Author Interview: Nicole Petit on From the Dragon Lord’s Library

18thWall Productions is pleased to announce that From the Dragon Lord’s Library vol. 2 is now available in print. You can get your copy today on Amazon!

In honor of the occasion, we sat down with Nicole Petit to talk about the collections.

Mary Helen Norris: Tell us a bit about your love of dragons and why you chose them as the subject matter of From The Dragon Lord’s Library.

Dragon Lord's Library 2 Cover

Nicole Petit: Well, to start with, I’ve lived in Florida my whole life. I’m surrounded by reptiles. Ever since I was little I’ve been catching lizards, helping turtles cross the street, collecting snakeskin, and watching alligators wander into places they really have no business being. Then Jurassic Park swung open its gates for me, and I realized the only thing cooler than Florida’s reptiles were even larger, and sadly extinct, reptiles. It was only natural, then, for me to conclude that the only thing cooler than that would be even larger, flying, fire-breathing reptiles. And, lucky for me, I grew up with access to a library filled with stories about said fire-breathing, flying, majestic lizards. From The Dragon Lord’s Library is, partly, my way of looking for more stories to add to that grand collection, as well as share that childhood love of mine with others.

MHN: What was it like curating the collections?

NP: It was certainly an adventure!  It delighted me to find so many great authors with their wildly different takes on dragons. On several occasions it didn’t feel like work at all.  I hadn’t expected to get as many good stories as I did, to be honest. In fact, I had only expected enough for a single volume. It got to a point where I just had too many wonderful stories and couldn’t possibly pare down my list any more than I had, so I ended up begging James to let me publish two volumes.

MHN: What drew you to the stories you selected?

NP: I am a woman of very simple tastes. Did it have a dragon in it? Did I enjoy reading it? Congratulations, you’re in.

Beyond that? Variety.

There’s a wide variety of genres, themes, and styles on display in The Dragon Lord’s Library. There’s children’s stories, there’s sci-fi, there’s a western, an epic poem in the style of Beowulf (but starring dragons, which drastically improves upon the formula), fantasy, fairy tales, and more. We’ve got humor, heartbreak, adventure, etcetera, etcetera, and so forth.

MHN: Any final thoughts on From the Dragon Lord’s Library, now that the second volume has released in print?

NP: It’s been a pleasure to find and work with so many great authors. Genuinely, this is more their show than mine. I just sent out the call, they’re the ones that answered. I’m excited to see where they all go from here.

Dragon Lord's Library Cover

MHN: What authors most inspire you?

NP: Hold on let me pull out my list. It gets longer every year.

Timothy Zahn, first and foremost, is the author that made me want to be one too. His stories and his characters, especially Mara Jade, captured my imagination and compelled me to tell my own stories.

He’s not the only one to inspire me, of course. In no particular order, Brian Jacques, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Jean Kerr, Donita K. Paul, Patricia C. Wrede, A.A. Milne, Agatha Christie, John R. Erickson, and Rudyard Kipling among others have all left their impact on me in some way.

MHN: Any advice for writers?

NP: Nothing, I wager, that hasn’t been said over and over again by this point.

Write what you want to be reading, and enjoy it. It’s going to be painful and frustrating at times. You’re going to ram your head against a few brick walls, and when you do finally finish it up and hand it over to someone to read, you’re going to watch it get ripped to shreds.

Enjoy the journey. Don’t get yourself hung up on your work not being perfect, it never will be. You always have something to improve, and that’s what makes being a writer so exciting. Don’t wait until you’re a better writer to get started on that story bouncing around in your head. Start it now, get better on the way.

Find writers who are better than you and let them drown your pages in red ink and snarky remarks. Clean it all up, send it out there, get shut down over and over, and keep trying until you finally get it out there. In the end, when it finally all comes together, it’s worth it.

MHN: What’s next for Nicole Petit? I hear you have a novel coming up soon from 18thWall, would you care to drop any hints about that? Does it also involve dragons?

The Dragon Lord's Secretary

NP: As a matter of fact I do, and it does indeed involve dragons. In fact, one of those dragons happens to be the Great and Glorious Dragon Lord himself. That’s right, the one who owns that magnificent library! It’s not all about him, despite what I’m sure he’d try to tell you. He’s, rather reluctantly, sharing the spotlight with a mage who has taken it upon herself to become his secretary. If you’d like to know what they were up to in the summer of 1963, keep an eye out for The Dragon Lord’s Secretary. It’ll be coming out soon.

