Thursday, June 30, 2011

Countdown to A Sign in Blood - Day One

The release of A Sign in Blood is coming up, and I'm so excited!

To celebrate, I'm going to do a 5 Day Release Countdown right here on my blog. Starting today, and continuing until July 4th (release day!), I'll talk about a different aspect of the book, from the world to the characters and why I loved them so and just had to write the story.

And, on each countdown day, all the commenters will be entered into a drawing in which 5 people will get a free copy of the book. I'll announce the winners on July 4th, the day the book is released. So come on over and join the fun! Don't be shy, jump into the comments and let me know you're here so I can give you a book!! :-D

And now back to your semi-regularly scheduled programming... Today, I'm posting the book's prologue. Prologues have fallen somewhat out of fashion, which overall is fine with me, but I love this prologue. I can't see A Sign in Blood without it.


Chadri reeled when the priest released her arm. Even without the blindfold she wore, there would be nothing to see inside the cave. She heard the priest's retreating footsteps and counted the passing heartbeats, straining to catch some other sound. For three hundred and ten rapid beats of her heart, she heard nothing.

Finally, rumbling reached her ears. The sound of rock grinding rock as the priest reached the mouth of the cave and her clan rolled the sealing stone into place.

The Ordeal had begun.

The rumble died away. Chadri's harsh breath and the thump of her heart contrasted the silence, deepening it. She rubbed her bare feet against the stone to prove the ground remained solid. Her mind conjured landscapes of jutting rocks and hostile eyes. On the verge of tears, she jerked away the blindfold.

It made no difference. The darkness was true and complete, concealing even the suggestions of shape. She had promised herself she wouldn't begin the Ordeal with tears, that she would face her passage into adulthood with maturity. Her feet tingled with the cold of the cavern floor. Her robe did little to ward off the damp chill.

They wouldn't leave me here if there were dangers, she told herself to ease the quivering in her gut. Whisper-soft sounds flitted around her. Fear transformed the breezes into breath upon her neck. Alone in the dark, Chadri felt exposed. She found stone to press her back against and mastered the urge to speak a rune and summon a runist light. It would invalidate the Ordeal, and she felt too out of control to handle the power.

I'd burn myself to a cinder. Besides, they wouldn't do this if there were dangers. She'd been the butt of pranks, sometimes sneered at for her mixed heritage, her Devsari blood, but her clan wouldn't harm her. Trying to believe that, she shut out any memory that might contradict it.

Two years ago her cousin Karsae had passed through the Ordeal into adulthood. She remembered watching him afterward as he knelt to give his oath. Most of all, she remembered the pride blossoming in her grandfather's eyes.

Time crawled. Hunger set in, gnawing at her gut while thirst made her throat ache. She shook with subdued tension and the realization forced her to control herself. She squeezed her eyes shut. I am not a child. I will not cower in the dark.

Chadri centered herself, preparing for a trance. At first her efforts to breathe through the fear were ruined by every brush of dank air, every small sound. Eventually, the repetition itself became calming. The very fact that nothing had happened seemed more and more to mean that nothing would. Chadri slipped deeper into meditation.

She remembered her father's hand in hers, an impression of her mother's voice filling the background. The voice itself was lost to her memory, as was the image of her mother's face, but the knowledge that it had once been there still made her ache.

Her concentration interrupted by stinging tears, she dashed them away and bent her head, her jaw set. She would See. She knew she would. She would See, and her grandfather would smile at her with pride.

He said he sometimes found it hard to look at her. Her red-brown hair and sand-brown skin marked her as half-Devsari. Her eyes, he'd said, were the worst: a riot of blue, gray, and green and distinctly not Bensas. It seemed the one thing that pleased him was the triad of irregular birthmarks on her wrists, for they marked her Bensas godline and reminded him that she was his blood. Chadri drew in a deep breath, pushing herself once again into the meditation.

