The Incredible Power of Writing

The art of writing is a powerful tool for humanity. For good or ill, it is a complicated craft that we often see as an escape or a means to explore our deepest, darkest facets. Some use writing to heal, others to vent frustration or release pent up emotions.

Here’s an interesting perspective from a fellow blogger on the art of writing and how we can use it. Cheers.

Lorraine Ambers

Writing is an art form, and all art forms have the ability to transform, inspire and motivate. It’s much more than conveying a story because woven into the fabric of a novel is the artist’s soul, a gateway to their innermost secrets, fears, and darkest desires.

Have you ever wondered why writing is good therapy? If a novel can transport the reader into another world, another perspective, can writing heal the reader too?

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Journaling is great therapy, it allows the writer to unload emotions, to delve deeper and discover aspects of themselves that they never knew existed. It’s a private, safe place to share the shadow side of themselves without fear of being reprimanded. It releases stress. There is no right or wrong way; pen to paper, on the laptop, or making notes on your smartphone, whatever works for you. The important part is gaining access to the thoughts that…

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Book Review: The Faded Sun Trilogy

 

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Hello again, my lovely readers. Spring is in full swing, and I have another book review to share. A writing colleague recommended the series The Faded Sun by C. J. Cherryh. It’s a science fantasy three-book series. I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum for any interested readers. 🙂

The Faded Sun Trilogy

Premise

The Faded Sun series is a sci-fi story with subtle elements of fantasy in the background. Each book is average length—around 250 pages.

If I could explain The Faded Sun in a few words, it would be—sci-fi, desert, and culture. The premise reminded me of Dune by Frank Herbert, with the desert setting, science fiction elements, and how one of the characters becomes indoctrinated into a desert tribe.

While the idea beyond the book didn’t feel completely original, Cherryh put her unique spin on it with the sheer depth and description of alien races and their ethics.

Characters

There are two main characters: Niun, a young mri (one of the alien races in the desert worlds) and arrogant desert tribesman, who struggles to find his place among his people; and Duncan, another youthful human soldier, who becomes attached to the mri, eventually joining the desert tribes.

The dialog exchanges between the main characters felt dry at times and difficult to follow. There were a few excellently written spots, of course, which invested me, emotionally in Niun and Duncan.

One of the best facets of The Faded Sun is the relationship between Niun and Duncan, how it evolves over the course of three books. They begin as enemies in book one, distrustful of each other. By book three, they are bonded through kinship as brothers.

The villains were a lawful alien species called regul, who viewed the mri as a threat and wanted to wipe them out. That said, there was no fixed antagonist, rather, it was a faction of regul that changed from book to book. Because of this, I had trouble bonding (as a reader does to a villain) to the antagonist group.

Magic System

There wasn’t any magical system in The Faded Sun. I honestly felt a little disappointed, as this was listed as a science fantasy book. I suppose you have to expect that in a purer breed of sci-fi. I wrote a guest post on science fantasy and magical systems, if you’d like to check them out.

Romance

Again, being a strict sci-fi book, The Faded Sun did not include any romantic elements. Although there was a strong brother-to-brother relationship between Niun and Duncan, which I found to be adorable and well-written.

Conflict

This is where The Faded Sun shines. Chapters are filled with tension-inducing paragraphs, and Cherryh finds clever ways to challenge her characters; in particular, Duncan’s ordeals when he goes from human to mri are rife with conflict—and an interesting illustration of how adaptive and resilient humans can be.

Overall Summary

The Good

The relationship between the main characters, the conflict, and the sheer depth of alien culture presented in this book are the best aspects of The Faded Sun. This set the proper tone for a sci-fi trilogy—and it was, in some ways, philosophical.

The Bad

The dialog exchanges were usually dry, too long, or lacked sufficient emotion from the characters. Other segments of the trilogy felt like filler without much going on—parts that could have been removed or rewritten for better effect. The prose was okay, but I caught a handful of typos—and the pacing was mediocre. The antagonists also felt ambiguous and were hard to “love to hate”.

