Spellbound Scribes

I’m a extremely visual reader and writer, which means that I picture very vividly the characters that I’m either reading or writing about. Ask me to share my vision of a specific character, and, even if I didn’t invent her, I will be able to describe her physical features in great detail, as I imagine them. If I were a better artist, I’m sure I could even draw them from my head.

Unfortunately, my idea of what a character looks like doesn’t always line up with what the author intended. Last week, I read a YA novel where the male love interest was described very early on as “tall and olive skinned, with dark hair.” Not super specific, but clear enough. However, the author doesn’t refer to his specific features at all throughout the rest of the book, describing the character only as “beautiful,” or occasionally, “gorgeous.” This lack of…

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Coming of Age

Spellbound Scribes

a5dd6-mostwonderfulstorybellegif It’s no secret that I both read and write a lot of young adult literature spanning a variety of sub-genres. There’s no single reason that I favor this genre above others, and sometimes it can be difficult to explain to others why so many of the novels closest to my heart happen to be YA. But if I have to choose the most important reason, it is the element of growth and transformation that is the hallmark of most great YA literature.

The teenage years are a terrifying, turbulent, and often excruciating time. Childhood fades into the past as adulthood looms alarmingly close. Emotions run high, borne on the rushing tide of hormones and naively conceived expectations. First loves and newfound joys are all-consuming; disappointments and heartbreaks are earth-shattering. And amid the elation and tragedy and pride and loneliness, there is transformation. Young adult literature is overwhelmingly about this coming-of-age…

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New Site!

I’m starting off the year with a brand new site and domain name! I will be blogging from lyraselene.com from now on, so I hope you will all visit and check out all the brand new stuff I’ve got going on!

Hope to see everyone soon!

Seven

Hello blogo-verse! It’s nice to see you. What’s that you say? I don’t call…I don’t write…I know, I know. But, you see, that’s all about to change! I promise.

Today, the lovely and talented Emmie Mears nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award, which was very nice, but had the possibly intentional side effect of making me feel very, very guilty about my absolute lack of blogging since…too long. So, in honor of being honored, I will make an attempt at being a better bloggerina! Promise!

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Now, the way this works is I’m supposed to say seven things about myself, and then nominated seven other bloggers who I think deserve this award! But, I was inspired by Tami Clayton’s blog post. So, instead of sharing seven things about myself, I will share seven books or series that inspired me to become a writer when I was a tender, wee thing. Because there are so many, many books that have inspired me, I’m going to limit this list to books that I read before I was, oh, let’s say 18.

With no further ado–and in no particular order–the top 7 books I read as a young person that shaped me as a writer!

1. Crown Duel and Court Duel, by Sherwood Smith

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Reading this two-book series got off to a rocky start when my mom took a peek at the inside cover and promptly forbade me to read it. I devoured it anyway.

In Crown Duel, Mel, the heroine, is the daughter of a nobleman, but she’s grown up running barefoot around the woods and has absolutely no knowledge of politics, war, or intrigue. But when she semi-accidentally finds herself in the middle of a rebellion against a tyrant king, she does what any good heroine would do–she tries to get the heck out of dodge. Of course, she fails miserably, and manages to inspire an entire country to stand up to the tyrant. In Court Duel, which I liked even better than Crown Duel, Mel reluctantly goes to the capitol city to help rebuild the country and choose a new, better king. But to get anywhere in the capitol, she has to navigate a veritable labyrinth of etiquette, intrigue, and ambitious interlopers. Plus, she has a secret admirer AND a delightfully awkward courtship with the future king, the handsome and reserved Marquis de Shevraeth.

Sherwood Smith manages to craft a fast-paced, compelling story while simultaneously breathing life into a bevy of absolutely fascinating characters. Her world-building is flawless, complete with thousands of years worth of history and a deeply ingrained culture that is at once familiar and unfamiliar to the reader. Her dialogue is delicious. I would die happy if I could write with the skill Smith has in her little finger.

