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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A new bestseller with a new teaser: Fancy Man Blues

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A Thursday teaser from new member A.J. Llewellyn

Exciting news, readers! Bestselling author A.J. Llewellyn has joined the ranks of your favorite bestselling writers. Without further ado, let’s go to the sample of her newest book.

Stumpy Lake, Virginia Beach, Virginia, February. Midnight. Five Years ago. 

Athen felt ridiculous, in the dead of night, to be waiting to meet a man who’d claimed he could help him with his case. A man who was blind, no less. Athen shifted his feet a little farther apart on the edge of the damp, rock-strewn lakefront. His boots were wet, but the water hadn’t soaked through to his socked feet. Yet. 

He let his flashlight blaze a trail around him. The lake was considered perfect for watercraft, especially kayaks and ca- noes, but not for swimming. Athen had already been warned it was filled with deadly snakes. 

Something terrible had happened here to someone beauti- ful, and he wouldn’t rest until he solved the mystery of Allie Madden’s disappearance. He focused his gaze on a ripple of movement in the water. He didn’t want to get bitten and die before he could find her. 

Her disappearance and apparently brutal murder ached in his gut like an ulcer. 

He took some deep breaths and it only hurt his throat more. How cold is it? Last time I checked it was thirty-two degrees. Much colder now. Athen switched off the flashlight, tucked it into the pocket of his pea coat, and rubbed his gloved hands together. It didn’t help him get any warmer. 

I should have worn something else. This old coat won’t cut it. A fleeting sense of passion scissored through him for his lover, who’d lent it to him. Another worry invaded his thoughts. 

What if the tracker doesn’t show? Was it this cold the night Allie Madden was dragged out here?

He slid his left foot across the sand to his right. Then he drew it back, bringing the right foot toward the left. He shuf- fled this way repeatedly until the heat from his feet traveled up his calves and moved up toward the rest of his body. 

He let out a breath, condensation evaporating from his frigid lips. 

Keep moving, man

He continued sliding his feet back and forth, a trick he’d learned from his days working for the US Marshals. An ac- tress he’d protected from a stalker had taught him this routine from her long days standing on movie sets.

Where is she now? She’d been stalked by an ex-lover and he’d guarded her for two months in Savannah, Georgia. It had been hot and sticky and… Yeah. That’s the ticket. Pretend it’s hot right now. Her won- derful smile came to mind, and her wicked sense of humor. She was the closest thing he’d come to falling for a woman. 

And the nearest thing he knew of perfection.

Athen kept his gaze swiveling across the deserted beach. Where is this guy? Was this a hoax? The skin prickled at the back of his neck. The gift of fear. No. Not a hoax. He detected movement. The old man was close. 

Or somebody was. 

Fancy Man Blues

Can Blackeye solve his craziest case yet?

Athen ‘Blackeye’ Mavromatis, roving lieutenant with the Bev- erly Hills Police Department, is trying to enjoy a rare day off. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen when the mayor hands him a twisty missing person’s case. A Saudi Princess has vanished. Because of royal protocols, Athen must conduct his investigation under the wire. He doesn’t mind doing that, but it soon becomes apparent that the princess, who’s also a wannabe actress, might have been murdered. Her apartment appears to be one big giant crime scene.

But just who is Natasha Al-Khan, AKA Natasha King, and who wants her dead? Though Beverly Hills has the reputation of being crime-free, this is the second murder case he’s tackled in the short time Athen’s been with the department. Not only does he have to solve this one fast, but he and his lover, Grady, are dealing with Athen’s delinquent niece who’s just come out to them. Oh, and somebody very near and dear to them may turn out to be a deranged psychopath…

A.J. Llewellyn

A.J. Llewellyn is the author of over 300 M/M romance novels. She was born in Australia, and lives in Los Angeles. An early obsession with Robinson Crusoe led to a lifelong love affair with islands, particularly Hawaii and Easter Island.

