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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Focus Friday: Full Circle

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A preview teaser from the upcoming new novel

By D.G. Torrens

The door slamming startled Dena. She spun around when Christian burst into the kitchen in one of his moods, “What’s for dinner,” he demanded.

Dena brushed a stray hair back off her face and inhaled a deep breath. “Pasta,” she answered in a low whisper.

Christian exited the kitchen and made his way into the living room, slumped down on the couch, and waited for his dinner. Dena dished up a plate for Christian and took it to him.

Christian looked up from his mobile phone, glanced at Dena and rolled his eyes, “Is there any salt in this?

“Of course,” she replied.

Christian took a mouthful, ignoring Dena.

“So, how is it?” she asked.

Yeh, it’s okay,” he grunted.

Dena shrugged her shoulders and left the room. I don’t know why I bother. He is so ungrateful and rude, she thought.

Mia ran down the stairs, “Daddy, daddy, guess what?”

Christian’s eyes lit up, “I have no idea. Why don’t you tell me?”

Mia jumped on his lap, excitedly, “I got a head teacher’s award today,” blurted Mia.

Christian kissed Mia on the forehead, “Well done, sweetheart. I am proud of you.”

Dena entered the room and took the plate from Christian. She glanced at the half-eaten pasta, “What was wrong with it?”

“It wasn’t your best dish,” he said, turning away.

Mia ran over to Dena, “Can I sleep with you tonight, Mummy. I had a bad dream last night?”

Dena nodded, “Of course, sweetheart. Now come on, let’s get you bathed and ready for bed.”

Christian studied Dena as she left the living room with Mia, his face flashed with anger.

Dena ran a bath for Mia and waited for her to get in then left her to play for a while. She went into the bedroom and sat down on the king-sized bed with a heavy heart. This was not how marriage was supposed to be. What the hell happened to us? I never signed up for this. Christian is colder than Antarctica. I am so lonely.

Full Circle

We hope you enjoyed this sample from the upcoming new novel by bestseller D.G. Torrens, in the vein of bestsellers like ike Finding You, Broken Wings and Forbidden.

Look for it in January 2021.

D.G. Torrens

is the author of 14 books, including the bestselling trilogy, Amelia’s Story #1, Amelia’s Destiny #2 and Amelia The Mother #3. This is an emotion-charged true story that the author wrote for her daughter.

D.G is a mother/writer/blogger who has a dream to inspire as many people as possible through her story. To show those with little hope that dreams can come true.

Born in England, passionate about writing, D.G. Torrens is married with a daughter. Her first book, Amelia’s Story, has inspired people all over the world. Amelia’s Destiny, book #2 is the sequel and is followed by Amelia The Mother book #3 in this awe-inspiring trilogy. A memoir that remains with D.G.’s readers long after they have put the book down …

D.G is a prolific writer and in 2013, her works were recognized by BBC Radio WM, where she has given several live interviews in the BBC studios in Birmingham, UK. Thereafter, D.G. became a regular Headline Reviewer for the radio show for the next 12 months.

Visit her on:

And follow her on Twitter @torrenstp.

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Launch day: Gray Genesis

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Today is publication day for the new Tom Gray thriller

By Alan McDermott

Miriam Dagher had never had a fear of flying. But as she stood at the gates waiting to board the British Airways flight to Kabul, she felt ready to throw up. Her hands trembled as she gripped her boarding pass, and the sweat accumulating in her armpits was growing increasingly uncomfortable.

Am I doing the right thing?

She’d asked herself the question a hundred times that day, and she still didn’t have the answer. Only time would tell. It was too late to back out now, anyway. The decision had been made, plans put in place, promises made and bridges burnt.

Her old life was over.

A cheerful steward motioned her forward and held out her hand. Miriam gave her the sweat-stained card.

“Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

“I’m a nervous flyer,” Miriam lied with an apologetic smile.  “I’ve done it hundreds of times, but it never gets any easier.”