2. The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander

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My parents actually read these books to me when I was in late grade school, although I later re-read them all as a teenager. Where do I start? As a lover and casual scholar of Celtic Mythology, these books gave me so much fodder and inspiration for my own writing. The characters are absolutely wonderful: Taran, the Assistant Pig Keeper with a big heart and an even bigger destiny; Eilonwy, the big-mouthed, scrappy princess; Fflewddur Fflam, the “unofficial” bard who accompanies Taran on his adventures; Doli, the dwarf; and of course Gurgi, the inexplicable wild hominid. Was he a man? Beast? I don’t think Alexander ever told us for sure.

I actually loved these books so much that they inspired me to write my very first book, centered around Jade and her unicorn as they searched for magical springs in the dark forest.

3. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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This was required summer reading for my sophomore English class, and no one was more surprised than me when I fell head over heels in love. With Fitzgerald, with Jay Gatsby, with the Roaring ’20s, with each and every one of the perfectly crafted 60,000 words that comprise this masterpiece. Beyond being an iconic glance into a decadent world filled with champagne, flappers, adultery and fancy cars, it’s a love story and a character study. Poignant, disturbing, delightful, soul-wrenching, beautiful. Heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

4. The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper

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I discovered this series right around the same time as the Prydain series, but I read these books on my own. The series centers around Will, who discovers when he turns 11 that he is an Old One, destined to wield the power of Light in the ancient and ever continuing struggle against the Dark. Sound familiar? Hey, universal themes never go out of style. The first book really blew my own 11 year old self away, and the rest of the series gets even trippier. This series is also deeply rooted in Celtic mythology, and owes a lot to Arthuriana, even featuring King Arthur as a character in the later books. These books are truly epic. I’ll be dusting them off to read to my kids for sure. I might even just read them again myself.

Although the movie was the biggest steaming pile of crap I’ve ever seen. Ugh.

5. Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

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I didn’t let my mom read the inside cover of any of these books, because I definitely knew she wouldn’t let me read them. But don’t let the romance novel-esque cover fool you–these books are GOOD. Damn good.

The books fall somewhere between alternate history and fantasy. Set primarily in Terre D’Ange, a version of France in which all the citizens are descended from angels, the first three books follow Phedre no Delaunay, a spy, courtesan, and all around bad-ass, as she saves Terre D’Ange and the royal family from all manner of terrible fates. The story is chock full of intrigue, politics, history, adventure and romance. There is also a bondage aspect to these books, but trust me when I say that it complements an already complex and multi-faceted literary world that would be just as rich without it. Clocking in at around 400 pages each, these books may seem a bit daunting, but they are absolutely worth it.

6. The Song of the Lioness, by Tamora Pierce

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These were probably the first books I read where I registered and understood the feminist themes, and thought they were pretty cool to boot. Alanna is awesome–she disguises herself as a boy to become the first female knight in centuries, and kicks ass even though she isn’t big, tall, or naturally strong. She has pretty much a direct line to the Goddess, and has the magical ability to heal. She becomes lovers with the heir to the kingdom, and when he asks her to marry him she says “No thank you, I’d rather have a career and run my own life and not sit in a castle and be your queen.”

Also, she has violet eyes and can talk to the black cat that follows her around.

7. Elfquest, by Wendy and Richard Pini

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I posted this one last, because I knew a lot of you might have a bit of a closed mind about this particular graphic novel series. Bear with me, please?

My mom actually encouraged me to read these–I think she assumed that because it had pictures it was appropriate for children. Not. Through the magical, beautiful artwork of Elfquest, I was exposed to some fairly mature themes as a kid–polyamory, racism, mind-rape, genocide, torture. (But the pictures are so pretty!) The graphic novels follow Cutter, Chief of the Wolfriders, as he tries to unite his tribe with the far-flung descendants of the original Elves, who may or may not have been immortal space-travelling aliens. The artwork is gorgeous, the characters rife with pathos and complexity, and the story is moving and compelling. These graphic novels really ignited my passion for story-telling even before I could put a name to what I was feeling.

You can read it all here! I definitely recommend just diving in right at the beginning, although it does take a little while to get into. It is so totally worth it. (Beware Death by Archive. Who loves the internet? I love the internet!)