She remembered the fever that took her mother. They had both burned with it, tossing in bed. Her mother's arm cradled Chadri's cheek, too hot to provide any relief. Raised voices drifted to her, filled with tones that made her belly tight. Her father should never sound that way, so angry and upset. The memory dissolved into vague impression.

Hissing her frustration, Chadri opened her eyes to glare at nothing. She had to See. Her power was useless and brought no honor to the clan. She'd overheard her grandfather blame her lack of control on the godlines she bore from both her mother and her father. He thought the remnants of such powerful blood couldn't help but overwhelm the will of someone of her mixed heritage. She could swing a sword, but she had no special skill at it. Seeing was her last hope. Chadri bowed her head once more, letting the drafts lull her.

The faint screech of stone on stone echoed in the cave.

Buried in her trance, Chadri shivered. The sound transmuted in her mind and became something familiar, a scream torn from the roots of her, dragged through the corridors of recollection. It ripped her open and pushed the memories forward to pour out into the blackness.

Her father knelt, his intestines filling one blood-covered hand. With the other he drew a sigil upon a golden wall, drew it in his own blood. He turned, slumping against the temple's wall. When she found courage enough to meet his eyes, green and blue and gray all at once, they were glazed, unseeing.

She'd curled in on herself by the time they reached her, sobs shuddering along her body. Her clan's gentle hands and soft voices soothed her. Their dim runist light blazed in her eyes as she opened them. She blinked at it until her vision began to adjust, revealing the familiar faces of cousins, aunts, and uncles. The sight was watery, seen through tears.

She let them help her up, took grateful sips of the water they offered, and composed herself as they led her from the cavern. The escorts took her to the caves of her grandfather. As Morabi of the Malinkae Clan, it was to him that she would give her oath. He waited in the common room, a massive cavern at the center of the clan's spring complex. Home to generations, the soot of countless fires stained its ceiling. Her clan waited at the edges of the space, falling silent at Chadri's entrance. They left open a path of bare rock leading to the dais upon which her grandfather sat. The Bensas never built structures, preferring to live close to the devae of stone and strength. It was an example she struggled to follow.

Her legs shook and her body trembled with want for food and rest. Nonetheless, she pulled free of the helping hands and lurched toward the dais.

The whole clan had gathered to witness her passage into adulthood, but few mattered. She spotted Nathias easily. The woman was all she had of a mother, since her own had passed. Nathias' tall, stocky figure stood out, made paler when surrounded by the Bensas' darkness. The gray-streaked-black hair that marked her Nirafel godline hung free of its perpetual braid, falling over her hunched shoulders. Pride shone on her weathered face, and seeing her almost brought a smile to Chadri's lips, but even the woman who had raised her could not hold her attention.

Chadri's gaze moved back to her grandfather. He sat straight as a column in his carved throne. The annual winter floods had worn away the sharpness, and there were chips and cracks in the stone surface. To Chadri, the throne was much like her grandfather: hard as rock, but with smoothed edges. His dark eyes fixed on her, his face framed by frizzy gray hair.

"Have you Seen?" he asked as Chadri reached him.

She didn't want to answer, didn't want to disappoint him.

"I have not." The words tried to stick in her throat. She had to fight to look him in the face while admitting it. Memory was not sight. Her power remained wild, hard to control, and the Ordeal hadn't changed that. His wrinkles were set in frowning lines, but he showed no further reaction.

"Kneel and speak your oath."

Chadri collapsed to her knees on a thin cushion, ignoring the bruising sting of the stone beneath. She lowered her face, closing her eyes.

"Before my clan," she said, fighting the tremors in her voice, "before the devae, before all, I declare my oath shall be to find my father's murderer and resolve the blood-debt between us." Gasps filled the cavern, followed by murmurs. Her oath would mean she would have to leave the Bensas, her mother's people, and return to the city of her birth. Chadri ignored them as her gaze slid to her grandfather's face. She swelled with the pride she found there.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Writing Subcultures

Subcultures are groups within a larger culture which share some binding element of shared experience. This can be everything from people who are all fans of the same TV show, band, or book to people who all attend the same church, work in the same field, or belong to the same club. These are simplistic examples, of course, but they'll do to start. Groups like these build a culture around themselves. Broadly speaking, fans speak in catchphrases, church attendees reference shared experiences, colleges speak the language of the trade and club members have secret handshakes. All of these things constitute a way of communicating ones belonging to the group, but they're also more than that. They're a way of recognizing like-minded souls.

