Strength Isn’t Just For The Strong

At WorldFantasyCon, I attended a panel by this same name. Going into the panel, I expected a discussion of different types of strengths being compared to the default of physical strength. Instead, the panel veered into magical strength and stayed there.

Defining Strength

Of course, we addressed the titular topic, but the conversation just kept swaying magical.

Strength can be just an overwhelming level of power. But, to use one’s strength to accomplish one’s goals of any type is a form of competence. Be it physical, mental, mystical, or magical, without competence you end up with more of a firestorm than a laser.

Things Magic Can Represent

Magic can just be the extraordinary, but often in fantasy, it’s a way of discussing real-world issues without bringing all the baggage that its real-world counterpart has accumulated.

  1. The hubris of the human spirit
  2. It’s often an allegory for privilege or power
    1. In worlds where magic is bad – the main character is often non-magical
    2. In worlds where magic is good – the main character is often magical

Ways Magic Can Influence A Society

When certain people have power that others don’t have access to, that’s going to disrupt the social order. Just like any other sort of wealth or power.

  1. Innate magic leads to a more stringent class hierarchy
  2. Gained or earned magic tends to be in worlds with greater social mobility
  3. Availability of magic determines if it’s rare or commonplace — expensive or cheap.
  4. If magic is inherent in a place or object, that gives power to those who possess that place/object (ley lines/hubs, Dune’s dust…)

Tropes For Different Strengths

There are a lot of tropes when it comes to giving characters strengths and powers. Some are more overdone than others.

  1. Magic users are seen as more intelligent
  2. Magic types as innately light or dark
  3. Magic as a tool
  4. Magic based societies not developing more mechanical technology alongside it
  5. Using an outsider or non-magical person to introduce us to the magical world
  6. Using magic to solve everything
  7. Giving poor characters fewer skills, rather than different ones
    1. Try having a farmboy where his farming skills come in handy
  8. ‘Leveling’ the main character up everytime there’s a new boss

Types of Strengths For Villains

Heroes aren’t the only ones with strengths. Any respectable foe needs to have some strengths of their own.

  1. Some villains share the main character’s strengths… but let their moral convictions prevent them from doing the right thing or rationalize their way into the wrong thing.
  2. Some villains have good — or at least understandable motives — but their methods and the lengths they go, using their strengths to achieve their objective cross the line into monstrous.
  3. Some villains are the protagonist of their own story. The strength of their moral convictions — like Magneto in the X-Men. He might be on the wrong side, but I can’t say he’s wrong.

What sort of strengths do you have? Your core competencies?
What about your main characters and your villains?
Do they balance each other?


The panelists were Fonda Lee, Carol Cummings, Marissa Lingen, and Rhiannon Held.

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Author Spotlight: RobRoy McCandless

Today’s Author Spotlight is: RobRoy McCandless

 – An award winning urban fantasy writer.


***

Readers, let’s welcome to my blog, RobRoy. Born under a wandering star that eventually led him to life as a writer both professionally and creatively. He’s the author of the urban fantasy TEARS OF HEAVEN, winner of the 2014 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Preditors & Editors Readers Poll, and a 2015 EPIC eBook finalist with HELL BECOMES HER and THE CLOCKWORK DETECTIVE (available 2019).  His shorts have appeared in IN SHAMBLES (with Kevin J. Anderson) NINE HEROES, and GEARS, GADGETS AND STEAM.

He’s agreed to visit and share with us today some dreams, some advice, and some reading recommendations.

RobRoy, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

From my old gaming days, I was always intrigued by the idea of an animal companion, one that provided some degree of communication and mutual safety. I’d want a big cat—either a cheetah or a tiger, but I wouldn’t mind a dire wolf or some other canine variant

Oooh, a mind-talking, predator cat? I’m a fan, too.

What do you write and how did you get started?

Fantasy, urban fantasy, and most recently steampunk are my preferred genres, although I’ve dabbled in a bit all genre fiction.

I’ve always been an avid reader, starting way back when a family friend gave me a copy of THE HOBBIT. I was so floored by it, that I immediately rode my bike down to the local book store and bought everything else by Tolkien. I had no idea I was getting the seminal fantasy series of all time. Later, I devoured anything even remotely fantasy-related, but when the stories didn’t meet my desires and expectations, I started writing my own.