Thanks again for the nomination, Emmie! Unfortunately I don’t know enough bloggers who haven’t already been nominated for this, but reply in the comments if you’d like to!

What books inspired you as a young person? Which series do you credit as changing the way you thought about storytelling and compelling characters? Reply in the comments!

Here’s Part II of my exploration of sacrifice in pop-culture. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to read Part I.

Warning: SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Whedon-verse: Buffy, Angel and Firefly

Joss Whedon seems almost as gung-ho about sacrifice as J.K. Rowling. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel, and Firefly, most of the characters–if not all–at some point sacrifice their happiness, their loves, and ever their lives in the pursuit of the three big S’s– Slaying, Saving The World and Surviving. Most of the time, these sacrifices are selfless and truly heroic, but Whedon goes out of his way to occasionally subvert the trope as well.

Buffy, of course, puts her life on the line every night as she patrols Sunnydale. In one of the most memorable episodes of the series Buffy, like Katniss Everdeen, gives up her life to save her sister from a certain death. Nearly all of Buffy’s sacrifices are true heroic actions, selfless and pure of intention.

But I think some of the other characters’ sacrifices are even more interesting. In one episode in the first season of Angel, Buffy’s high-school ensouled vampire lover manages to become human again, and both he and Buffy are over the moon. Their star-crossed love affair is star-crossed no more! They spend a perfect day exploring the aspects of their love that have been so long forbidden them. But when Angel realizes he can no longer fight evil as a weak mortal, he makes the decision to undo the whole previous day. Not only does he sacrifice his opportunity to be with the woman he loves in order to continue saving the world, but he must live with the knowledge that Buffy will never know of the sacrifice he made.

Spike, too, makes sacrifices for Buffy, but he is motivated by love rather than the pursuit of Good. Over the course of many seasons, Spike slowly becomes more sympathetic as a character, but when he commits a terrible act against Buffy, he undergoes a long and painful journey in order to restore his soul. He knows that restoring his soul will cause him pain, guilt, and possibly even death, but he loves Buffy so much that he will sacrifice anything to become the man she deserves him to be. In the series finale, Spike offers his life up in the ultimate sacrifice, crumbling to dust as the Hellmouth collapses, even though he knows that Buffy does not love him.

In Firefly, and Serenity, the follow-up movie, sacrificial themes are present, but many are subverted in unexpected ways. When Mal leaves to meet with Inara and spring The Operative’s trap, he explicitly tells Zoe that if they do not hear back from him in an hour to come and rescue him. “What?” he says. “It’s cold out there! I don’t wanna get left.” While most movie heroes would have told their crews to go on without them, Mal very much subverts the trope by insisting to be rescued.

But, in contrast to Mal, who in many ways represents an anti-hero of sorts, Simon Tam makes the most noble and pure sacrifice in the series. No one takes much notice of it, however, because it does not result in his death.

He's also really cute.

Simon Tam’s sacrifice does not result in his death, but that makes it no less noble. In order to save his sister (are we noticing a theme, here?) and comfort her in her distress, Simon sacrifices his career, his fortune, and the life he knew in order to live as an outlaw while protecting his sister. Of all the characters on Firefly, Simon is seemingly the one least concerned with notions of honor or pride, yet in the end his series-long sacrifice is one of the most poignant in the Whedon-verse.

Do you have a favorite Whedon sacrifice? Tell me about it in the comments! And join me tomorrow for the third installment of my posts on Sacrifice, where I’ll talk about the Winchesters on Supernatural.


Sacrifice: Part I

Happy Monday, everyone! I don’t know about everyone else, but we’re having some gorgeous Spring weather here in London, and I couldn’t be happier!

I finally got to the theater to see The Hunger Games. I read Suzanne Collins’ epic trilogy in the space of a single week last year, and was blown away by her lush descriptions, heart-racing pace, and heart-breaking characters. While I had a few issues with the movie adaptation, overall I felt the director remained faithful to the book in all the right ways.

