories– can be found at Amazon.

5.  What are you working on right now?

I’ve been working on a lot of little projects–flash fiction and speculative poetry.

6.  What inspired you to be a writer?

It sounds cliché, I know, but I always wanted to be a writer. I was the kid at age four who was writing and illustrating her own books, always about horses, unicorns, or cats.

7.  What is your favorite comfort food?

I’m a crazy, obsessed baker. I love making all kinds of cookies and breads. Therefore, my ultimate comfort food has to involve bread: clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. It’s a dish that transports me to a foggy day along the central California coast.

8.  What character from your stories was the hardest to write?

I recently wrote a story with a character who was elderly, Armenian, and mute. This proved to be an immense challenge because she needed to help my young protagonist realize some things integral to the plot, and with no writing involved. A lot had to be said with body language and painful whaps of a cane.

9. What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?

Writing? Actually, I take that back. It’s really about hope in the face of constant rejection and criticism, and the very worst critic is in the mirror.

10.  Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

You have to make a decision to constantly improve yourself as a writer. That also means making yourself vulnerable. Success doesn’t come without that risk.

11. Who is one of your favorite authors and why? 

Elizabeth Moon.  She’s a prolific, amazing author of fantasy and science fiction who made her career while raising a son with autism; she’s an inspiration to me, especially when my own autistic seven-year-old is having a rough day and I really want to get some editing done!

12. What books have most influenced your writing?

I have to look back at my younger years. As a kid, I adored historical fiction and fact. Laura Ingalls Wilder and Patricia Beatty were favorites of mine. As a teenager, I was obsessed with Dragonlance. Those books made me want to write fantasy, too.

15.  Where can people find out more about you and your stories?


16. What question(s) did I forget to ask?

“Hey, you mentioned cookies in your biography? What’s up with that?” As noted above, I love baking. It gets me away from the computer. On my blog, I have a feature every Wednesday called “Bready or Not,” where I post recipes and pictures. And yes, I post a lot of cookies and yummy sweet stuff. I am the diet saboteur.

31st-Oct-2012 12:15 pm - Writer Wednesday: James Maxey

Originally published at finding my words. Please leave any comments there.

I’m pleased to present James Maxey as today’s interviewee.  Find out about some of his complicated yet compelling characters, what he’s working on now, his advice about which links to avoid, and more…

1.  First things first…a name and bio:

Author Name:  James Maxey

I’m the author eight novels and a score of short stories. Most of my novels are fantasy, with the Bitterwood Trilogy (Bitterwood, Dragonforge, Dragonseed) and the Dragon Apocalypse series (Greatshadow, Hush, Witchbreaker). I also have two superhero novels, Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn.

2.  Where are you from and what’s your favorite thing about where you live?

I’m from southwestern Virginia, near Roanoke, but have lived most of my adult life in North Carolina. I currently live in Hillsborough, NC, and my favorite thing about living here is that it’s where I met my wife. She’s lived all her life in Hillsborough and it’s kind of difficult to imagine her living anywhere else. Since she’s here, I’m here.

3.  Tell about your latest book.  What made you want to write it?

Just today I was emailed the galleys for my novel Witchbreaker, due out in January. It’s the third book in my series, but actually the first book that I outlined over six years ago. It’s set in a fantasy universe in which the Church of the Book has waged war against witches for centuries and driven the handful that remain into hiding. A young witch named Sorrow rebels against this and sets about to destroy the Church and launch a new golden age of witchcraft.

I have a few archetype protagonists I seem to return to again and again. Half of them are easy-going everymen who are caught up in events much bigger than themselves. Richard Rogers in Nobody Gets the Girl and Stagger in Greatshadow fit this template. But, I also write about very driven characters who will sacrifice everything in order to remake the world. Bant Bitterwood is probably my most extreme example of this, or at least he was until I reached Sorrow.

