Maps and fantasy

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Monday musings on fantasy writing

By Scott Bury

A map is a necessary feature of any fantasy novel.

Tolkien’s map from The Hobbit

Ever since Tolkien and Lewis, and maybe before, every fantasy novel has a map at the beginning or the end of the book.

It’s not necessary, but I find a map often helps. I also think a good map would help with any historical fiction as well as some others, to show the reader the relationships between settings in any story, to give an idea of how close or far apart key locations are. 

The trouble is, with a lot of fantasy novels, the map is childish looking. Totally unsatisfying for anyone who knows the first thing about maps.

It seems that every fantasy writer thinks that Pauline Baynes, the illustrator of the maps in The Hobbit, set the rules of cartography. 

But they’re not as good at drawing maps as Baynes. As a result, their maps are not detailed, nor realistic nor, more importantly, believable.

One good example is the map of the fantasy world in the bestselling Eragon by David Paolini. Obviously inspired by the maps drawn by Tolkien and Baynes, it’s particularly unsatisfying and child-like. It displays a lack of understanding how geography and geology work. 

This is not the only example. All the writers of fantasy seem to think mountains look like individual little cones, sometimes topped with a charming snowy peak. Rivers conveniently go through cities, which always have a hill for a castle with four towers in it. 

Coastlines are remarkably smooth, and borders between kingdoms are regular, rather than the tortuous, twisting and contentious messes you can see in virtually every part of the word, shaped by centuries of warfare and politics. 

Likewise, the societies were always limited and simplistic. There is a good kingdom and an evil kingdom. Their allies are also either good or bad, but less extreme. Tolkien, Lewis, Pratchett, Turtledove and most others follow this trope. George Martin is the one author who comes close to reflecting the complexity of international relations and dynastic politics in his Song of Ice and Fire series. But even that is not as complex, nor as far-reaching as the real ancient world was.

The sophistication of ancient societies

The ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, knew about China (which they variously called “Qin” or “Seres.”) Rome traded with India, and with far-off places like Abyssinia and Axum. Roman writers listed far-flung tribes in Scandinavia and what is now Russia, as well as in Africa. Their geography extended far beyond the maps of most fantasy writers. 

Maps and direction

Dissatisfaction with maps was part of the inspiration behind my first-published novel, The Bones of the Earth. When I began writing it, many years ago, my children were quite young and seemed to like stories about dragons. So we got a few movies and books, but somehow, they all seemed to follow a few well-worn tropes. The dragons were all friendly, or at least amenable to human direction. 

But that’s not what dragons meant to me. A little reading about the mythology involving dragons reveals them to be immensely powerful creatures, as well as very intelligent. While European stories generally depict dragons as antagonistic. Leave them alone on their giant piles of gold and jewels, or they’ll burn down your town and eat you alive, is the moral.

Asian dragons, on the other hand, are often said to have taught humans agriculture and other wisdom. They’re still not friendly, though. Certainly they are not suitable as pets.

Inspiration

All of this inspired me to do something different.

I guess it started with the map. “How can I make a map look more realistic?” I wondered. Eventually, I found the obvious solution: use a real map.

Which then led me to the next decision: set the fantasy story in a real place. And what is more fantastic than the Dark Age?

Current thinking dismisses the concept of the Dark Age of history. There are plenty of records from the time following the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In fact, the idea is highly western-European-centric and ignores the splendid civilizations that persisted through the years 476 to 800 CE: the Sassanid Persian Empire, China, Japan, powerful and sophisticated civilizations in India and Africa and the Americas. 

But it’s still a powerful, romantic idea, a great place for stories.

So that’s what led me to set a fantasy series in the Eastern Roman Empire around the turn of the seventh century CE. 

And it has an awesome map, and I’ll use it in my upcoming sequel, The Children of the Seventh Son.

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Welcome to autumn!

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Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash

The beginning of fall always feels like a time for starting projects anew, to get serious about accomplishing things again. 

The lazy summer is over. Vacation is finished. No more languid days watching the world pass by. It’s time to get back to work, get serious again. Time to complete projects and launch new ones. 

Yes, I know this is a week ahead of the official beginning of autumn, but at least where I live, it’s felt like fall for a couple of weeks, already.

September is—traditionally—the time when children go back to school. 