MHM: Thank you very much! And remember, you can get From the Dragon Lord’s Library Volume 1 and From the Dragon Lord’s Library Volume 2 in print from Amazon today, and in ebooks from this very site (Vol. 1) (Vol. 2).

Friday Inspiration: The Unfinished Book of Bleise

The Unfinished Book of Bleise

Ernest Rhys (1905)

All the battles that were won
Merlin bade his master, Bleise,
Put on parchment. Caerleon,—
Blazoned round with crimson rays
Was that page of night and sun:
And the seige of Ile Maleise,—
Black and purple, marching on.
But when he wrote the fierce assays
The Haut King had in Caledon,
The letters fought: the rampant A’s,
The S’s all awry—each one
Recall’d the burning tower of Pase,
Wherein the knights in agony spun.
For so the letters twirl’d, till Bleise
Left Merlin’s book of wars undone.
Yet fame hath still her splendent ways:
Camlan,—Cardoile,—Caerleon—
Still shall keep the Haut King’s praise
Sounding to the end of days.

If Walls Could Talk: The Art of the Murder Board

M.H. Norris

When I was involved with a web series, I was the one who would write a script and try to hide things on notes, papers, desks, wherever I could stick little hints, clues and spoilers. I’ve parted ways with that project but eventually might find another one that allows me to do that again.

But even without that project, the notes have stuck with me.

I’ve found a new writing hidey-hole here in town at the library at our local campus. The study rooms have been painted so that they allow people to write all over them in dry erase markers.

Do you know how much fun it is to plot out a novel on four walls of several-feet-taller-than-you walls?

If you do not, you really should try it sometime. After an hour, I’d made some serious ground with the mystery I’m working on, because I could see different aspects of the crime.

While working on those walls, I had my own murder board. Usually, my notes get condensed to a legal pad and (ask James) the notes for my current project are pretty thick. But there was something about being able to have it in front of me like that.

Have you noticed that murder mystery shows have a lot of “murder boards”? Sometimes they call attention to them, sometimes they are hanging in the background. But most, if not every murder mystery show, utilizes the use of a murder board (alternate names are crime and/or evidence board).

Usually, shows bring attention to it when they need to find a way to give you some clue or to tell you some information. I threw one into Notches several times because it allowed both Deidre and me to sort out our thoughts as we made our way through the story.

Here are the most helpful things I’ve thrown on murder boards.

1) Victims

Vicimology can make or break an investigation. Criminal Minds loves to utilize the concept. The race, age, gender, geographical location, and even the sexual orientation of victims can tell you something about your UnSub. (NOTE: for those of you who do not know, UnSub is a shorthand way of saying unknown subject).

Also, when and where they were killed could reveal information.

2) Suspects

Sometimes dead ends are just that. But to get there, they have to be eliminated.

I mentioned to James that some people say it’s an rule that you have to meet your UnSub at some point before you actually reveal that it’s them. Playing fair with the reader.

But to get there, you have to have suspects.

3) Locations

This can be multiple things. A location your victims have in common, crime scenes, scenes of the crime (yes, they can be different – maybe that’s something I should talk about sometime).

When I was writing on the wall, I wrote out several locations and what I could find at each one that would help the story move forward. Then I could bounce back and forth between my suspect wall, my UnSub Wall, and that wall.

It helps you sort it out.

Those are the three that immediately came to mind and are ones I’ve noticed are most often used in shows and books. While it is an excellent storytelling tool for you to use with your detective/PI/fake psychic (I really needed to find a spot for a Psych reference here), you can also use them in real life to help you map out your story.

Granted, it might not be a room with walls that are painted so you can write on them (I did jokingly consider painting some walls with it in the basement) but it could be a bulletin board or a little dry erase board.

I feel like I got more done in that hour than I had in over a week.

The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia: Dead Easy

Join us each week as we share a new excerpt from Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s book, The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia, now available in print and digital editions!

DEAD EASY (NOVEL BY WM. MARK SIMMONS)

Release Date: November 25, 2008 (Contemporary Setting)

Series: Halflife Chronicles

Horror Crosses: Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos; Anita Blake; True Blood

Non-Horror Crosses: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Dresden Files; The Weather Warden; Aisling Grey: Guardian

The Story: Another hurricane in New Orleans is just a precursor to the rising of Cthulhu.