Some days, I wake up and have difficulty suppressing my outrage. I look at the headlines and I just want to walk around slapping my fellow citizens, shouting, “Aren’t  you paying attention? Don’t you see the massive crimes unfolding around us? Don’t you care?” But, of course, I don’t do this, since it would be rude, and also because it would be useless. The problems of the world are so large that the only sane way to actually enjoy your life is to just ignore everything that doesn’t affect you directly. Each morning, I stare in the mirror and repeat the mantra, “Try not to think about it,” seven times, and I’m able to function as a relatively normal person for the rest of the day.

Sorrow is someone who can’t ignore her outrage. To her, the accepted social and moral structures of her world are so warped and perverted that she is driven to wage a war to topple them, despite the vast powers arrayed against her. This has cost her all hope of friendship, and turned her into a rather unpleasant person to make small talk with. “How’s the weather today, Sorrow?” “Cloudy with a 100% chance of atrocities!” I know I’m supposed to write sympathetic characters that the readers can root for, but with Sorrow I’m writing a character who’s kind of difficult to love. She got her good points—she’s smart, she’s brave, she’s a dreamer—and her bad points—she’s capable of killing without remorse, and she allies herself with some very evil forces on the theory that the enemy of her enemy is her friend. She’s a challenging, complicated character. But, I love her, and root for her, and want her to find something like a victory in the face of a world created to defeat her.

4.  Where can people find your books?  

I’ve got so many books and various editions of my books that the simplest thing is just to go to Amazon and search for James Maxey. The first two pages of results are pretty much all me.

5.  What are you working on right now?

I’m doing some reading in preparation for launching into a new novel in November. I’m going to be trying something new, a historical fantasy with some steampunk elements that really is something outside of my comfort zone. When I write epic fantasy, I’m making up the world, so no one is going to write me to complain that I got some little detail of the history of that world wrong. Whereas, there are millions of people better educated than I am on the historical era I’ll be writing in, and I fear angry letters telling me, “Idiot! Your character eats a BLT sandwich for lunch on page 270, but the BLT didn’t exist until 1917!” Well, probably not that, but, still, there’s so many tiny details to pay attention to in period fiction that I’ve avoided it until now. But, the story I plan to tell is pretty compelling to me, and you can’t grow as a writer unless you’re willing to try new things.

6.  What inspired you to be a writer?

Reading. I was a bookish child. My grandfather was an avid reader and had so many books they spilled out of his house into shelves on his porch. I used to sit on is porch and dig through mildewed paperbacks to read pulp science fiction and weird science stuff about UFOs. Books were magic, and still are.

7.  Who is your favorite character in your stories? Why?

A tough call. It’s like picking your favorite child. Stagger, the narrator of Greatshadow and Hush, is definitely near the top of the list. He’s a natural storyteller, with a self-deprecating humor and a good eye for detail. But, while he has active roles to play in the novels, he’s usually more of an observer and reporter than a driver of events.

For now, I’ll say Shay, the escaped slave in my novel Dragonseed. My Bitterwood trilogy is full of characters with amazing abilities. Jandra is a wizard, Bitterwood is an archer with a deadly aim, Burke is a genius armed with cool weaponry, and  Hex is a sun-dragon capable of biting a horse in two. Then you have Shay, who has stolen books from the library of his dragon master and run off to join the human rebellion, believing passionately that books and education can be the key element of a new era of human freedom. He can’t fight worth a damn. Every fight he’s in during the course of the book, he winds up hurt. But, he’s the voice of hope and humanity amid a cast of human warriors who are becoming as monstrous as the dragons they fight.

8.  What character from your stories was the hardest to write?

Anza from Dragonforge and Dragonseed was a challenge because she’s mute. I think writing dialogue is one of my stronger talents, and usually once I can get a conversation going between two or more of my characters, the words just flow out of me. But, I have entire chapters told from Anza’s POV and can’t have her utter a single word. Trying to convey all of her “dialogue” purely through body language was kind of exhausting.

Oh! Wait! How could I forget? The biggest pain-in-the-butt character I’ve ever written, hand’s down, was Nowowon from Greatshadow. He’s the god of self-destruction, who destroys his enemies by reflecting their own fears and weaknesses back at them. To reflect his mirror nature, I decided that all of his dialogue would be written as palindromes. I really thought this was clever when I came up with the idea. But, he has about 20 lines of dialogue over two chapters, and it’s damn tough to structure all the dialogue exchanges in such a way that the palindromes make sense. I swore I would never do anything like that again.

