Category Archives: Action & Adventure

Using What Scares You

I went to a publishing conference in New York some years ago, and an agent said that a great author is a great storyteller. You can have all the craft and technique in the world, but if you aren’t a good storyteller, you won’t become a true success. Alternately, you can have the worst craft and know nothing of technique and be the next huge star of the publishing world. Yet, she could not define what made a good storyteller, like it’s some nebulous thing that cannot be truly understood. She was in the “you can’t learn it, you just have to be born with it” camp, a believer in which I am not.

But what is good storytelling if it’s not the expert use of craft and technique? I’ve been puzzling over it for years and I think I finally figured out a rather large component—a good storyteller is one who can tap into emotion with every word.

We humans, above all else, are creatures of emotion. We like to think we are creatures of intellect and reason and morality, but  these things are constructs we’ve created to put limitations and controls over the nasty, hind-brain, instinctual animal side that is human emotion. Emotion motivates us in pretty much everything we do. Our desire to feel happiness, love, safety, pleasure all shape our choices. Our desire to not feel pain, sorrow, grief, all push us to move in a particular direction, even if it’s subconsciouly. Every choice we make is rooted in our emotional health, or lack thereof. Our need to feel one emotion over another.

The crazy thing is, everyone human being past, present, or future feels the same emotions. Emotion is the one, true universal language. It is the one thing we all as a species, share, and no emotion is more familiar to us all than fear. Writing our fear, more than any other emotion, can truly raise a writer’s prose to new heights.

There’s two ways of writing what frightens us, and both are equally beneficial. The first is the obvious definition—if we want our audience to fear something, start with what we, ourselves, are the most afraid of. J.K. Rowling once said that she decided to put giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets because she herself was afraid of spiders. Similarly, Peter Jackson’s rendering of Shelob in the Return of the King was built off his personal arachnophobia. Think of it as a mind hack. It’s easier to write what we know, how we personally feel about a particular thing or situation when we write about something that makes us feel the emotion we want to invoke. It’s easy to make spiders terrifying if the author is terrified of the creepy bastards, but harder to make a horse frightening if they make the author all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a monster. It can be a fear of rejection, a fear of success, a fear of fear itself. It’s making the fear personal that’s the key, no matter what genre or sub-genre we are writing. Every genre deals with some sort of fear, and the more we make that fear our own, the easier it is to make the reader feel it with us.

The second way of looking at writing what one fears isn’t so obvious, and it’s something we all face at one point or another. It’s taking on those scenes that make us cringe. You know those scenes, the ones that make us uncomfortable or leave us at a loss. Wether its fight scenes or sex scenes or scenes of moral uncertainty, we all have a scene somewhere that tempts us to just skip it and have it happen off screen. After all, the worst fear of any writer is that an important, necessary scene will suck and bring the whole piece down.

But nine times out of ten, that seemingly impossible scene will become one of the more powerful moments in a story. Dan Wells once said that a scene in I Am Not a Serial Killer, where the protagonist draws a knife on his mother, was an especially difficult scene to write, but the final product is one of the most emotionally impactful moments in the book. Alternately, I have a friend who kept skipping over scenes where people were fighting (verbally or physically) because he wasn’t comfortable with violence, but it left his work lacking conflict and the story suffered because of it.

Part of why this is so effective, I think, is that the struggle to get the scene written and fear that it won’t work makes us slow down and take a long, hard look at what we’re doing, much more so than a scene that just plops itself down on the page. Difficult scenes force us to pull out all the stops, to dig deep and give it our all, thereby forcing us to put our best work on the page because anything less would just prolong the torture. Also, fear is conflict, and whether it’s felt by the character or just subconsciously by the author, it puts an edge, an undercurrent in the scene that can lift it above simple prose. It’s always the scenes I didn’t want to write, the ones that kick my ass, that I always end up the most satisfied with, and I think it’s because of the fear. If I wasn’t afraid of what I was writing, the writing would not be as good. Period.

Use the fear, share it. It won’t be easy, but more likely than not, your readers will feel it, and what they feel is what will stay with the reader long after they finish the story.

Gen Con: A Major Intersection of Interests

Guest Post by Josh Vogt


I have long loved conventions for a variety of reasons, everything from meeting authors and artists I admire to gaining new career connections to developing my writing craft to pure entertainment. A lifelong reader and gamer, I simply can never get enough of fantasy and science fictions worlds, whatever format they’re presented in. I love the weird and wacky and wonderful—and conventions basically mainline all of that straight into my veins and brain. I come away from conventions, even the smallest, shortest ones, both exhausted and absolutely jazzed to jump back into the writing and storytelling because I went to get out there and bring my own form of weird and wonderful to the world.

