Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Nifty Newly, featuring Ruth Crook

Some authors have a gift for natural-sounding dialogue that makes the rest of us jealous. Ruth Crook is one of those authors. I met her briefly at Southern Virginia University before I graduated, and as I read through her sample for this interview I couldn't help but wish I'd gotten to learn more from her before I left. She definitely has something to share with the world. That said, let me introduce you to my friend, Ruth Crook.

What's the title of the book you're working on? It doesn't have a name yet. Working vague idea is 'my dragon book;' because I only have one so far.

How many books have you written? Published/unpublished? What genre? I've got at least three completed manuscripts, two of which are co-written. All of them are fantasy, one also somewhat meta-fiction.

What inspires you, as a writer? Music, great stories of any medium, friends who enjoy brainstorming. Sometimes random life experiences that suddenly seem to fit characters that may or may not have been there before.

How do you come up with names? Depends. Sometimes I go research mode and go to sites like Other times I just throw random letters together until something feels right or gives me an idea of a personality. Also looking at credits of movies is fun.

How do you come up with ideas? See my inspiration. Oh and research. I love doing research on something pertinent at the time, whether it be sharks or a historical event or new technologies. Everything has a part in a story; the question is which one is yours.

Why is originality important in fiction? Or is it important? Originality is making someone think about something in a way they haven't before. It is important because it will make the story mean something to the person who reads it. It is also not the only important thing, because almost no perspective has not been covered before. It is just how many people do you manage to help see things anew?

What would you consider a good example of originality in your fiction? Um... Well the main character in my dragon book has a horrible stutter that partially drives some of the anticipation and actual plot. I haven't seen a lot of that problem in fantasy.
Another might be... One of the manuscripts has a character who is really ambiguously neutral except for their own self interest, but does care about others, but also manipulates them to help protect them?
Or the fact that one of my villains is a rather horrible person to all except his daughter, who he still isn't great to and doesn't hide the fact that he's a murderer, but she still manages to have normal morals and they love each other in a great father/daughter way? Somehow?
I suppose if you generalize it all sounds done before. But it is the perspective I enjoy sharing that could perhaps be original.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Ruth! Please support Ruth by checking out the excerpt below, after which you'll find a link to some of her fan-fiction. 

Excerpt from Ruth's 'Dragon Book,' Title TBD. 
NOTE: The following excerpt is not from a finalized draft; all content is subject to change. 

“You sound… tired, Grehsn.”

“Graysen,” he automatically corrected, then swallowed. “I-if you please, Lady Almyra.”

“Right, Graysen.” She glanced out the cave. “The sun is getting lower. Come back tomorrow and I will have something for you to do.”

Graysen blinked and chewed his lip. “…R-right. Of course.” He had forgotten to ask if she needed anything today. But he would probably spend the next ten minutes trying to get the sentence out.

“Yes. G-good day, Lady Almyra.” He bowed gratefully, and left.

As he left the clearing, he saw the remains of the bonfire again and heaved a sigh to himself. He’d meant to bring up the embers, the smoke, how she would attract attention. He should actually probably bring that up. He considered going back-


He jumped, fell over, and scrambled to get near a tree. Breath heaving, he looked and saw Pieter somewhat close. He relaxed a bit, trying to get his breathing easier again.
“P-Pieter! Pieter, wow, um. You… you scared me.”
“I scared you?” Pieter scoffed. “Yeah; and you are a clodded lucky idiot! That… was what I think it was? In the cave?”

Graysen’s heart rate flew. “W-what do- do you think- um, what-”

“A dragon, Graysen!” Pieter hissed, coming close.

Too much, too soon. Graysen felt faint.

“… Graysen?” Pieter asked, sounding a bit distant.

Graysen breathed a bit, thankful he was already on the ground, closed his eyes, focused. Breathed again.
“Um… O-ookay. S-sorry. Ah... what?”

“I said, a dragon,” Pieter repeated. “And you were talking to it. So no fainting on me because that won’t work. I will wait.”