Humans find things they have in common and use these things to relate to the larger world. We often categorize ourselves by the groups that we belong to, beginning with the most intimate (families) and moving to the more general in degrees. Few people identify themselves with the book club they belong to, but many identify themselves by their spirituality, occupation, or hobbies.

Subcultures not only show a person's perspective, and help them communicate it to others, but even shape it. Over time, we begin to think like those with whom we associate, our perspectives change based on the input and perspectives of those around us (and the degree to which we are comfortable with those perspectives). So, when writing fantasy and science fiction, I think it's helpful to think of the subcultures to which our characters belong.

For an example, in my novel Born of This Soil, the MC is Beshauna. Beshauna is from a culture with a big, deep history, but her nation is occupied by another culture and largely ruled by it. This makes her native culture a subculture of the larger, (somewhat) blended culture. Beshauna heavily identifies with her native culture, with its religion and its values, and throughout the book her perspective is influenced by that. She sees everything through that filter, comparing each new experience, person, and place to what she knows, and her decisions are often based on what brings her closer to that culture (and her conception of it) and what pushes her farther from it.

She is also a member of smuggling ring which sneaks magically-talented people out of the country and to safe havens in other countries. Despite the moral nature of her operation, this puts her in the criminal subculture. She is more at home with criminals than with authority figures, she is more at ease among them, and she is more likely to understand them--especially if they are also part of her native culture--than she is likely to sympathize with others.

These perspectives are a huge part of who she is and writing her means knowing these subcultures inside and out. Because she is so closely tied to them, and the perspectives that they promote, share and engender, when I write Beshauna, I always have to keep in mind where she comes from. I have to know their rituals, the language they use (both with one another and with "outsiders" to the subcultures). To effectively portray her interaction with these subcultures, I have to know who they see the world, and how Beshauna's perspective is the same and different.

So, to write Beshauna, I have to write the subcultures. To characterize her, I also have to characterize them, and the two feed from one another. The more the reader understands Beshauna, the more they understand her world and vice versa.

While not all characters are as tightly bound to their subcultures as Beshauna, they still exist within them and come from them. If your character is a knight, what does that mean to them? What does that mean when they meet other knights? How do they interact with one another, and how does that differ from their interaction with other groups, or outsiders to the knighthood?

Subculture presents thousands of options for characterization, from language (including inclusive language, exclusive language, in-jokes, and the language of shared experience), to food, clothing, humor, habits and religion. Subcultures are the meeting of character and culture and provide an excellent opportunity to deepen both your world and your characters, at the same time. They're twice the bang for your word count buck.

And who doesn't love efficient worldbuilding, am I right? :-D


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Who's a Writer?

I have been writing for years. A very, very long time. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 12 and I wrote poetry, short stories and essays that I'm glad will never see the light of day. At 15, I also started my first novel. It was horrible, a comic book trying to be a novel (post apocalyptic superhero story). That was 15 years ago. I never finished it. Then I started writing a different novel. An epic fantasy trilogy, actually. :-D And I did finish that one. And I still have it. (No, you can't read it. No one will *ever* read it. And that includes me.) I even got critique on it. That could have been a much more painful experience than the critter made it. He was very kind and his gentle nudges helped me learn a lot. He read the whole first book. I can't blame him for not moving on to the second.

I've written a lot ever since, in a bunch of different areas and about a bunch of different things. A few short stories have been published, I even make a small income writing articles, but none of that made me feel like a "writer." Oh, I called myself a writer, and I wrote, and I even got paid for it, and still... I didn't really *feel* like a writer.

