Interview with Melissa McPhail, Author of Fantasy Epic: Cephrael’s Hand

31 12 2012

1. Your debut novel, Cephrael’s Hand was the winner of The Written Arts Award for both the best fiction and the best Sci-Fi/Fantasy categories–congratulations! So tell us, what was the inspiration behind this story, and can you tell us a little bit about it?

I started the first version of <em>Cephrael’s Hand when I was going through a difficult time in my life. I needed the cathartic joy that I’d always found in writing. I didn’t set out to write a novel—just to write. That first draft had no planning, no world-building, no design. It was pure creative inspiration. And it was awful!

But the characters… I had brought them into being, and they insisted that they had a story to tell. It took my growing as a writer—and over a million words tossed into the trash—to finally tell their story properly.

Cephrael’s Hand</em> is the result of a philosopher’s approach to fantasy. It’s the story of one man’s steadfast determination to save the realm he swore to protect, and his willingness to do anything it takes to accomplish that end—even to betray those he loves. It’s the story of the unlikely pieces (men and women) who unknowingly fall beneath his shadow, and of the players who follow him. Ultimately, it’s a story of salvation.

I see fantasy as a metaphor for life in this world. We all face tests of our honor. We’re all working to accomplish our goals and flourish and prosper. Few of us set out to do evil. Yet evil is done. Goals are abandoned. Integrity is compromised. We totter precariously on thin wires as we move through the labyrinth of life. I strive with my series to illuminate those wire-thin paths, that we might find solid ground beneath them.

2. Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open Cephrael’s Hand?

If you listen to my critics—too many characters! But this is an epic fantasy dealing with a conflict that spans multiple kingdoms. It takes a team to save the world. 😉

Hopefully you’ll meet interesting characters and a world you can easily find your own place within.  You’ll discover pirates, princes, star-crossed lovers and philosopher-soldiers. You’ll see many characters who are not as they appear, and a few who are exactly as they seem. You’ll find adventure on a perilous road with prince Ean val Lorian, and farcical escapades with Trell of the Tides and the pirate Carian vran Lea.

You’ll often wonder who is good and who is evil—because most villains in real life are cloaked in shades of gray.

3. Can you tell us more about some of the key concepts that inspired the world of Cephrael’s Hand

The story is crafted out of many of the philosophies I’ve studied. As I was planning Cephrael’s Hand, I had been reading about game philosophy. Game philosophy speaks on the importance of games in our lives and takes a look at their composition (barriers, purposes and freedoms) and their anatomy (pieces, players, maker of games). It’s a compelling concept with abundant applications, and I became immediately interested in exploring the ideas more via the story of Cephrael’s Hand.

Balance is another concept that threads throughout the story. Exploration of this idea comes out of my study and practice of yoga. If ever a concept permeates our lives, the pursuit of balance is one. Whether seeking to balance work and parenthood, our social commitments and our private lives, or even just the juggle of that list of a thousand things we’ll never get to, every one of us is seeking balance in some fashion. Placing this concept within the framework of a fantasy story embellishes it with a magical lure.

4. The Cephreal’s Hand constellation plays an important role in the book. Is there a real life constellation that plays a similarly important role in your life? 

I can’t say that a particular constellation is important to me personally, though I’ve studied Astrology for many years. But I’m drawn to the idea, both scientifically and philosophically, that we are all connected somehow with each other and the broader universe. String Theory and General Relativity play to this idea from the perspective of science. Certainly, if we are connected to the stars in some esoteric way, then the actions of the stars can impact us. Astrology believes this, and the graphing of natal charts proves an underlying truth in this ancient, mystical and often misunderstood science. Philosophies far and wide declare that we’ve descended or separated from a universal oneness and teach karmic values with the intent of helping us return or re-ascend to that harmonious state.

The concept of Balance in Cephrael’s Hand stems from this idea of universal connectivity.

5. Ever since a linguist named Tolkien came along, language has been a very important aspect of the epic fantasy genre. What inspired the various languages in Cephrael’s Hand

The desert languages are based on Farsi or Arabic, depending on the tribe. Farsi is one of the oldest  languages still in use today, and its traditions lent themselves well to the Kandori culture, which is one of Alorin’s oldest races. Likewise Arabic, being originally a language of the nomadic tribes, seemed the correct base from which to draw the language of the Akkad.

Even older than both of these languages in my novel is Old Alaeic, which is the original language of the angiel, the Maker’s blessed children, and of the two original races: the zanthyrs and the drachwyr. Old Alaeic draws primarily from Gaelic root words. I chose Gaelic because the language maintains some of the earliest roots of our Indo-European linguistic heritage. Its spellings and pronunciations are almost universally reminiscent of mythological beings from ancient times and are often associated, especially in the fantasy genre, with elves, Druids or other mystical races.

