Category Archives: Guest Posts

Cultivating Friendships Through Congeniality, Luck, and Coercion (If Necessary)

(Guest post by Alex P Berg)

Writing is kind of a lonely business. For those of us who are lucky enough to write full time, existence mostly consists of sitting in front of a keyboard, tapping away while sipping on caffeinated brews and drowning out whatever’s going on behind us with a pair of cheap headphones. While we may know oodles of people, most of them tend to be of the imaginary variety, and we can’t really call almost any of them friends. Not after what we’ve put them through.

I think this is one of the reasons depression tends to run high among authors. We isolate ourselves, keep everything bottled up inside until it eventually flows out through our brains and fingers and onto the page. This is one of the reasons having friendships is so important, to be able to share experiences and trials and tribulations with others, to give empathy and to receive sympathy—and for the record, only friendships with living, breathing individuals count.

But I’m a writer, you say. I burn when sunlight touches me, I prefer to cuddle with things made out of paper, and I’d rather hide in a closet than engage people in conversation. How do I cultivate productive friendships?

It’s difficult, to be sure. But one thing that helps is to engage with other writers. They’re not quite as scary as real people. You can find them in local writer’s groups, or if you’re feeling frisky, head to a writing conference. That’s how I met a number of the fine folks in the Fictorians, and through the magic of the internet, we can still communicate after the conference is but a distant memory.

Which brings me to point number two. Social media is a great way to cultivate friendships, and without getting within touching or sneezing range of people. Perfect! And while you might think that you need to leave the safety of your writing hovel to make those friends in the first place, au contraire! Sometimes a friend introduces you to another online friend. Sometimes an individual approaches you on social media out of the blue. If you’re congenial and chatty, sometimes those acquaintances turn into friends. I’ve made several that way who I’ve yet to meet in real life.

So friendships can be good for mental and emotional health, but let’s not forget that those same friendships can be lucrative, too. Those friends I’ve met at conferences and online have over time approached me about taking part in book bundles, boxed sets, book launch parties, blog tours, and more, and I’ve learned countless useful tidbits of information from them about everything from writing craft to marketing to web design.

Just remember that for any friendship to work, the benefit can’t be one sided. You have to give as good as you get, Not necessarily in terms of knowledge or financial opportunity but in terms of overall human value. Nobody likes a grouch! So be personable, be honest, be outgoing, be funny. Offer people help when you can, and when they offer it in return, thank them—a shocking concept, I know. But mostly, be friendly, and with luck, you’ll cultivate some great friendships that can help you both with your career and your daily life.

And if that fails, spy on them and blackmail them into doing your bidding.

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Bio: Alex P. Berg is a fantasy, sci-fi, and mystery writer, a nuclear engineer, and a heavy metal enthusiast. His best-selling Daggers & Steele series combines snappy homicide cops and snarky humor with mystery, intrigue, and a healthy dose of the supernatural. Connect with him at www.alexpberg.com.

 

You’ve Got to Have Friends

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

While the point of view character is the individual we root for throughout the story, it is often their best friend or side kick that makes the story real to me. Take a look at all the movies or books that have stuck with you throughout time and I bet you will find that part of the solid foundation was built on friendship. In fact, it is that friendship that helped make, or even sometimes, break the main character. Yes, the main character tends to be dynamic, interesting, or flawed in a way that draws the reader in; mainly the person every reader wishes they could be, to some degree. But it is the friend who truly makes the story feel complex, real, and believable.

For one, friends can be solidifiers for a group. Consider Han Solo, he is not the main character in the original Star Wars trilogy; the story is about Luke and Leia, growing up separately, learning who they truly are, and finding the strength from within. But it is Han who brings the humor, the quirky friendship, the tenacity, the fantastic one-liners, and the spunk. He is flawed, but he is fabulous. And, with his background in smuggling, he provides an alternative perspective and solutions way “outside the box”.

Because the friend often resides on the outskirts of the main plot, they also have a tendency to be the counter balance for our hero/heroine. Even though I adore Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables) with her love of literature, he r wild imagination, and her spirit, it is Diana Barry that makes the story whole. She is the putty in Anne’s hands; she is the Dean Martin straight man, to Anne’s Jerry Lewis hilarity. Diana is guided into mischief by her friend, which helps the scene come alive, because we’ve all been that friend who is going to get into trouble because as a direct result of their BFF’s actions. Diana also is Anne’s safety net, and listens to her woes, providing counterpoints and possible solutions to Anne’s difficulties with the exasperating, but delectable, Gilbert Blythe.