And then this year everything changed. A great friend brought up the subject of self-publishing, and some of the work I'd put into my writing started to pay off. Not in money, but in forward progress. My novella Getting Ahead (trolls, and carjackers, and mad bombers, oh my!) was accepted by MuseItUp Publishing, I decided to self-publish A Sign in Blood, and even my pagan writings are heading for publication.

And now I wake up every day and get down to business, and I feel like a writer. It's the momentum, I think, the forward progress. But it's not unusually for writers to work on that for years and years. I know a lot of writers who sit down every day and pound out the words, tired, and brain-fried, and they still put their butts in the chair and do the work. And yet, they don't feel like writers. Some are even published, but it's as if there's this invisible finish line that keeps moving. We all have some particular goal that will, we hope, finally make us feel like this is more than just a hobby.

The thing is, if you're pounding out the words, if you're putting your heart on the page, even if you can't manage it every day, or you don't reach your goals, or you haven't been published...

You're a writer.

Take moment and enjoy it. What makes you feel like a writer? What one piece of work makes you the most proud? Link me! Take a moment to brag on yourself!


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Looking for Blog Tour Hosts

I'm releasing my fantasy novel, A Sign in Blood, in July and I want to do a blog tour after the release. So, I'm looking for anyone interested in hosting me on their blog. We could do a guest post, or an author interview, and I'd like to do giveaways! I'm more than happy to reciprocate in August (or whenever you need me to, actually). I'd like to do the tour between July 5th and July 23rd, and either I can write up a guest post or you can send me some questions for an interview.

Topics for Guest Posts:
LGBT Characters
Characters of Color
Women in Fantasy
Culture Creation

I'd like to get everything set by July 1st, so if you're interested in hosting me, please let me know, either through a comment here or at my email: marysipe @ I don't care about the size of the blog, or anything like that. Let me know what topic you want me to talk about, if you have a preference, or if there's something in particular, let me know and we'll discuss it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday: A Sign in Blood

Today's Six Sentence Sunday tidbit is, again, from A Sign in Blood.

"I hate temples," she muttered. Liral didn't know if Nathias had meant for her to hear that.

"Why?" The word was out before she could think better of it.

Nathias looked down at Liral, her face lined and tired. "Because priests are liars and gods don't listen."


Check out the other Six Sunday posts at the official site.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Sign in Blood is Finished!

I just wrote the last word, made the last change. All that's left is the proofing. Holy crap, it's done. It's freakin' done!

*boogies on down*

I am exhausted! But I am finished!

And the fiance is making me ribs as a celebration dinner!


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Culture Creation: Creating Rebellions

This post is closely related to Culture Creation: Creating Governments. So, you might like to check that one out, too!

Once I have my government laid out, and have decided how the culture and government interact, I turn my attention to the other politically important groups in the culture. These might be revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, religious, or spring from other influential, powerful or rich groups like importers, guilds or unions. What these groups will be is decided by the culture and what they feel is important enough to join them together in a common cause. Self preservation or protection always makes a good cause.

But others might disagree with the government for religious reasons, or because of a difference in politics, or because they feel (and perhaps are) unfairly treated, or that others are unfairly treated.

Whatever the government is like, they're bound to have gathered detractors, there's always someone who is dissatisfied, rightly or wrongly. Groups like these will often participate in opposition which is in line with their philosophies, which will in turn be influenced by their status, the level of danger they perceive, and the resources available to them.

Not all opposition will use violence. In fact, most opposition will not. For every violent group there are likely to be several peaceful ones. It largely depends on the amount of pressure put on these oppositions and how little they can accomplish (and can *feel* they are accomplishing) inside the law. Once that option is removed, violence--to differing degrees--becomes more likely.

Remember that these people, your characters, feel about their world the way that you feel about yours. It's more than likely that you're unhappy with things in your world, but how far are you willing to go to change them? How far do you think it's moral to go?