I might not write urban fantasy or steampunk, but I DEFINITELY read them. I’m always in awe, hearing of people discovering genre fiction. With my parents, I can’t remember NOT reading (or having it read to me). So glad you found it and fell in love.

What do you like to read?

I’ll read anything with a strong character-driven narrative and a bit of fantasy or science magic. Most recently, I’ve been eating up cyberpunk novels, a genre movement I missed when I was more interested in fantasy.

There’s a movement to retell some of the classic horror stories from different views, like Victor LaValle’s THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM which is great.  Even more recently, my wife gave me a book club membership for Christmas, so I’ve been reading some very interesting things like THE CLOUD ROADS by Martha Wells.

I admit to a bias for character-driven novels as well. Thanks for the recommendations!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

“It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”

Jonathan Frazen

I respect the hell out of Franzen, and of course he’s in a much better position to lecture, but I love my internet connection, allowing me access to research and expects that years ago a writer could only dream of.  I appreciate the ability to post up a question in a social media group and get a dozen responses in as many minutes.

Not all of them may be useful, but there’s usually a handful that will meet the needs.

Ah, the internet. The biggest source of distraction a writer can have — and the biggest resource a writer can have. Research and writing support at the click of a button. I’ve got to agree with you, it’s a mixed bag, with only self-control being the deciding factor.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can’t pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Beta readers. I’ll come back from the grave for my beta readers. I have a dedicated core of people, most of whom aren’t writers. Their advice is beyond measure, and I won’t release a word without it passing them first.  They’re worth their weight in gold, and I wish that I could give them that ten times over.

Thank you!

Oooh! Good choice. Beta readers and critique partners are a key part of my process and I don’t think we’re the only ones.

Shameless self-promotion.

Banishing demons is only slightly more daunting than raising a pre-teen. All things considered, Del has it pretty easy these days. She takes her orders, does her job, and goes home to kiss her daughter Jordan goodnight.

But when Jordan is kidnapped, Del learns the world is even more dangerous than she believed.

Lost in the deserts of Northern Nevada, confronted with myths and legends thirsty for her blood, Del may have to fight an entire army to get her daughter back.

She’ll pull down the pillars of Heaven is that’s what it takes.

HELL BECOMES HER is Book 2 in the FLAMES OF PERDITION series


AUTHOR LINKS

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |iTunes | Goodreads | Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter


New Year’s Resolutions: Dusting off my shelved manuscripts

As January firmly establishes itself, this might seem a bit late for a resolutions post, but I always planned to take January off from writing and relax some, so you haven’t missed anything.

For me, this is going to be a year of reading, revision, and reflection.

Blogging/Vlogging

I’ve got such a lovely streak going here, I’d hate to break it. So, I’ll continue putting out a new blog/vlog every Thursday on writing tips or writerly musings.

When I have them lined up, I’ll be sharing Author Spotlights or Query Corners on Tuesdays.

Plus, I’m contemplating maybe a picture post on the weekends. I’m debating if Saturday or Sunday is better. Suggestions?

Reading

They say one can’t be a writer without reading. And, finding out what’s new and good in your genre is research, right? Although, that doesn’t mean I won’t do plenty of ‘for fun’ reading.

My goal is to read 26 books this year, one every other week on average. (Although, I tend to read in binges.) I’m looking at taking breaks from writing to focus on downtime and reading in January, MarchMay, and July. And I hope that planning intentional breaks will help fight the feeling of being on a never-ending treadmill, where I fail if I let myself take a break.

So far? I’ve read a couple romances and all 4 books in Charlie Holmberg’s The Paper Magician series. I think I’m off to a good start.

Revising

I’m sitting on a backlog of 4 manuscripts in various states — mostly collecting dust. It’s time to fix that.

I got some great feedback from a critique partner back in November for Manuscript #1 (a secondary world young adult fantasy), but it was kind of a bitter pill to swallow. I have been brainstorming and messaging with the critiquer on ways to fix it. But I took December and January off, partially sulking, partially trying to figure out how to solve the issues mentioned. I’m going to let the ideas percolate a bit more and plan to hold off until February before implementing my fixes.