The Ugly

Parts of The Faded Sun read vaguely similar to Dune, and the side characters lacked sufficient background or emotion for the reader to sympathize. I would have also liked a more unique and fully explained technological system, rather than “generic” or “taken for granted” sci-fi technology.

My rating for the trilogy: 3/5 stars—average

The Faded Sun isn’t anything special, but if you’re a writer or sci-fi geek, you will enjoy the explanation behind the mri and regul culture. It personally gave me some ideas for my own alien races, and how to convey them to the reader. I would recommend this book for that facet alone; just don’t expect amazing dialog or characterization.

Thank you all for reading. Have you read The Faded Sun? I would love to hear your opinion on it in the comments below. Love and gratitude to my readers. 😀


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False Starts and Introductions to Novels: Too Cliché or A Forgotten Skill?

 

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“At dawn, the sun either shines itself or hides behind clouds, promising what the day will bring. So it is with introductions in stories.” —Ed White

Most agents and editors would balk at the suggestion of a false start intro to a novel. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with an exciting beginning, so long as it’s done well. Then again, the last time I read a false start in a novel was years ago. Is it now a forgotten technique, shunned by writers?

The problem is that false introductions are usually poorly done and give off a flat feeling for the rest of the book. If you’re a writer developing the draft of your novel, then this article is a must for you.

—Introductions—

Those First Introduction Paragraphs

The first few paragraphs of a book introduce an author’s style—his or her prose rhythm, subtle insecurities, and other narrative patterns and issues. A book is like an onion; it has layers of emotional and mental components embedded into the prose.

This is especially the case in early drafts, where the author is still figuring out what he or she wants to do with the story. Analyzing one’s writing patterns in drafts can lead to improvement and growth of a writer.

A Handy Exercise on Introductions in Prose

There’s an exercise in this article that I recommend. You examine the first 250 words of your story. Heavily. Dissect it, break it apart, and ask yourself:

  1. What is the purpose of this introduction?
  2. Why is it set up like this?
  3. Is there a hook for the reader?
  4. Is the introduction short enough for the sake of clarity and pacing, but long enough to express its purpose?
  5. What patterns does this intro reveal about the book as a whole?

These questions are by no means exhaustive. Invent your own questions and discover how many perspectives and shades of grey your introduction can produce.

The first 250 words are crucial to the rest of your story and should let the reader what they’re in for. Most readers picking up a book at the store—or skimming over it on Amazon—will do this to see if the story interests them.

—In the Reader’s Best Interests of Introductions—

Keeping Introductions to Novels Interesting

I once heard a fellow writer say:

“Stories are like skirts. They have to be long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep things interesting.” —Anonymous

Now, while that might not be the cleverest of examples, he did have a point. Stories, and particularly introductions—since introductions are a significant part of your prose—should be short and sweet, including everything that should be there.

Hooking Readers in the Introduction of a Novel

Here’s a helpful article on hooking readers in the introduction. The author mentions driving the prose with curiosity and conflict—elements that provoke the reader, tempting them to read further.

You can also use internal dialog or exposition to hint at a character’s insecurities, flaws, or other issues. I’m not big on exposition myself—too many writers turn internal narration into a dry monologue that is boring to read through, but that’s a topic for another time.

Stress is…Good for Readers?

Readers love stress and anxiety in a story; they hate it in real life—so, give them what they want, am I right? And do it early on, promising them the reward they will receive if they delve deeper into your story. Dangle that carrot!

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Don’t be Afraid to Use False Introductions

Approach your introduction with a sense of clarity and enjoyability for your reader. Have a plan for your intro, and reflect throughout the rest of your book. The promises you make in those first 250 words should come full circle. Otherwise, your introduction is nothing more than a prop that can not—and should not—stand on its own.

—Concluding an Introduction—

Striking a Balance

In summary, an introduction to a novel is a significant part of the writing process. Take your time with it, and review it on a routine basis. Even after your twentieth read through, you may yet discover new insights about yourself as a writer.

Ask yourself:

Is it long enough to cover everything? Is it short enough to keep it interesting? Does it dangle the carrot appropriately, leaving the reader begging for more?

If you can bond your reader with your main protagonist and the story within the first few paragraphs, then congratulate yourself; you’ve accomplished a feat that most writers struggle with.