6.  Which other authors have served as influences and inspiration for your own work?

I love lyrical writing, so my bookshelves host an eclectic mix (albeit heavily weighted with fantasy and science fiction). Those who first come to mind from the fantasy genre are Anne Rice, Patrick Rothfuss and Jacqueline Carey, all of whom carry on a great and fabulous romance with the English language, much to the ecstasy of millions. Being able to string words like pearls into a story that reads at times like poetry in motion seems the greatest pinnacle of storytelling skill.

7. It’s been said that one of the most time-consuming processes of writing epic fantasy is world building.  Without giving too much away, what are a few of your favorite world aspects and what inspired them?

As I wrote in a recent guest post, world-building and the magic system developed for the world are intimately connected. We can’t really describe a fantasy world without talking about the magic that rules it, because so much of what we understand about the world derives from our understanding of how the physical laws of the world work.

In creating my world of Alorin, I established five “strands” of the lifeforce known as <i>elae</i>. These strands are a way of describing and codifying the lifeforce which is the source of energy in the world, but they are only one way of describing it. While most of the viewpoints I am writing from agree with describing the lifeforce in terms of “strands,” there are other races in Alorin who have codified it differently, darkly, or with less purity for lack of philosophical simplicity.

I love exploring different viewpoints and imagining how each would describe a universal energy. I love examining the cultures that seek to describe this energy and how their ideals might alter their understanding of it. For example, the Adept race believes that Adepts are born with the ability to work one of the five strands, but only one. Yet some of the “Wildling” races are known to be able to innately work more than one strand.

The Fhorgs race works blood sacrifice to fuel their magic. Would their magic work without such sacrifice? The Adepts believe that it would. Yet within the Adept philosophy, a working of magic requires faith both in the existence of power and in one’s ability to manipulate it. If the Fhorgs don’t believe themselves able to wield the lifeforce without letting blood, it follows that magic would become unavailable to them simply because of their lack of belief. Moreover, because the Fhorgs don’t limit their ideas of their magical ability to a five strand approach, it’s possible they might achieve more through the wielding of it–or not. These are existential questions for these two races, questions which set them at odds with each other. Questions from which derive conflicts and persecutions, intrigues and betrayals.

Such explorations fuel both world-building and magic-system building, because their delineation establishes how the world works, how the people of the world interact with the energy that fuels it, how they interact with each other, and how they use the energy itself to work arcane acts.

8. You grew up in a house full of musicians, but your creativity emerged in the form of writing. Have you always felt called to write?

I always thought I would end up with a career in music like the rest of my family. I grew up harboring such an appreciation of these accomplished, classical musicians all around me, it seemed a natural course to follow in their footsteps.

Instead, I stumbled into writing the way one sometimes bumps into providence, colliding with it accidentally. I happened to take a creative writing class in high school. My creative writing instructor believed the best way to teach writing was to send her students out to actually write. So I did—hundreds of pages over the next few years. Writing became both an outlet for my creativity and the escape reading had always provided. I know I share that love affair with many authors.

9. At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?

Usually I turn to music—either composing it or listening to it. If I can find a great new song, sometimes that will help inspire me out of the hole. When a scene just isn’t working, I’ve learned to go back to where I was last doing well in the story and scrap everything that came after. It’s an agonizing process, but often necessary.

10. The Dagger of Adendigaeth, Book 2 in your series, has just been published. How has your vision expanded from book 1 to book 2, and what kind of creative growth have you experienced in your process this second time around?

We grow as writers with every novel—at least I believe that’s the goal. Many of the things I gained in writing <em>The</em> <i>Dagger of Adendigaeth </i>are intangible, ineffable understandings of myself and my creative process. I think of those times of being fabulously, fantastically stuck and the final moment of inspiration that launched me out of that depressing well. I think of the plot twists that came to me completely without warning, and the absolute magic that is the creative process.

The thing I loved most about writing this book was being able to explore so many viewpoints—especially the viewpoints of those characters who might be viewed as antagonists. But I don’t and never have seen them that way. It’s my greatest purpose in writing this series to be able to show the motivations and ideals that mold and shape each character. The more we can understand each other, the closer to a peaceful coexistence we will find, whether in the microcosm of our lives or the broader political and religious zones.

 

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The Valley Walker by T.W. Dittmer: A Book Review « charleshenryeditingblog

30 12 2012

T. W. Dittmer

A short time ago Carolyn Elias of Charles Henry Editing asked if she could review my book, The Valley Walker.

