Fiction isn't life but a good book should make us live life more fully: The final book of the Kyrennei series

Light of the Shield (Book 6 of the Kyrennei Series) has been released.

I have never liked endings in books. I usually don't like them even in my favorite books. I don't mean that I don't like happy endings or sad endings. I don't even mean that I don't like when a good book ends because then it is over, although that has been an issue a few glorious times.

No, I just don't like what endings have to do.

In fiction, when you write an ending, you have to tidy things up, tie up loose ends, bring subplots in, show why this or that happened and wrap up neat little packages. Everything needs a reason or at least a purpose, even if that purpose is to show randomness. That's what fiction is. It's a way of making sense of life. 

But something in me always rebels.

Life isn't like that! Or at least the logical, linear part of me clings to that belief. If life was like fiction--if everything made sense--it would be an even scarier world than it already is. Maybe that's one reason why I don't like endings.

Beyond that, I find them to be too predictable, too convenient and too unrealistic. Endings are like sex scenes. There just aren't very many creative, original, non-cliched ways left to pull one off. 

Ending the Kyrennei series, a story I started when I was less than fourteen years old, was admittedly tough from a technical writing standpoint. This story grew and evolved with me, and traveled in the back of my mind as I became a freelance journalist. It's a story I poured so much of my imagination into for so many years that ending it by putting the last part down on paper where it no longer changes was one of the hardest tasks of writing I have ever completed.

I was determined to make the ending as emotionally real and creatively honest as the rest of the story, even though I often feel endings lack in exactly those qualities. In short, that's why it took so long. I know a lot of readers have asked me where the ending is. And I finally have your answer. 

The story that started with Aranka Miko and bound you to a dozen other characters in the process finally has it's conclusion. It's one that meets my high standards and I hope it will both entertain and satisfy you. 

This is the final book in an epic series. The fifth book was almost an ending, more so than some of the cliff-hangers early in the series. At the end of Path of the Betrayer (Book 5) there was some resolution. Kai Linden and Elias Miko completed an insanely risky mission and saved the lives of hundreds of Kyrennei. Although their world is tenuous and J. Company is forced to take refuge in underground caverns, they do find refuge. Aranka and Kenyen are also safe for the moment. Many readers told me they thought that was how things would remain.

The idea that the the resistance could truly overcome the Addin is as unthinkable as our chances of achieving world peace, healthy democracy and ecological sustainability in our world. It is what we want but there are forces that stand in the way that are far stronger than any of our known weapons.

The one major piece that is unclear and still really sad at the end of Book 5 is Maya. Kai did manage to rescue Maja during that terrible mission. But she is unconscious or at least unresponsive and has clearly suffered a lot. There are also plenty of loose ends that haven't been tied up throughout the series.

Thus Book 5 provided the ending we see as possible in our world. If we fight hard, we might be able to achieve a measure of safety for a few of those closest to us. We will then stand vigilant against the darkness and aggression in the world and mourn our losses. Many questions never get answers. And there are some who we cannot save, even those we love the most. 

The challenge of the final book in the series is how to create a vision of hope and also make it one that will not betray the authenticity and realism of The Kyrennei Series. How can Maya survive what she has undergone? Is this all we get? Like Kai, we are stripped of everything that truly matters, even our core principles, and left with survival and survivor guilt? Can those who fight for freedom and justice ever win a battle that actually matters in the long run?

These were the questions I set out to answer in this final book of the series. It begins with Kai as he enters the rebel base in an underground salt mine, holding Maya unconscious in his arms. His parents were taken by the Addin. He is a fugitive and because of the success of their mission, he knows the Addin leader Marti Bloom will expose the fact that he betrayed the resistance and the Kyrennei in his apparently futile attempt to save Maya. What little has been won came at great cost. 

While he waits for Maya to come out of a comma, Kai begins training as a scout, learning Kyren and the rest of Aranka Miko's dearly bought secrets from Elias Miko and other teachers. But he keeps to himself and spends every available minute sitting at Maya's side, even though she is unresponsive. 

It isn't a situation that can last and when Maya is finally taken from him, Kai has only one thing left to fight for, one person he might still be able to save. But with martial law declared across the United States, the attempt is an obvious suicide mission.

That might not sound like a promising beginning for this end game. But keep in mind what I said before. The situation is hopeless given the weapons we know we have at our disposal. It is easy to forget the weapons of solidarity and mutual defense. They have been lost in time, both in today's world and in the world of the Kyrennei Series, but they did exist once. And if such solidarity can be found, then hope will arise in places we never imagined. 

Read Light of the Shield, the final book in the Kyrennei Series, here. It is available in Kindle and paperback formats.

Code of Magic: The keys to writing gripping fantasy

When I was a teenager and a serious fantasy fan girl (I read The Silmarillion twice and wrote epic poems to chronicle its stories), the first book on writing I read was about how to write about magic.  It would be twenty years before I became a fantasy author, but as a reader I loved learning about the mysteries behind the creation of my favorite fantasy worlds. This post (originally published as a guest column for Marie Lavender's blog) comes from what I learned both as a writer and as an avid and studious reader of the genre over four decades.

The vast genre of fantasy is akin to a wildly diverse landscape—encompassing vast plains of epic proportion, shear crags of nail-biting tension, dark places where many fear to tread, deep forests of ancient myth and cities of every description where corruption and courage vie for dominance. Still, as enormous as this genre is there is one thing that indicates whether or not a story belongs in the fantasy universe. Fantasy stories contain some form of “magic.”

Creative Commons image by  Nicolas Raymond

Creative Commons image by  Nicolas Raymond

It may be no more than subtle dreams invading reality in magical realism or it can be a full-blown flying printing press that shoots bolts of lightning in a steampunk/western mashup, but there’s got to be magic.

Magic in this context can be defined as something that cannot be explained purely by science. The line between fantasy and science fiction is under some debate because there is always the question of whether something that can’t be explained by science today might someday be within scientific grasp. But fantasy should generally fall on the side of strange and wonderful things that science isn’t expected to explain.

For writers, the fantasy genre maintains all the challenges that other types of literature entail, plus a few. There is often a lot of work to do to develop settings and to make characters that are very different from us relatable. But the thing that makes fantasy either fly or flop is the design and execution of whatever magic is in the story.

While it may be fun to throw pure imagination at the page and let all things go wild, as in Alice in Wonderland, writers do well to be wary of that path. It can lead to obscure literary praise (if done extraordinarily well), but it leads into the surrealist subgenre of fantasy, where few paying readers venture. And thus it doesn’t generate bestsellers.

If you want to not only write fantasy but have other people read what you write, careful thought on magical systems is mandatory. David Eddings reportedly spent six years developing his magical system before starting the Belgariad. Being less bold than the grand masters of fantasy, I took twenty years to work out my first magical system and it is satisfyingly troll proof. A magical system doesn’t necessarily have to take that long, but some serious thought goes into the good ones.

There are rules you can follow to make the process easier. Good magical systems can be had by rehashing the same themes explored since the dawn of true civilization (ahem… that being in 1911 when J.R.R. Tolkien started writing for school magazines). However, the key to creating a great magical system is in the conflict that arises from a unique premise.

With that in mind, here is my code of magical development:

The author god must know the truth

 Problems can arise when a writer is exploring a magical system while writing. It’s fine as far as it goes, but this exploratory approach requires major editing and you shouldn’t start publishing until you know your magical system to its very core.

Creative Commons image by Shock2006 of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Shock2006 of flickr.com

I’m going to use some examples from my contemporary fantasy series here, not because I think mine is the best or because I want to force it down your throat, but because one can only really write about the behind the scenes methods of an author from first-hand experience. I spent many years, testing out different scenarios in my imagination before writing and this resulted in a logically sound and yet deceptively simple scheme.

In the long forgotten past, a very negative magical work was created and it took over the wills of its human creators. The negative magic itself became a living entity—the Addin. The Addin desires absolute power over humanity and it gains it through usurping the wills of individuals and using them as pawns. Many of the political, economic and social leaders of today’s world are in fact controlled by the Addin. No human being can resist Addin domination for long, if they are specifically targeted. Most people don’t even know it exists and think that simple greed and corruption account for any abuses of power and the destructive tendencies of their leaders.

The world I created for The Kyrennei Series is eerily similar to the real world and that has been the key to its impact on readers who find the Addin frighteningly plausible. That’s part of the magical system of this world and while the main characters don’t entirely understand it even within the first few books of the series, my understanding of it as the author keeps the series consistent and gives the story a connection to authentic emotions.

Know the Source

Magic has to come from somewhere or something in your world. Your characters may not know where it comes from, but you should. Is it from the gods or pulled from the life force around the magic user or from the energy of the universe or from something else?

I never spell this out in The Kyrennei Series but essentially magic comes from primal life force or energy. It operates on another plane of reality that can affect physical reality in certain ways. Emotion is also energy. The intensity that goes into the use of magic matters and the Addin, of course, operates primarily through the usurpation of the emotions of others.

This was important for me to understand as an author even though the characters didn’t get into the theoretical basis of magic in their world. It has implications for the way magic works. The Addin steals the power of human beings by usurping their emotions. But there are people that the Addin cannot take over. They are the Kyrennei, a non-human race that lived on earth long ago, but the Addin was able to annihilate them fourteen centuries ago because they were smaller and physically weaker than humans. Still, before they died the last Kyrennei mages set a magical process in motion that hid the genome of the Kyrennei within the DNA of certain humans. When the Kyrennei thus return from extinction after centuries of absence it is their power to resist the Addin and their other abilities with energy and emotion that matter. And the details of this premise fit together nicely because they are rooted in the source of magic itself.

Know the limits

Just as magic should have a source, it must have limits. If it didn’t have limits, there would be nothing stopping anyone with magic from getting everything they want and ruling the world. And that would make for a boring story. Limits equal conflict and conflict is good for fiction.

The limit may be as simple as a Cold War between magic users, such as “I can sense your magic, so if you try to kill me in order to control the world without competition, I’ll vaporize you just as you vaporize me.” There’s conflict there, even if the magic is otherwise limitless, but that would make for a very inflexible conflict.

Creative Commons image by Shadowgate

Creative Commons image by Shadowgate

Here again your characters don’t necessarily know the limits of magic in their world. Or you might have some fully informed magical scholars. But the “author god” should know the limits. What can magic do? What can it not do? Is it limited by space and time? Is it difficult to learn or limited to only some talented magic users? Is it theoretically possible for magic users to read minds, live forever, change anything into anything, bring back the dead, put out the sun or drive the planet like a space ship? If they can’t do these things and much more, your magic isn’t limitless. And you need to know where those limits are.