He sat down to prove his point, watching Graysen.

Graysen had been so tired and muddled before, but this, Pieter’s gaze, set him on edge again, though didn't clear any thoughts. Graysen looked everywhere else, trying to find an escape, trying to find an excuse not to talk about it, about her. The dragon. Lady Almyra. Was that even a proper way to address a dragon? She wasn’t a lady, was she? Or maybe she was- why was he worrying about that now?


He cleared his throat, put a hand through his hair, breathed again. Glanced nervously at Pieter.

“Y-you… you heard? Saw?”

“Heard. And saw, a little. I’ve not gotten too close, tried to stay downwind.”

Graysen nodded, thankful for that, still not focusing well. “Um… How did- W-why- Um. Y-you’re here. Why?”

“Answer me first, Graysen. That is a dragon? And not some… I don’t know, a… strange… bear, or something?”

He sighed, obviously not even believing himself.

Graysen shook his head. “Sh-she’s real. Definitely. I… I- there were flames. Once, maybe twice. And- and the fire was gr—” Oh. The embers. He swallowed. “… Did you… see it? Smoke?”

“What? Where?”


“Oh, you mean the bonfire outside the cave? Yeah, that certainly got my attention a day or so ago. I figured it might be something to do with the festival, since it was kind-of closer to town than we were— I was asked to look into it, though no one is real worried about it. Well, they aren’t right now. They will be when I tell them.”

His face was somber.

“N-no, no! No, Pieter!” Graysen grabbed his friend’s shoulders. “No, please-- Y-you can’t. Please, don’t- don't d-”

“Graysen!” Pieter glared at him, confused. “It’s a dragon! You can’t just- just hide it! Especially in a forest! Close to town!”

“She’s not- She- Aaaahh…” Graysen floundered. Pieter couldn’t go gather people right now, when Graysen still had no idea why she was there, what she wanted. “Pieter, please.”

“Why?” Pieter demanded. “You aren’t making sense, Graysen!”



“The dragon! Lady Almyra! She- she’s the dragon. She’s… here, for… I don’t know. But- but I’m trying to… to find out. She’s… um, asked me to… to do things for her. Sort-of.”

“Graysen…” Pieter said. “I’ve never heard of a dragon in the forest. Or speaking. Now I've just seen both, but-”

“And she’s not done anything!” Graysen interjected. “Other than… than boil leaves! And- maybe eat a-a deer or something!”

“Graysen, she’s a dragon,” Pieter repeated, looking his friend in the eyes. “Even if she talks. Even if she hasn’t done anything so far. Even if- wait. What sort of things does she ask you to do?”
Graysen  shrugged. “I don’t know, just… things! I-I've gotten leaves for her, those pots I asked for, a-a bell…”

Pieter gave him a strange look, but Graysen just shook his head.

“I-I… don’t know, understand, much. Yet. But… I-I’m trying. And… I think- she’s getting used to me. Um. She hasn’t eaten me, at least. Even... when I brought Duncan.”

“You brought your dog?”

Graysen grimaced. “Once. Father insisted.”

“Your father knows?!”

“No! No, no, nobody knows!” Graysen insisted. “N-nobody- at all! Just… just me.”

Pieter looked at him incredulously.

Graysen sobered a bit. “If- if I just came to you, and said I’d found a dragon, would you believe me?”

Pieter rolled his lips.

“And said- that I talked with her?”

“Okay fine,” Pieter said, letting Graysen go. “Point. But…”

He looked back in the cave’s direction.

“But…” he looked back at Graysen, confused. “How are you still alive?”

“I-I told you,” Graysen said. “She… she’s asking me to- to do things for her. Because… I don’t know. Um. But… but she is. Has.”


“I don't know!”

“Right. Sorry. I mean…” Pieter trailed off, rubbing his neck, then shook his head and sighed. “Okay. Fine. But… why haven’t you, you know, tried… doing something?”

