I Am a Bit of a Shakespeare Nerd: Guest Post by Elizabeth Vaughan

Elizabeth Vaughan is the amazing and talented author of The Chronicles of the Warlands fantasy romance series. The prequel to the series, FATE’S STAR, has just come out, and you don’t have to have read the other books to enjoy it. So get thee to a book vendor and grab a copy!

Here, Beth talks about how she is a total nerd…for Shakespeare.

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I am a bit of a Shakespeare nerd.

Okay, more than just ‘a bit’.  My idea of a lovely afternoon is curling up with cats and iced tea and watching Shakespeare movies with the original play on my lap so I can compare them to what I see on the screen.

I do love the language and the characters and the plots.  But what I have come to really enjoy is the interpretation that I see from various versions of the plays.  Kenneth Branagh’s soliloquy ‘To be or not to be’ is very different from David Tennant’s.  The same words, but such a different approach. 

I love the historical plays.  I recently purchased the Hollow Crown series, which encompasses Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.  It then goes on to do a WONDERFUL Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 and 3 and Richard the III.  I was glued to the screen, watching, following along paying attention to the scenes that were skipped or combined, or taken out of order.  Benedict Cumberbatch was amazing as Richard the III.

But here is what is even better.  Shakespeare used history for those plays, but he warped time and individuals.  For dramatic purposes, he moved events, and people around.  The lives of kings and queens are fixed in history, but Old Will Shakespeare does as he pleases with the time-line.  Oh, yes, here is a lovely scene with a Queen mourning the capture of her son, but she died three years before that happened.  Also, in the early plays, he might refer to the Duke of Suffolk and use that character again.  But historically, it was the original Duke’s son, not the father, that was present at the events.

I love this stuff.

One of my favorite interpretations is in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.  I have seen this play many times, and enjoyed it, but never really liked the Dogberry scenes. Then Joss comes along and films the thing in his house and backyard.  And Nathan Fillion play the scene like a cop show.

I laughed so hard, and had a new appreciation for the dialogue and the character!

Which is why I am always willing to watch yet another version of the plays.  Shakespeare’s play have the ring of truth about the human condition and it will continue to be modified, and adapted and preformed in so many ways and variations.  I look forward to watching!

About FATE'S STAR:

Five years before the events in Warprize and Destiny’s Star . . . .

Her family dead, her home destroyed, all she has left are her wits and her songs . . . .
When the flames of civil war rage across the Kingdom of Palins, Warna of Farentell has no choice but to flee to the neighboring Barony of Tassinic. The daughter of a wealthy merchant, raised to run a noble house in the hope of a good marriage, she watches her future burn with the rest of her homeland. 

Elven Lord of a human Barony, betrayed and attacked by those he thought to trust . . . .
Verice of Tassinic has suffered the wounds of war, knowing loss and betrayal at the hands of those he trusted most. He buries himself in work and duty, behind emotional walls as high as those of his castle, rather than risk more pain. While dealing with a kingdom in political and economic turmoil, he 'rescues' Warna only to discover that the helpless human woman is anything but. Before he knows it, she is deep within the defenses of his heart, forcing him to confront his grief, his distrust, and the scars of his past . . . and maybe even steal his heart in the process.

About Elizabeth Vaughan:

Elizabeth Vaughan is the USA TODAY Bestselling Author of Warprize, the first volume of The Chronicles of the Warlands. Her father introduced her to sci/fi and fantasy, and she’s never looked back. She loves fantasy and romance novels, and has played Dungeons and Dragons since 1981, both table-top and the online game. The Chronicles of the Warlands stretches over nice books. Her most recent is FATE'S STAR, the prequel to the series. Beth also has a number of short stories published in various anthologies.

Beth is owned by incredibly spoiled cats and lives in the Northwest Territory, on the outskirts of the Black Swamp, along Mad Anthony's Trail, on the banks of the Maumee River. 

Writing Small: The Devil Is in the Details, by Clay Sanger

Clay Sanger has been writing fantasy on the darker side for some time now. I’ve had the pleasure of publishing a couple of his short stories in my anthologies, including the upcoming Knaves. His long-awaited debut novel, Endsville, is now available from Crossroad Press. It's a dark fantasy novel featuring occult gangsters operating out of Los Angeles who, in order to recover a huge amount of money stolen by a hostile sorcerer, go through an adventure rife with betrayal, violence, and black magic. Be sure to check it out!

Clay joins us today to talk about how the devil is in the details of a story, and how to hone in on those small details to make the book have a big impact. —Melanie

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Cut the stuff readers tend to skim. Keep everything else. Sounds simple, right? But deciding what the key details are in any story versus all the other the stuff that tumbled out of your brain and onto the keyboard isn't a simple magic trick. In fact, it's downright painful, and more than a little slippery.