“Well, don’t you worry.  You’re in good hands.  This is one of the safest planes in the sky.”

Miriam tried to smile graciously but it came out as a grimace. She hurried through the gate and down the tunnel that led to the door of the Boeing 777, where a stewardess checked her seat number and pointed Miriam towards the first class section. As this was going to be her last flight for some time—perhaps forever—she’d splashed out on an expensive upgrade.

She took her seat by the window, buckled herself in and clasped her hands together, her eyes closed tight. 

Why am I doing this?

She wanted nothing more than to leap from her seat and run from the plane, go back to her home and undo everything she’d done. But that was impossible. She’d made a deal to protect her country, to take lives in order to save lives.

That was the hardest part; knowing she’d be responsible for countless deaths. It flew in the face of the Hippocratic oath she’d taken as a medical student, as well as the years spent looking for ways to improve healthcare outcomes.

A stewardess cleared her throat to get Miriam’s attention, and when she opened her eyes she was offered a hot towel.  She took it and wiped her hands and face, knowing that little luxuries like this would soon be a thing of the past.  Where she was going, all she had to look forward to was baking heat and basic sanitation at best.

The itch under her breast was annoying in the extreme, exacerbated by the sweat accumulating under her ample bosom.  She turned to face the small window and massaged the area gently, the sensation clawing at her like the never-ending doubts that flitted around inside her head.

She declined the offer of a pre-flight drink, preferring instead to try to sleep. But her vision was immediately filled with images of the dead, men young and old torn from families, their agonising death throes ringing loud in her ears.

And it was all her fault.

Gray Genesis

Tom Gray is back in his most explosive adventure yet!

Afghanistan. As the war on terror intensifies, Taliban leader Abdul al-Hussain has plans to turn the tide in his favour. His objective: a US virologist named Miriam Dagher. She’s about to pay a visit to the land of her birth, and al-Hussain has her in his sights.

Out to stop al-Hussain is Sergeant Tom Gray, SAS veteran and leader of 8 Troop. His team are tasked with disrupting Taliban operations, snatching high-profile targets and wreaking havoc on enemy supply lines. Their missions are routine, until the Taliban unleashes a new breed of warrior.

Gray Genesis is a prequel to the million-selling Tom Gray series, a familiar blend of intrigue, camaraderie and explosive action.

Alan McDermott

is a husband, father to beautiful twin girls, and a full-time author. Alan lives in the south of England, and in 2014 he swapped writing critical application for the NHS to penning thrillers that have gone on to sell close to a million copies. His debut novel, Gray Justice, was well received and by the time he’d written the follow-ups, Gray Resurrection and Gray Redemption, it had attracted the attention of a major publisher.

Alan signed with Thomas & Mercer in 2013 and has now written six novels in the Tom Gray series and a spinoff called Trojan. Alan’s eighth novel, Run and Hide, introduced a new female lead, Eva Driscoll, and a new thriller series that includes Seek and Destroy and Fight to Survive.

Alan can be found:

BestSelling Reads author page   |   Amazon Author page   |   Website   |   blog   |    Facebook    |   Twitter

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Clipped Wings

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Enjoy this sample of the brand new Paradise Crime Mystery Novella Book 4.5 with Hawaii Recipes

By Toby Neal

Rosario dried her hands on a clean white towel and took the order sheet on its clipboard off of the metal rack that held her favorite pots and pans, and headed for the walk-in refrigerator.

She pulled open the heavy steel door of the walk-in, and parted the dangling plastic panels that helped keep the cold inside. As she stepped through, she inhaled deeply, taking in the rich smells of ginger, onions, garlic, and fresh vegetables, with overtones of the tropical fruits that were a unique part of Hawaiian cooking. She stepped forward on the raised rubber flooring with its round holes for traction and drainage, and examined the rack of metal shelves that lined the chilly room.