“I am!”

“I mean, you know, acting on something, or-”

Graysen looked at him despairingly.

“… Okay right. You. Alone. And… dragon. Dragon.” He sighed. “Wow.”

“Look, I’m- I’m trying to find out why she’s here, but… but it’s hard. And- and she’s not really… Um… Helpful?”

He grimaced. That wasn't the right word.

“She’s a dragon, Graysen.”

“I heard you the first fifty times!” Graysen snapped.

Pieter raised his eyebrows.

Graysen looked down, slightly red, from all of who knew what.


Pieter went on. “Okay, so… it’s- she’s a dragon. With a name? …Did you-”

“No,” Graysen cut him off. “She gave me her name. She does talk.”

“… Lady?”

Graysen turned more red. “W-well, that part I added. Because… well… she sounded… noble? I mean, how do you address a dragon?”

Pieter grimaced. “Right. Well… does she seem, I don’t know, hungry? Or… flame-ish?”

“No. Wait. What?”

“I don’t know. Does she seem about to attack anything?” Pieter asked, gesturing.


“Are you sure?”

Graysen threw his hands up.

“I don’t know!  I-I don’t exactly have- experience in this kind of thing! Do you?”

“No… Right.” Pieter sighed again, ran a hand over his head. “What- ...We should go to Lord Straub- But Lord Blodgett is there too. Felsen! I doubt Lord Blodgett would do anything to help.”

“W-well, he might-”

“No, because even if he did, he'd then take credit and place blame and we’d end up with an even worse monster, over both lands.” Pieter retorted.

And then Graysen practically saw an idea hit his friend. “P-Pieter…?”

“Graysen… How… ‘reasonable’ is this dragon?”


“Tell me.”





Graysen sighed. “She… I don’t know. I- I can sort-of talk with her… but, not- not… um, I don’t know about reasonably.  Though, that is probably because… w-well.” He shrugged. “Me.”

“Then, do you think that someone else could-”

“Pieter no.” Graysen interrupted, eyes wide. “No g-going and talking to her! No!”

“Graysen, if she’s reasonable, then maybe-”

“Pieter! Listen to yourself!” Graysen plead, grasping Pieter’s arms.

“And listen to yourself, Graysen!” Pieter retorted. “You’re defending a dragon with a proper name and everything! Trying to... keep her hidden! And not doing a great job at it, either!”

Graysen turned red and looked down, but didn’t let go of Pieter. “… Pieter, she- I don’t- I don’t know what she’ll do with other people. With- with people, really.”

“… Well, what kind of mood was she in when you left?”


“Just now. When you left.”

“Um, not- not bad, but-”

Pieter shook Graysen’s hand off and stood up.

“But Pieter! She, um, she… seemed tired! A-and… grumpy! Yes, mad at the world. Not safe.”
Pieter ignored him.

“Pieter, I- I’m not- I don’t-” Graysen scrambled up and grabbed Pieter’s arm again.

Pieter looked at him, face set.

“Graysen. We are desperate. Lord Blodgett is a blot on the land with his own name, and now he’s trying to expand that to your land. Don’t you want to do something about it?”

Graysen’s mouth opened and closed.

“Usually we can’t, I know. It’s the lords that own the land and the merchants who run it. But maybe, just maybe, we can. Maybe this is The Great One sending us help!”

Graysen looked at him dubiously.

“I- I don’t- I mean, Pieter… I don’t think that- that the Great One… uses dragons.”

“Well? Do you have a better idea?”

“Well, maybe… um.” Maybe dragons weren’t what people always thought they were. Although he still had no evidence for that. He was still very afraid that she was just what everyone said dragons were. But she hadn’t been so far, not in the least. Except for the frightening bit. She definitely did that. Although it wasn’t as if she had to try very hard.

“I’m going, Graysen,” Pieter pulled out of Graysen’s grasp.

Graysen watched, his mouth taut as his friend strode towards the cave. Then, he tackled Pieter.