Final Words

Beginnings are always the funniest part of a new story, but they can also be the hardest. I hope this article has provided you with some semblance of wisdom in your writing journey—I’m by no means a professional myself.

Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude to my readers! 😀

Hit the “like” button below if you enjoy what you see to stay informed of this blog’s updates. Also check out a recent article I did about meditation, creativity, and writing. Thanks.

 

Personal Thoughts on Writing and Creativity

grayscale vintage typewriter

I once read an interesting set of questions from a fellow blogger and writer: What do you write? Why? What helps you sit in front of your typewriter or computer screen on a routine basis? What exactly makes you a writer? Who Do You Write For? How Do You See Writing?

In this article, I’ll define what writing is, then attempt these questions as they relate to me. I’ll then go on to talk about my own experience with writing and how my perception of the craft has changed with time.

—Defining What Writing Is—

Since time immemorial, writers have existed. From ancient storytellers and cave paintings/etching to modern-day typewriters and word processors, this art continues as a staple of human existence. It would be difficult to envision a society without writers.

A writer is a person who produces and conveys information, particularly by written characters. There are many types of writers, from academic, to business, creative, and erotica. Fiction and nonfiction make up the general categories, but do we really understand what makes fiction?

—Fictional Universes—

Fiction is the very definition of creativity. There are no boundaries, except for the ones we set for ourselves in the story. Some rules do exist to create a loose outline, but we can define those standards however we chose.

In some ways, the products from fiction are a mirror of our inner consciousness. The things we desire; the things we envision being possible; the things we wish we had; the things we fear the most, and so on.

Writing fiction is like exploring who we really are. One may even consider it a type of pseudo-meditation. We become so engrossed in the art at times, we almost cannot stop. It becomes us because it is who we really are.

Writing fiction wipes away the limitations in our lives, but it can also be a form of escape, for better or for worse; I can personally relate.

—Nonfictional Universes—

On the other hand, writing non-fiction is more about the observation of the universe we dwell in. Non-fiction is limited by what we know for sure, as it’s based more off real life. Unlike its counterpart, non-fiction is objective with evidence to support written ideas. It may not be as thrilling as fiction, but it is also a lot more grounding to the self. It allows us to take a step back and appreciate the reality we dwell in.

Some people consider non-fiction boring, but how can we know for sure?  We have yet to journey outside our own solar system. As incredulous as it may sound, perhaps reality is not as limited as we think. After all, we set the limitations in fiction, but who are we to know what the wildest restrictions are? Only Mother Nature knows that answer.

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

-Mark Twain

—My Experience with Writing—

Next, I’ll get to those questions (yay).

What do you write?

I mainly produce creative content via my upcoming trilogy, Ethereal Seals—then there’s some poetry and short stories I’ve sat on for a while. I also write on WordPress here and sometimes do paid commission copywriting elsewhere.

Why? 

Why do I write? Because, if I didn’t vent my creativity, I’d go insane, lol. Jokes aside, writing is an invigorating exercise for me. I don’t have many friends and my family doesn’t do much. If anything it helps organize my day.

What helps you sit in front of your typewriter or computer screen on a routine basis?

I suppose it would be the love for my OCs, Pepper Slyhart, Tarie Beyworth, and others. I can always interface with my creations—and get transported to a world of fantasy and magic. That universe I’ve created is unique, at least for me, and I hold it close to my heart.

What exactly makes you a writer?

That’s a tough one!

My journey as a writer has been a confusing one, to say the least—full of its own ups and downs, periods of enlightenment and depression. Since high school, I’ve dedicated my life to developing Ethereal Seals. The project didn’t take shape until later, well into my twenties.

So, what makes me a writer? I suppose it’s the years-long dedication I have under my belt. Although I don’t consider myself a professional by any means.

Who Do You Write For?

I write mainly for myself and a small collection of friends and fans. I’m not the next Stephen King or anything, just a dude who likes being creative with his free time. Why not use it to create whole universes and tell stories?

How Do You See Writing?

I consider myself more of an artist than a writer, as I get the greatest fulfillment from creating worlds and building characters rather than studying and refining prose.