So, of course, in Witchbreaker, I have a character visit a realm where time runs backward in relation to the normal universe, and when he returns he’s speaking all his lines backward. I can report that Microsoft Word’s auto-correcting spellchecker is a real pain when you’re trying to do this.

9.  What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?

The sheer amount of time it takes to write anything of consequence. I can spend the better part of a year getting a book ready, then the day after the book is released, a review will go up on Amazon saying, “I couldn’t put this book down! I read it in one day!” The fact that production can take several months, while consumption takes only several hours, creates this huge mismatch between what readers would like me to produce and what I can actually put out. I know I can put out two novels a year if I really push myself. But could I do three without sacrificing quality? I have a finite number of years left on the planet. Do I want to leave behind ten novels? Twenty-five? One hundred? Right now, I have more ideas for books than I think I could write in five life times. Figuring out how to prioritize my projects is something I struggle with all the time.

10.  Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Have something to say. Writing isn’t just about plots and characters. As a writer, you have a unique opportunity to say something of importance about the world and its inhabitants. Don’t waste that opportunity writing vapid fluff. I admire writers who aim high and fail more than those who produce technically perfect books with no hint of soul.

11. Who are your favorite authors and why?

I have favorite books more than favorite authors. My favorite novel is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. It’s funny, it’s insightful, and the prose in these pages is just flawless. Thompson has a rhythm and energy that has no equal. But, beyond this novel, the rest of his writing is kind of erratic. Occasional flashes of brilliance, but not the sustained high-wire act of this work.

Other favorite books are Grapes of Wrath, Winesburg Ohio, The Grifters, 1984, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

12.  What tools are in your writer’s tool-kit?

All of them? Well, maybe not all of them. I have a good idea for a story that involves Russians colonizing Mars, but I’ve never been able to write it because I don’t really know anything about Russian culture. I try to write what I know, and the things I don’t know are an infinite ocean, against which my knowledge is merely a kiddy swimming pool.

But, there’s a lot of stuff going on in that swimming pool. My writing is informed heavily by science, politics, religion, and comic books. Failed marriages and the death of close friends all go into the emotion grinder and come out as meat for my novels.

I think a James Maxey novel is defined by several elements. First, there’s going to be a lot of action. Second, there’s going to be a fair amount of humor, not so much that it throws reader out of the reality of the tale, but just enough to keep readers paying attention. Third, there’s going to be a big question. Is love more powerful than death? Can hate ever make the world a better place? Is reason always superior to faith? I mankind’s true nature revealed best in wilderness or in the city? Does life have meaning if God is but a fiction? Finally, I would say that a hallmark of my writing is just plain old weirdness. I like to twist normal situations around until they become surreal. I like to take my readers a bit outside the ordinary, so that they can look back and see the real world in a different light.

13. Where can people find out more about you and your books?

My writing blog is dragonprophet.blogspot.com. I update it regularly, if you have a very liberal definition of regularly.

14. What question(s) did I forget to ask?

You forgot to ask about next week’s winning lottery numbers. 2-9-23-24-50 with a power ball of 7. If you use your vast millions to buy copies of my books, I’d be ever so grateful.

15.  Any other links you want mentioned…

The links I feel I should warn you about are fat-free turkey hot dogs. I tried them recently and they taste like plastic.



If you are a writer interested in participating in Writer Wednesday, please send an email with a short biography to ww (at) ambersistla (dot) com.

24th-Oct-2012 12:30 pm - Writer Wednesday: Merrie Haskell

Originally published at finding my words. Please leave any comments there.

I’m happy to have Merrie Haskell’s interview today.  Find out about her latest book, how she survived cultural jet lag, the germination of HANDBOOK FOR DRAGONSLAYERS, and more…

1.  First things first…a name and bio:

Merrie Haskell.  I spent my childhood with cultural jet lag as I shuttled between Michigan and North Carolina thanks to my parents’ custody arrangement, before settling on becoming a Midwesterner. Then I went to work in a library. Then I published a book.

