Writing Fantasy - Printsasia Blog  Aug 11, 2011

To trope or not to trope, that is the question. What is a trope, you might ask? Tropes are the classical elements that define a story as fantasy. Most publishers today are looking for something “different”, a new magical system or a bizarre monster-villain. You know the kind of books I’m talking about. I like those kinds of books, I do, but like many die-hard fantasy readers, what I truly love are well-written stories steeped in the classical fantasy tropes. I yearn to dawn burnished armor, greaves and gorget and gauntlet, and to take up a sword and fight for love and justice, for kingdoms and crowns. To ride a foam-flecked mare through a moonlit forest in a desperate bid for escape. To weave sticky strands of politics with the Spider Queen in the hopes of snaring a traitor. To discover a sanctuary of knowledge where all the hallways are jewel-bright with calligraphy, every wall echoing with prophesies. To ride through a vivid land of towering castles and mysterious mists, where all the sunsets are crimson-red, the star-strewn nights are cobalt-blue, and the summer fields are malachite-green. And beneath it all, I want a tale well told, a tapestry brimming with complex characters, each with their own motives and aspirations. I want a story bursting with plot twists that evoke surprise and wonder. And woven beneath it all, I want themes that pluck the heartstrings and challenge the mind. This is the epic fantasy that I love to read; this is the epic fantasy that I strive to write. The Steel Queen is the first book in The Silk & Steel Saga. In a medieval world of forgotten magic, mortals are lured to the chessboard of the gods where an epic struggle of lives, loves and crowns hang in the balance, yet few understand the rules. You'll empathize with the good and pray they prevail but you'll truly feast on the bad who are utterly compelling.


Writing Tips
Choose your words wisely - Blog for Willamette Writers 2011

Fantasy immerses the reader in another world, a world of wonder, of magic, or of malice. A writer’s job is to not only create that world but to sell it. Words are our paint brushes, our weapons of choice, but how many writers chose their words to create a sense of time? I’ll share one of my tricks with you. My book, The Steel Queen, is set in a medieval world, so I prefer to use words that date back to the 12th century. Whenever I reach for the Thesaurus, I do a check on my choice of words to learn their age. For example, the queen uses her beauty to manipulate the men of her court, but manipulate is too modern a word, originating in the 19th century. Instead of “manipulate”, a Thesaurus will offer the choice of dupe, deceive, beguile, fool, delude. But which of these are the oldest? Can you guess? My Webster’s dictionary tells me that dupe is from the 17th century, fool (the verb) is from the 16th, delude is from the 15th, beguile is from the 13th and deceive is from the 13th. So beguile and deceive are the best fit to evoke the time period of my saga. I chose beguile because it is more unusual and has a pleasing alliteration with beauty. “The Queen of Lanverness used beauty to beguile, spies to ensnare, and gold, always gold, to tempt, to trap, to control.” Choose your words wisely, for they create the very feel of your world.

Creating the Fantasy World of Erdhe - Blog for Rising Shadows - Jan 2012

In terms of writing fantasy, I’ve always believed that world building is just as important as character building. From the very first page of The Silk & Steel Saga, I strove to create a land steeped in mystery and brimming with wonder. I longed to create kingdoms where my readers can’t wait to peer around the next corner, to discover sun-drenched castles shimmering in deep green moats. To explore sanctuaries of knowledge, where all the walls are jewel-bright with calligraphy, every hall echoing with prophecy, every phrase ringing with destiny. 
But it takes more than just a vivid imagination to create a successful world. Everything needs to be layered with history and meaning. As a writer, I strive to breathe life into my settings so that they interact with the characters and the plots, almost becoming characters themselves.
To bring my settings to life, I draw on my travels around the world. We once visited Chartres Cathedral in France where an Oxford professor gave free lectures interpreting the peerless stonework and stained glass windows. The artwork of the great cathedrals was in many ways the “newspaper” of its era. The professor “read” the windows and the elaborate stone carvings, explaining the biblical meanings as well as the more subtle comments on the rulers and politics of the times. I was so taken with these lectures that I was determined to give the same meaning to the architecture of Erdhe. One of the best examples of this is in chapter 27 of The Steel Queen. When Steffan arrives in Coronth, he first visits the great temple and “reads” the architecture to gain a better understanding of the Pontifax and the Flame God. “Crossing the threshold, Steffan felt the chill of stone-cloistered shadows. The ceiling soared overhead, but instead of being light and airy, it captured smoke and darkness. A vault of gloom pressed down as if trying to drive him to his knees.” I want my readers to walk into the temple with Steffan, to feel the stone-hewed malevolence of the Flame God.
But world building is much more than just architecture, it is also about commerce and culture, religion and history. The kingdoms of Erdhe are steeped in history. In the deep forest, Kath and her companions stumble across ancient ruins overgrown with ivy. Some ruins are benign, nothing more than tumbled stones, while others hide potent secrets. Kath soon learns that the past has a way of influencing the present, that we forget the past at our peril.
Another important dimension of Erdhe are its pockets of forgotten peoples. Overlooked and often persecuted, these forgotten people develop unique counter cultures that seem strange and mysterious at first contact. An example of this can be found on the Isle of Souls, where the council of mystics uses a shocking test to confirm their fortunetellers. Those who succeed gain ‘spirit hands’ for the lintels of their shops…while those who fail pay in flesh and blood. Borrowed from the mystics of India, this trial is the type of cultural detail that gives the Isle of Souls a sense of depth and realism.
In this short post, I can only give you the smallest taste of Erdhe. Building a medieval fantasy world is like weaving a complex tapestry, but instead of using crimson and gold, the colors are architecture, religion, commerce and culture. I hope you will visit the kingdoms of Erdhe and the books of The Silk & Steel Saga.

Brand Your Cover Artwork - Blog for Willamette Writers Jan 2012

If you are a writer who has also become a publisher, you’re suddenly making decisions about your covers. Consider “branding” your cover artwork.
What is branding? “Branding” is defined as the process of creating a unique identity for the product in the consumer’s mind. Creating a successful brand is the holy grail of modern marketing. It is also the hallmark of a successful author.
Publishers have often tried to “brand” themselves but it has never worked. People do not go to stores and ask for books published by TOR or Dell or any other publishing house, but they do ask for books by specific authors. These authors have established expectations with their readers regarding their Voice, their storytelling, and their genre…in other words they’ve created a brand. Once readers discover an author they like, they usually come back for more. Success breeds success and branding helps spread your success to all of your products.
In addition to following brand-named authors, consumers also continue to judge books by their covers. So why not apply the power of branding to the design of your cover? The goal is to obtain instant image recognition, to have the consumer instantly identify the book as belonging to you (even before they read your name).
As an author seeking to amplify your success, you can brand your cover artwork by following four simple rules:
1.Use the same style of font for all of your covers
2.Use the same size of font for all of your covers
3.Use the same location for your name and title on all of your covers
4.Choose artwork that clearly reflects your genre
These simple rules will enable you to use different cover artists and still achieve a sense of branding. For example, I have published three books in the fantasy genre using two different cover artists, an award-winning artist from Australia (Greg Bridges) and an up and coming graphic artist from Oregon (Peggy Lowe). If you go on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and enter my name (Karen Azinger) in the search engine, you’ll pull up the covers of my three books. Even though the artists are different, the common font size, common font style, and common font placement, make these books seem like they belong to the same author. I’ve branded my covers.
In these lean times, publishers and authors have little money for advertizing. So why not follow these simple rules to brand your cover artwork. By creating a successful brand you can help amplify your success as a writer.