I don’t like a lot of the tags and stereotypes people associate with “writers” nowadays. Instead, writing should be just a relaxing pastime that stimulates creativity. For a good idea of what I mean, check out this older article I wrote.

—Final Thoughts—

I don’t consider myself a writer in the widely-accepted sense; I prefer the term artist or word-smith (there’s an interesting one 😉 ). My passion comes from creating ideas and expressing them. I don’t write to make money, there’s too much stress in that—and writers don’t make good salaries anyway unless you’re someone like Brandon Sanderson. I’m simply a soul with a large imagination who likes to have fun.

Thank you for reading. 😀


Feeling ambitious? Answer the questions below like I did and post them to your blog. I’d love to read them. Cheers.

What do you write? Why? What helps you sit in front of your typewriter or computer screen on a routine basis? What exactly makes you a writer? Who Do You Write For? How Do You See Writing?

 

 

Meditation, Stillness, Creativity: an artist’s revelation.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

—Meditation and Creativity—

I’ve practiced meditation for several years now. I find it to be a calming, insightful practice that stimulates creativity and it has helped with my writing and digital artwork. For more information on the practice, see this older article I wrote.

That said, I had a revelation about it quite recently that I feel is important to anyone reading this—be they a writer, artist, meditator, or an average joe.

When we ground ourselves in stillness, we draw inward and banish the noise of the outer world. In this fashion, we move to our inner universe. It’s here that nothing from the outside should penetrate this sacred place—ideally anyway.

—My Background with Meditation—

During the past few weeks, months, maybe even years—I’ve forgotten how long—my allowance for outside noise gradually increased outside my notice. It became so bad that I couldn’t focus, too anxious thinking about my projects and work. Even my sleep got messed up. I didn’t create that special place of rest and healing that I so desperately needed.

My point is when we do something like meditation or any other healing or resting ritual, we sometimes become forgetful of what that inner universe is really like. I feel so blessed to have reawakened to this notation—and I pray that, to anyone reading this, that you, too, treasure and respect your inner self.

Meditation is so beneficial to the body, but we can’t just sit down and force it to happen; it’s a natural, passive process that takes us on a journey inward.

—Tips on Practicing—

Here are some tips and methods to begin this practice, if you feel so inclined:

  1. Relax – Let go of whatever your ego wants you to think. Drink deep the chalice of stillness and mindfulness. Fight against the urge to think about anything, even your story. Regulate your breathing or chant mantras to redirect your concentration. There are dozens of ways to implement meditation.
  2. Time – Between writing, reading, family obligations, and a day job, it’s especially challenging to find the time to meditate. Our busy society discourages this–yet, without time to rejuvenate the subconscious, burnout is inevitable. Block out part of your day dedicated to meditating, even if it’s only 5 minutes a day. Your subliminal brain will thank you. Some people meditate better at night when the rest of the world sleeps, others in the morning. Find an ideal time that works for you.
  3. Space – Establish a quiet area where you won’t be disturbed. Be sure it’s comfortable and dark. If you need to, ask your living mates to not enter for a designated interval. Defend this personal space from any miscellaneous disruptions, if possible.
  4. Dedication – Meditation, like writing, doesn’t come quickly. With your routine established, stick to it. Some days may feel unproductive, while others will. Work your way up to 20 or even 60 minutes a day if possible.
  5. Tools – Implements like music, essential oil fragrance, or colors can enhance meditation. Everyone is different; experiment, and find what works best.
  6. Write After Meditation – The brain enters a different state after prolonged relaxation. During this period, creativity and productivity may be at its highest. Take advantage of this episode to work on your piece or jot down notes. Many legendary writers such as Shakespeare utilized this to produce their masterpieces.

—Some Additional Insight—

In ancient India texts, the act of writing corresponds to the fifth chakra Visudda, also known as the throat chakra. Your throat has a compact bundle of nerves at the neck. These contribute to the acceptance and expression of originality of voice. The main obstacle of the fifth chakra—which most writers struggle with—is doubt and negativity. Through meditation, confidence is restored, and the nerves purify.