Charles Henry Editing, as the name implies, offers editing services, but much more than that. They also offer other services for authors that are worth looking into. If you haven’t checked out their site, you really should.

By the way, Ms. Elias’ review came out today on the company’s blog site, and I’m pleased to point you in that direction.

The Valley Walker by T.W. Dittmer: A Book Review « charleshenryeditingblog.

 

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I May Be Turning Into My Characters

30 12 2012

Christopher Stocking

An interesting, and probably one of the most fun, thing about being a writer is creating, and spending so much time with various characters. We birth them, give them names and personalities. We picture what they look like, but we don’t always describe it. Sometimes we let the reader decide what the character looks like based on how they act and speak.

I’ve found that, in come cases, I spend so much time with some of these characters that I almost begin to act and speak like them. I don’t act like them so much, but more speak like them. I mean, it would be hard to act like a British airship crewman, or an inventor. However, I’ve found that sometimes I have to hold myself back from saying things that a character of mine might say.

For example, since I’ve jumped into the world of steampunk, a lot of…

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Scientific Literature

30 12 2012

Scientific literature comprises scientific publications that report original empirical and theoretical work in the natural and social sciences, and within a scientific field is often abbreviated as the literatureAcademic publishing is the process of placing the results of one’s research into the literature. Scientific research on original work initially published in scientific journals is called primary literature. Patents and technical reports, for minor research results and engineering and design work (including computer software) can also be considered primary literature. Secondary sources include articles in review journals (which provide a synthesis of research articles on a topic to highlight advances and new lines of research), and books for large projects, broad arguments, or compilations of articles. Tertiary sources might include encyclopedias and similar works intended for broad public consumption.

Scientific articles published in scientific journalsScientific literature can include the following kinds of publications:

The significance of these different components of the literature varies between disciplines and has changed over time. As of 2006, peer-reviewed journal articles remain the predominant publication type, and have the highest prestige. However, journals vary enormously in their prestige and importance, and the value of a published article depends on the journal. The significance of books, also calledresearch monographs depends on the subject. Generally books published by university presses are usually considered more prestigious than those published by commercial presses. The status of working papers and conference proceedings depends on the discipline; they are typically more important in the applied sciences. The value of publication as a preprint or scientific report on the web has in the past been low, but in some subjects, such as mathematics or high energy physics, it is now an accepted alternative.

The actual day-to-day records of scientific information are kept in research notebooks or logbooks. These are usually kept indefinitely as the basic evidence of the work, and are often kept in duplicate, signed, notarized, and archived. The purpose is to preserve the evidence for scientific priority, and in particular for priority for obtaining patents. They have also been used in scientific disputes. Since the availability of computers, the notebooks in some data-intensive fields have been kept as database records, and appropriate software is commercially available.

The work on a project is typically published as one or more technical reports, or articles. In some fields both are used, with preliminary reports, working papers, or preprints followed by a formal article. Articles are usually prepared at the end of a project, or at the end of the paper.

Often, scientific advancement depends upon publishing in high-impact journals, which, especially in hard and applied sciences, are usually published in English. Consequently, scientists with poor English writing skills are at a disadvantage when trying to publish in these journals, regardless of the quality of the scientific study itself. Yet many international universities require publication in these high-impact journals by both their students and faculty. One way that some international authors are beginning to overcome this problem is by contracting with freelance medical copy editors who are native speakers of English and specialize in ESL (English as a second language) editing to polish their manuscripts’ English to a level that high-impact journals will accept.

The nature of the content

A scientific article has a standardized structure, which varies only slightly in different subjects. Ultimately, it is not the format that is important, but what lies behind it – the content. However, several key formatting requirements need to be met:

  1. The title should be concise and indicate the contents of the article.
  2. The names and affiliation of all authors are given. In the wake of some scientific misconduct cases, publishers often require that all co-authors know and agree on the content of the article.
  3. The first part is normally an abstract; this is a one-paragraph summary of the work, and is intended to serve as a guide for determining if the articles is pertinent, and to furnish subject metadata for indexing services.
  4. The format should be archival, in the sense that libraries should be able to store and catalogue the documents and scientists years later should be able to recover any document in order to study and assess it, and there should be an established way of citing the document so that formal reference can be made to them in future scientific publication. The lack of an established archival system is one of the hurdles that World Wide Web based scientific publication has had to overcome. Reliable repositories such as arXiv or PubMed Central have been instituted, and progress is now being made on their interoperability and permanence.
  5. The content should be presented in the context of previous scientific investigations, by citation of relevant documents in the existing literature, usually in a section called an “Introduction”.
  6. Empirical techniques, laid out in a section usually called “Materials and Methods”, should be described in such a way that a subsequent scientist, with appropriate knowledge of and experience in the relevant field, should be able to repeat the observations and know whether he or she has obtained the same result. This naturally varies between subjects, and obviously does not apply to mathematics and related subjects.
  7. Similarly, the results of the investigation, in a section usually called “Results”, data should be presented in tabular or graphic form (imagechartschematicdiagram or drawing). These figures should be accompanied by a caption and referenced in the text of the article.
  8. Interpretation of the meaning of the results is usually addressed in a “Discussion” or “Conclusion” section. The conclusions drawn should be based on previous literature and/or new empirical results, in such a way that any reader with knowledge of the field can follow the argument and confirm that the conclusions are sound. That is, acceptance of the conclusions must not depend on personal authorityrhetorical skill, or faith.
  9. Finally, a “References” or “Literature Cited” section lists the sources cited by the authors in the format required by the journal.