Notes: This story brings the Halflife Chronicles into the Horror Universe. The Halflife Chronicles is about a heroic half-vampire and his misadventures with the paranormal. The main plot revolves around the rising of Cthulhu. An undead Captain Nemo and his Nautilus are also involved. There is also this reference: “There was a wizard in Chicago, a necromancer in St Louis, a waitress in Bon Temps, and a weather warden- who hasn’t spent much time in any one place, lately. We also considered a guardian in London. It was not possible to make contact with them.” The Wizard in Chicago is Harry Dresden of the Dresden Files. The Necromancer is Anita Blake. The waitress is Sookie from True Blood. The Weather Warden is Joanne Baldwin. And the Guardian is Aisling Grey. Dresden is already in the Horror Universe, but not considered a horror series. Both Anita Blake and True Blood take place in a divergent timeline where vampires are public knowledge, but this must be their main Horror Universe counterparts. This cross also brings in the Weather Warden and Aisling Grey: Guardian. The Weather Warden works for the United Nations monitoring the elementals, while Aisling Grey fights dragons who take human form.

If you’re dying for more, you can find The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia on Amazon, and more of Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s work on The Television Crossover Universe.

Author Interview: Heidi J. Hewett on The Curious Case of the Clockwork Doll

People rarely realize how short the Sherlock Holmes novels are.” James Bojacuik, CEO Dubois of 18thWall Productions said. “A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear are short novellas (padded out by long passages about the Wild West), and The Sign of the Four is an ordinary novella. Only The Hound of the Baskervilles is, as they say, feature length–but even then it is a very short feature indeed. Yet when I look at my Sherlock Holmes shelves, it is overwhelmed with three-, four hundred page novels and dozens of short story collections. Something has been lost–a happy medium between brevity and Holmes’ “Data! Data! Data!”

We sought to restore this experience.

The Science of Deduction is a year-long celebration of the Sherlock Holmes novella. Every month on the 15th a new release will be available. The Curious Case of the Clockwork Doll is the first in this series.

This 18thWall Productions’ M.H. Norris, and we’re setting down with Heidi J. Hewett to talk about her book.

M.H. Norris: How did you discover Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes?

Heidi J. Hewett: The Granada Television “Sherlock Holmes” with Jeremy Brett aired when I was a teenager–my hat’s off to Benedict Cumberbatch, but Brett is still the definitive Holmes for me–and I got deeply into the Doyle mysteries as a result. My parents gave me the William S. Baring-Gould Annotated Sherlock Holmes for Christmas one year, and I loved the wealth of information and detail there.

book cover the curious case of (1000 pixels high)

MHN: Is there a particular story of his that sticks out to you?

HJH: That’s a difficult question! I’ve always liked “The Sign of Four” best of the four novels. My story, in fact, originated in Watson’s whispered exclamation, “Holmes, a child has done this horrid thing.” I’m especially fond of “The Solitary Cyclist,” and “The Dancing Men,” out of the short stories, because of their heroines.

MHN: You write in an unusually brilliant imitation of Doyle’s style. How did you perfect that?

HJH: This was just fun. I started with the original cases and atomized them, tagging objects and key phrases. Then I built something, a homage to Doyle really, back up out of the component parts. Of course, there was also a lot of period research to flesh it out, but my hope is that fans of Sherlock Holmes will have fun spotting details from the real cases, like the bust of Athene in the study and Elsie Cubitt’s crocodile-skin hand-bag.

MHN: What inspired various aspects of your case?

HJH: Many of the Sherlock Holmes cases begin with Baker Street and a mysterious visitor, of course, and I got hooked by the idea of a veiled lady who turns out to be something else. The final motive came directly out of Watson’s line to Holmes in “The Sign of Four,” a child has done this deed, which has always haunted me. So that was my frame story, but it is a story about failure–there is a way in which Martha is a kind of blind spot for Holmes because they are so alike–and so I needed a mystery for Holmes to solve, using all his abilities, in between.