Often the outer limits of magic will not be firm, however. Some types of magic may be stronger than others, some magic users may be able to do more and certain devices, substances or rituals may be able to push the limits of magic. Again, the “author god” must know what is possible and what determines the abilities of magic users.

As an example, in The Kyrennei Series, the question of why the magic users don’t rule the world is answered. One group of them does rule. They exterminated the other group of magic users partly because that group resisted their control of the wills of normal humans. Even so, the ruling group does not use their power without limit. When they usurp a person’s will they make that person one of the elite group of magic users as well and thus they must share power with that person from that time forward (even though they will be a loyal follower of their patron’s goals). This is why the Addin doesn’t yet control everyone in the world. They are the wolves and wolves need sheep. If they eat all the sheep, they will have no one to rule over and no more sheep to eat. As such, there are certain limits on Addin, power but individuals sometimes stretch these limits. And there can be controversy, even among the Addin about how much is too much use of power.

On the other hand, the protagonists in the Kyrennei Series initially know little about the limits of magic as most of their magic has been suppressed for centuries. A key moment comes when Aranka Miko, the first Kyrennei to take her true form in modern times shows a group of resistance fighters that she has abilities unknown for centuries. Even then, any magic beyond the terrible power of the Addin and the simple power of the Kyrennei to resist the Addin seems very limited indeed. But eventually the Kyrennei find that their physical weakness is balanced by greater magical strength than anyone dreamed.

Apply basic logic and be consistent… mostly

You may hate logic and believe that consistency is for fools (and you may even have a fun plot). However, you are likely to have a lot of unhappy readers (and a few angry ones). Not all readers insist on logical consistency but many in fantasy and science fiction genres do.

As a reader, I’m not a zealot (in that I don’t go to great lengths to try to find logical inconsistencies in books I read). But I am like most fantasy readers in that obvious issues simply distract me from the story and take me out of the “fictive dream” (that state in which you are feeling and experiencing the story with the characters). And whether your genre is fantasy or any other sort of fiction, it’s a mortal sin for a writer to boot the reader out of this dream state. It’s what makes readers put books down for a minute… or indefinitely. Don’t do it.

As long as you keep the reader feeling and experiencing the story, other writerly sins will often be forgiven and forgotten. And an underlying sense of reality and consistency is crucial to keeping the reader engaged.

How does that apply to developing magical systems? Magic is supposed to be illogical, right?

Yes and no. Magic is supposed to go beyond science. You can rewrite the rules of science. But you must still have rules. Gravity is a “rule” that keeps us from floating away into space and the rules of magic keep the reader firmly on the ground in your fantasy world.

There are rules about what magic can and cannot do. You make the rules. Then you play by them. Make sure that if magic can’t do something in chapter one there is a darned good reason if it can do it in chapter eight (and visa versa). If you give your main character the ability to magically transport themselves, you’re going to have to give a good reason for how they get stuck in any dangerous situation that your plot requires. Why wouldn’t they just teleport themselves away? Whatever magic you give your characters they have to actually use it when in need, unless there are specific reasons why they can’t.  

In addition, if everyone can do magic in your fictional world, there must be a good reason if they don’t use it all the time (perhaps it is tiring or comes at some other price). If magic users can transform any substance or creature into another substance or creature, your magic users should never be poor. They could just transform dirt into gold. In fact gold would be as worthless as dirt. In a world with lots of transformation magic, no one should be hungry. But make sure you know if any magical transformations are permanent or not. Eating bread that turns back into rocks after an hour might be a bad idea.

So, consistency is good.

Creative Commons image by  Hans Splinter

Creative Commons image by  Hans Splinter

But… too much consistency can be a problem. If every use of magic always works exactly the same and is always successful, you’ll be giving up a great source of suspense for your plot. It often works best if magical ability isn’t absolute or well understood by the characters and magic doesn’t always work. This adds conflict, suspense and interest to the story. But again, the author must understand why the magic works in some instances and not in others, even if the characters are dismayed and confused.

Another common logical blunder occurs when writers set up the belief that magic takes a lifetime to learn. Magic users are invariably very old in such tales, until the main character arrives (usually an adolescent) who is supposed to learn magic. But the adolescent usually masters magic in a matter of weeks or months and soon exceeds the abilities of his or her teachers. This isn’t just a tired plotline. It’s also a logical inconsistency. David Eddings actually pulled this off in his Belgariad series, but it wasn’t nearly so tired a plotline when he did it (and his version is still among the best).

More importantly, he dealt with the logical inconsistencies. First, the talented adolescent was the answer to a prophecy and expected to be far stronger in magic than everyone else. Second, it did take him a few years (not weeks) to get to be really good. Third, the reason most magic users were ancient was that the talent for magic in Eddings’ world is exceedingly rare, so by the time the main character was born all the other magic users had grown very old. And fourth, even when the amazingly strong adolescent had come into his power, he still needed to consult with his technically weaker but more experienced teachers on a lot of issues, so it was still clear that he was strong but inexperienced.

Magic should not be THE key to the plot

Here’s an interesting irony for you. Fantasy must have some sort of magic to be fantasy and yet it isn’t a good idea to make magic the key to resolving your plot problem. The crux of fiction is a conflict or a problem that the main characters must solve. But fantasy writers shouldn’t just “magic away” the problem.

For example, if you have a young adventurer faced with an evil tyrant of great power in your story and the young adventurer must rescue someone, escape from somewhere, retrieve an important object or win a battle resulting in freedom from oppression (or one of the many other things that such adventurers do in fantasy books), it is inadvisable to simply say that your young adventurer learned a new magical skill and “bam!” the evil tyrant is sidelined or dead. This makes for a boring story and a poor ending, even if the rest of the plot is great.

Unlike most of the other rules in my code of magic, this one is often broken by commercial fantasy writers and sometimes stories that break this rule even have a moderate amount of success. However, you should note that the most successful fantasy does follow this rule. Harry Potter wins through moral fortitude, loyalty to friends and family and inner freedom of spirit, not because his patronus is just stronger. Frodo wins with only incidental use of magical items (like cloaks) by stamina, undergoing hardship and the final moral victory over the temptation of power.

The thing that makes these stories work is that the characters had to change in order to win. If Frodo had to climb Mount Doom on the first day of the Fellowship of the Ring, he would have failed. Harry Potter too. Maya Gardener in the second trilogy of the Kyrennei Series is frozen in fear in the beginning. It is only through many trials and experiences that she comes to choose her own path and stand up to aggression when it counts most.

That’s because magic, as important as it is to fantasy stories, cannot be “the magic bullet” of the plot. Magic is a tool in fantasy, but stories driven by changing characters facing obstacles with inner strength will always win the day.

The first excerpt from Path of the Betrayer - Kai Linden

Here's a little treat for readers of The Kyrennei Series.

Path of the Betrayer (Book Five of The Kyrennei Series) is published Kindle users and will shortly be available in Barnes and Noble, Apple and other stores. Here you can read an expert from the middle of the first chapter to whet your appetite. 

I generally recommend that readers start at the beginning of series (The Soul and the Seed) because its world and characters are best experienced over the course of the story. But some readers here may be new to or long absent from the world of The Kyrennei Series, which looks eerily like our own world with a few subtle--yet nonetheless crucial--differences. 

If you're new, you need to know that the Addin is a power cult that can forcibly take your will. The Addin Association is a conglomeration of powerful political and business leaders who run today's society. The narrator is Kai, a twenty-two-year-old Meikan student who has lived all his life in fear of the Addin. He was captured by them when a Wisconsin farm where he was hiding was attacked. He now expects that the Addin will take him and force him to become one of them. There is no hope of psychic resistance. Any human being can be taken and controlled by the Addin no matter how much they resist. 

Kai is in love with Maya, a girl who is a member of the non-human Kyrennei race that the Addin are systematically annihilating because they disrupt Addin power. She was captured as well and Kai has every reason to believe she is already dead or soon will be.

Excerpt 1 - Kai Linden

After the shower, I expected to be taken back to the cell. Instead they put the restraints back on and led me up a flight of stairs and into another hallway that looked less like a prison and more like an office building. After a few turns the guy in front opened a door into a windowless room where three older men sat at a table drinking coffee.

The smell was overwhelming. The food they’d given me hadn’t been much and I was starving.

My heart pounded and I clenched my fists inside the restraints. This would be where they would take me.

I tried to control my breath. I didn’t want them to see how scared I was. The big guy leered at me whenever my muscles resisted him, and I knew he’d take pleasure in any display of my fear.

The men at the table watched me and sipped their coffee. My head was lowered, my hair hanging low so that they couldn’t entirely see my face.

Then one of the men at the table said, “Take that thing off his wrists.”

I remembered him from the attack on the farm. He had a wide smile with perfect teeth that reminded me of someone running for election.

“He might get violent, Mr. Bloom,” the guy behind me said.

“We can handle it. Thank you, Balshaw,” the man named Bloom said.

I thought of trying to grab a weapon. The two guys with me had guns at their belts. But I knew I wasn’t that fast. It probably wasn’t worth the energy. I felt too weak and tired to try—even for the hope that I might die with my soul intact.

The guy behind me unhooked the restraint and I kept looking down, avoiding eye contact with them. Fear was turning to confusion. If they had wanted to take me they could have.

“You’re name’s Kai, isn’t it?” Bloom said. His voice was low, almost friendly. “I know you hate us. Your kind have always been prejudiced that way. But I thought maybe you’d take some coffee at least.”

He poured from a silver pot on the table into a mug and put it in front of a fourth chair, his movements slow and deliberate.

“Come on,” he said. “Sit down and drink some coffee. We’re reasonable people and we’re not going to hurt you.”

I didn’t move from where I stood or lift my head. Did he think I was a complete idiot?

I didn’t know what he could be playing at, but the idea that I would now think he was benevolent was laughable. This man had overseen the destruction of Kaitlin’s farm. They had killed and taken my friends. He had done something with Maya. Of course, I hated him.

There was more silence. They waited. I rubbed my wrists, but then I had no place to put my hands. The track suit had no pockets. Eventually I ended up holding onto my own elbows. I didn’t care anymore if it made me look frightened. They knew I was scared.

I imagined I could feel their power buzz in the room like a live current. They could let me have my hands free, because there was no question of the outcome of any fight.