That’s why Gen Con has quickly become what I think of as a cornerstone convention for the year. It’s touted as the “Best Four Days in Gaming,” and that’s no boast. I’ve only been a couple times now, but my hope is to continue going for as long as I’m capable of it. It is simply fulfilling on all fronts, giving me a well-rounded con experience as a reader, a writer, a gamer, and an unashamed geek in general.

You could likely spend the whole convention simply wandering the whole vendor floor without quite seeing everything there is to see—and likely come away with a few credit cards maxed, if you aren’t careful. I joke with some people who buy my books at cons that I take “cash, card, blood, first-born children, and souls,” but by the end of Gen Con, I’m the one considering shelling out a slice of damnation to bring home some particular artwork or another set of shiny dice. Then, of course, there’s the many games for sale, with countless demos being run from morning to night.

Oh, and did I mention the round-the-clock gaming schedule? Doesn’t matter whether you prefer dice, cards, board games, tabletop RPGs, minifigs, LARPing, video games (including VR rigs), or plain ol’ rock-paper-scissors…you’ll find it going on around every corner 24/7. You could sit and game from beginning to end without seeing any other part of the con, barely even leaving your table except for the occasional bite of food and bathroom break.

And then we get to the Writer’s Symposium. Admittedly, as an author, this is the primary reason I have come to love Gen Con. When you have dozens of authors getting together to run workshops, panels, and social shindigs into the wee hours, how can you not have an exhilarating experience? The amount of experience being shared is staggering, and everyone is there to both work hard and have an amazing time. Again, you could spend the whole weekend just attending Symposium events and not even get to the gaming! Each year, the Symposium has been streamlining its programming, has an amazing volunteer crew, and does its best to connect readers and aspiring writers with industry pros of all sorts.

It’s a magnificent mash-up of literary and gaming cultures, recognizing that we’re all in it to have fun, tell stories, create unique experiences, and cheer one another on through another year of learning and growth. Of course, we can still backstab each other during daring games of skullduggery or fight to the bitter end to get the high score during a dungeon run.

Is it crowded? Of course. Is it exhausting? You betcha. Logistically challenging at times, with travel and hotels and whatnot? Start prepping at least half a year in advance, if not earlier.

But in the end, while Gen Con can leave one feeling wrung out, it also leaves you raring for next year at the same time. It can connect you with people from all walks of life who share similar passions and pursuits, and remind you that whatever form of fun you prefer, you’ll always find a community of like-minded folks.

Hope to see you there sometime.

Website: GenCon    2016 Dates: 8/4-8/7

Guest Bio:

Writer. Freelancer. Unashamed geek. Josh splits his time between dreaming up new worlds and forms of magic and providing marketing/sales copy for clients. It’s sometimes difficult to know which requires more imagination.


A Pirate’s Life for Me

yarr coverIn yesterday’s blog article I wrote about drawing inspiration from songs and music.  I provided an example of a short story inspired by a single line in a song.  Today, in celebration of my newest short story release – “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter” in Yarr:  A Space Pirate Anthology by Martinus Publishing – I’m going to talk about a different kind of musical inspiration.

Music is a crucial component of cultures around the world.  When I was planning and writing “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter,” I’d just moved back to the Maritimes, and was listening to a lot of East Coast music.  The East Coast of Canada has a longstanding tradition of sailing, smuggling, and bootlegging, so I found myself easily slipping into the mood to write a pirate tale.  Music helped me immerse myself in the kind of culture I wanted to portray in my story.

Many people are familiar with the song from the Pirates of the Carribbean ride – yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me – and the classic “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.”  One thing I didn’t want to do is create a pirate story too much like the ideas of pirates that are already common in popular movies like Treasure Island and its sci-fi Twin, Treasure Planet, or the fantasy-flavoured Pirates of the Carribbean.  Everyone’s familiar with the charismatic captain and battles on the high seas and hidden treasure chests.  East Coast music gave me some alternate ideas.

The biggest influence on “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter” is the song “Wrecker’s Den” by Kilt.  This song is where I first heard the legend of wreckers.  The legend claims that brigands and thieves would lay out lights around rocks near the shore, signalling safe passage.  According to the story, ships would follow the lights and run aground on the rocks.  The wreckers would then pillage the foundered ship.  I’d never heard of wreckers before, so this song gave me an idea for another kind of pirate.

As I did my research, I wasn’t able to find any historical accounts of ships brought down by this method.  I did find articles alleging that a ship’s captain shouldn’t be fooled by lights on the shore.  (If you do know any historical accounts, please drop me a comment!)  Regardless of whether wreckers were real or a nautical “urban legend,” for the purposes of this story, mythology took precedence.  The pirates in “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter” are space wreckers, bringing down their enemies by means of falsified guidance systems.

