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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Advice. Not That You Asked For Any

Writing a character-driven series.

“AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?”

There are two ways to write a series:
  1. Planning out all the books in the series ahead of time.
  2. Writing the first book as a standalone, then realizing you could write another.
For those of you who opt for option one, you better find somebody experienced in this multi-book planning ‛cause I ain’t it.

If you hit the payoff end of book 1 and keep writing, stop whatever you’re doing. Type THE END where book 1 naturally ends, open a new file, and take all the stuff you jammed at the end of book 1 and put into book 2.


HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN TO STOP

If you’re a diligent newbie writer, you’ve purchased (or checked out of your library) a few books on writing: how to write novels, how to write scenes, how to write romances, how to write memoirs, etc. Now, look back a few words and note the word “scenes.” That’s key to a series. A series book is one big giant scene. There may be other scenes to follow that biggie, but don’t go there unless you’re James Mitchener’s reincarnation and plan to write the entire history of the world in a single volume.

The elements of a BIG scene (e.g., an entire book) are the same as scenes within chapters, and chapters within books.

A standalone book has beginning, middle, and end (sunset, fade to black, happily ever after).

A series book has beginning, middle, and end with a transition setting up the next BIG scene (e.g., the second book).

You may not know you’re writing a series when you start out, but you should have a good feel whether there is more. You can imagine a reader saying, “And then what happened?”

WHAT I ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY HATE ABOUT (SOME) SERIES

You might be merrily reading along, enjoying the tale, admiring the writer’s skill (not too many typos), and prepping yourself for the big payoff at the end. But when you get to the end, there is no payoff. You’re left frozen in time. The villain holding the sharp blade sneaking up behind the hero, he brings the blade up and is just about to strike and.....nothing. The writer figured you’d be so enthralled with finding out what happens next that they’ll surely buy your next book.

Nuh uh. The only time this is a valid ending is if you’re in the 1950’s, munching popcorn in the first row watching another episode of Buck Rogers. A cliffhanger is all well and good if you know going into the deal, and you’ve laid down your quarter to enter the theater that Buck most likely won’t get knifed by the villain, and you’re perfectly okay to come back next week to see how said villain is thwarted.

Thing is, that movie house is also offering a feature film with a beginning, middle, and end. That’s why you paid your quarter to be satisfied by an ending that naturally progressed throughout the narrative.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

You should care because you’ve pissed me off. Yeah, I’m just one person, so my opinion doesn’t matter. That’s entirely true. But do you really believe I’m the one and ONLY person in the entire world that holds that opinion? You’re sadly mistaken. I’m special, but not that special. If I think that way, then a whole lot of people—potential buyers—think the same. You’ve just lost your audience.

Think about your own life. You live your life in stages. The end of one stage suggests the next, but the next stage is its own part of your life. Sometimes, your life takes a surprising turn. You were headed toward point A, but somehow or other events led you to point B instead. If you could map out your whole life (or, say, your parents could do it for you), you and everybody around you would be bored silly.

So, transitions can be smooth:

You graduate from high school and continue on to the college where you had applied to become a rocket scientist.

Or rocky:

You graduate high school, but you met this guy in the summer and he’s part of a biker gang, which you thought totally cool, so you blew off college and rode the back seat of a Harley across the country.

In either case, the graduation from High School is the natural ending point of that stage. But if you’re sneakily planning to write a series, you briefly mention admiring the black leather jacket on that dude who rode by the graduation ceremony on his Harley. You lock eyes with him. He grins and winks. You feel a little tingly, but shake it off to march into the next phase.

Uh, oh. We’re planning a series, right? Well, you might pack all your bags, have a going away party, and even start the drive to your college of choice. You spot the dude on the Harley as you pass by the diner, but you just drive on.

CUT, WRAP, AND PUT A FORK IN IT

But you now have a satisfying end to book 1 with a hint of the events of book 2, but you’re not leaving in the middle with the villain stabbing the hero in the back. You (the main character here, of course) may just keep on driving to college. That could be another book in the series. Or you could pull a U-turn in the road and head back to, um, grab a burger at the diner. Yeah, a burger and a handful of tight jeans.

A fork in the road can act as a transition between books in a series. At the end of book 1, you present some possibilities, but you have ended this stage (or book). Book 2 picks up with one of the forks you have offered in book 1.