One of the other men at the table cleared his throat. At last Bloom sighed.

“All right,” he said. “Don’t drink the coffee then. But it’s your loss.”

He took a sip from his own cup and then leaned back, looking at me with his broad smile in place.

“Let’s be blunt here. You know I can get your cooperation if I want it.” He snapped his fingers and his eyes mocked me. “But that isn’t what I want right now. The fact is that there are things I want to know and there are things you want to know. I think we could come to an understanding about that.”

“If you think you can scare me into telling you about the Meikan sign, you might as well go ahead and kill me. You’re wasting your time,” I said.

Bloom and one of the other men at the table snickered under their breath and then downed slurps of coffee to smother their laughter. The third one didn’t change expressions but sat watching me with a scowl of undisguised disdain.

“Oh, sure, I can see why you’d think that,” Bloom said. “But believe me a lot has been tried in that department, for many many years. I don’t think you can tell us about it. The Kyris put some sort of spell on you Meikans so that you can’t speak coherently about it. Certainly if your people could, someone would have. Back in the Middle Ages, you know. All the various methods of torture and all that. But you don’t make any sense when you do try to tell it.”

I pulled in air through my mouth. “Then why don’t you get it over with. Anything else… you can make me do what you want. I know that.“

“So, you want to join, the way that other kid did?” Bloom said. “We’ve got a veritable flood of converts, it looks like.”

I didn’t answer. Was he toying with me? A cat playing with a mouse?

“How about this,” Bloom said, his voice musing, curious. “I know there must be things you want to know about your friends and such. You ask a question and then you answer a question. You can even go first. One question for free but after that you have to give an answer in order to get another answer.”

“If you want information, why don’t you just take me?” I struggled to keep my voice under control. I was gripping my elbows now to keep from shaking.

What a bastard! He was having fun.

“Is that your one free question?” Bloom asked. His eyes were the color of gravel.

I didn’t think they’d answer anyway, but I couldn’t help it. There was a question that burned inside me, every second. If there was any chance that they would answer, I had to try.

“No,” I said, my voice steadier. “Where’s Maya? Maya Gardner, the girl you—”

Bloom smiled and the others at the table smiled too, even the meaner-looking guy a bit. “You mean the Kyri girl you seemed so fond of? She’s here. In this building,” Bloom said without hesitation.

“Is she all right? What did you do to her?” I was desperate. I had lifted my head, my hands releasing their grip on my elbows.

I didn’t care that they probably wouldn’t tell the truth. My heart was in my throat. I knew I couldn’t do anything to help Maya, but the thought that she might be nearby, that she might still be alive…

“One question,” Bloom said. “That was the deal. You want to ask another, you have to answer one of mine. And you could always sit down and have coffee while we do it.”

I clenched my fists again. My back felt like it would burst with tension. It made no sense. But if they would answer…

“What’s the question?” I asked.

“Were there other Kyris at that farm? Most of your friends there ended up dead, I’m sorry to say,” he said, clicking his tongue with obviously fake regret.

“You took Jamaal!” my words came out with hot fury. I couldn’t hold it back. “You have to know that already. You could test their blood even if they were dead anyway. Why ask me?”

“Because I want to ask you,” Bloom said, his voice still smooth, curious. “Why is my business. If you want to ask your question, you answer mine.”

It wasn’t like I was giving away any sensitive information then. I was being interrogated by the Addin and yet they weren’t getting anything out of me that they didn’t already know. I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever answer their questions voluntarily but… under the circumstances. Well, what did it matter?

“No, there weren’t,” I said. “Satisfied?”

Their smiles didn’t waver.

“Now, come and sit down and take a drink of the coffee and I’ll answer the other question,” he said.

I took a slow step toward the table. The smell of the coffee was intense and I felt cold where I stood. What did it matter really? Maybe if I tried to act like I wasn’t afraid…

Read more of this story in Path of the Betrayer. You can get the Kindle book on Amazon and get the book at a discount until Friday, Oct. 30, 2015. Happy reading!

If you're new to the series, keep in mind that you can get one book free by signing up for my hearth-side email circle here. Take a look at the pages for the series, primarily The Soul and the Seed. If you've already read one but not the others and have yet to get a free copy, sign up and then send me an email to let me know which book you'd like and what format. 

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

When you become your greatest fear: A Kyrennei Series character interview

Readers of The Kyrennei Series love to ask questions about the premise, especially about how the Addin really works on the inside. There will be more on that coming in Book 5 of the series this fall, but for now here is a character interview that will answer some of the questions you have wondered about and add a little more spice to the summer.

If you haven't yet started on the series, this interview doesn't contain any major spoilers, although you'll have to roll with a few unfamiliar terms. Reading this first may also have unexpected consequences in your experience of the story when you do read it.  That could be a good thing, although I'm not sure what the results would be. 

With no further ado and by popular demand, the character who has been drafted by readers to be interviewed on these pages is...

Atreyu O’Keefe

Q: We'll leave aside how and why you're here talking to me for the moment because that is confidential. We'll start with the basics. Where are you from? Where were you born? And all that.

Illustrative photo - Creative Commons image by Palmira Van

Illustrative photo - Creative Commons image by Palmira Van

I’m from La Grande, Oregon. I was born there. My mom was too. My dad was from Portland. They built our house out on Hunter Road.

Q: You were friends with Aranka Miko as a kid, weren’t you? What was that like?

We were friends for a few years, since we were seven or eight until we were twelve. It was great at the time. There weren’t any other girls my age who lived close enough to visit. We were active, outside most of the time. We played dress-up like a lot of girls, but we’d dress up in wild outfits and then we’d go ride our bikes down the gravel roads and get the gauze of our princess dresses tangled in our chains. 

Q: Was there anything out of the ordinary about her then? Would you have believed that she would play such a crucial role in the world?

No, no, of course not.

I mean she wasn't average or anything. She was kind of wild adventurous for a kid. She talked me into hiking to the top of Mount Emily to camp out by ourselves. My parents freaked out. She was never going to fit in with the mainstream, but neither would I, except for... well, all that. But still I never would have thought anyone from our little backwoods corner was going to do something like that.  

Q: Did your parents approve of your friendship with Aranka?

My parents were always a bit nervous. But when my mom mentioned that I wasn’t best friends with any Meikan kids, I remember my dad said, “Lin, let her be. She’ll have to accept hard reality soon enough. Let her be a child for a while.” 

My dad liked Aranka’s dad too. That was probably part of it. So, they didn’t have anything against us playing, but they believed she was uninvolved and that I would have to grow out of that friendship someday.

Q: What was it like growing up Meikan in La Grande? 

It was okay mostly. I have to say. Even though some things were hard. We had our community. People stuck up for each other. A bunch of guys helped my dad build our house. If someone was sick, you always had people to help out. It was like having a big family. 

We were under pressure from the Addin but only as much as we could bear. It was more that you knew what your limits were. Uninvolveds talk about how “any kid can be president” and all that. We knew that wasn’t true. We knew we couldn’t even be mayor. 

But we also knew that we could live a reasonably good life if we just kept our heads down. At least that’s what I thought as a kid.

Q: But then you were taken.

Yeah.

Q: Why? If you obeyed the treaty, why were you taken? 

Accidents happen. I was always told it was because they didn’t know I was Meikan. That might have been true.

Q: And afterward they couldn’t undo it?

No! No, there is no way they can undo that. And they wouldn't even if they could.

Q: Can you tell us what happened exactly? How you were taken?

A family moved in nearby who had two girls a bit older than me. I guess they were fourteen and fifteen. My mom always made one little effort to welcome new neighbors, even though she was nervous about uninvolveds. She brought them cookies and some spring greens from our garden.

Aranka wasn’t home that day. I think they went on a canoe trip. So, I went with Mom to see who the newcomers were. The girls weren’t very nice at first. Their names were Britney and Chelsea. I tried to act like I was their age to try to get them to accept me a little, but I don’t think they believed me. I didn’t think about the fact that someone like that might be Addin. I was twelve. It just didn’t occur to me. 

When I ran into them later, I kept trying to say hi to them, even though they didn’t say hi back. Once the younger one, Britney, commented on my clothes, laughing and saying she had the same skirt a few years ago, so I must have gotten it at the second-hand store. We weren’t dirt poor or anything and I’m pretty sure that we bought that skirt new, but we did sometimes buy clothes second-hand. My mom thought buying second-hand was socially and environmentally responsible. Or something like that.

Anyway, I figured those girls weren’t going to have anything to do with me. Then one day a week or two before summer break they came up to me in the public library while I was checking out books and waiting for my dad to give me a ride home. All of the sudden, they were acting really nice. There were two other girls with them. One of them was Rose Sinclare who was an eighth grader and already a social queen. She smiled at me and said I was cute. I couldn’t help feeling good when someone so popular said something nice to me. 

They said they wanted to show me something and we went back to the teen section. That’s a room at the back of the library that’s all glassed in and has lots of posters up. There are some couches for kids to hang out on. Those girls had smart phones and this was before it was standard for everyone to have smart phones. They started showing me pictures... 

Q: That's it? That's all that happened? They just accepted you and you went willingly because you didn't know they were Addin? 

No... It wasn't just that. When it happened I felt kind of dizzy. Like if you spun around in circles dancing really fast. I held onto the couch really hard and I must have looked a little weird. Then the girls were all laughing and patting me on the back. 

“See. No big deal,” Rose told them and then asked me, “How do you feel, Atreyu?” 

I didn’t know why I should feel anything, but I did feel a little different. I really wanted to be Rose’s friend and I wanted her to like me and like what I did and what I wore. I think that was the first thing. The rest of it sank in more gradually over the next few weeks. At first, they didn’t tell me anything about special Addin stuff. 

Q: But that still doesn't sound like a big deal. Was there ever a moment when you were shocked to realize you'd been taken?

I started to wonder and the idea didn't bother me. Then I wondered why I'd been afraid of the Addin.

It wasn't a single moment. It took a little while to really understand it. That's probably because I was so young. I wasn't shocked. I thought it was funny. I was a bit nervous about how my parents would react. Very briefly, but I knew they couldn't do anything to me. That made me kind of giddy, knowing that my parents were weak and brainwashed and I didn't have to do what they said every again. 

Q: How did your parents react?

My dad showed up at the library to pick me up and Rose and the others said goodbye just like they were my friends. Rose said something like, “Have fun and don’t get into too much trouble at home.” 