Then there are the friends who find courage within themselves, strengthen the hero, and if need be fight their friend when the hero goes astray. For that . . . I give you Ronald Weasley. In both the books and the movies it was Ron who won my heart as a character way more than Harry Potter (I know, sacrilege). Yes, he is flawed, but he had the most growth out of the main trio in my book. He felt second rate, awkward, and lost in a crowd in the beginning (believe me, been there done that). And yet by the end, he created his own solutions, found his own strength, and helped fully defeat Voldemort. To me he had the best combination of Han Solo and Diana Barry in any character ever.

He had outstanding one-liners.

Think Sorcerer’s Stone when our intrepid trio return from their first experience with Fluffy, the three-headed dog, where Hermione states (movie):

“Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.” Before stomping off to bed.

Ronald tells Harry the classic line, ”She needs to sort out her priorities!”

Need a say anything about spiders:

“Why’d it have to be spiders? Why couldn’t he have said, ‘Follow the butterflies.’?”

Or later, after meeting Aragog he says, “Can we panic now?”

Ron also had his own mishaps, mistakes, and misdemeanors that he grew from, and he provided the perfect counterbalance of growing up in a magic world, to Harry’s life in the Muggle world. It may have been Hermione who was the walking encyclopedia, but it was Ron who firmed up what it meant to live in the magic world. He made the magic feel real, especially when faced with the consequences of shoddy magical mishaps (don’t get me started on the whole vomiting slugs thing).

What all this boils down to is, that if you are creating a story, a world you want your readers to be sucked into so much that they will make the return trip time and time again, then make sure that you give due diligence to your point of view character’s BFF. By so doing you will add dimension, flavor, balance and believability to your story. Believe me, if you do, your readers/watchers/fans will come back to your work time and time again, in all its many formats. If you don’t, you have wasted a golden-snitch of an opportunity.

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

Warrior of Light

(Guest post by William Heinzen)

Friendships play an interesting role in fantasy literature, and especially in epic fantasies, which feature large casts of characters. My novel, Warrior of Light, focuses on a young man named Tim Matthias who aids a group of refugees in their struggle against the evil sorcerer Zadinn Kanas. Tim is a figure of prophecy known as the Warrior of Light, destined to face Zadinn in an apocalyptic final battle. Tim’s quest is a true hero’s journey, beginning with him living in the relative peace of the South. Events outside his control, however, soon propel him into Zadinn’s domain within the war-stricken North. Along the way, Tim must come to terms with his own powers, facing a set of increasingly dangerous threats before ultimately facing Zadinn himself.

Many classic fantasy novels, from The Lord of the Rings to The Wheel of Time, contain variants of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. Writers frequently use this framework because, as fellow blogger Nicholas Ploucha succinctly wrote, “it works”. However, as I was writing Warrior, I asked myself how I could include a fresh perspective on the hero’s journey. As I studied Campbell’s diagram, I noticed only minimal references to the hero’s companions. Oh, they’re in there – the archetypes in the journey include the hero’s “allies” – but such mentions are brief and easily overlooked.

I reasoned, however, that no victory happens in a vacuum. It’s all well and good to have a central character upon which the fate of the world rests, but what about the people around the character? In short, what about the hero’s friends? Every hero needs an everyman—the character the audience can relate to, the one without the power/mystique/destiny, the person who is simply trying to get by in life but nonetheless finds themselves caught in events much bigger than them.

And so I came up with the character of Boblin Kule, who is just as important to Warrior of Light as Tim himself. Unlike Tim, Boblin lives in the North. He has no magical powers, there are no prophecies about him, and if he had his way, he’d be sitting at home reading a good book. But he doesn’t have a choice—Zadinn has wiped out every last dwelling in the North, and so Boblin is on the run with a group of refugees, doing what he needs to do to survive.