Then, in April, I’m going to pull out MS #2 — the sequel to MS #1.

In June, I’m going to pull out either MS #3 (my gender-bent Robin Hood) or MS #4 (my middle-grade contemporary fantasy, where the more you connect with what you read, the more your world shifts to be like it… physically!)

Querying

Once MS #1 has been revised, again, I’m marching into the query trenches once more.

Starting in March, I intend to send out 3 queries a week for 4 months, unless I get an R&R. If it goes no where, I’ll contemplate edits in August.

Beta Readers

I’ll be reaching out to beta readers as I wrap up my revisions on MS #2 (May) and MS #3 or #4(July).  Readers for MS #2 will, by necessity, be people who have beta read or critiqued MS #1, but for the others, I’m open to a small pool of new readers.

I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.

If my Alpha reader’s schedule permits, I’ll send my manuscripts to her for quick feedback, but otherwise, these may just go straight to my beta readers.

In August and September, I’ve blocked time to incorporate the feedback — at least for MS #2. And perhaps, some updates for MS #1 (either as query feedback suggests, or to better set up MS #2’s plotting).

Conventions

I intend to hit Balticon again (May) and WorldCon (August) in Dublin (!!). I submitted to be a panelist at Balticon… but after they’d already started sending out panel invites, so I may have been too late there. We’ll see. (Keep your fingers crossed!)

Writing

Hmmm, there’s very little actual writing on this project plan, but sometimes, that’s how the cookie crumbles. Besides, I’ve been assured that editing and revising and brainstorming ARE part of the writing process.

Plus? I don’t have a big idea pushing on me right now.

That said, I intend to do OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. And then NaNoWriMo.

If I don’t have an idea by then, I’ll do a rebel NaNo and revise whichever manuscript hasn’t been touched.


And that’s my plan for the year. If you got a little lost, here’s the plan in chart form.

I’ll be focusing on reading every other month until the last quarter, revising most of my backlog, querying, a couple conventions, and a bit of writing.


What does your plan look like for 2019?

Did you build in flexibility?

Morgan’s 2018 Retrospective

2018 was a year unlike any other. Some parts were stressful, some parts were lazy, and some parts? Some parts were productive.

As with 2017, I may not have ended my year with a signed agent, but I didn’t just sit around.

I queried 9 agents, attended 2 writing conventions (including my 1st time as a panelist!), wrote my fourth novel, several short stories, 31 poems, and revised my first novel twice, including that R&R from 2017 (that turned into a rejection).

Between Balticon and WorldFantasyCon, I hit 21 panels, (plus the one I was on), attended 3 different writing groups, joined 3 groups (although not all the same ones), hit a local writer’s workshop, and even picked up the mic at a poetry jam night.

This year, I did a lot more interacting in person, versus all the virtual interaction I’ve done in the past, but I love comparing numbers, so let’s look at them.

orange and green pen on graphing notepad
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

My Writing Goals Last Year

I made sure to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound) goals.

2018 Goals

  1. Query novel #1 at least 3 times every other week until I get an agent
    • unless I’m revising it
    • Let’s hear it for caveats. The only way this possibly qualified.
  2. Move forward with my picture book
    • Nope!
  3. revise at least one of my shelved rough drafts
    • Nope!
  4. Write something NEW during NaNoWriMo
    • half credit if I rewrite something old
    • WIN
  5. Keep blogging and decide if vlogging is worth it
    • WIN
  6. Try to use  social media better
    • more one-liners on tumbler
    • more consistent posts on twitter
    • instagram at least 1x a week
    • WIN
  7. Read an average of 2 books a month,
    • rank them on GoodReads
    • Bonus Points – review them!
    • WIN

And give myself a pass if I get nothing done in March (likely moving) or December (recovering from NaNo + holiday/family obligations).

The move was longer than expected, but December was as predicted. Things outside this list I achieved though?

  • Joining Write By The Rails and The Broad Universe
  • Reading my poem (written about my nerves waiting for query feedback) at a poetry night
  • Being on my 1st panel
  • Writing a poem a day for October
  • Writing 1 short story for querying and tossing 3 short snippets up on Reddit

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.
Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Blogging!