My dad got on my case when I got in the truck, saying I was being sullen and turning into a teenager. Then he started giving me a lecture about how you always have to use the sign, even if you’re pissed off or whatever.

I’d just picked up the sign a few weeks earlier and I still wasn't entirely sure what had happened. But I couldn’t remember it. I couldn’t even remember what it was. I still don’t. I know it was something I could do for those few weeks, but it was just gone.

I did get sullen then and I wouldn’t answer my dad. It took a few days before I told my parents straight out that I didn’t remember it. First I told them maybe I wasn’t really old enough. They talked to some of the Meikan elders. At first they hoped maybe it was a fluke, like I’d regressed or something.

They took me to see Annie Reese. I only knew where we were going when we pulled into her driveway and my dad got out of the pickup and ran in to talk to her. When they came back out Annie was really upset. And by that time Rose and the others had made the situation clear to me, so in the end I told them.

I got out of the truck and said, "Yeah, you idiots. I finally woke up and realized how stupid you are. Now you have to leave me alone. It's the law." 

My mom started sobbing and some guy across the street was staring at us. I felt embarrassed to be around them at all, so I walked away and went to one of my new friends' houses in town. I had to go home eventually, but it was different then. They couldn't boss me around.

Q: Do you really think the Addin didn’t know you were Meikan?

Britney and Chelsea acted all shocked that I had been Meikan. I’m not sure. I think maybe some of them knew. It’s hard to say. Why else would they have been interested in such a young kid? It’s possible Rose knew and the others didn’t. The way she acted was different. She could have been told by adults to practice on me.

Q: So then the Meikans shunned you?

Annie Reese let everyone know about it and immediately no Meikans would even look at me. At first, I didn’t really care that I was shunned. I had new friends. And it was good that the uncool people who I knew around town didn’t try to bug me or say hello to me. If they had, it would have been really awkward with my knew friends.

I saw that most of the Meikans shunned my family too. At home my family acted stiff around me. I could see that my dad was really angry when he looked at me, but he didn't raise a hand against me. My mom cried a lot. I thought she was just silly and hysterical. I had no idea how much it hurt her that I was taken. Then my dad and my brother moved away. My mom was pretty much alone because a lot of Meikans were too afraid to have anything to do with her, even though she still had the sign. They were afraid of me. I could see it in their faces and their hatred too.

Q It’s odd. It doesn’t sound that terrible to be taken. It almost sounds like your family and other Meikans overreacted.

It wasn’t a terrible thing for me. I've said that plenty of times. And I did think they overreacted. That’s how it was for me. I’m sure they saw it differently. They saw me change. I went from being a kid who was interested in the community, a kid who had dreams and goals for my own life and a kid who was really into saving forests and protesting clear-cutting to a kid who was  passionate about the popular crowd and having all name-brand clothes and perfect make-up.

There's a cost. You lose yourself, but you don't grasp that, so it doesn't actually hurt while it's happening to you.

 I didn’t care about our community anymore. I really thought they were delusional and I thought the Addin was much more practical and reasonable. The Addin knew how to run things. They had a hierarchy that made sense, based on how talented you were as well as good looks. 

When you’re in the Addin you want the Addin to be in control. It’s the most obvious thing in the world. You know that people are better off with the Addin in charge, even the people who don’t know about it. And all you want for yourself is to be accepted in the Addin. 

I could sit down and have dinner with my parents and not have any real problem unless they brought it up. I knew they had weird ideas that would screw things up, if they ever got their way.  But once I was brought into the Addin I had older mentors who explained to me why I had to let my parents be the way they were. They weren’t important and as long as they didn’t stir up any trouble it was best just to leave them alone.

Q: But you didn’t just let Meikans be. You gave the Addin names of Meikans in La Grande.

A few months after I was taken I was asked to come and talk to some people, including the mayor. That was a pretty big deal for me. One of the Addin teachers let me out of class to go, so my parents didn’t have any idea about it. 

The mayor's people told me again how I had to accept that my family and other people I knew wouldn’t understand. They seemed disappointed that I had been shunned by Meikans so soon. That is another reason I suspect that my being taken wasn’t entirely an accident. But it could have been. It doesn’t really matter. The Addin never really took the treaty seriously. What they took seriously was the need to keep Meikans docile and quiet.

Anyway they started asking me who was Meikan. They already knew about some people, but not about most of them. I didn’t know everyone’s last name at that age, but I could name off which kids were Meikan from all over town and they could then figure out who the families were. At the time I didn’t think about why. They wanted to know and I was so happy to be important enough to help them that I was all glowing and elated inside. Maybe I was just an immature kid or maybe its a specific Addin thing. I don’t know, but it never occurred to me at the time that I was betraying anyone or what the consequences might be. 

Q: But Aranka wasn’t Meikan. Why did you stop being friends with her as well?

She wasn’t cool. She was nowhere near the popular crowd. After I was taken, all I cared about was being accepted by the popular Addin kids and doing what they wanted. Mostly I just couldn’t be bothered with Aranka. She was insignificant. 

When she kept following me around and talking to me, Britney told me that I had to get rid of her for good. She let me know that having a nobody like that act like your friend was really bad juju. It would hurt my chances in the social scene. So, I told her to get lost. I told Aranka I was just pretending to be her friend. 

Q Why was Aranka not cool?

I don’t know… No specific reason really. She dressed very practically and she didn’t seem to care about what was in style. But it wasn’t even mostly about appearance. The social crowd can always find something about you to pick on, but they mainly do it because of who you are inside anyway. 

She wasn’t as quiet as a low-status person should be. She’d go ahead and talk, even when you were supposed to listen to the cooler people and work your way up to being worthy enough to talk. When the top girls decided someone needed to be punished, she didn’t seem to notice. She’d still laugh at that person’s jokes and talk to them. 

I guess most of all, she just didn’t play the game. She knew it was there, but maybe she didn’t know it was mandatory to play it. Or maybe she couldn’t play it the same way. Kyrennei are still Kyrennei even before they’re changed. Maybe there is something about them that is never going to fit in.

Q: Do you feel hope for the world, given how powerful the Addin is?

I do now. I can't really say more about it, because like you said it's confidential. But there is hope. For me, it's about compassion. That and I still believe people have good souls.

The dystopia of today's popularity cult: The Kyrennei premise part 1

There's the high school cafeteria with its ironclad rules about who sits where--tables for the gamers, the emos, the jocks or the geeks among the boys and for the girls the clusters around this or that social magnet. Just about everyone has been there. If you're lucky you might fit in with one group or another or at least squeeze through relatively unnoticed. A few actually thrive in this acrid environment. And some are torn to bits.

Creative Commons  image by Autoskabar of Flickr

Creative Commons image by Autoskabar of Flickr

On one particular gray Tuesday, there's a girl sitting on the steps leading to an upper level. She's alone - as always. She has a pad of paper and colored pencils and she's practicing drawing lines of perspective, capturing the crazy, obtuse angles of the modern cafeteria.

Does she bother the groups at the tables?

She sits there every day in the same spot. She is weird. At first she tried to talk to people, but she looks a bit different and she won't play along. She won't dress the way you are supposed to. She won't wear makeup or not in the right ways. She never pays attention to what was in style. She doesn't make small talk. She talks about why things are the way they are in the Arctic and what happened in a book more than about the other girls.

Yes, she bothers people. 

A couple of the guys catch a nerdy kid with glasses at the top of the stairs. He should have been paying attention. Never should have walked by them. He knew he should take the other stairs to avoid them, but he was in a hurry. He bothers them too. He doesn't give them their due.

So, they grab him and hurl him down the stairs. He crashes into the girl's back, scattering her colored pencils, shattering them into pieces, pulverizing the delicate cores within. They'll be useless now.

She saved for those pencils. There's no way she can afford a new set. But that isn't even the important part. They were her lifeline, the way she survived the hell of this place, the disdain and the shame. Now her lifeline is broken.

She believes the boy jumped on her from the stairs to taunt her, and in a split second brain chemistry flips and years of isolation coalesce into rage. 

She grabs the boy's hair at the tender nape of his neck in her left fist and pounds him with her right fist. Again and again. She sees white, not red. She hears only her own ragged breath. She doesn't scream but her face holds such intensity that they leave her alone for a while after that.

She knows that she has failed again. She played right into their hands. The crying, beaten boy wasn't the attacker. They should have been allies.

We left such things behind in high school. Didn't we? 

I hoped so. Once. But then I discovered Mommy cliques. When you're a mother with small children, you need other mothers. You need companionship with those who understand and the occasional conversation of multi-syllabic words. And you need playdates so your toddlers don't drive you crazy. But if you thought high school had cliques... watch out! 

Mommy cliques are a tad more sophisticated, but the rules are still pretty much the same. The ammunition is still fashion, makeup and small talk, but you have to add in home decor, flashy birthday parties, magazine-quality Pinterest photos of crafts and cooking, kids fashions, kids behavior, parenting styles, how early you potty-trained and how well you can talk about it all without seeming to brag too blatantly. 

The stakes are the same - inclusion or exclusion, street cred or isolation.

Does this mean that men get it easier? Maybe. But both men and women have to run the race for "success" in academia and then in career. Men have to dress the part too. If you don't, it's your loss. You can't blame anyone but yourself. Sure, the fashions are arbitrary, but only geeks can differ and they can only differ in certain ways. 

Creative Commons  image by Martinak15 of Flickr

Creative Commons image by Martinak15 of Flickr

A random perusal of my Facebook feed shows that it isn't just mommies who didn't leave the social rat race behind in high school. Everything is measured in "likes" these days. I've been studying a lot about effective online business, but I still can't figure out how "likes" help exactly - except that they give that street cred. It's essentially the same thing as having the popular kids give you a considering look and an oh-so-minuscule nod to show that you are allowed to sit in their vicinity.

Except "likes" have the illusion of democracy. They make it appear that the more you have the more people must really support you.

I inadvertently ran a small experiment on "likes" recently. I was trying to choose between two possibilities for the new logo of my dystopian fantasy series and I posted it to various groups asking for gut reactions. In every group there would be one enthusiast who would pipe up quickly and give their answer, either  "right" or "left." The first time this happened I was thrilled. The first person chose "right" and that was the option I secretly favored. There followed a stream of agreement, "right," "right," "yes, right's the best," a dozen or more responses. I was vindicated! 

But then I looked at another group. There the first person to answer had said "left" and the whole string of replies had agreed that the left-hand choice was the better one. Out of six different groups, the responses were about even, but they always followed the leader, like little ducks... or lemmings. 