2.  Where are you from and what’s your favorite thing about where you live?

I was actually born in Michigan, which is probably why I ended up back here, though I miss so very much about North Carolina–and the mild winters are the least of it. The scent of a loblolly pine forest, the rolling hills, the night bugs and tree frogs over short summer nights…  Durham Bulls games… pleasant accents… the proximity of the coast… Where I live now, we seize summer in both hands and hang on like summer’s a ski boat and we’re on a deflating innertube. I love where I live because of the people as much as anything; the landscape here is sort of flat, and the best thing we have going are our lakes–which *are* phenomenal, don’t get me wrong. I’m not sure *what* it is about the people, other than I feel at home among them in a way I don’t anywhere else in the world.

2.  Tell about your latest book.  What made you want to write it?

My next book is out in May 2013; it’s called HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS. It’s Upper Middle Grade. There were a couple of factors. The first was feet. I developed bone spurs that poke my Achilles tendon and one of my nerves; I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, other than I kind of couldn’t walk without screaming pain, and I didn’t know why. When I finally got a diagnosis–and blessed, blessed orthotics and some tips on pain management–it was this amazing revelation that I had been living in constant pain for several years, and only when the pain was relieved did I notice how pervasive it had been. Combine this with the fact that my dad was born with a club foot, something I had always wondered about but never really got to talk to him about–well, I wanted to write about someone who had feet issues.  Someone who dealt with constant pain but whose life wasn’t *about* that pain, as it were. It’s a very minor point in the book, but it was the first spark.

The second spark was the story of “The Princess of the Glass Hill,” which I had in my Grimm’s fairy tale collection as a kid, but almost no one I know has ever heard of it.  The story features–obviously–a glass hill, and three magical, metal horses. I wanted to write about three metal horses, so badly I could taste it, but I really didn’t want to be constrained to tell another fairy tale, and I certainly couldn’t figure out a great way to make a proactive heroine out of a girl stuck at the top of a glass hill.  Logistics, mostly–the logistics of being stuck in one place wasn’t interesting to me. Besides which, there’s not a whole lot more to that story that interested me, just the horses and how they’re captured, destroying a grain field on St. John’s Eve, and how they appear in a clap of thunder and lightning.

And the third spark was Saint Hildegard. After THE PRINCESS CURSE, I wanted to write something with Hildegard as the character.  In early drafts of HANDBOOK, she is quite a prominent character–unfortunately, she kept trying to take over the book, all rescuing people with her divine powers and miracles. So she had to get dialed back, but that is how I ended up setting the book on the Rhine–and how I ended up in an awesome castle overlooking the Rhine, drinking fennel tea, and typing furiously about evil elf knights. Even though my antagonist is never revealed to be an actual elf, “The Elf Knight” ballad (sort of a Bluebeard with elf powers) is my inspiration for him.

Oh! Also, sometime between now and May (though I don’t know for sure when), I suspect my short story “Zebulon Vance Sings the Alphabet Songs of Love” will appear in APEX MAGAZINE.  Since I write so few short stories anymore, I feel I must mention it. It combines so many discarded bits of my past–I was on my junior high North Carolina history trivia team, I wrote a paper about the anthropology of Civil War reenactors in college, and I was a huge theater geek in high school, so naturally writing about a theater robot who leaves the stage in a world where the American Civil War is fashionable makes all kinds of sense. Hm. Maybe I should NOT be trying to plug this.

3.  Where can people find your books?  

I keep my links pretty well up to date at http://www.merriehaskell.com/?page_id=75 (my bibliography page).

4.  What are you working on right now?

Another Middle Grade book. I *think* this one is about a blacksmith. Not sure, it’s early days yet.

5.  What inspired you to be a writer?

Once I realized that writing was a job you could have? I wanted it. I liked books so much, how could I not want to produce them and get paid for it? I think Jo March might’ve been the first inspiration–a character who wanted to be a writer–but once I read things that truly moved and inspired me–Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery–I just wanted to do what the authors did.