She had established an order of storage for the items, so it was a fairly rapid process to check how many eggs and how much butter, cheese, salad dressing, sauces, fruits and greens she had.

Rosario and her brother Wayne had grown up poor on the Big Island. They were the surviving offspring of a Portuguese paniolo ‘Hawaiian cowboy’ on a big Waimea estate, and his Hawaiian wife, their beloved Mama, who’d cleaned and cooked for the family that owned the ranch. Wayne had taken to the paniolo lifestyle in his father’s footsteps, while Rosario had learned her mother’s skills in cooking and estate management.

Photo of the Island of Hawai’i by Sarah Humer on Unsplash

Their parents had died in a car wreck when she and her brother were in their late teens, and Rosario had moved to California, hoping to build a better life for herself—which she had done in working her way up to into establishing Aunty’s Hawaiian Food Place with her partner, Momi.

Rosario ticked down her order sheet on autopilot, her mind drifting back to the ways that life had taken dark turns: her brother Wayne and his wife Maylene falling into drugs. Maylene’s death by overdose while Wayne was incarcerated, which had brought their feisty daughter Lei to live with Rosario at age nine.

Her niece Lei had had a traumatic and abuse-filled childhood that had left her with lasting scars, but Lei had come so far in overcoming her past that she was now an FBI agent on Oahu.

And with any luck at all, she’d be coming to her aunt’s for Christmas this year.

Rosario inhaled the smell of baby new potatoes, parsley, mint, and ginger in their boxes, instinctively sniffing for anything spoiled.

There was—a small red potato with a spot of black rot. Rosario extracted the offending tuber from the box and opened the square, sealed bin where she stored spoiling food and leftovers from the restaurant to feed to pigs at a friend’s farm, in trade for a supply of fresh pork.

Her eyebrows rose as she dropped the spoiled potato into the bin.

It should be nearly full after three days. She had the waitstaff scrape plates into a special garbage bag, and then deposit it in the bin along with any expired, unsold food from the stand of convenience foods Rosario kept stocked at the counter. Several bags of leftover food and a half dozen expired hard-boiled eggs, along with some papayas and avocados she’d bought for garnishes that had been overripe, should be in the bin.

But there were only two eggs, no papayas or avocados, and a couple of white plastic bags of leftovers.

Rosario was the one to take the bin to the pig farm twice a week; who would take food meant for the animals?

Clipped Wings

Clipped Wings cover

Even Christmas can be darkest before dawn.

She just wants to survive.

The sixteen-year-old Robin Hood bandit responsible for starting an anarchy movement in Hawaii is now the target of an escape plot at a juvenile detention center, sparking FBI agent Lei Texeira to get involved with a manhunt.

She just wants to find the burglar.

Someone is stealing food from Aunty Rosario’s restaurant kitchen, but the holiday takes an unexpected turn when she catches the thief in the act.

Favorite Hawaii recipes submitted by readers and served in Aunty Rosario’s Hawaiian Food Place restaurant are included!

Clipped Wings 4.5 takes place between Broken Ferns #4 and Twisted Vine #5. A portion appeared as a short story in an anthology.

Find out more on the author’s website.

Toby Neal

Award-winning, USA Today bestselling social worker turned author Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii. Neal is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her stories. Neal’s mysteries and thrillers explore the crimes and issues of Hawaii from the bottom of the ocean to the top of volcanoes. Fans call her stories, “Immersive, addicting, and the next best thing to being there.”

Neal also pens romance, romantic thrillers, and writes memoir/nonfiction under TW Neal.

 Visit her on her:

And follow her on Twitter @TobywNeal.

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The Quisling Factor

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A Thursday preview of the forthcoming new novel

By J.L. Oakley

Photo by Kererra Williams on Unsplash

Downstairs at the French doors, there was a faint light from a new moon caressing the glass panes. Haugland heard nothing, but his eyes caught an irregularity with the doors and going over, he discovered that they had opened and shut, but not completely. Moving as softly as smoke, he gently opened the door and looked out.