Friday, February 23, 2018

PDT: Pacific Demon Time

IT'S DEMON TIME!

Setara and her genie, Basit, meet many interesting mythological creatures, but only two should be included in the category Monsters. Here’s a bit about the role each monster plays in Setara’s Genie.

Azi (or Azhi) Dahaka

Aži Dahaka is the source of the modern Persian word azhdaha or ezhdeha (Middle Persian Azdahag) meaning "dragon", often used of a dragon depicted upon a banner of war.

Azhi Dahaka was created by Angra Mainu (the son of Angra Mainu and Autak), or the Ultimate Evil, to oppose goodness and truth (Allan, et al., 1999). Literally made of the unclean khrafstra, animals such as snakes, toads, scorpions, frogs and lizards, this dragon embodied corruption.

In the Avesta, the Azhi Dahaka is described as a three-headed, six-eyed, dragon-like monster. He is said to have a thousand senses, and to bleed snakes, scorpions, and other venomous creatures. He also is said to bring or control storms and disease. His wings were said to be so enormous that they would block out the sun.

In the Shahnameh written around 1000 AD, Azhi Dahaka was semi-anthropomorphosized as Zahak or Zohak, though many of the older characteristics were retained in the new version.

Even though this particular description includes multiple heads and pretty bad attitude, I also found an ancient bas relief that purports to be Azhi Dahaka. Decide what you will. A monster is a monster no matter how many heads he or she has.

Excerpt Featuring Azhi Dahaka

Setara rounded the bend in the tunnel and stopped dead in her tracks. Azizah and Kairav stood at one end of a huge cavern, heaving large stones as fast as they could. At the other end, about forty feet away, the strangest creature she’d ever seen was shooting jets of fire from its mouth. It had great bat-like wings that created a rush of wind each time the dragon stroked downward. It possessed four legs but had reared up and clawed at the air with the front set. Fangs at least six inches long lined the animal’s jaws. It seemed reptilian with its elongated head and scaly sides. However, it was huge by reptile standards, being more than twenty feet long and barely fit in the end of the cavern. Its scales rippled with colors—green, violet, orange, blue.

Basit flew around the cavern, attempting to outflank the creature. He began hurling balls of light from his fingertips. They didn’t appear to do anything other than annoy the beast, but the interruption did distract it from breathing fire at Azizah and Kairav. When it turned its head to shoot fire toward Basit, Azizah ran forward and threw another huge rock. It struck the beast’s head, knocking it against the wall.

It turned one last time and let out a loud roar that shook small stones off the walls. Then, it shrank rapidly to no more than ten feet long. With a single bound, it leaped into the tunnel on the far side of the cavern and was gone in a flash of purple and green.

Setara ran to Azizah, who dropped the stone she was just about to throw. Kairav and Basit joined them. Sheik ran in circles around the group, barking for all he was worth.

“Shush, Sheik. We can’t hear ourselves think.” Setara chastised the agitated dog. Sheik dropped to his belly panting from the excitement.

“What was that thing?” Setara looked at the grim faces of her friends.

“Azhi Dahaka,” Basit answered.
* * *

TALES OF ABU NUWAS 1 - SETARA'S GENIE 
A girl, a genie, a few demons. Would could go wrong?

Amazon Kindle on sale for only $0.99
Smashwords all formats on sale for $0.99

Abu Nuwas sits in the bazaar telling stories to the passersby he can tempt to pay. He relates the adventures of the bored daughter of a rich merchant, Setara, and her genie, Basit, as they encounter the creatures of legend and folklore: a lonely cave demon seeking a home; a flying, fire-breathing horse who has lost his mate; a dragon searching for his family; an evil genie hunting for the man who bottled him; and a merboy prince cast out of his undersea kingdom.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Persian Myths: Ahura and Anahita

FAIZAH'S DESTINY: The Tales of Abu Nuwas 2 borrows heavily from Persian mythology, but the gods pretty much match up to the Roman and Greek gods. Essentially, every civilization re-uses the same gods, but give them different names and their own special flavor.

The heroes are often the mighty warrior types: Hercules, Gilgamesh, Samson. Since I’ve written this book for kids, my heroes are teenagers, not at all like the legends (but they might become legendary themselves). They’re not in already in the mythology, so you’ll just have to read "Faizah's Destiny" to find out about them.