Boblin’s friendship with Tim serves several purposes. He introduces Tim to the history of the North, and in doing so provides the same information to the reader. He keeps the action grounded—while Tim is using the Lifesource to burn his enemies to ashes, Boblin is fighting with sword, dagger, and fist (whatever gets the job done). He acts as a moral compass when Tim begins to question his role in the refugees’ quest, stepping in and reminding Tim of what they are fighting. Tim exists in the story to provide an enormous, heroic force capable of rising up and defeating the all-encompassing evil that is Zadinn Kanas—but Boblin exists so the reader has someone to relate to. After all, where would the great heroes would be without their friends? Sherlock without Watson? The Doctor without his companion? Frodo without Sam?

In each of the preceding examples, notice how the value the hero’s friend provides value to the reader/viewer. Ultimately, the friend provides a way to better understand the complexities of the hero at the heart of the story. The friend is a surrogate for the audience themselves, and it’s the same with Tim and Boblin. One has the Lifesource, the other has his sword, but both are an essential part of the Warrior’s epic journey.

When writing your own fiction, then, consider the ways in which the companions around the central character can enrich the story. In many ways, they may be the opposite of the hero, providing necessary balance and contrast to the tale, and providing a way for the readers to better relate to and understand the world within. When these friendships are crafted properly, however, I think we’ll find our stories are better for it.

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William has been telling stories ever since elementary school, when he discovered the only thing better than reading about sorcerers was writing about them. He holds a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Jamestown in Jamestown, North Dakota.

William lives in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he enjoys hunting, fishing, being outdoors, and, of course, reading and writing. Warrior of Light is his first novel. Find him at www.WilliamHeinzen.com or www.Facebook.com/WilliamHeinzenAuthor.

An unforgettable friendship

(Guest post by Aimee Kuzenski)

Friendships – pure friendships, that don’t simply serve as a pause on the path to romance – can be difficult to find in YA or adult fiction. That makes the few out there special, and the rare brilliant friendship stands out like a comet.

The central friendship in Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (http://www.elizabethwein.com/code-name-verity) qualifies as one of the most memorable I’ve ever read.

Code Name Verity is a historical fiction set mostly in England and Nazi-occupied France. I won’t get too detailed about the plot, because despite the fact that the book was published in 2012, I refuse to spoil anyone who has managed to remain ignorant. Suffice it to say the first half of the book shows you one view of the world, and the second half tilts that view on its head and then kicks you in the chest. I listened to the audiobook on my commute and found myself sobbing the car, a reaction I honestly rarely have. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

What I can talk about is the friendship between Queenie and Maddie. Two girls of different classes in an England preparing for World War II, they represent the sort of tight bond that comes of shared difficult circumstances. They meet as part of the war effort, and each finds something to admire in the other. Maddie loves her new friend’s strength of character and brilliant mind, the way she’s able to sharpen her tongue on bullies and fools and get the job done whatever the cost. Queenie yearns for the freedom and daring she sees in Maddie, who owns a motorbike she rebuilt herself and flies relief missions over occupied France. They become inseparable, and when Queenie must fly there in the dark of night, Maddie insists on being her pilot.

They are traumatically separated, and the reunion is short and devastating. It comes as a shock, but it’s defined and ordained by the strength of their friendship. It’s not the end of their friendship – the relationship is revealed to be even stronger than the women could have known if they hadn’t been tested by the war.

The novel takes readers from Scotland to the basement of a Gestapo headquarters, from the cockpit of a stripped down biplane to the home of a tense but loving family in the French resistance. Wein’s research was obviously extensive and careful, and all the details ring true.

But the core of the book, what makes it special, is Maddie and Queenie’s friendship. Structured as two diaries, the first belonging to Queenie, the second to Maddie, The book details the women’s inner thoughts and reminiscences of their times together, and their love and fear for each other. Their friendship is the purest thing to be found in the midst of horrific war.

In an art form that tends to see friendship as lesser than romance or family, Code Name Verity takes the stance that friendship can be more important, more resonant, more long-lasting. It’s a gorgeous, bright, long-tailed comet of a relationship, and one I’ll never forget.

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Aimee Kuzenski is a speculative fiction writer with an eclectic history, ranging from the stage to circuit design to Filipino martial arts. A graduate of the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop, she is the author of Eye of the Storm, a modern fantasy in which the god of War takes over the body of a West Point instructor, and The Golem Factory, a fantasy novella about a thief who awakens a sentient golem. Aimee lives in Minneapolis with a hairless cat named Beatrice. More information can be found at her website: http://akuzenski.com.