What I learned from this is that "likes" are far from democratic. What is popular is popular because of how people follow the leaders, not because of popular appeal or true support. I call it "the cult of popularity," but I might as well call it a "cult of power."

Political organization, social structures and economic entities all use it and the underlying psychology isn't that different from high school cliques.

I just read an article about a blind citizen detained by US border patrol between Montreal and New York because the way his pupils were dilated looked suspicious. He and his friends laughed and the border patrol was incensed. "You think US Customs and Immigration is a joke?" they bellowed. Then he was subjected to hours of intimidation and interrogation. The guy's eyes "bothered" those with power. His failure to "play the game" of mild intimidation bothered them even more. 

Does nothing ever change? Are humans just wired to ostracize - to pick sides, pick out and pick on? When will those who are bullied stand up together instead of fighting one another? Will bystanders ever wake up and say enough is enough? 

For as long as there have been poets and bards and storytellers by the fire, some of us have tackled these questions with stories. That's why I wrote The Kyrennei Series. It started there in the lunchroom in high school. I watched the florescent lights and escaped from purgatory by making up characters, names, places and fantasies.  

The story is dark because it comes from that darkness. But it's also essentially the anatomy of hope. First, how can you survive? How do you struggle and hang on to those who stand by you? Then how do you choose your own path no matter how hard you're pushed down? How do you use the power you have - great or small - to make something meaningful? 

I'm going to write a few posts about the premise of the Kyrennei series. This is the first. The Soul and the Seed is a story that faces the human desires to to build cults of popularity and reject difference head on. 

I love your comments on these posts! Do you thrive in the social rat race? What do you think would happen if the cult of popularity literally ruled the world? 

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Must all modern female heroines be unbelievably strong, fearless and invincible?

Maya Gardener is a college student with practical dreams. She's a dutiful daughter, attending church even when she goes away to Michigan Tech. But she doesn't feel like she belongs--not at church, not with the sororities on campus, not with her parents nor anywhere else. She assumes that's because she is both adopted and biracial in a country where the rift between black and white is widening.

And yet that's the least of her troubles. Shadowy authorities are trying to track her down, authorizing "lethal force" to capture her. A guy she thought she liked turned into a maniac, shot up the university and kidnapped her. Maya has good reason to be frightened. Most of us would be.  

"But she isn't like Katniss of the Hunger Games!" a friend who is also a prolific author protested.

"That's true,"  I answered. "She isn't Katniss... or Tris of Divergent for that matter. Her name doesn't even end in 'iss' as seems required of best-selling modern heroines.  But more importantly, she is more like a real woman." 

"But who wants to read about regular old people who aren't superhuman?" my colleague argued. "I want to escape into a fantasy world when I read, not experience a life that is even more miserable as my own." 

"It's easier to fully enter the world of the story, if the characters are like real people." I tried to explain but I wasn't entirely invested in the argument. "Katniss and Tris will always win. You know that from the outset. They don't give me a sense of hope, because I always knew they were in a class apart, superheroes, who I can never measure up to." 

My correspondent wasn't convinced and neither was I. We simply disagree. And readers are bound to disagree as much as writers on this issue. 

Aranka Miko, the heroine of the initial trilogy of The Kyrennei Series, has been compared to Katniss and Tris on occasion. She is feisty. She gets hit with bad stuff and she bounces back. The minute she has a spare breath, she is ready to help rescue others in a similar predicament, regardless of the danger to herself. She stands up to torture and refuses to surrender valuable information to the bitter end.

And there is a kind of hope in that. We need strong heroes and heroines.

As readers, we recognize the strength and courage it takes for the character to survive and even fight back in the face of enormous evil. But how difficult is the path of such a heroine really when she begins with tenacity and ferocity as her strengths? And what can she really do for the world, when you get right down to it? She brought a flicker of hope, but unless the author (ahem) engineers a series of extremely unrealistic events (as some authors have... no naming names here), Aranka won't be able to bring down the powers of tyranny alone. 

To do that, it will take something more than tenacity and ferocity. It will take the kind of strength our own world is in such dire need of.

That kind of strength comes from a real battle within. Deep and authentic hope comes from the understanding that even those of us who do not start out as superheroes, who are small, terrified, wounded and broken can choose our own path in the face of the most horrendous odds. The battle is within us as much as on the outside. 

And that is why Maya Gardner is the heroine of Code of the Outcast (Book 4) of The Kyrennei Series. She is like most of us. She isn't particularly strong or fast or good with a bow. She avoids fighting and conflicts. She freezes up in a crisis. But within her she carries a hidden potential, a spark of something waiting to bloom. If only she can reach out and choose her own path when most of her choices have been taken away. 

Then we would have hope in the darkness of our own world as well. When the choices are hard and uncertain, choosing your own path is an act of great courage.

I love your comments on these posts! What is your favorite type of hero or heroine? Share this article using the icon below and find out what your friends think.

Code of the Outcast (Book 4 of the Kyrennei Series) is out!

Code of the Outcast, the long-awaited next installment in the series, is now live on Amazon. This book departs a bit from the first three, focusing on new characters, but it is more of the desperate adventure in the world ruled by the Addin. The series is best if read in order. If you're new to it and looking for a gripping read, try The Soul and the Seed.

Please don't be shy and drop a review of Code of the Outcast on Amazon. Reviews matter. They don't need to be long or convoluted, but they're a big part of what keeps your favorite authors writing. 

Here's the story

When a masked gunman barges into a university acoustic-dynamics class and abducts Maya Gardener, she knows she has to fight for her life. But her supposed rescuers may want her dead, and the kidnapper insists that the world as Maya knows it is a lie.

It’s present-day America and society is as dysfunctional as always. Democracy and even the “freedom to shop” is a sham. A powerful elite wields clandestine control over human will to maintain hegemony in every aspect of modern life. 

It’s been that way for a thousand years, but today there are finally a handful of people who might possess the power to resist and to shield others… if they only knew how. Maya isn’t a fighter by nature, but the random chance of genetics chose her and now she’ll have to learn to help herself and others. 

She was always an outsider—trapped in the borderlands between races, cultures and families. Now she’s hunted through the biting cold of a Wisconsin winter, and the only thing that holds her body and soul together is her love for Kai Linden, the fierce-eyed musician and comp-sci major who claims there is one place she truly belongs.  Read more.

What's in a word? "Outcast"

"You must think the whole world is against you. Why else would you write about an outcast?" 

That was one interesting reaction to the upcoming publication of the fourth book in The Kyrennei Series, entitled Code of the Outcast.  (I'm beginning to like criticism. It provides good blog fodder.)

Obviously the word "outcast" stirs up some intense emotions. I'm well aware of it. For some, that word has more gut-punch power than the worst curse words. It isn't a word we say or hear very often, but it's between the lines a lot. 

I wrote about the issue of a community shunning a person, making him an outcast, because I believe that it's the duty of writers and artists to open up the dark corners of society and the mind.

Whatever is too painful to touch directly, we must touch and try to heal with stories. For centuries that has been our role. Where the healing of doctors cannot go, where the words of public figures dare not go, artists and writers should go. 

And no, the world isn't "against me." The world is very troubled and mostly doesn't know I exist. And that is quite difficult enough for anyone to cope with. 

Code of the Outcast is the fourth book in a series. Even though this book starts with new characters, you will probably still enjoy it more if you start from The Soul and the Seed (Book 1). For those who know the series, this book is a bit of an answer to a lot of reader questions, wondering about what happens to those who don't have the protection of the legendary fighters of J. Company.

The answer isn't always pretty. And yet there is something of great value here. 

Code of the Outcast begins with a person facing the realization that he and only he can make a difference, save a life... change the world. Yet in order to do it he must commit violence and take the consequences. 

We float through so much of our life in numbness because most of the time there is very little we can do to change the terrible things that happen in the world. We hear about them at a distance and we can only write letters to politicians and protest. We can't really change it. 

But there are moments when you can.

Such a moment will usually not come when you expect it or come at a convenient time. But there are moments when one person can make a great difference. Code of the Outcast is essentially the story of one of those moments and the two people it uprooted and turned into outcasts.

You don't get to change the world without sacrifice and in this case the sacrifice is just that - to be shunned and lose home and family forever. Could you make such a choice, if it would save the life of a person you cared about? 

Is this a worthy topic for a novel? Comment using the icon on the lower left. And please share this post with your friends using the icon on the lower right. :)

Time to order Book 4 of The Kyrennei Series

Code of the Outcast is now available for preorder as a Kindle ebook. Until July 1 it will be on sale for 99 cents. Then the price will gradually go up until it's $3.99 like the other books on publication day (JUly 7). It's both cheaper and a boost to the series if you preorder now and have the book delivered to your Kindle on July 7. 

If you haven't read The Soul and the Seed (Book 1 of The Kyrennei Series), it's recommended that you start there.

The paperback book and other ebook formats will be up soon. 

If you need a read-for-review or pre-release copy either in the Kindle format or another ebook format,  send me an email. 

Free books!

If you think you might like my books or have read one of them but not the rest, here's your chance to get a free book. Join my hearth-side email circle, where readers get an occasional email with links to my blog posts plus a sort of virtual cup of tea. And you get a free ebook. Here's how:

  1. Subscribe to my hearth-side email circle here
  2. Then look at The Soul and the Seed (or check the Books by the Fire tab to find the next book in the series if you've already read that one.) 
  3.  Next go to my contact page and send me a message. Include your email address, your preferred ebook format (Mobi, Epub or PDF) and which book you would like. Presto! You'll have it in your inbox soon.

Violence in fiction and the concept of deep hope

Violence in real life is brutal, traumatizing and usually over before you have a chance to think or react. 

I've been mercifully fortunate to undergo only a few incidents of real violence or narrowly averted violence in my life.  I was once grabbed by a man in a dark, deserted street, but I managed to trick him into believing that I had friends in the doorway of a nearby building, so that he let go of me for a second. And I had fast feet.

As a journalist during the conflicts in the Balkans, I often saw the aftermath of violence, but only rarely was I in the middle of it. One terrifying night in the summer of 2001, I ran for my life through dark deserted streets to escape from a mob firing automatic weapons. When I was finally able to get indoors, a man who was out of his head with terror leaped on me and tried to sexually assault me. I fought him off and then had to lay on the floor of a room while bullets whizzed by the open windows and pinged off of the gutters just a few feet away.