On the topic of legends, just as superstitions and “yarns” were common among real historical sailors, tall tales play a key role in “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter.”  The main character, Lees Kai, a navigator and reluctant privateer, hears that his captain has been cursed by the lighthouse keeper’s daughter.  He’s forced to examine not just his own superstition but also his morality:  whether or not the curse is real, has the captain deserved it, and does Lees want to continue to be part of the privateering mission?

Some other songs influenced the space legends in the story.  Lennie Gallant’s “Tales of the Phantom Ship,” a song about a real-life legendary ghost ship that appears in the Northumberland Strait, inspired me to include a fiery phantom starship as one of those legends.  The ghost ship named “Mary Ellen Carter” is a nod to the song of the same name by Stan Rogers.  Great Big Sea, Rawlins Cross and Mackeel are other bands whose songs provided a background soundtrack for writing “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter.”

I’d be amiss not to mention “Barrett’s Privateers,” also by Stan Rogers, which provided loose inspiration for the privateer captain as the villain of the piece.  After all, the major difference between a privateer and a pirate is the government’s seal of approval…

If you’d like to sail with Lees Kai, meet the villainous Captain Crest, and face the curse of the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, Yarr: A Space Pirate Anthology is now available in both print and ebook.

And if you’re stuck on inspiration, take a look through your music playlist and see what ideas come to mind!

INTRODUCING: The Law of Radiance

Book 3 Final CoverAfter six thousand years of captivity, the Grigori are free. With time running out, Ira Binyamin leaps into action, amassing a network of allies to wage all-out war against this new yet ancient threat. But as his mentor Aaron warned him long ago, to wage this war he must bear an awesome responsibility, one that will exact a crushing toll on his body, his conscience, and his very soul.

Dispatched by his new masters on a mission to the northernmost reaches of the world, Sherwood Brighton must come to grips with the consequences of his life-altering decision in Shamballa. To find what he’s searching for, he’ll have to look deep within himself and confront the harrowing terror shrouded in the recesses of his own mind.

Opposing forces swirl toward their ultimate confrontation as Ira, Brighton, and those they hold most dear return to the place where it all began… where the worth of humanity will be settled once and for all.

*          *          *

It goes without saying that it’s a lot harder to finish a project than to start one. Finishing a project when a crowd of people are watching you with their own silent (and sometimes not so silent) expectations is even harder. This is where I find myself now, upon release of my third novel, The Law of Radiance, which also happens to be the concluding volume of The Watchers Chronicle, a story I started telling back in 2011 with my friend and writing partner, Clint Byars. 1,232 pages—and 322,141 words—later, the story is complete. And it’s one that I am immensely proud of.

In 2011, when The Book of Creation came out, I felt ecstatic. How could I not? My first novel was published, right there in print, on the shelf in the bookstore, the fulfillment of a very long dream. But the Watchers Chronicle, really, is a single story, so while the book was out, the whole story was not. Indeed, I wasn’t even a third of the way there (29.9 percent, to be precise). I still had a long way to go. I didn’t even know how many books it would take to finish, which is why I pointedly didn’t call it a trilogy right off the bat.

But here we are, and I can finally say that I’ve completed my first large-scale writing project. If you happen to be one of those people who only likes to start reading a series once the whole shebang is available at once, then have at it. I invite you to dive in!

Along the way, I’ve gotten some favorable reviews. My favorite came from the Winnipeg Free Press, my local newspaper, which wrote: “There is an important difference between someone like Dan Brown and Evan Braun: Braun writes with some literary sophistication.” Depending on what kind of emphasis you place on the word some, that’s great validation!

The Law of Radiance was a much longer and more complex affair than I anticipated at first. Indeed, as late as this past March, I contemplated splitting the book into two separate novels which would have each been approximately equal in length to the first two books in the series. Instead I took the alternate route, trimming down the fat to fit it all into a single book, working on the presumption that editing down is almost always preferable to expanding outward—at least for me. And each time I browse through Radiance, I become more certain that I made the right decision. Even at a smaller word count, it’s still a full third longer than either Book of Creation or City of Darkness. I’m quite sure that every word is earned.

It’s currently available for $3.99 for the Amazon Kindle, the Kobo, and the Nook. Not only that, but the print edition is on the way, hitting stores and catalogs on Thursday, July 9. I’ll be hosting a launch party at McNally Robinson Booksellers at 7:00 p.m. that night—so if you happen to be local to Winnipeg, Manitoba, I hope to see you there.

Excerpts and reviews are available here.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, whose third volume, The Law of Radiance, has just been released. He specializes in both hard and soft science fiction and lives in the vicinity of Winnipeg, Manitoba.