One of the most powerful moments in both the book and the movie is the pivotal sacrifice at the beginning: Katniss volunteers as Tribute in the place of her younger sister. This act of self-sacrifice sets the events of the book and movie in motion, and allow Katniss to bloom as a strong, powerful and heroic character.

I love me a strong female protagonist!

But Katniss’ sacrifice got me thinking about other sacrifices. I remember my high-school boyfriend once saying that for him, the definition of true love was “sacrificing your life for someone you care about without them ever knowing what you had done for them.” As a lover of books, movies, and good TV shows, I have seen sacrifice presented in a hundred different ways with a hundred different characters, but the act of sacrifice never becomes less compelling. So, I’ve decided to do a three part installment series regarding sacrifice in pop-culture. Today, I’ll talk about the way sacrifice is presented in Harry Potter. Later in the week, I’ll discuss Buffy and Firefly, Supernatural, and maybe even something else!

Please be warned, SPOILERS DO FOLLOW, so stop reading now if that offends you.

Harry Potter

These books are so chock full of sacrifice that I couldn’t even begin to cover every instance. Sacrifice for love, sacrifice for honor, sacrifice for redemption; these books do it all. I’d like to focus on two characters, Harry Potter and Severus Snape.

Harry is the clear hero of this franchise. I don’t think anyone was surprised when it turned out that in order to destroy Voldemort once and for all, Harry was going to have to sacrifice his own life.

And he'll do it with his jaw set, too.

For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that I think Harry spends most of the series being a bit of a shit. I think this was done intentionally by Rowling, who understands that a true hero rarely actually wants the life he is forced to lead. What’s the saying? Heroes aren’t born, they’re made. Harry’s is certainly a heroic sacrifice; he lays down his life to save his friends, his society, and presumably the world. But it is also a redemption; a true moment of selflessness at the end of a long road paved with a good deal of whining and acting out. Harry becomes a hero in that moment, and not a second before.

Severus Snape’s sacrifice also takes the form of a redemption, but it comes at the end of a long road paved with mistakes and pain. Snape was never a hero–even as a child he was selfish and weak, and when these tendencies followed him into adulthood, he made a number of unforgivable mistakes. But when the love of his life died, he made the choice to become a double agent for Dumbledore against the Death Eaters. It was not an easy choice, and I don’t think it ever got easier for Snape. He was a suspected Voldemort sympathizer for years. The child of his love, Harry, loathed the sight of him and went out of his way to be cruel to him. He was forced to kill his only friend in the world, Dumbledore, when the great man asked him to. Snape never got a happy ending, and his sacrifice was only recognized after his death. But he got redemption.

Which are your favorite moments of sacrifice in Harry Potter? Comment below, and make sure to tune in for tomorrow’s installment, Sacrifice:Part II-Whedon-verse, where I’ll talk about Buffy, Angel, and even Firefly!


Seven Times a Lady

…and that’s a whole lotta lady.

In the interest of honesty, I will freely admit that I wasn’t going to post today. I have had three very frustrating days of attempted ideation that have resulted in zero new material. Zilch. Nada. My notebook looks a bit like something filched from a madman–crossed out lines and character names interspersed with scrawled timelines stuck between strange words and phrases like “neo-futuristic wasteland” and “grape jelly” and “dungeon time-shift.”

When I haven’t been busy writing nothing good, I have been reading Emmie Mears‘ urban fantasy manuscript. Trust me, folks, you’ll see this talented woman’s name on the shelves sooner rather than later. I won’t give away any of the juicy details, but keep your eyes peeled for this delectable feast. Epic, intimate, supernaturally realistic; the story doesn’t disappoint.

Which leads me to my next order of business! Emmie has passed along a fun little blog-o-meme called Lucky 7!

 

Prime numbers FTW!

The rules are:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors, and let them know.

What fun! I’m excited to share a little literary nugget with you all. Let’s get to it!

The air was heavy with the musty scent of dust and long disuse.

“Is this a library?” Kyla asked. Her voice echoed softly between the rafters. She had loved libraries for as long as she could remember; she loved the way they smelled, especially. The the smell of paper and ink and bindings; the smell of infinite stories waiting to be read; the smell of knowledge.