Being marooned once on Wedding Cake Island in Australia cured her of a passion for fishing, but led to a plotline for a novel. A.J.’s friends live in fear because even the smallest details of their lives usually wind up in her stories. A.J. has a desire to paint, draw, juggle, work for the FBI, walk a tightrope with an elephant, be a chess champion, a steeplejack, master chef, and a world-class surfer. She can’t do any of these things so she writes about them instead.

A.J. I started life as a journalist and boxing columnist, and still enjoys interrogating, er, interviewing people to find out what makes them tick.

How to find/friend her:

And don’t forget to sign up for her newsletter by emailing ajllewellynnewsletter@gmail.com – each month she gives away a free ebook!

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To create the perfect book

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It’s been said that no artist is ever satisfied with their work. And I think that’s just as true for writers.

I know that, once they’re out there in front readers, there is always something that I wish I had done differently with every one of my books.

For my first published book-length fiction, The Bones of the Earth, there are some things that still bother me about it. Even eight years after its release.

I wish I had included more description of the environmental damage done by civilization, even in the sixth century. For example, both Rome and Constantinople had to import most of their grain from Egypt and the province of Africa; bad farming practices and heavy urbanization had rendered the land around the big cities unable to produce enough food for the urban populations.

I did address this more in the sequel to The Bones of the Earth, the imminent The Children of the Seventh Son.

I also wish I written more about griffins. I put one into Part 1 of the story. I intended it to represent celestial or sky powers, as opposed to the chthonic or earthly gods. However, by the time I got deep into parts 2 and 3, somehow I forgot. Also, there are already a lot of fantastical creatures in it.

A griffin from a medieval tapestry now in Basel, Switzerland. Source: Wikipedia.

Also, I wish I had known more about covers for commercial fiction: would have liked my name to be in larger type.

However, Bones was not my first published fiction. That was a story that looks like it’s for children, Sam, the Strawb Part. It’s about a young boy who loves strawberries so much, that he dresses as a pirate and attaches a skull-and-crossbones flag to his bicycle, then uses it to rob local mothers of strawberries.

I just wish, now, that the tone had been a little less acerbic, and the story a little more suitable for children to enjoy.

The good news

That’s the thing about publishing today: you can change your books after they’re written. Re-publishing an e-book means that even the people who bought or downloaded it before the change will get the new version.

And the paperbacks are print-on-demand. There are no great stacks of books in a warehouse somewhere, so producing new versions will not require wasting the original editions.

Dr. Malcolm’s question

Then there’s the question that Jeff Goldblum’s character asked in Jurassic Park: I can go back and change books and stories that are already in readers’ hands—but should I? Will those people have a different reaction? Will a slight improvement bring more readers to the book?

My first job after university was as a book editor for one of the major publishers. On my first day, I asked my boss, the chief editor, if the goal was to produce the perfect book.

He laughed.

To this day, I have not come across a single book that did not have something wrong with it. Some error, at least a typo.

I know that every time I go through a manuscript I have already edited and re-written, I find something to change. A typo that I missed, a reversed quotation mark, an awkward phrase.

If I make a lot of changes and what I think are improvements, will I just find yet more problems or errors? Worse, will I create more problems?

What if what I think as such a huge, glaring problem is something that readers barely notice?

So should I revise old books, or move on and write new and better ones?

What do you think? Leave an answer in the Comments, below.

Scott Bury

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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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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Dead Man Lying

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A sneak peek ahead at the upcoming third Hawaiian Storm mystery

By Scott Bury

Vanessa paused at the edge of the forest to try to rub some of the dirt off her shoes. “Steven Sangster. I can’t believe I’m investigating his death. Did you like his music, Detective Ferreira?”

“Call me Lani. Yeah, I had one of Steven Sangster’s albums as a girl. I loved trying to figure out the hidden meanings in the words. Did you like him, too?”

Vanessa could not repress a smile. “I was a big fan. I had all his old CDs — still do. But I thought the ‘hidden meanings’ thing was blown way out of proportion. I thought his songs were easy enough to understand. Still, I had a huge crush on him when I was 16. He was so handsome.”