Universities start up again. The harvest season gets serious. 

This year takes this whole feeling to a new level, as schools and businesses reopen after months of lockdown. At the same time, this reopening is fraught with pandemic, attendant restrictions and unprecedented natural and human-made disasters.

Whether you agree that reopening schools and businesses is a good idea, or that we’re ready to do it safely, it’s happening. But then, that’s life—it happens whether you agree with it or not.

Something else that’s going to happen no matter that many people oppose it is the ramping up of marketing and advertising in preparation for the holiday buying season. That’s right: despite the strenuous, if predicable opposition, the Christmas season is also the commercial season. It’s the time when the retail industry makes its money for the whole year, and books are no exception.   

On the up side, if you choose to go along with it, there’s an undeniable feeling of new energy to tap into. 

New books and projects

We can see this with writers, too. You can expect a deluge of new titles on your physical and electronic bookshelves over the next couple of months. 

Sonder

Prolific poet and author D.G. Torrens always has one or two book projects on the go. Her latest collection of prose and poetry, Sonder, will be available before the end of the month. She’ll soon follow that with Chasing Fireflies. Dawn is also planning a psychological thriller-romance novel, with the working title Blindsided.

Fifteen Times a Killer

Alan McDermott is one of our busiest members. His Tom Gray prequel, Gray Genesis came out in June 2020, following close on the heels of Motive in March—which could be the first in a new series.

And he has just completed the writing, editing and cover design of a new novel, Fifteen Times a Killer, his first foray into a police procedural set in the U.S.A. 

The Children of the Seventh Son

Scott Bury has also been busy through the lockdown months. He has completed the sequel to his first-published novel, The Bones of the Earth, and readers can look forward to The Children of the Seventh Son within a few weeks. Like its predecessor, this novel combines historical research with high fantasy and transports readers to the  seventh-century Eastern Roman Empire.

Dead Man Lying

Fans of FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm will be thrilled about her return to the rain-soaked Hana shores of Maui. This time, she’s investigating the death of a country music star. But what starts as a formality quickly becomes a morass of deceit, drugs and multiple murders.

Members to watch

Other members have books approaching completion.

David C. Cassidy: Two new novels, Gateway and 1944.

DelSheree Gladden: Memory’s Edge 2.

Raine Thomas: Never content with one book project in the works, the multi-genre author is working on a six-volume hockey romance series, a dystopian murder mystery series and a new addition to her Estilorian fantasy series. 

Seb Kirby, the master of psychological suspense, is working on two new books: a science-fiction thriller and a legal thriller.

Keep coming back to this blog to be the first to get more details about great reading for the fall!

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Writing means rewriting

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By DelSheree Gladden

Writing and rewriting go hand in hand. Over the years, rewriting takes up less time, for most writers anyway. When first starting out, though, rewriting scenes, characters, or whole books will eat up a big chunk of most writers’ time.

My first serious attempt at writing a novel was at sixteen years old. I wrote the entire first draft of what eventually became Escaping Fate in a half-sized spiral notebook with a variety of ink colors. When I typed it up, it only came out to about 35,000 words. It wasn’t enough to really make a full novel.

At the time, I pretty much gave up on it and worked on other projects. A year or so later, I came across that battered notebook and reconsidered whether or not it was worth continuing to work on.

I started reading back through the story to see if there were changes that could be made to increase the length and flesh out the characters and story a little more. The main story in that first draft focused on Arrabella and her grandfather unraveling the mystery of Arra’s threatening dreams. There were very few side characters or scenes outside of their investigation.

The story needed to be fleshed out, so I started a massive rewrite where I limited the role of the grandfather and brought in a new friend, Tanner, who is also a love interest. Shifting the role of the grandfather allowed me to add new scenes and give Arra more personality through her interactions with Tanner. Tanner was also able to help Arra get to know the town a little better, and mention future characters she would meet in the second book when school started.

Overall, I was really happy with the changes, so I sent it out to agents and publishers.

And it got rejected by everyone.

At that point, my life was really busy with school and family, including a toddler. I put the novel aside for several years. When I dug it back out, I had two toddlers, but I was ready to give it one last shot.