Tam nodded. Their feet left dark imprints in the blanket of pale dust that lay thick upon the rust-colored floorboards.

Mmm, libraries.
Unfortunately, I don’t really have a big enough following to select 7 bloggers to carry on the torch. So, how about this: if you read my blog and would like to take part in this fun meme, post the picture and the rules to your blog and share some of what you’re working on! I can’t wait to read them!

Betamax

Back when I was a semi-avid rock-climber (which mostly involved sitting around and watching more talented climbers climb) I noticed that climbers would refer to beta when discussing climbing routes. As the story goes, the term originated from one famous climber, Jack Mileski, in reference to an old videotape format replaced by VHS.

“Do you want the beta, Max?”

Who knew climbers could be so clever. Basically, beta is a way of mapping out problems, adjusting for difficulties, and achieving the greatest flow of movements from one position to the next. It can be a community activity, sometimes, with several climbers helping each other out with the appropriate beta for a particular route.

I was not this good. Image via unpics.com

As I become further embroiled in the dark underworld that is trying to become a writer, I have learned about a different kind of beta. Beta-readers are other writers kind enough to read your manuscripts or drafts with a critical eye for grammar, syntax, continuity and characterization. They provide valuable insight into things that you, as the author, may be too close to see. Apparently these useful, friendly gremlins are also known to some as critters, from the French critiquer. So, beware: if you ever beta-read for me, be prepared to be called a critter.

But the climbing beta and the reading beta aren’t so different, methinks. Often, when you’re up on the wall, you’ll ask another climber for help with beta, because you’re so close to the damned wall that you can’t actually see where you should put your feet, or where the best handgrip is, or even which direction the climbing route is going. In similar fashion, a beta-reader is great for spotting plot-holes, reminding you that you completely dropped a character after the first chapter, or telling you that you are simply headed in the wrong direction.

It’s also great to have someone who can tell you exactly why something isn’t working. As much as I love the family and friends who are more than happy to read my manuscript, and as affirming as it can be to hear how much they like it, it can also be frustrating. Sometimes when I ask how to improve the responses fall into the “I’d like it if it were better” camp.

But thanks to the careful and detailed notes of my new beta-reader, Emmie Mears, I am well on the way to a sparkling third (ugh) draft (and not falling off the metaphorical rock-wall)! Here’s to taking one more step towards the dream!

Do you have a beta-reader (or someone who helps you with your work, if you’re not a writer)? How do you tell when and why something isn’t working?

 

Oh, I have been a bad, bad bloggerina. I am aware of this. Self-flagellation starts…now.

I can only blame my lack of regular writing on the cock-eyed monster I call editing. Editing is like…cleaning the house, or weeding the garden, or trimming your hair regularly. That is, absolutely necessary, but hardly an enjoyable task. As a writer, you have to make time for sweeping the dust out of the corners of your plot, pulling out the weeds of stale dialogue and sloppy description, and snipping off those scraggly loose ends that make the rest of a healthy story look like poop.

But editing can be stifling and discouraging. No one writes a sparkling first draft, but coming back to a manuscript or a story after a few months of working on other things can be stupefying and upsetting.

“I wrote THAT?” you say, staring in horror at the jumbled mass of mixed metaphors and stilted dialogue. “What on earth am I going to do? I should just start over.”

Snoopy feels my pain. Image belongs to C. Schulz

But you don’t start over. You polish those rough edges, and dig out the gems hiding in the dirt, and cut out the useless characters until finally, the whole things gleams. And then you do it all again. And again. And it’s exhausting.

And unfortunately, I am not a great multi-tasker. Which means, when it comes to editing, I am solely focused on editing, and I get no writing done whatsoever. Which is fine, until I’m done editing, and I haven’t actually written anything in what feels like months. Well, one might think I could just start writing again. Do I do that? No. Instead, I stare at a blank screen for hours until I inevitably get distracted with cute cat videos or learning Italian or deciding that today is the day I want to learn how to make quiche.