Lani smiled back. “The blue eyes and the square chin, huh?”

So this is the famous Nalani Ferreira, Vanessa thought, looking at the slender detective with her peripheral vision while appearing to study the heiau. She was small for a cop, but athletic, with beautiful big brown eyes and cheekbones that told Vanessa of mixed Asian and Hawaiian extraction. She had tried to tame her thick, dark hair, but the humidity of Maui’s rain coast was curling it .

 “Is this where it happened?” said an unfamiliar voice. Vanessa and Lani turned and Vanessa’s shoe slipped again. Her knee buckled and she almost went down, but Lani’s small hand grabbed her arm, steadying her. Vanessa was impressed — Lani was stronger than she looked.

Steady again on the wet lava, she looked up to see a short, balding man letting the yellow police tape down behind him.

“Don’t the words ‘Do not cross’ mean anything to you?” Lani demanded, stepping toward the man.

“I’m Simon Sangster. He — the victim … I mean, he was my father,” the man stammered. He did not step back, but actually put a foot up on the lava rock.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Sangster, but you still cannot step past the yellow tape.”

The man scowled, straightened his back and puffed out his little chest, which did not protrude nearly as much as his belly. “Now that my father is — I mean, this is now my property,” he said, but his voice did not match his posture.

“I’m not sure that’s quite true, but even so, this is a crime scene and you’ll have to step back past the yellow tape,” Lani retorted. She lifted the tape for him.

“It’s so that no one inadvertently compromises the investigation,” Vanessa offered, trying to make her tone conciliatory. “Please, step back.”

“In-investigation?” he said, seeming to deflate. “I thought it was an accident?”

“We’ll have to wait for the coroner’s final report to know that,” said Lani. She stepped off the heiau and took the younger Sangster by the arm, directing him into the path back down the hill.

Vanessa was just about to step onto the path when a koa tree exploded. Wood chips flew through the heavy air and the sound of a shotgun rolled up the slope. Lani threw herself off the path, pushing the pudgy Simon Sangster down. Behind her, Vanessa dropped to the ground and rolled, tearing her jacket on ragged volcanic rock. They held still, barely breathing, counting the seconds as the top half of the koa tree slowly toppled.

Dead Man Lying

Vanessa Storm is back! Dead Man Lying returns the FBI Special Agent to Hana on Maui’s rain-soaked coast.

She knows when you’re lying …FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm is back on Maui to catch a killer.

With lush rain forests, black sand beaches, and a laid-back lifestyle, Maui offers the perfect retirement location for once-famous country singer Steven Sangster … until he ends up dead.

As the killer, or killers, strike again and again, FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm must untangle the lies spun by the singer’s associates, friends, family — and the singer himself before the music dies.

Dead Man Lying will be out in autumn 2020.

Find out more about the Hawaiian Storm series on Scott Bury’s website.

Scott Bury

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Repelling the Shark

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A Thursday teaser from Book 5 of The Date Shark Series

By DelSheree Gladden

Piper’s expression pinched in confusion. “What the hell is a date shark service?”

It was a challenge not to laugh at her reaction, but Leo didn’t want to embarrass her. He was so used to discussing the date shark thing amongst his friends, he often forgot what a novel concept it was to most people.

“It’s basically a dating coach service.”

Her expression soured even more. “I’m not sure you’re qualified for that. Not if you and Legs are any indicator.”

“Katheryn and I had an understanding from the beginning. It worked well for us for a long time,” he argued, his tone a little more clipped than he meant for it to be.

“Clearly,” Piper said.

Her sarcasm annoyed Leo, but he brushed it off. “Actually, it was Eli’s business originally. When he met Leila, he eventually gave it up for her and Guy took over. I got roped into helping out.”

“But you don’t like it…”

Leo sighed. “It’s not always bad, but…it’s not something I would choose to do.”

“Then why not just tell Guy to find someone else?” Piper asked.