Those experiences have given me an idea of what real violence is like, and the discrepancy between that reality and the way violence is usually portrayed in books and movies is often disturbing. Before I had those experiences I found gratuitous violence in fiction to be merely boring. Violence that is divorced from emotion and real human reactions of shock and trauma felt meaningless. After my experiences in conflict areas, it feels both meaningless and disrespectful, dismissive of the experiences of those who have undergone far worse than I have.

Arie's rules of fictional violence

I am reasonably tough and I wasn't traumatized by my experiences. I'm not all that disturbed by reading violence. But I usually avoid books that seem to be primarily about violence.

And yet my books have fictional violence in them. My contemporary fantasy The Kyrennei Series has even been called a thriller by reviewers, due to the violent content. 

Let me lay it out clearly then. I don't write violence the way 80 to 90 percent of action and thriller books are written. Here are my rules of violence in fiction:

  • The violence in a good thriller isn’t where the greatest suspense is. The suspense is in our emotions about the characters.
  • And yet the violence must be integral to the plot. It should not be an aside just stuck in there to titillate. 
  • Violent scenes should be brutal, even traumatic, and avoided when possible by both the characters and writers alike.
  • Violent scenes should not be entirely pleasant even for the reader. Making it purely entertaining is a betrayal. 

That said, there are times when you can’t avoid violence in fiction. And it is better to have it out there than in real life. The story must be told. And The Kyrennei Series is a hard and desperate story. It’s fiction—even fantasy—on the literal plane. And yet there is a deeper level of reality where this story is true. And that truth has to be told. Even when it’s hard.

The road to deep hope leads through darkness

A reader recently told me that my books are like The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a great book, and at first I was simply pleased to be favorably compared to an awesome author. But then I realized that The Road is categorized as literary fiction, not popular dystopia. I've been categorizing my books with things like The Hunger Games, not with literary dystopia. 

So, how in the world is The Soul and the Seed like The Road?  

They are in wildly different settings after all. The Road is in a grim, future in a destroyed world where people resort to cannibalism to survive. The Soul and the Seed is set solidly in the present. The dystopia is inherent in today’s socially harsh and physically unsustainable society… with one fatal twist that isn’t even apparent on the surface. 

The similarity is more in the way that violence, despair and emotion are dealt with. Much of the violence in popular urban fantasy and dystopia is “justified” and almost enjoyable to read.

And the violence in my books isn’t fun. It’s all too real. 

Why read it then?

To the readers of books like The Road or The Soul and the Seed, it’s partly the authentic spirit of the people that keeps you glued to the page. It's also the burning questions we carry inside whether we read this sort of thing or not. 

How do we live with despair? How do you go on through anything, no matter how terrible and gut-wrenching? Is hope just wishful thinking?

Authentic answers to these questions have always come hard. But they can be answered in bits and pieces--in the gentleness of a person forced to fight, in the need that binds the strong and the weak together, in the fact that you still seek life and comfort amid horrific circumstances, in the play of children in wartime, in the courage those who know they cannot win..

If you don’t have the darkness--real darkness--true and desperate, how can you have an story about hope?

I wanted to write about these things, but I also wanted to do it in a gripping story without the tiniest whiff of moralistic preaching. I am as much a seeker as the reader. The story is there to sweep you away to another reality while simultaneously making you question your own world, to terrify you and help you feel deeply.

And it may just help you find hope. Or not. Depending. But it will grip you and make you fall in love with the characters, regardless.

An example from The Soul and the Seed

Let me put it technically. The Soul and the Seed has three or four incidents of violence in it, depending on if you count hearing violence at a distance or not. That’s not a peaceful book. But it isn’t that much violence when compared to a book like The Hunger Games, which is (after the first third) essentially a sequence of violent incidents.

And yet readers who have read both The Hunger Games and The Soul and the Seed will often say the latter is scarier and more intense. People who can read about teenagers slaughtering each other in The Hunger Games, sometimes find The Kyrennei Series to be “too much.”

And that's how it goes. a writer can't please everyone. If I want the reader to feel hope deeply, I have to make the reader feel pain deeply as well.

The only problem is with telling readers that. I want to give fair warning about the violence in the series. And yet violence isn’t at the core of the story. There are other readers who find modern fiction too violent who will actually like The Soul and the Seed better than The Hunger Games. Which is more "intense" or "violent" Is to some degree subjective and bases on what kind of violence the reader is prepared to handle.

Sometimes a thing is described best by saying what it is not. I liked the idea of The Hunger Games up until the middle of the first book. But then the violence became mechanical. The emotion slid into melodrama, even though it didn't need to. By the third book the violence read like the description of a video game. It wasn’t painful to read. It was a game.

Not everything must be painful, but if you want real hope, it is likely that getting to it will hurt.

And that is what The Kyrennei Series does. It goes for real hope. Hope that doesn’t pull any punches. And it is wrenching to get there.

Books for 99 cents

Code of the Outcast (Book 4 of The Kyrennei Series) will be published on July 7. As of today, it is available for preorder. For just a few days you can get it for 99 cents. Next week the price goes up to $2.99 and then to $3.99 when it's published on July 7.

Book 3 of the series, The Taken and the Free, is on sale this week at 99 cents too, for the last time. Time to get your summer reading. 

Free books!

If you think you might like my books or have read one of them but not the rest, I have a special offer going. Join my hearth-side email circle, where readers get an occasional email with links to my blog posts plus a sort of virtual cup of tea. And you get a free ebook. Here's how:

  1. Subscribe to my hearth-side email circle here
  2. Then look at the books under the Arie's Books tab at the top of the page and pick the book you want. (It's highly recommended that you read the books in order and the first book is The Soul and the Seed. But if you've already read the first book, here's your chance to get the second for free. ) 
  3. Next go to my contact page and send me a message. Include your email address, your preferred ebook format (Mobi, Epub or PDF) and which book you would like. Presto! You'll have it in your inbox soon.

Note: If you are already subscribed to the Hearth-side Email Circle, you can also get a free book. Reply to the latest By the Hearth email and let me know which one you want.

How can a reader find the ideal book when all the descriptions sound the same?

Am I the only reader who finds that book descriptions have started to sound way too similar? 

On the back of every novel you see it. Action! Drama! Intensity! Guy in pursuit! Girl in despair! Snappy prose! One- or two-word descriptions by celebrities. "Fantastic!" "A masterpiece!" 

How do you tell which book you will really like? 

I don't know about you, but I don't have nearly as much time to read as I would like. I get frustrated when I pick up book after book and read a third of the way in and find that it really isn't my thing. Half the time it's not even poorly written. It just doesn't have the atmosphere I like or I don't care about the stoic characters.  

That's because readers are diverse. Some readers like physical action. Others prefer wrenching emotions. Some can’t stand the internal tension but are fine with violence. Some insist on sex scenes. Others can do without the details. Some books are harshly literary and others are more cozy. And those are issues that mostly cross genres and are true regardless of specific themes. 

So, why is it that it is so hard to tell what the heart and soul of a book will be like from the description?

Here are a few reasons:

  1. The description can only be 100 to 150 words or about a dozen sentences. There are only so many combinations of grammatical sentences possible. 
  2. There are rules. The writer must present who the main character is and what their problem or goal is immediately. It's not just the industry standard. That part makes good sense for readers too.
  3. The blurb has to give an indication of genre and the major themes and that takes up most of the space.
  4. And then few blurbs ever say what the book is not. No one is going to advertise a book by saying it isn't intelligent, even if it's definitely NOT literary fiction. And no mystery writer will say their book isn't suspenseful, even if the truth is that it's pretty cozy and the suspense is at a minimum.
  5. If there is violence in the book, this will often be made clear but no one will ever tell you that it is gratuitous, video-game-style violence. Every violent thriller or dystopian novel will insist that it is gritty and realistic--employing characters with heart, even when its main character is a stock tough guy who leaps, shoots and dashes through the pages. 

So, there are some legitimate reasons for the look-alike cover blurbs. But what is a reader to do? I love good fantasy and I like contemporary thrillers, but I don't like gratuitous violence and those genres are often filled with it. I enjoy historical fiction but I prefer a story with a casual tone and characters from everyday life rather than momentous language and well-known figures of history. I can read virtually any genre as long as it is neither too dry and literary nor too brainless. I barely know how to describe the humor I like. How can I find books that will actually suit my taste?  

And worse yet, how do I as an author give readers a feel for the heart and soul of my books in the space of a blurb?

My first book (The Soul and the Seed) starts with a teenage girl imprisoned in a laboratory by doctors with nefarious motives. Given that, it's hard to convey that this is not a story about teenage angst. There is violence in the story. I wouldn't leave that out of the description, because some people really don't want to read any violence of any kind and this is pretty heavy-duty intense stuff. Yet the story isn't primarily about violence. Most important of all, it's hard to convey the close, confiding tone of the story--like a friend telling you about their harrowing experiences--let alone the sense of magical realism, the deep connections to characters or how a book that is so dark can be primarily about hope. 

I follow all the blurb-writing rules and I'm not a terrible writer (at least I'm told I can string sentences together with some semblance of art) and what comes out?

Action! Drama! Intensity! Girl in despair! Guy to the rescue! 

Ah, I see the problem that all those other authors have while trying to describe their books when I'm the reader. My book is NOT like all most of those books. They are all vastly different. But in a blurb on the back cover it is very hard to get that across.

I love to hear from you. Feel free to comment using the bubble on the lower left. What are your frustrations as a reader? Do you agree that book blurbs are all the same?  Do you have any tips for how to decode which ones will suit you? Do you ever pick up a book, thinking it is going to be your thing and it isn't? Or do you ever randomly discover a fantastic book behind a description that didn't do it justice? 

Free books!

The publication of my fourth book is coming up. To celebrate, I'm going to give every new subscriber to my hearth-side email circle a free ebook. If you've looked at The Soul and the Seed and been curious or if you've read part of the series and haven't gotten around to reading the rest, now is your chance to do so for free. 

  1. Subscribe to my hearth-side email circle here. That's where you get links to my latest blog posts as well as the occasional virtual cup of tea. There's no spam, thanks to the excellent security of Mailchimp. 
  2. Then look at the books under the Arie's Books tab at the top of the page and pick the book you want. (It's highly recommended that you read the books in order and the first book is The Soul and the Seed. But if you've already read the first book, here's your chance to get the second for free. ) 
  3. Next go to my contact page and send me a message. Include your email address, your preferred ebook format (Kindle, Epub or PDF) and which book you would like. Presto! You'll have it in your inbox soon.