6.  Who is your favorite character in your stories? Why?

I have a LOT of favorite characters. Mostly, I don’t spend time writing about people I don’t enjoy on some level.  I really, really dig Lacrimora from THE PRINCESS CURSE–my main antagonist of the book, the evil stepmother-to-be. A lot of what I know about her doesn’t make it to the page; Reveka, the point of view character (and another favorite), just doesn’t see it. Poor, misunderstood Lacrimora, poisoning people to save their souls! In HANDBOOK, the upcoming book, I’m ridiculously fond of my dragon character, Curschin.  I went with a very Anglo-Saxon take on dragons; they speak in kennings, and I had a ball writing that, coming up with the culture behind it, and figuring out how typical/atypical Curschin was.

7.  What is your favorite comfort food?

Dumplings. Seems like every cuisine owns up to having some sort of dumpling, and there is no wrong they cannot right, no matter their origin.

8.  What character from your stories was the hardest to write?

Honestly, Tilda from HANDBOOK. She is awfully prickly at times, and I was conscious that while I like prickly people, they are often more interesting as secondary characters, not protagonists.

9.  What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?

Well, for me, it’s finding the energy (not the time, the energy) to write after working a day job all day. I could write before work, but that way lies being a sedentary lump. It’s an uncomfortable triangle, and throw spending time with your family, and the energy just goes wanting.

10.  Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Persist, persist, persist. Balance your ego with rationality: don’t be so egotistical you think you have nothing to learn, but at the same time, don’t be so non-egotistical that you trunk every story after 1 rejection. Persist in learning craft AND persist in getting your work out there. Persist in getting rejections. Make a goal of getting 100 rejections before even beginning to judge yourself as a success or a failure or whatever.  Oh, and, remember that when writers give you writing advice, they’re actually telling you ONLY what worked for them, and not “the right way.” Even if they say they’re telling you “the right way,” I promise it’s really just that first thing.

11.  Who are your favorite authors and why?

Assume Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte as given…  right now, in the “I would buy anything they published, do not read jacket, do examine cover art” category, that would be Kristin Cashore, Megan Whalen Turner, and Tamora Pierce. Oh, and Sharon Shinn.  There are so many great authors that I love, but I suppose that’s how I would have to rate “favorite” right now–unconditional love.  Mostly, because all of these authors have completely earned my trust with their smart, tough characters, their emphasis on some level of gender parity, and basically, exciting plots in medievalesque worlds.

12. What books have most influenced your writing?

Probably everything written by Robin McKinley up to 2000 or so, plus or minus the Prydain Chronicles.  I have had a lot of aspirations and inspirations, but if you judge people by their friends, my friends growing up were Beauty, Aerin and Harimad-Sol, plus Taran.

13.  What tools are in your writer’s tool-kit?

Ha, I don’t know if I’d call this a tool, because it just seems to be a stupid lesson I have to learn over and over and over again, but when I can’t reconcile what a character wants, or some plot thread won’t resolve itself, I have finally learned that maybe, just *maybe,* that’s a bit of conflict that would actually be well served to be in the story, and that you can have another character help externalize the conflict.  I can’t decide if my character wants to stay home or leave home. Which makes the more compelling plot? Well…  pick one, and have someone else, like the father, want the opposite. Then we’ve just picked up a whole whack of tension and conflict for free, instead of having to engineer something.   The character can still be conflicted, but just by having something to fight against, you’ve made it all click into place.

The second thing I have to relearn constantly is articulation. I can’t tell you how many times I start to tell someone the issue I’m having, and by the time I’m done describing the problem, I’ve figured it out.

14. Where can people find out more about you and your books?

Why, at merriehaskell.com, of course.

19th-Oct-2012 11:56 am - Pumpkin soup

Originally published at finding my words. Please leave any comments there.

So, with the second pumpkin, I did the pumpkin soup here:


My family valiantly ate it, but we were less than thrilled with it when eaten straight up.  However, when I mixed it with mac and cheese, the kids loved it.

(I also, of course, reserved the pumpkin seeds and pulp for roasting and YUM.)

17th-Oct-2012 12:25 pm - Writer Wednesday: Alex Wilson

Originally published at finding my words. Please leave any comments there.