Can you blame me? Quiche is delicious. Image via theage.com.au

In one of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s brilliant books, The Angel’s Game, the protagonist pumps out pulpy gothic romances under a pseudonym while struggling to complete his own novel. When asked by his protégée where he finds inspiration, David says, “Inspiration comes when you stick your elbows on the table and your bottom on the chair and start sweating. Choose a theme, an idea, and squeeze your brain until it hurts. That’s called inspiration.”

I find the idea of inspiration as nothing more than hard work unsettling. On an emotional level, I feel like inspiration should be there when I wake up in the morning! When I brush my teeth at night! How can I write without inspiration? But on an intellectual level, I realize that inspiration is often just doing it. Squeezing that brain and sweating until something clicks.

Oscar Wilde once said, “Every flower must grow through dirt.” (Oscar Wilde didn’t say that. I can’t remember who did.) Thomas Edison said that “genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” Yoda said “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

How does your editing process affect your writing? How do you make your flower grow through the dirt? Do you wait for inspiration, or do you squeeze your brain until it hurts? Let me know in the comments!

Hello again, my lovelies!

The other day was absolutely beautiful in London. I found that I was physically incapable of staying inside and writing while precious daylight seeped away, so instead I put on my coat and hat and gloves and boots and made the trek into the city. It was the perfect kind of winter day; cold and crisp with a pristine blue sky stretching into infinity.

I had lunch with my fiance, watched the ice-skaters outside the Museum of Natural History, and when I needed to warm up I ducked inside the V&A Museum, in South Kensington. I love museums, and the V&A is one of my absolute favorites. It combines art and textiles with history and fashion, while making them all interesting.

The V&A Museum, courtesy of me.

But as I wandered the echoing halls and admired Palissy bowls and examples of 17th century garb, I got to thinking about inspiration. No artist can really succeed at an art without some measure of inspiration, no matter its source. And writers are artists. It doesn’t matter whether we are poets or fantasy novelists or essayists or short story writers. Everyone relies on some kind of inspiration to create something wonderful. It might be fleeting and rare, or a daily pulse like a heartbeat, or disguised in songs that we hear or paintings that we see. But it’s there.

But where does inspiration come from? The answer seems to be anywhere and everywhere.

Many authors cite dreams being the inspiration behind many famous novels. Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and, most famously, Twilight were all reportedly written after their authors experienced especially vivid and intense dreams. This is one that I, in particular, have a lot of experience with, although my dreams usually inspire short stories or small scenes in my books, not best-selling novels. (Keep on trying, dream-machine!)

While this is not a method of inspiring creativity that I would necessarily recommend, many prodigious authors were also drug-users. “Kubla Khan,” written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was purportedly composed after the poet experienced an opium-induced hallucination. Aldous Huxley experimented widely with mescaline and LSD, and Stephen King has admitted to using cocaine in the ’70’s and ’80’s. Hunter S. Thompson is probably the most infamous drug-addled author of all–in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, his narrator alter-ego writes that he brought “two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers” on his road trip. Suffice it to say, that guy didn’t discriminate when it came to substance.

Was Aldous Huxley's invention of the drug Soma inspired by personal experience? Image via tumblr

Other writers find inspiration in methods of divination or fortune-telling. The talented Kristin McFarland writes that she was inspired to write a mystery novel after choosing a fateful Nine of Cups from a Tarot deck. And Philip K. Dick used the I Ching, an ancient Chinese form of divination, to decide almost all the plot points and character fates in his dystopian alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle.

I think most writers, though, find inspiration in the people, events, and places in their own lives. There’s a reason why the adage “Write What You Know” is parroted by every creative writing guide and teacher ever. I know that I was inspired to write my first novel Shadowkin (now in 2nd draft) when I visited Ireland for the second time when I was 19. The gorgeous surroundings and the ancient Celtic heritage was the perfect setting for a supernatural world based in Irish legend. I started my second (as yet unfinished) novel after I moved to London. I couldn’t get the idea of a steampunky Victorian paranormal adventure out of my head, and finally decided to start it during NaNoWriMo.

What about you? Do you rely on dreams, drugs or divination methods for your inspiration? Or do you find inspiration in the everyday things that surround you? Discuss in the comments!

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