This final look-through resulted in another full rewrite, including changing the point of view from third person to first. I brought the grandfather back into the story a little more, expanded on the dreams and completely redid the ending to make it more satisfying as well as lead into the next book.

When I was finally completely happy with the book, I decided to forgo the process of pitching to agents, and published the book independently. This whole process took ten years, but it was worth the wait and the lessons I learned along the way.

Escaping Fate

Escaping Fate Series, Book 1

Turning sixteen should mean driving, dating, and breaking curfew. It should never mean certain death. Arrabella’s excitement for her upcoming birthday is swallowed up by not only her dismay at being moved to a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, but by the terror of the dreams that assault her every night. Stalking her dreams, the raven haired beauty warns her, taunts her, as she is paraded toward her death.

Desperate for answers, Arrabella turns to her grandfather, the only one willing to delve into her family’s dark past. Warning her that once she takes the first step, there is no going back, Arrabella’s grandfather begins to unwind their awful heritage. The only joy she finds in the week leading up to her death is meeting Tanner Wheeler, a young man she barely knows but is immediately drawn to.

A story of selfish betrayal reaching back to an age of merciless gods and blood sacrifice, Arrabella’s world is sent into a deadly spiral.

Find it on

DelSheree Gladden

was one of those shy, quiet kids who spent more time reading than talking. Literally. She didn’t speak a single word for the first three months of preschool, but she had already taught herself to read.

Her fascination with reading led to many hours spent in the library and bookstores, and eventually to writing. She wrote her first novel when she was sixteen years old, but spent ten years rewriting and perfecting it before having it published.

Native to New Mexico, DelSheree and her husband spent several years in Colorado for college and work before moving back home to be near family again. Their two children love having their seventeen cousins close by. When not writing, you can find DelSheree reading, painting, sewing and trying not to get bitten by small children in her work as a dental hygienist.

Check out her latest books, get updates and sneak peeks of new projects at

And find her on social media

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An author withdraws

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Bestselling member M.L. Doyle explains what of today’s circumstances have convinced her to put down her pen.

I will not be writing fiction or much of anything else for the foreseeable future. 

I know withdrawing from writing fiction at this time won’t make much of a difference in the scheme of things. My readers haven’t read anything new from me for almost a year already. The last time I posted to this blog was in April. There are millions of fantastic books and short stories out there to keep everyone entertained forever. I have no illusions that anything new I might produce would be missed. 

I’m not boycotting the writing world as some kind of call to action, nor do I think declaring an end to my fiction writing will result in some kind of change that will impact how people think. Between the pandemic and the arguments over masks, the lives lost and the massive economic hardships millions are facing, my imaginary characters, their lives, their issues …  well, who gives a shit? Certainly not me. 

Every single day I’ve felt guilt and insecurities because I can’t do more than stare at the empty page. I wish I could fill it with my fear, frustration and the extreme anxiety that washes over me every time I consider what will happen to my country, to the world, if the same thing happens in November 2020 that happened in November 2016. If the politics aren’t enough, watching George Floyd die and the callous indifference on Chauvin’s face broke me. I didn’t think I could take one more story of police brutality and the wrongful deaths of innocents at the hands of people who simply didn’t care. Then there was Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain and Venessa Guillen, a sister in arms whose murder inexcusably went unsolved for so long even when the killer was the most obvious person imaginable. If her murder had been a novel, readers would have excoriated the author for making the solution to the puzzle so damn obvious.

Why is it so hard for Americans to wear a damn mask? How could parents support a president who demands they send their children into virus riddled infection chambers? How do we allow news organizations to spread propaganda against Black Lives Matter as if this civil rights group is some sort of terrorist organization? How is it okay for the party of POTUS to put a mentally ill rapper on the ballot in a scheme to draw votes from his opponent? How do we allow our neighbors or, more importantly, our employees to scream the N word and call the police on people simply for walking down the street? How does anyone make excuses for people who stand on their front lawn and point weapons at people exercising their first amendment rights? Did that cop really think it made things better to help a 16 year-old girl sit up, after he made her and her sisters lay face down on the ground and put handcuffs on them? And even after people from around the world have expressed their anger, shock and horror over our handling of this pandemic, and indeed, ban Americans from visiting most countries around the world because of it, how can the architect of this disaster claim we are the envy of the world? Worse, how can his followers think this is all okay? 