It wasn’t said with any attitude or unkind tone. She really didn’t seem to understand why he would do something he hated for his friend. It made Leo wonder whether she’d ever had someone in her life willing to sacrifice for her like that.

“He’s my friend,” Leo said simply. The expression on her face made it clear that wasn’t a good enough answer, so he expounded. “When I stepped in to help, Guy’s wife Charlotte was in the middle of chemo and she’d had a really bad scare earlier in her treatment and almost died.”

“So why are you still doing it?”

“I don’t know, to be honest. It’s just not that big of a deal most of the time. I rarely have to actually fill in for him when he’s gone, which is a few days every couple of months at the most.”

Piper pursed her lips. “So, what exactly do you have to do this time?”

“Take the client out to dinner and coach her through the meal, mainly trying to curb embarrassing or shocking behaviors so she doesn’t run off her upcoming date before the drinks are served,” he explained. He could only hope that was the worst of it.

“What kind of behaviors?” she asked with an interested gleam in her eyes.

Leo thought back to that last date and shivered. “She tried to feed me her chewed up food…like a mother bird does for her chicks.”

Piper gagged and she pulled back from the table. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

He shook his head. “Once, a woman brought thirteen porcelain dolls with her and tried to seat them all in their own chairs at our table. I was barely able to talk her into letting them share the two available seats without her bursting into tears and having a complete meltdown.”

After staring at him for several long seconds, Piper asked, “How did she get all thirteen dolls to the restaurant in the first place?”

“Specially designed, huge pieces of luggage with built-in doll compartments.”

Piper snorted and covered her mouth, but it didn’t do much to hide her snickering. “I’m sorry,” she said between laughs. “I know these women need help and I shouldn’t laugh, but…”

Leo chuckled. “I can’t help it either, sometimes. There was this guy once…”

“You date guys, too?” she asked, intrigued again.

“Not personally, but I don’t mind working with male clients. Sabine used to handle them, but she hated being a date shark and quit once she got her visa worked out.”

Piper crossed her arms and looked at him with an oddly pleased half-smile. “Go on. The guy you took out?”

“I couldn’t keep him seated at the table. Every time I took my attention off him, he would start introducing himself to the others diners and trying to kiss each one…on the mouth.”

Pressing her lips together to keep from laughing again, Piper shook her head. When she could manage words without the laughter, she asked, “Why?”

“It was a combination of affective and compulsion issues. He was referred to counseling and seems to be making progress.”

“Thank goodness,” she said. “Kissing everyone you see is a good way to get a punch in the mouth, or worse.”

Repelling the Shark

The Date Shark, Book 5

Simple and easy falls apart when secrets revealed require making promises and opening up to the possibilities of hurt and hope.

Leo Bailey has so far escaped the curse of the date shark business. He fills in when needed, but has held onto his casual relationships and family emergency-free existence. hover

Marriage and family are a vague idea for the future, but he’s not ready to give up the freedom of being single and answering only to himself.

When Piper Moretti witnesses the demise of yet another of Leo’s friends-with-benefits relationship, she doesn’t think much of it. She has a long list of more pressing responsibilities and headaches to occupy her mind.

Friends, and the strings that go with them, are at the bottom of her priority list.

When a date shark client who tops the list of bizarre behavior Leo has seen, his half-joking request for rescue drags Piper into the chaos and into Leo’s life.

Neither one wants more than a simple, no-stress friendship. Secrets and surprises force them to admit neither one is nearly as in control of their futures as they think they are.

Helping each other means getting involved, making promises, and opening themselves up to the hurt and hope they’re both terrified to face.

Get it from

DelSheree Gladden

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. 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 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 cousins close by. When not writing novels, you can find DelSheree reading, painting, sewing and working at the local newspaper.

DelSheree has several bestselling young adult series, including Invisible, which was part of the USA Today Bestselling box set, Pandora. DelSheree also has several contemporary romance and paranormal new adult series. Her writing is as varied as her reading interests.

Check out her latest books. Get updates and sneak peeks of new projects!

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