Which details truly matter? The answers to questions like that always sound so simple at face value. It's the details that make the reader engage with the story. The ones that make the reader feel and connect.

So which ones are those? Well, there are the explosive, awesome moments in any story that stick with us. But no matter how big the story, there are only so many of those. So what keeps the reader reading? Invariably, it's the small things. And writing small is the real magic trick.  

You can hit me with 3 pages of narrative describing, in wide-angle shots, the apocalypse visited upon your fictional city, and I might hang with you for a paragraph or two. But my eyes will soon glaze over, and I'll have to fight the urge to skim. But give me a one-liner about a little girl's half-burnt red shoe laying on the side of the road as your lost city blazes in a storm cloud of ash and brimstone in the background, and I'll likely remember that little red shoe forever. That half-burnt, discarded shoe will tell me more about what's happening in your world in one or two sentences than paragraphs of wide-angle shots of crumbling buildings and falling skies ever will.

It's the small that gives readers the emotional connection to the story. It's the bite-sized details that are properly scaled for us to wrap our brains around that stick with us and make us feel. For most of us, we don't feel the big. We feel the small. The burnt red shoe. The hastily spray-painted words Here There Be Dragons scrawled across the side of an abandoned car. The dog-eared paperback book the lost old man is clutching in his hand as if it were his last possession while the world burns behind him. 

Not to say a grand sweep of the narrative camera can't raise the hair on the reader's arms if used sparingly and timed well – because, oh boy, it sure can – but paragraph to paragraph, page to page, what resonates with most readers, what gives them the feel of the moment, is the small.

Step one of the magic trick is write the small. Step two is knowing when to repeat it and when to quit. 

Ten small details heaped on top of one another are not ten times better than one small diamond. In fact, it's probably the inverse. It's likely to be about one-tenth as effective. You might certainly write those ten little smalls into the draft. But when you're going back through and making your editing passes, you need to decide which one or two to keep. Then kill the others along with the rest of the darlings. Writing small is incredibly powerful, but it's quickly diluted by misuse.  There are endless details you can write into your story. But which ones stick? Which ones really ring and chime? Do those. Skip the rest.  

Fantasy and science fiction are especially rife with avalanches of smalls. For me as a reader, that's usually not for the better. If obsessing over every button on every vest and every platter at every feast is what draws you in, so be it. But my entire face goes numb and I start skimming until one of those buttons or one of those platters becomes meaningful in some way. There's a real disconnect between quantity of detail and quality of detail. Quality detail is meaningful. Engaging. For me, anything less probably belongs on the cutting room floor.

One of the most useful questions I ask my beta readers is "Please tell me whenever you start to feel the urge to skim." Why? Because they're a better judge of that than the keyboard monkey who wrote it (me). I pay special attention to any points in the story that made my readers feel impatient about moving ahead. Then, with any luck, I go fix them.

So why do readers start to skim? Let's discard the more common causes like clunky, poorly written narrative. That's its own problem, and it's not really relevant to the matter at hand. Artfully written prose can induce the urge to skim just like trash on the page can.

Readers feel that urge to skim because they've become disconnected from the story. Essentially, they're bored. Their mind is starting to wander because it's been too long since the author gave them some kind of hook.  Generally speaking, those hooks are tied to emotion – some strategically placed detail that caused the reader to feel something meaningful. Something that caused a spark in their brain or struck an emotional chord of some kind. When done successfully, those hooks tend to be small and well-paced. Frequent without being piled on top of each other.

You can lay down an awful lot of words without resetting the hook if you're not careful. A knack for writing small helps you avoid that. What is the little thing that made the reader feel? Focus on that and turn a scrutinizing eye to the rest. Can't find one in the last few paragraphs? If it's not there, then it's as critically absent as the wheels missing from a car.  

Holding a reader's interest is an exercise in writing small, doing it well, and doing it repeatedly. Their engagement in your story is a like passing a helium balloon down a line of people from hand to hand. It will float away if someone in the chain loses their grip. 

Your story only has a handful of big things to drop on the reader, no matter its length or complexity. Crowning moments of awesome can't carry a story all by themselves. The big things might have been great. But if the author neglected to write small along the way, they probably failed to keep the reader engaged. 

It's the meaningful smalls that lead your reader from big thing to big thing in your story. Like stepping stones across a river, they allow the reader to happily navigate between your highlights. Skip them, and the reader's attention is going to fall into the drink and get swept away. And once you lose it, it takes more than a magic trick to get it back – it takes a miracle. 