I’m happy to welcome the multi-talented Alex Wilson today.  Find out about his comic book kickstarter project, what big action movie he might just be CGIed out of, the hardest characters for him to write, and more…

1.  First things first…a name and a bio:

I’m Alex Wilson, a writer and actor in Carrboro, NC. I write fiction and comics. And I will probably be CGIed out of the final battle sequence of Iron Man 3.

2.  Where are you from and what’s your favorite thing about where you live?

Originally from the Akron, Ohio area, but I’ve been living in North Carolina for ten years now. We live in a small, progressive community where a food co-op, four Indian restaurants, and a surprising number of arts opportunities and events are within a twenty-minute walk from our door.

3.  Tell about your latest story.  What made you want to write it?

“The Time of Reflection” is a short dark fantasy comic I wrote and lettered. Silvio dB illustrated and colored. We met and completed it within a month for “The Huntsman’s Challenge,” a special Eagle Award co-sponsored by the MCM Expos in the UK and the Universal Pictures film “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

We won! And now we’re using it as the catalyst for a Kickstarter which seeks to reward retailers as well as backers: For $3 you can preorder your copy of the comic, and we’ll also send one to your favorite local comic shop or any other independently owned retail bookseller. That price includes shipping in the United States or to US military bases overseas.

4.  Where can people find your stories?  

It appeared in the program to the London Comic-Con in May, and right now you can preorder a booklet version on Kickstarter.



http://kickalex.com (if you want an easier to remember URL)

[Amber's insert:  The kickstarter ends Tuesday Oct 23, 10:25pm EDT.  Please check it out before that... :) ]

5.  What are you working on right now?

I’m scripting a four issue science fiction comic book miniseries and outlining a novel.

6.  What inspired you to be a writer?

Writing. If that makes me a writer, then that’s great!

7.  Who is your favorite character in your stories? Why?

Whoever/whatever I’m currently working on is my favorite. I have to be very focused or I become very unfocused.

8.  What is your favorite comfort food?

I’d love a chicken parm sandwich right now.

9.  What character from your stories was the hardest to write?

Weirdly: men are harder for me to write than women.

10.  What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?

I’ve always been a slow reader and writer. I had a mild traumatic brain injury a few years ago, and that’s made me even slower at both.

11.  Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Butt in chair, whether it’s flowing or not. GIve it at least 20-30 minutes during each session, even if you never get past “The night was…” You gotta train your brain to do the work.

12.  Who are your favorite authors and why? 

Today I’m feeling Sarah Vowell, Kurt Vonnegut, and Brian K Vaughan.

13.  What books have most influenced your writing?

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, probably.

14.  What tools are in your writer’s tool-kit?

Notebook or notecards and a pen. A smartphone with Evernote for organizing and backing up notes.

15.  Where can people find out more about you and your stories?


16.  What question(s) did I forget to ask?

I can’t tell you that, but the answer is “granite.”


If you are a writer interested in participating in Writer Wednesday, please send an email with a short biography to ww (at) ambersistla (dot) com.

12th-Oct-2012 05:05 pm - Roasted pumpkin seeds

Originally published at finding my words. Please leave any comments there.

So, you might have been wondering with the pumpkin seeds I saved from last week’s recipe.  I made roasted pumpkin seeds!

Roasted pumpkin seeds


* reserved pumpkin seeds (no need to wash or remove pumpkin debris).  The seeds looked somewhere around 1 1/2 cups.

* 1 – 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

* 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder (depending on your kickiness tolerances)

* 1/8 teaspoon salt (always better to start with a little less, because it might be the perfect amount, and if it’s not, it is always easier to add it later)


1) Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2) Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.

3) Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.

4) Spread the pumpkin seeds evening across the cookie sheet.

5) Cook in the oven for 8 minutes.

6) Remove from the oven and check the seeds.  You want to see them turn golden brown.  Some might get done earlier than others.  Remove the ones (if any) that are done and return the rest to the oven (redistributing across the tray if needed).  Return to the oven for 2 more minutes.  Repeat this step until all are cooked.