Note: If you are already subscribed to the Hearth-side Email Circle, you can also get a free book. Reply to the latest By the Hearth email and let me know which one you want.

Character development the easy way

There are all kinds of books on writing that will tell you how to develop deep, multi-dimensional characters. And yet most leave out a few easy and essential early steps that make all the difference.

I’m not saying that character development is easy. Good, deep character development is very hard. It’s arguably one of the hardest things about writing fiction and also the most important thing.

But there are harder ways to do it and there are easier ways to do it. This the easier way to do something that is hard enough even if you don’t make it any harder than necessary.

Step 1: Choose models

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. Using real-life people as models for you characters is not plagiarism and it is not slander. The whole point of using a real person as a model for your character is that you want to come up with a new person. The model is only a starting point and usually only covers one facet of the character.

The key point is that you actually don’t want one model for your character. You probably want at least three. You want one person who looks more or less like what you want your character to look like. You want another person who has a personality and speaking style like you want your character to have. And you want one person who has a job or situation like you want your character to have. It is much simpler to take these three things from three different people. That way you have the flexibility to work within your plot. And no one can say that you slandered them by putting them in your story.

Why is it important to have models? Well, models make it easy. You don’t have to do it this way. You can make your ten or twenty essential characters up out of whole cloth and try to keep their faces and mannerisms in your head through your book or series of books.

But… well, good luck with that.

If you’re name is George Martin or Diana Gabaldon you can ignore this and all of my advice. Those authors are either doing this already or they are geniuses with astronomical IQs.

Here’s a practical example of what I’m talking about. Let’s say you need a police officer in your story.

There. You already have a job for your character. But figure out what kind of police officer, in what position, in what size of town you need. Then if possible find someone who is a police officer in that sort of situation. The job part is actually one situation where people like to be models for fiction. If possible, find a friendly cop in the kind of position you need and tell them that you want to write about someone in a similar position who isn’t them, who looks completely different and has a different personality but the same job. Professionals will often be thrilled to tell you all the crucial details about that job.

I’ve got a landscaper in my current work-in-progress and my younger brother is a landscaper. It’s very handy to pick his brain to find out exactly what my landscaper should be doing at various times of the year. But my landscaper couldn’t be more different physically or emotionally from my brother.

Okay, I went a bit backwards on this one. The characters at the bottom of this cover (Rick and Kenyen, as readers of the Kyrennei series will know) are recognizable but I actually didn't find these pictures on ShutterStock until I was finished writing the first three books.  That made finding the right pictures hard. But I'd had these characters in my head for twenty years, and had a very clear picture of each of them, although Rick does sort of look suspiciously like an Iraqi friend of mine who likes to cook.

Okay, I went a bit backwards on this one. The characters at the bottom of this cover (Rick and Kenyen, as readers of the Kyrennei series will know) are recognizable but I actually didn't find these pictures on ShutterStock until I was finished writing the first three books.  That made finding the right pictures hard. But I'd had these characters in my head for twenty years, and had a very clear picture of each of them, although Rick does sort of look suspiciously like an Iraqi friend of mine who likes to cook.

As for the physical picture of your character, think about what physical characteristics will suit the character in your story. Don’t forget that besides hair color, eye color and height you have many other factors to play with. Don’t make all your characters be of average weight and build. Don’t make all your characters the same race as you. Give your characters some small differentiating feature. Once you figure out what general kind of physical appearance you need, try to find someone who looks like that.

Think about your circle of friends and acquaintances or look up photos on Google. You can seriously google “Picture of tall brown-haired man” and get a ton of great pictures of tall, brown-haired men. Look at them and pick one. Then copy the link to your research file. Do NOT use this photo in any publication as you probably don’t have the copyright privileges to do so. But do refer back to it. Keep it in front of you enough that you can visualize the character.

With a main character or other key character you might still want to change some important detail of the character’s appearance but make it something you can visualize in that photo. Pick a person without a scar and give them a scar in your mind. Or glasses. Or sideburns.

The most difficult and most important part is your character’s personality. But again the same technique will serve you well. Choose a person to be your emotional model. This time it is really better to choose someone you know personally. Otherwise, you won’t know their reactions in enough depth. Then think about that person in various situations. How would he or she react if their spouse broke up with them or if they won a writing contest or if they had to tell a loved one terrible news? Get used to that person’s reactions and way of relating. Play amateur psychologist and make up reasons for why a person might have those particular reactions. Or if you know why your real-world model has those reactions, change the reasons up a bit.

You can in fact use more than one emotional model for one character. Combine different traits from two different people. Again think how your character with the personality he or she has would react in various situations.

I have a character in my current work-in-progress who is trans-racially adopted. I use what I know of people in that situation to inform me about her emotional make up. But she is also the kind of person who avoids conflict at all cost and tends to freeze up when there is tension.

A relative of mine, who is also one of my trusted beta readers, talks about struggling with freezing up in the face of conflict. So, I use my relative’s reactions to inform how this character might react. The character isn't “supposed to be” my relative. The girl in the story is very different in other ways, but it is handy to have an emotional model.

It is particularly handy to have one who likes being an emotional model and is happy to read through the story and pick out how I’ve slipped up on the personality type. That is a rare treat. You won’t usually be able to tell your emotional models that they have a personality double in your story and you might have to go on the run if you do tell, but it’s fun while it lasts.

Step 2: Fill out a character sheet

The next thing you do with your budding characters is print out a copy of this free character sheet I developed, combining the best qualities of the many character sheets out there. You’ll need a copy for each major character.

Stop!

Wait. You don’t have to fill out the whole thing immediately. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. Fill out as much as comes easily to you given your choice of models for this character. If you don’t know your character’s family history yet and it isn’t key to the plot in the beginning, leave it blank for now. You may find that the story will provide you with the answers you need as you deepen your plot.

So, in the beginning, just fill out those parts you can and then come back later and fill in other parts as you go.

Why am I asking you to do this exercise that looks like a worksheet from school and doesn’t seem to have much in common with writing? Because it will save you endless blood, sweat and tears later.

You may think you know your characters well now but after 70,000 words and many months of work are you really sure you’re going to remember the make of this character’s car or the color of that character’s eyes? Even when it was mentioned only once somewhere in your narrative?

Remembering those references will be much harder than you think. And finding them again is tedious and time consuming, assuming you even remember to look. What if you decide to put this manuscript aside for a couple of months and get back to it later? It will be much less work to get back into if you can quickly review the crucial information about your characters.

There is nothing worse than having a reader catch you being inconsistent. “I’m confused. In chapter 1 she had blue eyes. In chapter 10 she has brown eyes.”

Oops!

Keep character sheets. I’ve made one for you and it’s free.

Step 3: Think about what your characters want

I know the character’s desires are on the character sheet but it is likely that with many characters you won’t be able to come up with all of their desires in the very beginning.

This is a step that starts in the beginning and keeps going throughout the writing process. Remember that good fiction requires conflict or at least a problem to be solved. Conflicts and problems create suffering of some kind in a character. And if you ask a Buddhist guru (or a writer) what the root of human suffering is, you will be told that it is desire.

Without desire, there is no suffering and without suffering, there is no conflict. Make your characters yearn for something and you have story.

Deny your characters what they want and you create suffering. There is a law in fiction that says that the more you make a characters suffer, the more your reader will love them. This is almost always true. You can make a character too pitiful and lose the reader’s sympathy and respect but generally if your character suffers, your reader will keep reading.

Desire doesn’t have to be a fantastic dream or an overt goal and suffering need not involve physical pain. Sometimes a character simply wants to be able to live in peace or to find the answer to nagging internal questions. But this desire must be made clear and vivid to the reader. The more abstract the desire, the harder the writer’s job is.

Suffering is the same way. While commercial fiction usually involves a character suffering in some dramatic way involving physical injury, grief, betrayal or denial of love, it is very possible to make a compelling story in which the suffering is deep and less easily understood. It is only that doing more abstract and less overtly tangible things with a character is harder to do well.

Step 4: Visualize scenes like a movie or act them out

Either before you write or in the early stages of writing your first draft, visualize new scenes in your head. Let them play like a movie a few times. Get a picture of the characters and watch how they move. Get a feeling for them and watch what they do and say.

Try out the scene in a few different ways. What works best? What actions and words seem natural to your characters?

I have been known to act out scenes from my stories, standing in the middle of the room and stepping back and forth to take on the roles of different characters in a heated debate or moving around the room to block out a combat scene, making sure the physical actions will add up in three-dimensional space. I don’t really recommend doing this when other people are watching or listening. It requires too much stopping and backing up and redoing to be very entertaining and your goal is not to be silly but to iron out specific details that will then come across very real in the story.

Do I look slightly crazy while I talk to myself and have fights with the air? I might but this is another reason to do it in private. If the NSA is spying on me through my computer’s webcam, at least they’ll know what all my Google searches involving borders, bridges and weapons are about.

Step 5: Start writing or plotting, whichever is relevant.

There are two kinds of writers, it is said. The plotters and the pantsers.

Plotters carefully plan out their story with note cards, time-lines and outlines before they ever sit down to write.

Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants. They get the basic groundwork in place, particularly the settings, premise of the story, key conflict and the characters, including their initial desires. Then they sit down at the keyboard and let the characters do their thing.

I’m a pantser, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Pantsers don’t necessarily do less work in preparation for writing. Flying free in writing is best done if you have all the necessary back-up - well-developed characters, settings, premise and initial conflict. I usually know where the story is going within the next 20,000 words. And I have a vague idea of the ending but I don’t usually know how I’m going to get there.

I have often pulled up Google Earth, plunked my characters down in one place and told them they have to get to another place, given whatever the conditions of the story are (chase, pursuit or search for something), and then I let Google Earth surprise me and the characters. It almost always works beautifully, providing me with plot twists I never would have come up with on my own.

Oh, there’s a river there. That’s a problem. How are my heroes going to get across while being chased by helicopters. Ah, there’s a bridge… But only one bridge. And it will be guarded by the antagonists, obviously.

You can see where that’s going.

But this isn’t a general guide to plotting. This is about characters. And which ever way you choose to write, whether plotting or pantsing, you have now come to the point where you have to just do it. You hold onto the sense of your characters as individuals that you have developed in the previous steps and you feel their desire while you work out the specifics of your story. This will result in what is called a “character-driven story.” But that is just a fancy name for good fiction. All good fiction is character-driven, even the fiction that is action packed.