If you enjoyed this and would like to experience more of Ruth Crook's writing, please check out Simply a Backstory, a work of Princess Tutu fan-fiction, available here:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Nifty Newly, featuring David Gowey

David is an author I look up to. He has this self-publishing thing down, and I think part of the key is that he has a compelling style and a tone that encourages reader trust. I'm sure it helps that he knows his way around the best publishing and promotional platforms. For a take on originality that rings of personal experience, please welcome David Gowey.

What's the title of the book you're working on? That's the big question, isn't it? I usually end up working on too many things at once and gradually finish one or another. Instead of listing all of those, I'll just say that the one I should be working on is The Work of Souls, which is the sequel to my first book.

How many books have you written? Published/unpublished? What genre? I've written and self-published two so far. Kaschar's Quarter is novel-length fantasy and First Instance is novella-length science fiction, though I might extend the latter at some point. The third, a fantasy novelette called Jire, is unpublished but will probably go up on Amazon in the next few weeks. [Jire is available now! Click on the image below.]

Kaschar's Quarter (The Default King Book 1)     First Instance     Jire

What inspires you, as a writer? I've always been telling some story or another, whether it's doing voiceovers with LEGO as a kid or doing something a bit more complex now as a graduate student. What I really want to get at is creating character experiences that feel authentically human, and putting them in a world that seems not so far removed from our own. It's about taking the weird things that go on inside my imagination and breaking them down into little chunks that characters can relate to in their own unique ways, and letting readers feel like they're peeking in on something real.

How do you come up with names? Usually, it's to fit the feel that I want each society in the story to have, or what Earth society I want it to bring to the reader's mind. This is done through either using a list (say, Spanish men's names) and changing them slightly to also give a feeling of newness with the familiarity. I also derive some from constructed languages, like how Jire's name means “red” and this has some implications about her characterization.

How do you come up with ideas? What I try to do in my stories is find some balance between relatable characters and unique situations. These situations usually come from reading history and trying to put myself in them, which then gets turned into a character. A recent example was reading about the Mt Tambora eruption in 1815, and trying to see what that aftermath would entail for a character who was really just a regular guy. There was no way for him to save the world, fix things by fighting against anthropomorphized forces of nature, or really change much at all except how he reacted to something that he only somewhat understood. I guess this could be a clue as to why not many of my stories have happy endings.

Why is originality important in fiction? Or is it important? What would you consider a good example of originality in your fiction? Originality is only as good as the execution, and the same can be said about being unoriginal. It would be easy to make just another fantasy story about talking dragons, dwarves, and halflings (not hobbits, though, since at least that word is copyrighted) but what's more difficult is for the author to make a good case that their story is different. Changing up the set dressing, as in pulling from a variety of sources beyond just the standard medieval/Renaissance Western Europe fantasy ideal is one way to do this, although it requires a lot of research to present non-Western (or really, unfamiliar) societies and culture in a way that isn't cheap or exploitative.

Thank you so much, David! I'm reading Jire right now, and I've been really enjoying the tight prose and thoughtful characterization. If you would like to learn more about David Gowey, check out his stories, or keep up to date on all his latest projects, you can check out his Amazon page here:

And here's his blog! Along with a number of writing excerpts for your reading pleasure:

The following excerpt is taken from “Waiting on the Rain”, a short story you can find in its entirety here

It always rained on Lorakast. Something about the orbital distance or screwy atmospheric modeling, they’d said in the preliminary report on the way here, but there had to be more to it than that. Years in the business had taught Rell that much. She watched the rain pattering and pinging off the thick window that separated her from death by hypoxia and wondered where they’d gone wrong. Interplanetary Resources Incorporated only sent upper-level inspectors like herself when something had gone wrong, so it was her first assumption. But the colonial governor wasn’t cooperating, and that made things tricky.