This is a great snack that I always enjoy during pumpkin season :)


11th-Oct-2012 11:41 am - Writer Wednesday: T. L. Morganfield

Originally published at finding my words. Please leave any comments there.

I’m happy to welcome writer T. L. Morganfield.  Find out about her latest short story collection (ETA:  just learned this is FREE until Sunday), what she has in common with a mouse, her favorite characters, and more…

1.  First things first…a name and bio:

 T. L. Morganfield lives in Colorado with her husband and two children, where she spends her days researching and writing Aztec-inspired science fiction and fantasy. Her short fiction has garnered recognition in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies, and was nominated as a finalist for the Sidewise Award.

2.  Where are you from and what’s your favorite thing about where you live?

I’m originally from San Diego, California, but I’ve lived so long in Colorado that I’m pretty much a native. I love how it can start out below freezing in the morning and end up with shorts weather in the afternoon. Aside from the bizarre weather, I also really love spending time in the mountains and Colorado’s numerous state and national parks. So much beauty.

3.  Tell about your latest book.  What made you want to write it?

I just released an e-book collection of my short fiction, called Night Bird Soaring and Other Stories on Amazon, which has a mixture of fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories. A whole lot of it is my Aztec-inspired work (as apparent from the snazzy cover art above). I’ve wanted to try out the self-publishing scene for a while now, so what better way to do so then to put my previously published stories back to work?

4.  Where can people find your stories?

The collection is only available on amazon.com right now: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009AF98B8. These stories have been published before in Realms of Fantasy, Shock Totem, and Paradox, among others.

5.  What are you working on right now?

I’m currently working on an alternate history romance, set in the same universe as my Sidewise Award finalist story “Night Bird Soaring”. I originally wrote it as a novella several years ago, but because it had a romance genre sensibility, I decided to trunk it rather than try to sell it (two years ago I definitely didn’t see myself as a romance writer!). Recently though I dusted it off and gave it a read, and to my surprise, I found it really wasn’t so bad. I’m now working on expanding it to novel length.

I’ve also been working on an Aztec sword and six-gun fantasy novel, inspired by my Realms of Fantasy story “The Hearts of Men”.

6.  What inspired you to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved books and it didn’t take long for me to decide that I wanted to write them, not just read them. I fell in love with writing in my first creative writing class in elementary school (5th grade, if I remember right) and I haven’t looked back since.

7.  Who is your favorite character in your stories? Why?

This is a difficult one, because there’s many I like, but there are two that keep cropping up over and over again in my stories. In my fantasy stories, I really like writing about the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. He’s so different from the other Aztec gods, being a benefactor of humanity rather than bloodthirsty, so there’s potential for a great deal of conflict between him and the other gods. The other character I rather adore is Emperor Cuauhtemoc, from my One World alternate history stories. He’s an AI in a human body who gives me a lot of opportunities to explore immortality from a scientific standpoint, and the hows and whys of history unfolding.

8.  What is your favorite comfort food?

Cheese. I can’t get enough of it. My husband claims I’m part mouse.

9.  What character from your stories was the hardest to write?

At first I couldn’t think of any characters I had trouble with when writing about them, but then I remembered Papalotl, the protagonist for my novel The Bone Flower Throne, which my agent is currently shopping. Once I figured out who she really was, everything fell into place, but darn, it took five full drafts (and four years!) to finally figure her out.

10.  What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?

I think the biggest challenge is actually staying in the chair to work for any length of time. I’m a stay-at-home mom and the kids can be a big distraction, even though they’re older and can keep themselves entertained. The school day is the biggest god-send, otherwise I’d probably get nothing done. There’s also the hesitation between projects that can make it psychologically difficult to start putting things down on paper; I’ve got a neat idea that I want to go forward with, but the muse is unsure how to start, or whether we’re actually ready to start at all. Usually everything turns out okay once I make myself start writing, but getting to the point of sitting down and just starting to type can be intimidating.

11.  Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Don’t get discouraged by rejection. Focus on the next project rather than setting all your hopes into a single story or novel. Learn to let your work go and move onto the next one.

12. Who are your favorite authors and why?

I will read almost everything Stephen King and Aliette de Bodard write. I recently discovered Jeannie Lin, and I think she might be in that category too.