Step 6: Now change your characters

I know. I know. I said keep your characters consistent. But there is a difference between “consistent” and “stagnant.”

Real people faced with challenges and conflict change. Characters with a realistic personality should too.

Aranka Miko, the main character in The Soul and the Seed, is initially a frightened teenager imprisoned in a dark cage. How she rises in a troubled world to kindle the first flicker of hope in a thousand years is the core of the story..

Aranka Miko, the main character in The Soul and the Seed, is initially a frightened teenager imprisoned in a dark cage. How she rises in a troubled world to kindle the first flicker of hope in a thousand years is the core of the story..

Maybe this is the hard part for some, but I contend that if you’ve done the previous steps well this will be the easy part. I have rarely decided beforehand how my characters are going to change. I have simple set up characters and given them unfulfilled desires and a conflict. Then I followed where they led and the characters changed by the time the story was done.

Several reviewers of my first book gushed, “You can see the characters growing and changing before your eyes.”

I hadn’t realized when I started the story that the growth of the characters would be so obvious so soon. I also thought the only character to really change would be the main character. But that wasn’t the case. Because my major characters were strong and unique and had real personalities and they were faced with huge challenges, they had to change and I didn’t have to force it or consciously manipulate it that much.

In case this doesn’t come as easy in every story, remember to go back to the character’s desires. Do they get what they want? Are they thwarted? Does what they wanted turn out to be as good as they thought it would be? How does this impact the character?

Step 7: Rewrite and edit with an eye to character consistency

When you are done with your first draft, it’s time to rewrite and edit, then edit some more, then put the story aside and pick it up again and edit some more, and then edit again… and again.

That’s just the reality of writing. I edit certain parts roughly as I go and my first drafts are relatively clean. I rarely have to change major plot twists after the first draft is done, despite my seat-of-the-pants writing style. But I do have to edit and edit and edit. Everyone does who wants to turn out good writing.

When you edit, pay particular attention to what your characters look like and what they say and do. Make sure you have kept their appearances consistent and that the actions and words of each character fit their personality and situation. If you have a feisty, firebrand for a heroine, you can’t suddenly have her meekly take insults just because the plot requires that she is calm and collected for once. You can get away with having her learn to be calm and collected but that is going to take some work.

Read your text out loud and particularly your dialogue scenes. Go through dialogue several times, trying to hear the voices of your characters. What kind of voices do they have? Do they have an accent compared to you? What is the emotion behind the words?


I hope these tips come in handy. What are your favorite tips for developing characters? I would love to hear from you. Put a comment in below and keep in touch.

New Release: The Fear and the Solace (The Kyrennei Series Book Two)

The second book in The Kyrennei Series is being released today in honor of my mother's birthday and the lunar eclipse. Happy birthday, Mama!

What if you had to fight a war you knew you could never win?

Aranka Miko, the girl who carried the hope of resistance against Addin mind control, is lost and assumed to be dead. Despair has always dogged at the heels of those in the desperate fight against the Addin, but now that they've tasted hope, the return of darkness is all the more bitter. 

Twenty-two-year-old Cho is the temporary commander of the J. Company compound in Montana when disaster strikes. The scouting team in Portland, Oregon has been ambushed on the 205 bridge. If they're captured, their souls will be usurped by Addin control. Then Cho will be on her own in this secret world war that can never be won. At least two of her closest friends are dead, the man she loves is at the epicenter of the danger and the one who carries the first hope in a thousand years is lost, almost certainly killed in a rain of bullets. 

Hope is a fragile thing and fear is constant companion. It's the twenty-first century, right now, in America and everything looks just fine on the surface. But a clandestine force controls the highest seats of power and will stop at nothing to stamp out resistance. The ancient Meikan people, like Cho, have lived in terror of the Addin for generations, and those who dare to stand up to its power are shunned as outlaws by their own people. Then a mere girl fulfilled an almost forgotten prophecy and hope briefly flowered in unlikely places. But does a giant even notice the crushing of a single flower? One girl is easy enough to kill.

And the featured author of the week is... oops!

And the featured author this week on the Goodreads PFDR board is... 

OOPS!

Wait a minute here...

That wasn't supposed to happen yet. I'm not ready yet! Mys second book isn't out yet. I'm not ready! Oh well, no arguing with the gods of Goodreads. 

Yup, you guessed it. The featured author this week is yours truly. 

As a mark of my gratitude to all the wonderful readers at Goodreads I'm putting The Soul and the Seed on sale for 99 cents for just this week on Amazon. So, if there was ever a time to tell all your friends on Facebook and Twitter about it, now is the time. 

This week also happens to be Mabon week, which is the time of thanksgiving in our family. Now, how timely is that? 

I am grateful to all the Goodreads members who are spreading the word about this intense, amazing book that I was so honored to birth into the world. Thank you also to my family and friends who have tirelessly helped with technical details, advance reading and spreading the word.

Beyond that I am astounded into gratitude every day by the fact that I was given this idea, these words, this chance and the time to write it down. It was a gift of the universe and spirit, if anything ever was. The idea brewed for many years but the characters came like real people, telling me their stories. So, I am thankful to whatever it is that gave me this gift - goddess, spirit or my own luck of the draw in life experience. I have many gifts that can't be taken for granted, a husband who works a steady job, so that I don't have to work extra long hours like so many women today. I have a snug home and good fortune in health.

A recent calamity at a friend's home - one of those completely unpredictable things that could happen any day to any of us and leave harm that will last a lifetime - has reminded me to give thanks every day that disaster doesn't strike.  I have just finished writing a final chapter for Book 3 of the Kyrennei Series and that is a sentiment that comes out in the story as well - that simplest of gratitude, the miracle of another day of peace and wholeness.

I don't take this moment for granted.

And thank you for reading because then I am never alone.

Sneak a Peek at Book 2 of the Kyrennei Serieis - Work-in-Progress Blog Tour

I was nominated by author Sarah Queen  for the Work In Progress Blog Tour. This is where authors post about their current work in progress, divulge the first sentences of the first three chapters of their next book, and nominate several other authors to do the same.

So, here goes...

The second book in the Kyrennei Series is called The Fear and the Solace. This is the sequel to The Soul and the Seed. Reviewers have said they are anxiously awaiting this sequel, to which I can now say, "Almost there!" The Fear and the Solace should be published in about two weeks. The text is undergoing copyediting at a secret location in the Mid West and the cover is being polished to a high gloss.

For those who don't know, the Kyrennei Series is a contemporary fantasy thriller with dystopian elements. The world of the story looks just like today's world and the setting is the Pacific Northwest. But a clandestine force usurps the wills and desires of individuals, forcing them to pursue more power for those already in power. The problems of our modern world can easily be blamed on this premise and readers find themselves looking over their shoulders and shivering, much as I did when reading George Orwell's 1984 all those years ago. It can be disconcerting when the dystopia is a bit too close for comfort.

The primary character is Aranka Miko, a girl from the small town of La Grande, Oregon, who finds out the hard way that a fluke in her genes makes her a threat to the those who hold real power in today's world. First, she is imprisoned and forced to watch as others like her are killed. To escape, Aranka falls in with a group of desperate outlaws from every corner of the globe. They are at turns endearing and ruthless but they represent her only hope to escape from torture and death. Then an ambush separates Aranka from her new friends, including one who she might just love.

This is where The Fear and the Solace begins. The modern-day freedom fighters known as J. Company despair of finding Aranka alive and she has come to be the symbol of their greatest hope. Aranka is stranded with every possible authority hunting her. And she is physically different from everyone around her. She can't easily hide. 

Readers of The Soul and the Seed may be interested to know that this time you get to hear from some other intriguing characters - both Cho and Rick, for instance. You also get to explore settings beyond the United States. But I won't spoil anything for you. You will get to read it soon enough.

As I said, it's coming in about two weeks. Here is something to tease you with... as promised, the initial sentences of the first three chapters.

Chapter 1

The smell of late summer dust bit sharply inside my nose as I walked cross the gravel courtyard toward Jace’s office... 

Chapter 2

It was a Saturday morning at the tail end of September...

Chapter 3

I couldn't quite believe that I was still both alive and free... 

My heartfelt thanks to Sarah Queen for tagging me for this. It's fun and a great way to get to know authors. Here is Sarah's post about her new upcoming book Evergreen.  It sounds like a thought-provoking science fiction / fantasy. 

Now it is my turn to nominate some fellow authors to disclose some tantalizing tidbits about what they're working on. 

Morgan Daimler - I must say I was astounded by Morgan's book Murder Between the Worlds. I am not a mystery reader and the title totally turned me off. I only read it because it was supposed to have really interesting Pagan themes and I'll undergo almost anything (even formulaic mystery, I suppose) for that. How glad I was that I gave it a chance! This is not a formulaic mystery. It's fascinating speculative fiction about what might happen if the human world and the legendary world of Faerie were to partially merge. There is a murder mystery in the plot but there is much much more - great modern fantasy atmosphere, wonderful prose, lovable characters, realistic dialogue - in short, all the things I find in such short supply in fiction. I have been so overloaded with work these past few months that it is very hard to get my attention (as my children know all too well) and this was the only book to really succeed in the past three months. I am very interested to see what Morgan will do next.

Debbie Behan - Debbie writes science fiction adventure with a fun atmosphere and the lore of Greek gods liberally mixed in. Her Lord of the Planets series starts with Home Worlds. She gets bonus points because my dear husband Dusan wishes she would have her books translated into Czech, so that he could read them. She gets good karma points for being an indie author who reaches out a hand to other indie authors, including those who are brand new and have few credentials... like, ahem... me. I wonder what she'll reveal about her next book.

Lauren Shelton - I don't know Lauren as well yet but she is an intriguing fantasy author who has spent a lot of her life dreaming up her fantasies, just as I did. Her book The Hybrid also deals with myths and legends and their intersections with modern society. I see now that I have managed to create a pattern here. I didn't mean to but it is just as well and it may be a sign of the times. I am curious to see what Lauren will write next.

Okay, you three. TAG! You're it.

Here are the "rules."

You write a blog post about your work in progress and include the first sentences of the first three chapters (at least as they stand at the moment). You link back to me and you link to several other authors who you nominate. Traditionally, you nominate four. I tried but it seems that most of my author friends are either too early in the process or a bit secretive about their WIPs, so I nominate three for now. Good luck!

 

 

 

 

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.