Clay Sanger is a professional technogeek by day and a writer of fiction and whatever else strikes his fancy the rest of the time. A life-long lover of all things wild, Clay spent much of his early adulthood wandering the four corners of the country in search of the weird and wonderful, the dark and the light. As chance would have it, he found them. The rest is a tale yet to be told. After meandering far and wide he returned to his native Ozarks where he lives with his dazzling wife, their sons, and a menagerie of mythical creatures both real and imagined. You can learn more at www.claysanger.com

A Little Mythology Goes a Long Way, by Dan Rabarts

Please welcome author Dan Rabarts to the blog today! He is going to tell us a little about using mythology in our fiction, and why mythology continues to resonate with us even in this age of science. Be sure to check out the new book Teeth of the Wolf, which he co-authored with Lee Murray! It the second book in the Path of Ra series, which started with Hounds of the Underworld.

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Down here in New Zealand, we live on an unlikely strip of land between an ocean and a sea, on a planet which exists in a tiny fraction of a void between eternal heat and eternal cold, where life has taken hold and refuses to let go. It is little wonder that our ancestors looked up at the stars, the sun, the moon, and wove the mystery of those lights in the sky into folklore. They put names and stories to the celestial faces, just as they named the rage of the ocean, the howl of the wind, and the black embrace of the beyond. 

Ra, the sun. Marama, the moon. 

Tangaroa, god of the sea. Tāwhirimātea, god of the winds. 

Hine-nui-te-pō, goddess of night and death.  

Mythology predates science by thousands of years. It has been with us since we first heard the rumble of thunder and imagined gods roaring at each other among the clouds. Fear of the unknown has been part of our collective subconscious for longer than civilisation has stood, and will be with us long after it has fallen.

 So even when science, that inevitable and inexorable juggernaut, continues to reveal the workings of the universe one quark at a time, we cling to our myths like we cling to life in this fragile strip of the solar system. Our mythologies were our explanations for all the forces at work around us which we did not understand. Now, as we learn how vast the universe truly is and how alone we are in it, those mythologies remain our security blankets, the persisting hope that something greater watches over us. That the fact of our existence is not so unlikely, and that we are not so very, very alone in the dark. 

This idea, the persistence of mythology and how humanity has an innate power to give a sort of life to that in which we are willing to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, is a key element in The Path of Ra, a supernatural crime-noir thriller series co-authored by myself and Lee Murray. In Hounds of the Underworld, scientific consult Penny Yee refuses to buy into her brother Matiu’s insistence that there is a dark force at work behind the murders she is investigating. As long as she can explain the bodies piling up as the doings of a criminal mind, she can accept any atrocity with scientific clarity. But in Teeth of the Wolf, the second book in the series, when the evidence starts to mount that not everything can be rationalised away, and that the shadows Matiu is always jumping at may indeed be something that all Penny’s science and logic cannot explain, Penny tastes doubt for the first time.

In the writing of The Path of Ra series, I’m very lucky to work with Lee Murray, who brings a sense of rationale and reason to the story through Penny Yee. Lee works hard to drive the science in our science fiction/dark fantasy/crime-noir mash-up, while Matiu insists that the things scratching at the inside of the walls are not rats, nothing that can be so easily explained away. This conflict between the logical and the weight of the mythological lends the books a constant tension, between the need to make sense of the madness the world is falling into, and the need to hold back the faceless, inexplicable dark. It’s a powerful dynamic, and a testament to the success of the co-author relationship that this tension sustains both the story and the characters. Matiu brings the monsters; Penny explains why they simply can’t actually be there.

Science will keep on solving the riddles of our existence. It will continue to drive the changes we are making to this world, for better or worse. Science has given us, in equal measures,  space travel and space junk. Global travel and global pollution. A knowledge economy and the age of internet trolling. Nuclear energy and nuclear weaponry. Climate change and the means to combat it, if we have the will. 

Science will, in time, become our new mythology, the making and the breaking of civilisation. 

But as long as we hear voices in the dark when there is no-one there to speak, we will cling to our deeply-ingrained beliefs in the unknown, the unknowable. As long as we can cast a light into the shadows and the shadows swallow that light, we will continue to fear and revere our gods and monsters.

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Dan Rabarts is a New Zealand author, editor and podcast narrator, winner of four Sir Julius Vogel Awards and two Australian Shadows Awards, occasional sailor of sailing things, part-time metalhead and father of two wee miracles in a house on a hill under the southern sun. His science fiction, dark fantasy and horror short stories have been published in venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Together with Lee Murray, he co-edited the award-winning anthologies Baby Teeth - Bite-sized Tales of Terror and At The Edge, and co-writes the Path of Ra series. His first solo novel, Brothers of the Knife, kicks off the grimdark-yet-madcap Children of Bane fantasy series (Omnium Gatherum). Find out more at dan.rabarts.com.