13. What books have most influenced your writing?

I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff I’ve read that has influenced me as a writer, but when I think about how I started writing what I’ve been writing for the last couple years, I can definitely pinpoint that back to 2002. I was at Clarion West, trying to figure out what to write for my week three story, and thought, “I really want to write something similar to Lyda Morehouse’s Archangel Protocol…but with Aztec gods instead of angels.” The stuff I write now looks nothing like the stuff that day, but I doubt I would be writing what I am writing now if not for that impulse.

14. What tools are in your writer’s tool-kit?

Pepsi and some good music, usually Duran Duran, Beatles, Tears for Fears, and Sheryl Crow.

15. Where can people find out more about you and your stories?

www.tlmorganfield.com. You can find links to my various social media pages there.



If you are a writer interested in participating in Writer Wednesday, please send an email with a short biography to ww (at) ambersistla (dot) com.

5th-Oct-2012 07:47 pm - Pumpkin Pasta

Originally published at finding my words. Please leave any comments there.

We went to a pumpkin patch and ended up with four (they were free!) sugar pumpkins.  So, I thought in honor of October, I’d write up the recipes that I end up doing with the pumpkins.

First up, pumpkin pasta.  Most pumpkin recipes turn it into something sweet, and I was wanting a maindish type recipe, when I saw a couple of recipes that said it worked well in pasta.  So I gathered up some pasta fixings, and here is what I did….


*1 sugar pumpkin (about the size of a toddler’s head)

*1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

*1/4 teaspoon black pepper

*1/4 teaspoon chipotle pepper powder

*1 small red onion

*1 small yellow onion (both onions should together equal about 1 1/2 cups onion)

*2 tablespoons cut basil

*two green onions

*handful of chive flowers

*1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped finely

*1 tablespoon fresh oregano , chopped finely

*1/3 cup feta cheese

*1 tablespoon minced garlic

*2 oz roughly sliced young kale leaves (about 2 cups worth)

*1/3 cup green diced green beans

*8 oz whole wheat penne pasta

*6 oz veg chorizo

* 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1)First, I cleaned the pumpkin thoroughly.  Then I cut it into about three big chunks.  I scraped out the seeds on the inside (and reserved them for roasting).  (One note about roasting:  BE CAREFUL AND KEEP WATCHING IT.  Everyone’s roaster works a little different, just keep watching through the whole process until you turn the oven off.  You want things roasted, not charred.)  Then I put a little olive oil on the flesh of the pumpkin, then inverted it and coated the skin with canola oil.  With the skin facing up, put it in the oven with broil setting.

2)  Chop the onions.  After the pumpkin has been in the oven about 10-15 minutes, put the onions and the garlic (and a little oil) on the pan that you are roasting the pumpkin on.  Flip the pumpkins so that now the skin is facing down, and then put it back to roast about ten more minutes.

3)  Chop the green beans.  In a small bowl, combine green beans, thyme, oregano.  Cook in the microwave (about 4-6 minutes) until done.

4)  Remove the roasting pumpkin and onions.  Carefully, it will be HOT, scoop large chunks of the pumpkin off of the pumpkin skin and deposit them back on your roasting pan with the onions.  The pumpkin flesh should come off the skin so easily, just scrape off any bits that are on the skin then throw the skin in a compost bin and put the pumpkin and onions back to roast for another 5 minutes (or however long it takes for the onions to start to look slightly carmelized).

4) In a large mixing bowl, combine the chorizo, green beans, chopped green onion, nutmeg, black pepper, chipotle powder, basil, pumpkin, onions, and garlic.  Mix well.

5) Put the chopped kale in the colander you will use to strain the pasta.  When the pasta is done, strain it over the kale, then add to the big mixing bowl.

6) Top with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and the feta cheese.

That’s it.  The pasta turned out fantastic.  The sweetness of the pumpkin was perfectly complemented by the saltiness of the feta.  My kids couldn’t stop saying yum.  (Well, they could but only just long enough to get another bite in their mouths…)  Definitely a recipe to try again.


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