I used as many elements from the original cases as I could, with trains and bicycles, cigar ash and secret compartments. I also wanted to bring in old friends and enemies, and George Burnwell, the charming master con-man of “The Beryl Coronet,” is one of rare the villains who got away, so this case gives Sherlock a second chance at catching him.

I think Doyle does have a strong Gothic element, which is in tension with but also complements, his master detective’s fundamentally Rationalist worldview. Step outside of Baker Street, and there are pockets of darkness like Stoke Moran or the ancient farmhouse of “The Sussex Vampire.”

MHN: Was there any particular part of writing The Curious Case of the Clockwork Doll that you found particularly difficult?

HJH: I write in passes, so the very first draft might be mostly just dialogue with a lot of placeholders. Then I’ll go back and start adding layers of detail until it gets whittled down to the last, maximum-detail-requiring-the-most-research bits. The opening section, where Holmes ‘reads’ Watson’s mind, I remember as being particularly hard. I wanted to include something like this because Holmes does it twice, in “The Cardboard Box” and in “The Dancing Men,” but it was tricky to connect the dots while working in what might almost be a statement of theme: the use and misuse of invention to create new kinds of slavery and warfare.

One of the most fascinating things for me was doing research into domestic staff around the turn of the century, and you find the language of automation and industrialization: the division of labor into repeatable component parts, the ideal house which “runs like clockwork,” the ideal servant who does not speak, or listen, or have emotions.

MHN: What was your favorite part of writing a Sherlock Holmes mystery? Least favorite?

HJH: I adored immersing myself in Doyle’s world. I love these characters in all their iterations, and I love thought-puzzles and mysteries, so that was just a sheer joy. In trying to match Doyle’s style, I did miss writing in my own voice, although I would like to think there is a lot of me in Watson.

MHN: And lastly, any advice for other writers?

HJH: Writing is a solitary activity, and most writers I’ve met tend to have a strong introverted streak, but one of the best things I’ve found has been being part of a writer’s group, particularly one in which you feel you can share unpolished work. That perspective and early feedback from other writers is invaluable. You learn from reading other people’s work-in-progress. We all benefit from the support and encouragement of other writers during the process.

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Doll is available on Amazon. You can follow Heidi at her website, A Reading Diary.

If Walls Could Talk: Mysteries

M.H. Norris

Growing up, I loved mysteries. Some of my favorite books were the Boxcar Children mysteries. And of course, I went through the Mary Kate and Olsen stage (they did solve any crime by dinner time).

Though oddly enough, with this early influence, the idea that I’d write mysteries never came to mind. Not even when I made the decision to write for a living.

There’s something about mysteries—the ability to not only tell a story but solve a puzzle all within the confines of a book, and trying to not only figure out whodunit but how to best tell your characters the solution to the mystery.

I’ll admit, I love it and I still love reading good mysteries. In fact, a good chunk of the shows I watch on a regular basis are crime shows.

While working on All the Petty Myths I noticed differences between it and Badge City: Notches that I didn’t necessarily expect.

James and I were discussing my All the Petty Myths story. I’ll be honest with you, it’s been giving me grief. I’m blaming it on “second book syndrome” (shhhh, I know it’s just a novella). After three hours of Skype, I felt better. I think I know what I’m doing, and what I need to include.

What do you need to write a good mystery? Here are some things I’ve noticed. These aren’t everything, but they’re a start.

1) Good, solid characters

People will put down a book or stop watching a TV show because they can’t connect with the characters. Just recently someone recommended a show to me. It was supposed to have amazing writing, even though it only ran a single season. When I sat down to watch it, I couldn’t even make it through that one and only season.

I found out that I really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. Yet the writing was good, witty, and fun. This a good example of what happens when you don’t get people invested in your characters.  (Not that that will necessary save your series. Terriers had everything, and it died a after one season)

Give them a quirk, give them struggles, give them hopes and dreams and fears. Make them relatable and it will make your story that much stronger.

Plus, it will make your story easier to write if your characters are coming alive. The more you know them the more they help you write the story.

(James says I’m wrong about what mystery characters need, but let’s ignore him.)

2) Motive

Oh motive, my old friend and occasional enemy.

This is a tricky one at times because sometimes, there could be many motives for committing a crime and sometimes there is no obvious motive. And sometimes you think it’s the later but then you come to discover that it’s the former.

You can’t not have a motive after all where’s the fun in that? But here’s one thing to consider; it is often said that it doesn’t always have to make sense to us why someone did a crime, it makes sense to them.