The pine forest beyond the grounds was dark and impenetrable. There was no wind, no call of night animals. He cocked his head again, straining, then heard a sound to his right. Easing back the hammer on his gun, he went forward stealthily, then stopped. A cat emerged from a bush close to the house and came out to serenade him. It was Tomsin, his mother’s cat.

Disgusted, Haugland drew back and returned to the door to the study. At the patio’s edge, he turned the flashlight on and shined it on the flagstones. There in the light’s yellow pool, he found two partial prints. Looking closer, he saw that they had been made by wet boots, possibly a man’s. He straightened up and pushing the doors into the room, looked for signs inside on the wood floor, but found none. They only appeared to be outside going in. He knelt down and closer for any depressions in the Oriental rug in the center of the study, but he could only see his own feet in passing. Further investigation in the hallway revealed nothing more. It was as though a ghost had come and drifted into the house, dissipating through the roof. He went back and closed the door. He was positive that something had been moving in the house, possibly outside his door upstairs, but whatever it was, it was gone. 

The Phoenix and Mission hotels, Trondheim, Norway, wartime headquarters of the Norwegian Gestapo.

Upstairs, he paused outside the children’s door, then on impulse went in. Lisel was still sleeping in the same position he had seen her last, her mouth slightly open as she slept. He pulled the summer blankets higher up on her, then gave her a kiss. Next he checked on Nils in his crib, remembering that he had not actually seen him the first time he had looked in. Shining the light near the baby’s face, Haugland was relieved to see that he was alright. The sweet blonde face was quiet, his thumb stuck into his mouth and from time to time he sucked as he slept on his stomach with his little fanny sticking up into the air. Haugland chuckled and wondered if the position was normal. He reached over and tried to unplug the thumb and discovered that the hand was grasping something.

Haugland put a hand on his tightening chest. The baby’s little fingers were gripping tightly onto what appeared to be a piece of newsprint. Gently, Haugland unrolled the fingers and slipped the paper out. It had been folded several times. It opened out into an eight by nine inch scrap. On one side there was text from several news items. On the other side—

Nazi paraphernalia from the occupation of Norway, Trondheim.

Haugland gasped. The noise in the house had been real. As he turned the paper around, he stared into a newswire photo of a scene from the Cloister. It had only been published yesterday, but it was old news to him. He did not look at the men demonstrating some torture method for the press. He only saw the poster of the skeleton on the wall. Above its bony frame in vaguely familiar printing were the words:

“I’M COMING.”

The Quisling Factor

Ex-Norwegian intelligence agent, Tore Haugland, is a survivor. In post-WWII Norway, he adjusts to life in his newly freed county with the woman he loves, German-American Anna Fromme.

A demonstration of torture from the trial of Henry Oliver Rinnan in 1946.

But first he must keep his promise to testify against one of the greatest monsters of the German occupation, Henry Oliver Rinnan. When mysterious notes threaten Haugland and his family, he must choose between protecting them or bringing to justice the man who captured and tortured him and destroyed the village that hid him.

The Quisling Factor, the sequel to J.L. Oakley’s bestselling World War II-set novel, The Jossing Affair, is coming soon.

J.L. Oakley

writes award-winning historical fiction that spans the mid-19th century to WW II. Her characters come from all walks of life, but all stand up for something in their own time and place.

Her books have been recognized with a 2013 Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award, the 2013 Chanticleer Grand Prize, the 2014 First Place Chaucer Award, 2015 WILLA Silver Award and the 2016 Goethe Grand Prise.

When not writing, Janet demonstrates 19th century folkways, including churning some pretty mean butter.

Her most recent historical novel, Mist-chi-mas: A Novel Of Captivity, launched in September 2017. It is set in 1860 on San Juan Island in Pacific NW during a time with the British Royal Marines and US Army jointly occupied the island—peacefully.

Visit her on her:

And follow her on Twitter @JlOakley13.

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