As usual, the "real" info is from the Encyclopedia Mythica.

Ahura Mazdah
In Persian belief, Ahura Mazdah ("Lord Wisdom") was the supreme god, he who created the heavens and the Earth, and another son of Zurvan. Atar, his son, battled Azhi Dahaka, the great dragon of the sky (note that Azhi shows up in "Setara's Genie"), and bound it in chains on a high mountain. The dragon was, however, destined to escape and destroy a third of mankind at the final reckoning, before it was slain. Ahura Mazdah was the god of prophetic revelation, and bore both Ahriman and Ormazd.

As leader of the Heavenly Host, the Amesha Spentas, he battles Ahriman and his followers to rid the world of evil, darkness and deceit. His symbol is the winged disc.
Anahita
The ancient Persian water goddess, fertility goddess, and patroness of women, as well as a goddess of war. Her name means "the immaculate one". She is portrayed as a virgin, dressed in a golden cloak, and wearing a diamond tiara (sometimes also carrying a water pitcher). The dove and the peacock are her sacred animals.

Anahita was very popular and is one of the forms of the 'Great Goddess' which appears in many ancient eastern religions (such as the Syrian/Phoenician goddess Anath). She is associated with rivers and lakes, as the waters of birth. Anahita is sometimes regarded as the consort of Mithra.

I use Ahura more or less as described in the mythology site. Because he was the leader of the Amesha Spentas (the good guys), I decided to portray him like Zeus or Thor, just another god amused at the foibles of humankind, but rarely steps into the action. He is also equated with Mithra, so I have him married to Anahita. Ahura shows up in only one chapter ("Demons and Deities") and he chats with Anahita about the progress of the heroes. He claims to have set up the whole situation (just like a man).

I made Anahita my main character’s supporter. She appears to Faizah hovering over a lake. She tells the girl that one or more of her companions (three boys, wouldn’t you know) will be seduced to the dark side by demons. In typical godly fashion, she can’t give Faizah a straight story; she only hints at what might happen.

Excerpt:

Each time the light dimmed, it returned brighter than before, pulsing in time to the beat of her heart. As the shape within the light grew more and more distinct, a part of Faizah’s mind wondered if she should be afraid. Somehow she wasn’t. Instead, she felt a strong attraction to that glowing figure and walked to the lake’s edge to get a better look.

The apparition hovered a few inches above the surface of the lake. Faizah could now see, through the shimmering aura surrounding her, the figure was that of a woman. She was looking out over the lake to the point where the shooting star had disappeared over the caldera rim. Clad in a golden cloak, a diamond tiara adorned her brow, and two small lions lay at her feet. The figure turned slowly to look directly at Faizah, and a gentle smile curved her lips.

Faizah gasped in sudden recognition. This was the goddess Anahita! She did exist! Faizah stood entranced as the patroness of all women, the goddess of water and fertility, and of war, came gliding smoothly over the surface of the lake toward her.

As the figure halted before her, Faizah glanced quickly over her shoulder at their campsite. The boys hadn’t moved, and she could hear Menog’s rumbling snore. She turned back to face the goddess.

“They will not awaken, Faizah,” Anahita’s lilting voice sounded in her ear. “I would speak to you alone.”

“Why...what...why have you appeared to me, Goddess?” Faizah stammered, her voice trembling.
“My husband has listened to your thoughts, Faizah. Ahura favors your purpose. He sent Menog to guide you through the cavern.”

Faizah’s eyes widened as she struggled to grasp what she was hearing. Ahura, too?

“Ah...we are grateful to Ahura for his favor. But...but, if he is protecting us, why did the boys become ill? Why didn’t I get sick, too?”

Anahita’s musical laugh was the tinkling of bells in a breeze. “Pazuzu of the southwest wind controls this valley. He guards it jealously and blows illness toward all who enter. This is why no one lives here.” Her smile widened. “And I might have had some small part in keeping you from getting sick.”

“I have read that Pazuzu can kill,” Faizah ventured, “yet the boys only have a cough. Did you do that, too?”

“No. That was your doing. Pazuzu can indeed kill. The medicine you made is what saved the boys. There is magic in you, Faizah, which is stronger than you know.” Anahita looked over Faizah’s shoulder at their little camp then back at Faizah. Her smile vanished, and her face became serious.