She’d been in situations like this before. There was the riot a couple years ago, where the Thevashi ambassador had thrown such a fit over IRI’s installation on Gasin b that only the threat of RSA navy support had called off what promised to be a slugfest in orbit between prospector escorts and a surprisingly large contingent of alien scouts and their human buddies. Rell could deal with aliens and had on plenty of occasions; it was her fellow humans for whom she couldn’t find an ounce of patience.

Nothing had gotten out of hand. The translators had done their job with consoling the vaguely ursine attackers that this wasn’t just a smash-and-grab operation by IRI, that the terraforming operations were proceeding on schedule to bring about a human-tolerable atmosphere and not just a Thevashi-intolerable one. By the end of the little scuffle, the aliens packed up and headed home, appeased but not for long. What bothered Rell the most was that some people out there still thought she was some kind of monster.

And for what? For accelerating nitrogen production on a cyanide-and-sulfur wasteland that not even a Josikan would look at twice? For pushing out a bunch of claim-jumpers like the Thevashi whose only dog in the colonization fight was getting there first, and not preserving natural habitats as they claimed? And natural habitats for what? The only things alive on Gasin b were extremophilic bacteria that were already found across half the system anyway. Let the xenobiologists—and yes, Rell would still call them that, no matter how often she was told it was insensitive—take their samples and move on. It wasn’t like they were paving over Ryosh c, for heaven’s sake. Her boss might even balk at that one.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Nifty Newly, featuring Cassiopeia L. Fletcher

Destined to be one of the coolest names in fiction, Cassiopeia is also an old friend and former classmate from Southern Virginia University. She helped me beta-read my first book a couple years ago, and right now I'm beta-reading one of hers. I'm excited to share with you her take on originality, idea-generation, and inspiration, but I'm even more excited to see the book she shared with me in print. Let me introduce you to Cassiopeia L. Fletcher.

What's the title of the book you're working on? I have an attention span problem so I’m always working seriously on several books at a time. I’m currently focused on two specifically: The World Over and The Book of Ages.

How many books have you written? Published/unpublished? What genre? Three, none yet published. One was a superhero book, one a science-fiction thriller, and the third a chicklit romance.

What inspires you, as a writer? I never know until I’m inspired. I suppose it’s cliché to say ‘life itself,’ but that’s generally it.

How do you come up with names? It’s hard to say. Most of the names I have for characters started so long ago that I can’t remember where they came from. I do know that most of the time, especially for main characters, the name just sort of happens. In those cases, I often have ‘filler’ names before the ‘real’ name manifests through my writing while other times the name and character come before the story itself. On very rare occasions, I look for names in a babyname book or app that has the meaning I’m trying to convey. Of course, if I’m writing High Fantasy, I usually just make up a name, but I always try to assign that name a meaning in the language it originates from.

How do you come up with ideas? Ideas are a lot like names for me; they usually just appear. Sometimes I pull them from a dream, other times from a TV show or movie that had an abandoned plot-thread that I thought needed explored, and a lot of the times through conversations with family and friends that pull up ‘what if’s or ‘wouldn’t it be cool’s.

Why is originality important in fiction? Or is it important? I am in the school of thought that there is no such thing as an original story. All of the greatest tropes and narrative arcs have been done since the very beginning of human literature and so there is very little to be written—if anything—that is truly ‘original’. Even those few stories that have never been done before aren’t really original, they’re just too boring for anyone to want to read. That being said, originality in fiction is very important, not in spite of the lack of original stories, but because of it. Readers have an emotional connection with the things they read and that connection is what makes them want to keep reading. Having a story that everyone can connect with—boy meets girl, girl hates boy, boy and girl fall in love, break up, get back together and live happily ever after—makes it easier to create a narrative that people find interesting and characters that they want to root for. What makes each individual story unique is not the story itself; it’s the way it’s told.