Top Lifetime Post

My sleeper hit from 2016 had 1,145 views before this year, was published in a book of writing essays here, and now it’s up to 1,945! Beating viewings this year alone of my next most popular post by a factor of FOUR!

This year, I started 2 new features on my blog, and participated in a blog hop. None of these items proved very popular, but I hope their following will grow and plan to keep doing them. My features are, of course, my Query Corner — where I rewrite queries with authors preparing to enter the query trenches, and my Author Spotlight — to help promote friends works. I’m no longer hustling for entries, but will share them when I have content for them. (If you’d like to participate, please contact me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com)

My Top 10 Posts of 2018

My Top 5 YouTube Videos! of 2018

My Top 3 Posts of 2017


My Top 3 Posts of 2016


My Top 3 Posts of 2015


Social Media Stats

I like stats and tracking progress, so here are my numbers for 2018. I tried to be both engaged and engaging, while still invested in upping my content creation in all mediums.

Followers

First off, I worked on getting more followers for my Youtube channel and Instagram. I was sporadic in my Pinterest and Reddit usage. Having hit the Twitter follow limit, I can only add people as people add me.

Between all my social media accounts, I added 2,721 followers, about 300 shy of last year’s additions. As always, Twitter was the bulk of the adds, but percentage-wise, my Youtube channel was 1st, with 73% growth, Instagram and Tumblr followers more than doubled, and even WordPress was up around 43%.

Content

This year I maintained my streak of blogging at least once a week and kept up with the vlogging. My Goodreads stats are books added to my library, the last 2 years are the books I’ve read. (My FB page wouldn’t give my year stats and stopped letting my scroll in mid-2016, so, those stats are incomplete, but I can compare to last year.)

Based on my plans from last year, I averaged posting to Instagram twice a week, so doubled my goal. And I did start using Pinterest, even if it was horribly inconsistent.


Account Break Down

  • WordPress – I started this blog in April of 2015.
    • Here are my stats as compared to last year are as follows… I have to admit, I’m liking the improved engagement!
    • 8,759(+981) views
    • 5658(+447) visitors
    • 107 posts
    • 1406 (+494) likes
    • 587 (+377) comments

  •  Twitter MorganHzlwood – I joined in March of 2016.
    • I could be more engaged. I should try at least once a week to go through and read a couple of my lists back a few days. Mostly, I just post and respond to my notifications. It’s a good way to avoid the drama that it can be prone to.
  •  Tumblr MorganHazelwood – I joined in June of 2016
    • With the new regulations, I’m not sure if Tumblr will still be kicking this time next year, but I’m still trying to stay active with the writeblr community. And I’ve gotten better at reblogging content and using their queue feature. I’d be pretty solid on use if I queued up stuff for 20 minutes once a week.
  •  Instagram MorganHazelwood – I joined in 2015.
    • Confession: I was about 50 followers shy of 1k last week, but there was a BookBlogger and Writer community group follow event that I joined. And I *think* I saw a prototype for making groups or lists on here, which would be awesome for clearing some of the clutter.
  •   Pinterest MorganHazelwoo – I joined in 2015.
    • I’ve stepped up my usage, but only sporadically. I should keep up with this a bit more. Definitely should make a mood board for my MG novel.
  •  Facebook PagesMorganHazelwoodPage – I joined in 2015.
    • FB often shows my posts to fewer than 10% of my followers. It’s annoying, but I’m not paying. I’ll just keep reposting on my personal page as well.
  •  Facebook MorganSHazelwood – I joined in 2013.
    • Most of my new followers were new members of the PitchWars support groups and people I met in person at actual events.
  •  Google+Morgan S Hazelwood – I joined in 2013
    • Stats!  37 (+9) likes and 2 comments. I counted. This is supposed to die this year, though.
  •  GoodReads Morgan Hazelwood – I joined in January 2016
    • I read 26 books this year, beating my target of 2 books a month!
    • I rated all of them and reviewed 3 of them.
  • Reddit – Morgan Hazelwood  – I joined in January of 2017.
    • I actually started using reddit this year, and now my karma is 406!
    • I had 19 posts, 3 of them were short stories, and 1 was that poem I read for the open mic night.