3) Research

There’s a reason I dedicated an entire post to it, in the past. Research separates the okay writers from the great. I wanted to be a great writer so I learned how to do research. You need it to make sure that stories work, make sense, and follow a fairly realistic world.

Google is your friend. Sometimes, I’ll pop on and check a random fact. In fact, I joke about being on a few watchlists (I really do think mystery writers are on a list) because of what I Google sometimes. (Pro-tip: if you’d like to make sure you haven’t slipped onto a watchlist, use duckduckgo for all your most suspicious questions.)

Thus is the curse of a writer.

But read books, and articles. I interview people. I study what’s been done and learn from others’ mistakes. All of this is important when writing a mystery.

Mysteries are fun to read and fun to write. They were my grandfather’s favorite kind of book to read. Even though he didn’t live to see me published, I like to think that he’s looking down and is incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. I do write with him in mind and ask myself, “What would Papa think of this?”

One last thing about writing, and this one doesn’t apply to just mysteries but to writing in general. You need to be prepared to just write and not think. Sometimes, the story just gets away from you and you get lost in the writing; when you allow yourself to do that, you get to experience something magical.

So whether you are writing mysteries, fantasy, science fiction, romance or whatever your passion is, let yourself write.

The rest will come.

If Walls Could Talk: Not-Writing with M.H. Norris and Nicole Petit

M.H. Norris

This week, a lot of writers I know were discussing not-writing, and the writing that happens when you’re far away from your keyboard. The kind of not-writing that separates successful stories from unsuccessful ones.

What are you talking about Mary Helen? Isn’t writing, well, writing?

Nicole Petit and I had a discussion about this last night. Some of you will know Nicole as the editor of The Dragon Lord’s Library anthology that we released last month. And I’m excited for her next book, The Dragon Lord’s Secretary which will release later this month.

One thing that is different between my writing and Nicole’s are our worlds. Nicole writes some wonderful fantasy, while I tend to stay in a more realistic world with my mysteries. Someday, I’d love to approach the challenge that Nicole has faced and create my own world. Good to know I’ll have a friend to ask for advice.

Dragon Lord's Library 2 Cover

Last night she and I fell into some role-play (much to James’ amusement), as her series character, Scarlet, bickered with mine, Dr. Rosella Tassoni. The Presidential Secret argued with the Forensic Mythologist over who was the most fit to handle a magical mystery. That’s an argument we’ll have to let them pick up at a later time.

As this went on, I was trying to finish a chapter in a book before I went to bed and I made a remark about how I was glaring at her and her fantasy world as I tried to read. Then she made a good point—even if a fantasy world doesn’t have a link to the real world (unlike her series), it requires just as much research as something set in the ordinary world.

And while it may look different, both of us have to do different types of prep in our work. I’m currently curled up with a book on forensics, refreshing my memory as I work on my All the Petty Myths story.

But for fantasy, Nicole has more to worry about. Species, invented history, the mythology and societies of her invented world. But then she goes beyond that, and needs to make sure that every time her world intersects with the real world nothing contradicts. Scarlet can’t go hunting with Teddy Roosevelt at a time he was indisposed; she can’t reference a song if it hasn’t been sung yet, or a movie if it hasn’t been released yet. Everything has to work together and nothing can contradict itself. Everything has to match real-world history.

“You need to know the culture, politics, and so on of the world that is your story’s background,” Nicole told me. “You need to keep track of all the world-building details. I had to keep track of all the species I referenced, make sure they lined up with established world-building. I had to work on the background politics involved in the world at large. That’s a massive thing for any genre, but especially fantasy.”

And I agree with her. Even in a more realistic world, I have to worry about culture, politics, and history. Where is my character’s home base, what are the politics of the world, how involved is she? There’s a lot to keep in mind as you bring a story to life.

“It won’t be immediately obvious to a reader, but it makes the difference between a good story and a bad.”

And I have to agree. There was some poor excuse of a detective movie I watched ages ago; it drove me nuts to watch it because the writers didn’t seem to bother to research. If you think “No-one will notice,” you’re quite wrong. They will. You owe it to yourself, and your characters, to put in the not-writing time to make your writing shine.

See y’all next week. I’m going to wander back to my book and my notes.