The horrific destruction left in the wake of the explosion in that Beirut warehouse seems almost representative of the collective pressure we are all facing. I’ve had enough. 

Every single day my frustration and feelings of helplessness have grown in the face of all of this madness.  At the same time my guilt over not being able to put words on a page multiplied exponentially. The horrific destruction left in the wake of the explosion in that Beirut warehouse seems almost representative of the collective pressure we are all facing. I’ve had enough.

I wish I could control the fear so many millions feel over their need for that extra $600 congress can’t come to an agreement on. I wish I could control the guilt some cops may be wrestling with as they start to understand the realities of the systematic racism they have unknowingly supported. I wish I could control the risk to health so many teachers will face. I wish I could control the gut-wrenching feelings low income, hardworking parents must be facing who know their children won’t get the homeschooling they need. I wish I could have control over how much further behind those low income kids will become. I wish I could control the hatred in the hearts of so many who become incensed, outraged and violent over a simple demand that no lives matter until Black, Brown and Native lives matter.     

I know that many people share my frustration and feelings of helplessness in the face of all of this. By saying I’m not going to write anymore, I’m finally taking control of the one stone of guilt I can lift off my shoulders. Unlike COVID or federal troops on the streets or those who refuse to wear masks or the lunatic in the White House and all of the evil monsters who support him, this one thing, the guilt I feel over my inability to write, I can control. So I will.

M.L. Doyle

has served in the U.S. Army at home and abroad for more than two decades as both a soldier and civilian.

Mary is the author of The Desert Goddess series, an urban fantasy romp consisting of The Bonding Spell and The Bonding Blade. She has also penned The Master Sergeant Harper mystery series which has earned numerous awards including an IPPY, a Lyra Award and the Carrie McCray Literary Award.

Mary is the co-author of two memoirs: A Promise Fulfilled: the story of a Wife and Mother, Soldier and General Officer (January 2011) and the memoir, I’m Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen—My Journey Home (Touchstone, 2010), which was nominated for an NAACP Image award.

Mary’s work has been published by The Goodman Project, The War Horse, The WWrite Blog and The Wrath-Bearing Tree, an online magazine for which she serves as a fiction editor.

A Minneapolis, Minnesota native, Mary current lives in Baltimore. You can reach her at her website at mldoyleauthor.com.

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New books in your hands

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We know you love to read good books. That’s why we’re all tap-tap-tapping away on our keyboards to bring you books you love to read.

Here is what you can expect from some of our bestselling members over the next couple of months.

J.L. Oakley, historical fiction

J.L. Oakley

After publishing the long-awaited The Quisling Factor in July to critical acclaim and audience success, Janet Oakley is now working on a sequel to The Tree Solider.

Like its predecessor, it will be set in the same area of Washington, in the North Cascades and the national forest during World War II.

There is also an audiobook in the works for The Jøssing Affair.

Visit her Bestselling Reads author page.

Alan McDermott

The bestselling thriller author is currently working on his 13th novel— hopefully a lucky one!. It’s his first venture into the world of the FBI: Special agent Corrina Stone is being taunted by a serial killer who is determined to kill fifteen people.

“I’m writing the last couple of chapters at the moment, and then it will be off to my wonderful editor in the hope that he can turn it into something readable! If all goes well, I hope to see it released in late October/early November—unless it appeals to my agent, in which case it will be some time in 2021.”

Visit his BestSelling Reads author page.

Seb Kirby

The master of psychological suspense has two new books in the works: a sci-fi crime thriller themed around the challenges of artificial intelligence, and a legal thriller looking at innocence and guilt.

Seb hopes to publish both before the end of the year, but warns it may take a little longer as he looks for the optimal launchpad.

Visit his Bestselling Reads author page.

Raine Thomas  

There is a lot on the horizon for the bestselling author of young adult, new adult, contemporary fantasy, rock’n’roll romance and baseball romance. Having just finished the release blitz for For the Win and launching a new website, Raine is now in the process of outlining and completing character sketches for a new six-volume hockey romance series.

Not content with one huge new project, Raine is also working on a new Estilorian short story, as well as starting the outlines for a new dystopian murder mystery series she has had on the back burner for a few years.

Keep watching this space for more news on Raine Thomas’ next publishing adventure.