“I, too, favor your journey. But your friends,” she continued with a gesture toward the sleeping boys, “have lost their purpose. Be always on your guard, Faizah, for powerful forces oppose you.”

“If you favor our journey, Goddess, can you not tell me where to find Master Wafai?”

“A fair question, but the answer, I’m sorry to say, is no, I cannot.”

“But...but, you’re a goddess! Surely?”

“Master Wafai is safe; you needn’t worry about him. You are destined to follow a different path.”
Faizah’s brow wrinkled with concern. Why would she be selected by Anahita? She stammered, “What path?”

Anahita’s gaze lowered. “Many no longer believe in us, the gods and goddesses. As their belief wanes, so does our influence in the world. I, my husband, Ahura, my brother and sister goddesses, none of us are as strong as we once were. There are those, like your Master Wafai, who serve us still, and so we retain some of our strength. Even you doubted our existence, but your hope that we were real allows me to appear to you.”

“I’m sorry I ever doubted, Goddess,” Faizah whispered. “What must I do? Is it right that we go first to find the Simurgh, or should we be doing something else?”

“So many questions!” Anahita’s musical laugh drifted across the water. In the distance, a peacock’s raucous shriek seemed to answer her. “Listen, my pet calls to me,” she said. Then her smile faded, and her eyes mirrored the seriousness in her voice.

“Know this, Faizah. I will protect you as much as I can and lend you what assistance I am able. Even so, your success or failure depends on you. Your own wits and your own strength are far more important than any aid I may give you.”

Faizah trembled at the thought that a goddess would depend on her for anything. “Who opposes us?”

“Dev, for one. He relishes the darkness. Darkness begets ignorance, and ignorance begets folly.”

“Dev?” A cold chill ran down Faizah’s back. “The god of war? He is against us? Master Wafai said Dev plots the final war that will destroy the world!”

“This is true. Now you see why it is so important that you succeed in your task.”

Faizah took a deep breath. This was serious. “What else can you tell me? Will we have to face Dev? We’re not heroes. We’re kids. How can we fight a god?” Faizah chewed her lower lip with anxiety.

“I doubt Dev will oppose you directly; he would think that beneath him. Instead, he will send his minions to do his bidding. You must be ever watchful, Faizah, for you cannot know what form they will take. It could be an animal, a human, even a demon sent to turn your friends away from you.”

Anahita’s words did nothing to ease Faizah’s mind. A demon! What could they do against a demon?

*
Faizah's Destiny: The Tales of Abu Nuwas 2
The gods are at war and only a farmer’s daughter can save the world from Armageddon.

 In print and ebook at Amazon. Currently discounted to $0.99
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The village magician has gone missing. His four pupils think he has left a clue to his whereabouts in the Magicalis Bestialis--the book of magical creatures. They must seek the help of the elusive Simurgh, the mythical birds who know all the secrets of the universe.

However, this is not an easy camping trip into the mountains. Spirits, gods, and demons confront the four friends, who are not aware they’re being set up by otherworldly forces for a much larger task.

A farmer’s daughter, Faizah is chosen to lead the humans in the battle. She must persuade a slave, an orphan, and a rich merchant’s son to join in the battle on the side of good. Although divided by Dev, the evil god of war, the teens must band together to find the Simurgh, rescue their teacher, and stave off Armageddon.

Setara's Genie: The Tales of Abu Nuwas 1
A girl, a genie, a few demons. Would could go wrong?
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Friday, February 16, 2018

How Much is That in Dog Years?


Chinese New Year is February 16th. The year will be represented by the Dog. Dogs are nice. Everybody likes dogs, except for cat people. No matter which (both or neither) be sure to support your local animal shelter, especially if it's no-kill.

CHINESE HOROSCOPE 2018: IN SHORT
One must remember that the Chinese zodiac sign of the Dog, symbol of intelligence and protection, can also turn the year 2018 into a sensitive period, during which activists and students, but also ordinary citizens, feeling deprived of hope and socially excluded, won't hesitate to demand radical changes to their life conditions, and to preserve the future of their children.

It is often said that the Years of the Dog are carriers of violent conflict. Actually, only the Years of the Metal Dog can be related to warlike and destructive energies, because of their reinforced metal. The next planned year of the Metal Dog is in 2030.