What would you consider a good example of originality in your fiction? I like shaking up the common tropes just enough to surprise. For instance, if I have a character that is well loved by both the people in the story and the readers of the story, I’m probably going to kill them (assuming it’s the kind of story where that makes sense) or put them in some sort of peril that makes it very possible that they will die. Not because I like hurting my characters, but because it creates an emotional reaction in readers that resonates. Even when I’m not killing characters, I’m still trying to create a strong emotional context between my characters, their situations, and the readers, because as long as the reader is invested in what is happening, the situation is unique and original, no matter how cliché or routine the story may be.

Thanks again, Cassie! If you would like to learn more about Cassiopeia's work and keep up to date on her writing projects, you can check out her blog here:

Excerpt from the first chapter of Book of Ages: 

Alexis came back from the dead with a friend. At least, that’s what he kept calling himself. He appeared as a soothing voice that echoed through her lethargic brain, wrapping her up in mental arms to comfort and protect her. At first his words were indecipherable, just a meaningless murmur whispered insistently, the way a parent would try to reassure an inconsolable child, repeating the same strain over and over and over.
It was not your fault. It was not your fault. It was not your fault.
It was weeks before Alexis was coherent enough to understand the words.
It would be years yet before she believed them. If she ever did.
Of course, Alexis knew that Emrys wasn’t real. He was a subconscious manifestation she had created in the wake of having her entire life deconstructed in one horrible, world crushing moment. A manifestation that Dr. Harris had promised would be reabsorbed in time. Though how much time was anyone’s guess. It had already been six years.
Maybe her new therapist would have a more solid hypothesis. Supposing she ever got around to finding one. Despite the constant companionship of her neurological guest—or maybe even because of it—Alexis didn’t appreciate the idea of someone poking around in her head. Not even a trained psychologist. Her mind and thoughts were her own.
Alexis shook her head and stepped back to admire her handiwork. The sky-blue paint on her new apartment’s wall was hardly visible behind the masterful collage of black framed photos that now covered it. She had originally planned to use the silver frames she brought from home, but the large picture window allowed copious amounts of light to bathe her picture-wall at nearly every hour of the day. The glass would reflect enough sunlight without adding metallic frames into the mix.
Emrys grunted, as he always did when he disapproved. Early in their relationship, Alexis would have fallen into a tirade against his apparent lack of enthusiasm for her family, but their time together had soothed her temper in most ways. If not all ways.
“What has your knickers in a twist?” she asked, taking a jab at Emrys’s inexplicable British accent. She pulled her mass of blonde curls away from her sweaty face and neck with a groan. Hair-ties were clearly a must in this awful place.
Must you be so vulgar? Emrys asked in his detached, almost echoing voice.
“That was hardly vulgar, you old prude,” she bit back, resisting the urge to smile at their usual banter. Ironically, despite being a vivid reminder of her failing mental health, Emrys and his ever-present complaints had become the only source of stability, and even normalcy, that Alexis had in her life. On a good day, she might even admit that he made her feel sane. Or at least not completely insane.
“Well?” she asked again.
You know what I think, Emrys returned, his disembodied voice decidedly bitter. It is what I have thought since you first concocted this…ludicrous idea.
“Doth my ears deceive me?” Alexis asked, though she knew full well that she couldn’t physically hear him. “The Neuron Cloud is questioning my sanity?” She pressed the back of her hand to her forehead and feigned a swoon. “Oh the humanity!”
She could almost feel Emrys bristle at her mocking and she imagined how he must look, sulking from her tone. Obviously, as an insubstantial (and psychological) being, Emrys couldn’t be seen. But there were moments, especially now with the sun streaming in through the large, black paned window, that Alexis would almost swear she could see him as he might have been.
It was a faint image, more of an outline really, of a tall, athletic man with dark skin and shaggy, light colored hair. He stared past her, almost glaring at her collage, his arms folded resentfully as he stood with his broad back to the window. As if sensing her eyes, Emrys looked away from the picture covered wall and caught her gaze with a frown. His eyes glowed gold in the sunlight reflected off her mass of glass-faced frames.

Alexis blinked and the image disappeared. All that greeted her was a merciless flood of red sun.