Visit her Bestselling Reads author page.

D.G. Torrens

This prolific and wide-ranging has three new books coming before the end of 2020: poetry books, Chasing Fireflies, due in a matter of weeks, and Sonder, coming out at the end of September. A stand alone, psychological thriller-romance novel, with the working title Blindsided, is planned for December.

Visit her Bestselling Reads author page.

Scott Bury

Three-and-a-half years after beginning the outline, Scott will bring out his second Dark Age historical fantasy in September: The Children of the Seventh Son is the sequel to the acclaimed and bestselling The Bones of the Earth.

Probably within a month after that, Scott will release the third Hawaiian Storm mystery, the rewritten Dead Man Lying.

Visit his BestSelling Reads author page.

DelSheree Gladden

This highly prolific writer has published fantasy, romance, mystery, thriller and books that defy categorization is now finishing Memory’s Edge 2. She then plans to wrap up her other incomplete series over the next six months.

Visit her Bestselling Reads author page.

David C. Cassidy

The master of modern horror has two new novels written and ready to go: Gateway and 1944. But because he loves to keep us in suspense, he is not telling us when he will spring them on us.

David has just completed The Pond, book 2 of the Dark Shapes, Dark Shadows series. After a brief rest, he is going to start working on the next book in the series.

Visit his BestSelling Reads author page.

All your favorite Bestselling authors are hard at work on new stories and books you’ll love. Keep coming back so you don’t miss a word.

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How adversity can help your writing career

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Monday musings on the life of a bestselling author

By Raine Thomas

I self-published my first books back in 2011 in what some might say was the height of indie authorship. It was an incredibly exciting time! I’ll never forget the experience of working with a cover designer for the first time…of going through the painful editing stage for the first time…of pushing that button and officially publishing my books for the first time. At long last, my hard work was being read and enjoyed by perfect strangers!

The funny thing is, I only got to write those first books—books that have since been on bestseller lists and have been optioned for film—because I lost my job.

That’s particularly funny because I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in Creative Writing back in 1997. I got my master’s degree in Humanities with a heavy literary focus in 2002. But I somehow never found the time to work on the book I’d always said I was going to write. I was always “too busy.”

Then the recession of 2008 hit the real estate industry hard. At the time, I worked in a field closely tied to it. Days before Christmas in 2008, I got the dreaded news: I was suddenly without a job.

Back then, my husband and I were struggling to pay off hospital bills incurred the year before. We had a nearly three-year-old daughter to support. We couldn’t afford for me not to have any income, but the job market was, quite frankly, perfectly awful.

Rather than dwell on my circumstances, I chose to use what time I wasn’t spending on my job search writing the books I had been wanting to write for years. By the time I found a new job three months later, I had completed the first draft of one book and was hard at work on the second. I have been writing and publishing books ever since.

Flash forward to now. COVID has hit and I’m once again working in an industry heavily impacted by the virus (weddings and corporate events). While I haven’t yet fully lost my job, my pay has been scaled back to little more than minimum wage and my hours are a fraction of what they were back in March.

Like I did 11 years ago, I’m choosing to use this unexpected downtime from my other career to focus on my writing. I’m reconnecting with readers and reviewers I haven’t heard from in a while. I’m participating in marketing and promotion efforts I haven’t had time to try. I’m working on outlines for several upcoming projects that have been whirling around in my head for years.

Despite the scary and uncertain times, I’m feeling more positive and excited about my writing career than I’ve felt in years. If you’re like me and facing hardships due to COVID or anything else, I hope you’ll follow my lead. Dig out an old writing project and polish it up. Come up with some new story ideas. Join a few new groups on social media. Do something productive so when we get to the other side of all this, you have something amazing to show for it.

I can’t wait to see what you do!

Raine Thomas, new adult, young adult and romance

Raine Thomas

Raine Thomas is the award-winning author of bestselling Young Adult and New Adult fiction. Known for character-driven stories that inspire the imagination, Raine has signed with multiple award-winning producer Chase Chenowith of Back Fence Productions to bring her popular Daughters of Saraqael trilogy to the big screen.

She’s a proud indie author who is living the dream. When she isn’t writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

Get to know Raine on her

And follow her on Twitter @Raine_Thomas.

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