In Conclusion

I didn’t do as much as I’d hoped.

Some of that was external. People who are reading your work out of the kindness of their hearts and working around their own schedules aren’t necessarily going to adhere to your schedule. My paying job got very busy for the second half of the year, really ramping up in the 4th quarter.

Some of the issues were the consequences of decisions.

  • I bought a house in April and moved in May.
  • I’m still running 2 Facebook PitchWars support groups and administering another SFF writer’s group. That takes time, energy, and spoons.
  • I decided to do my best to keep up with at least 5 different types of social media.
  • I really like 9 hours of sleep a night, even if 7 is more standard.
  • I still have scheduled social time with friends Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. Add in my blog post writing and uploading Wednesday nights and full weekend social schedule…

One could argue that I’ve been de-prioritizing my writing over my networking this year, but… honestly? I’m a bit burnt out and I’m going to be gentle on myself.

However…

I DID do a lot of writing, more revising on my first novel than anticipated, grew my vlog, critiqued novels for friends and family, and read an average of more than 2 novels/novella’s a month.

I may have fallen short, but you know what Les Brown says about that?

222r9n

How well did you do on your goals?

Had you given up on them in January, did you rock the BLEEP out of them, or did you do okay but think you might do better with concrete, SMART goals?

Missing the Magic

Holiday Magic, Writing Magic

As an American with a Pagan dad and a Southern Baptist mom, I celebrate both Solstice and Christmas. As a person with friends who love hosting over-the-top parties, every year I spend a couple days helping prep for a massive New Years Eve party.

I know I’m fortunate to be at a company that shuts down for a week at the end of December. My previous company didn’t but it’s a great way to help cut down some of the holiday stress. Or give me more time to fill with family and friends…

And believe me, my schedule has been jam-packed. Full of people I love, but definitely busy.

There was one thing though, that I missed. Despite my moderately-distracted efforts.

Link to the youtube version of this blogpost.

I missed the taste of wonder, of peace, of heart-filling joy that I usually can find this time of year.

For me? Usually, it’s after sunset. Either outside, in the still and the quiet of the night, with the chill nipping at my nose and the moon shining down. Or inside, with all the lights turned down low, just sitting and basking in the light of my tree.

Image may contain: tree, sky, night, plant, outdoor and nature
The moon at night, behind dark trees. Solstice night.

Well, I found a quiet moment outside with the moon shining down — took a picture, and ran off to the Solstice celebration a friend was hosting.

I found a few evenings with my lights turned low and my tree all aglow. But, I didn’t get my sense of basking.

I don’t know if I was distracted or tired or if I just wasn’t in the proper frame of mind, but I missed it.

Now, this isn’t to say I’ve had a bad holiday! Not by any stretch of the imagination. Minimal drama, seeing almost all of those I love, lovely and thoughtful gifts, delicious food. All the things that make the season bright. But I missed the magic.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.
Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

As for my writing?

I’ve done nothing this month. But, that’s not unusual for me with my post-NaNo hangover, chore backup, and seasonal plans.

  • Some reading? Yes.
  • Some incorporation of beta-reader feedback? Only read the summary.
  • Some blogging? Of course.

Now? I sit and contemplate what I want to do next. I’ve debated incorporating the feedback and hopping back on the query road, revising a rough draft, or finding a new project.

Because? There’s the never-ceasing sensation that a deadline is looming. Only one problem with that. This writing thing? The only deadlines for are the ones I give myself. I have no agent, no editor, no contracts. True, I’d like to have that sense of ‘done’, that feeling of accomplishment. But there is no one, other than myself, staring at the calendar and waiting for me to finish. To find a publisher or publish it myself.

I think need to take a break from the writing until I’m ready. Until I’m excited once more to see how much better I can make my story. Until I’m ready to dive back into the query trenches or the editing doldrums. Until I can find the magic again.

Meanwhile? I’ll think about my worlds, I’ll take notes when inspired, and I’ll keep blogging–sharing advice I’ve received from people who DO have deadlines and have already found their audience.

And? I’ll read.


Did you celebrate the holidays? Did you find your joy?

If you’re writing for yourself, do you have trouble letting yourself take a break?