There has to be a catalyst, a reason why rational people will oppose their government to whatever degree that they do, and it has to be a bigger reason in order to get a bigger reaction. If I read a story about a rebellion which was willing to kill other people, I would expect the reason to be big. *However* the type of people you're writing about changes things. Not all "people" are "humans" when it comes to science fiction and fantasy. Species and history will also be reflected here.

Still, if you're going to write about a race of insects who rise up to overthrow their hive-minded hierarchy (great!! :-D) they're still going to need a reason *I* can relate to.

If they're treated fairly by this hive-minded government, if they're free and not in danger of injury, and they can live the way they want... Well, then I'm going to wonder why they want to overthrow something that allows them to live that way. Maybe the hive-mind enslaves a third group of insects in order to provide those things, maybe they do it by brainwashing them. Whatever, but they need a reason that is in line with the strength of their reaction.

Abstract ideas or philosophical differences *can* be enough of a reason, but because it is an abstraction you have to show me what it means to them. You have spend some of your story time defining what it means (hopefully in non-info-dumpy ways) and *showing* me how they feel those ideas and differences effect them. Otherwise, it's just an excuse for conflict in a story. Conflict is great, and very necessary in a story, but it shouldn't be motiveless.

By the same token, governments exist on a larger scale than individuals. Each individual is going to feel differently about that government based on who they are. And each group of individuals (whether they're categorized by gender, race, orientation, species, age, social class, religion, etc., etc., etc.) will feel differently about that government. However, even within broad groups like this, there will be a range of opinions. No one woman can speak for the experience of every woman living in America, let alone the world. There are levels of experience. Some generalities can be made about the "human condition" but that doesn't tell anybody what it's like to be me, or you, or her, or him, or anyone else.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway: Carpe Noctem

For the giveaway, just leave a comment here and I'll select a name randomly. It's an ebook, so you'll be able to download in whichever format you prefer!

Carpe Noctem (Book #1 of the Immortalis Series)
Author: Katie Salidas
Review: 3 Stars

This book opens with a fairly graphic attack on the main character, from which she emerges as a vampire. I liked the concept, in that I think it's neat to see the urban fantasy setting from the perspective of a vampire main character. Ms. Salidas clearly put thought into the world she was creating, giving her vampires a unique background. The Las Vegas setting was interesting and well rendered.

Despite the action that begins CARPE NOCTEM, I didn't really feel as if the story started until about halfway through the book. The beginning establishes the world, and the characters to some extent, but things didn't really start moving until we began to learn about Alyssa's previous life.

The second half of the book has conflict, the plot hangs together, and we get a little deeper glimpse into the characters. I would have liked to have seen more of their motivations, more reactions, but the story is strictly from Alyssa's POV, so the reader is limited by what she notices, and Alyssa's perceptions of the other characters weren't as fleshed out as I would have liked them to be.

The writing was never too stiff or overly formal. But I didn't feel connected to the characters, or to their problems. Ms. Salidas doesn't shy away from putting her characters in tough situations, morally or physically, and it helps to round them out somewhat, but I didn't feel it had much lasting effect and the consequences always seemed to be brushed aside too easily.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Giveaway and Review Reminder

Just a reminder that on Sunday (June 5th) I'll be reviewing Carpe Noctem, book one of the Immortalis Series by Katie Salidas, and giving away a free copy! So, swing on by for my first ever giveaway!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Sign in Blood: cover art and blurb!

I have finally finalized the cover art and blurb for my novel! I'm so excited! The artwork is by Jema Smith, Danny Robinson, and Ton Haex. The blurb is by me (obviously), but with the help of the lovely people at Critique Circle, who simply rock. *nods*

A Sign in Blood

While investigating her father's murder, Chadri never meant to get involved in politics. She arrives in Mesaceal with her mentor Nathias and a wild talent for blood magic, but soon finds it won't be enough to stop a brutal attack on her family home. After befriending a queen who is forced to fight to win her crown, and learning of rumors about the theft of a sleeping god, Chadri is caught up in a web of conflict spanning two nations. Trapped within the tightening threads, she must unravel the secrets surrounding her father's death, or die the same way he did.