Peer review

Though Peer review and the learned journal format are not themselves an essential part of scientific literature, they’re both convenient ways of ensuring that the above fundamental criteria are met. They are essentially a means of quality control, a term which also encompasses other means towards the same goal.

The “quality” being referred to here is the scientific one, which consists of transparency and repeatability of the research for independent verification, the validity of the conclusions and interpretations drawn from the reported data, overall importance for advance within a given field of knowledge, novelty, and in certain fields applicability as well. The lack of peer review is what makes most technical reports and World Wide Web publications unacceptable as contributions to the literature. The relatively weak peer review often applied to books and chapters in edited books means that their status is also second-tier, unless an author’s personal standing is so high that prior achievement and a continued stake in one’s reputation within the scientific community signals a clear expectation of quality.

The emergence of institutional digital repositories where scholars can post their work as it is submitted to a print-based journal has taken formal peer review into a state of flux. Though publicizing a preprint online does not prevent it from being peer reviewed, it does allow an unreviewed copy to be widely circulated. On the positive side this change has led to faster dissemination of novel work within the scientific community; on the negative it has made it more difficult to discern a valid scientific contribution from the unmeritorious.

Increasing reliance on abstracting services, especially on those available electronically, means that the effective criterion for whether a publication format forms part of the established, trusted literature is whether it is covered by these services; in particular, by the specialised service for the discipline concerned such as Chemical Abstracts Service, and by the major interdisciplinary services such as those marketed by the Institute for Scientific Information.

The concept of published articles is itself giving rise to controversy, especially as many journals refuse to publish color plates for example, and if they do, they insist that authors pay the publisher. The problem arises because of the antiquated printing equipment still widely used by many publishers, and by the need for higher quality paper. In popular magazines, color is the norm rather than the exception, as it is in computer text and articles. This is a great hindrance in many areas of research because color photographs for example, usually provide much more information than black and white photographs. Often color pictures are the only form which can be used to illustrate a point, such as blood smears in a forensic science article.

Other areas of controversy include the transfer of copyright from author to publisher, because many authors want to propagate their ideas more widely and re-use their material elsewhere without the need for permission. Usually an author or authors circumvent that problem by rewriting an article and using other pictures. Some publishers may also want publicity for their journal so will approve facsimile reproduction unconditionally; other publishers are more resistant.





Reminder: Discounted early-bird signup for October writing course

29 12 2012

lying for a living

Watermill logo

A reminder: October 5-12 I’ll be teaching a creative writing course in Italy. It’s a small, week-long seminar. Spaces are still available. And if you sign up before the end of December 2012, you can get the earlybird discount on the fee. Check it out.

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Writing Space: Steampunk Office

29 12 2012

No Wasted Ink

Steampunk Office Space



This steampunk themed office was created by Three Rings Design, Inc. Their office space is features individually customized desks, a pool table with a wall sized ‘world domination’ map, a video game room with giant squid pillows, and a secret door to the Captain’s Lounge. Read more about it at Apartment Therapy.

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Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 3, Point of View by B.Y. Rogers

29 12 2012

writemindsauthors

I called Dave King a ‘Bitch’ in an email this last week. I do hope he knows I was jesting. I had emailed him (as well as Renni Browne) that I was blogging on their book. I wanted to do so out of courtesy and both Dave and a Ross Browne were kind enough to thank me. I do believe in good manners. (Then why did I call Dave a ‘Bitch?” Because he knows what he is doing. I wish I did. Think of man talk in Gran Torino.)

Finished the second draft of “The Thrashing of Charley Little”, my next short story, last night. Todd got my cover to me this week as well. Again, I am very impressed with Todd’s graphic talent. Now it is time to put on the editing hat and give my story a life of its own. In a way, it already as its…

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