The fifth chakra works with the second one at the navel, called Svadhisthana, or the sacral chakra.  This energy center controls pleasure and creativity. When the body isn’t producing sexual energy for biological reproduction, the life force goes towards the abstract, or creative ideas. Blockages in this chakra result in creative stagnation or exhaustion. Through meditation, the nerve endings restore their creative-inspiring state.

—A Spiritual Conclusion—

This is but a fragment of the information out there. Feel free to investigate the source links below. Writing bears an imprint of our soul, one that we transmute from the abstract (spirit) to the concrete (words). The physical and astral unavoidably connect, and neglecting one over the other cannot work for success.

Thank you for reading and I’ll leave you with this quote:

“He doth entreat your grace, my noble lord,
To visit him to-morrow or next day:
He is within, with two right reverend fathers,
Divinely bent to meditation,
And in no worldly suits would he be moved
To draw him from his holy exercise.”

William Shakespeare
The Tragedy of King Richard the Third

 

Creating Simple Character Profiles

Setting up an archive of your characters’ attributes is an important step for any worldbuilder. Some choose to keep profiles in text documents, while others use excel spreadsheets. If you need a template for character profiles, then here’s an article from a fellow blogger. She has some cool tips on character building and archiving your cast. Cheers.

Lorraine Ambers

We all love things that make our lives a little easier. Especially, when being a writer can sometimes begin to feel like creative chaos:

How many characters do I have?

Where were they born?

Wait!What colour did I say their eyes were?

So many questions, so little time… and how many scraps of paper, notebooks or random computer files have I used to catalogue all this info?

Fear not, to help us all become a little more organised, I’ve created some fun worksheets that can be filled in and filed away to kickstart your WIP bible.

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If you’re confused by what a writers bible looks like, then head on over to Kate’s fantastic blog to find out why you should have a series bible and what to include in them. Her posts are a wonderful resource for any writer, full of insightful, practical writing and editing tips.

Of course…

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How to Write Rich and Vivid Settings

Everyone enjoys a rich, vivid story—but do you know how to paint such a beautiful and immersion tale? It comes down to descriptions, characters, and dialog—to name a few. Here’s an article from a fellow blogger who discusses how to get started and paint the world of your dreams. Enjoy.

Lorraine Ambers

The setting of your novel is just as important as character development and dialogue. It needs to accurately reflect the period or define the world-building making it as vibrating and sensory as possible. It’s much more than painting a picture, its a fine art of evoking the five senses to bring the story alive, immersing the reader into the world you’ve created.

Coffee-Tree-pen-paper-blog banner-writing tips

Whilst it’s tempting to fill your pages with purple prose and lengthy descriptions, be mindful that those approaches tend to bog a story down. Foreshadowing is a great tool that allows the writer to drip feed upcoming events; a carefully placed dagger might elude to a murder or a broken lock might reveal how a derelict house is broken into. However, relevance is vital, if that dagger isn’t going to be used to drive the plot forward don’t use it for the sake of embellishing a scene. Aside…

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Dreams of the Scarlet Swordswoman #8

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Here’ some more creative writing from a dream segment in my upcoming book, Ethereal Seals: Dragonsblade. I had fun writing this part of Pepper’s dreams. It’s more philosophical and spiritual if anything. In the meanwhile, I’ve been super busy writing, rewriting, and revising the book segments from the feedback I get. Any feedback in the comments here is also appreciative. Thanks.

Alternatively, you can check me out at betareader.io. Also stop by my creative Twitch channel for gaming, writing, and artwork.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little tidbit and thanks for reading! 🙂

 


Pepper woke with a start, beholding an ocean of stars. The blackness of space drew her in, stealing her breath. Each star twinkled like facets of a white gemstone out of her reach. A chill ran up her spine at the view of the vast cosmos. Comets, nebulae, and multiverses spiraled around her.

“What is this?” she said with her brows arched.

A tusked bear materialized before her, its body muscular yet aged, golden fur tingled with gray. Licking its paws, the beast marked her cheek with its mitt before walking away. She shouted the bear’s name, her hand outstretched, but he did not heed it. With a howl, the animal vanished into stardust.

Confused, she paced forward on an invisible floor, each step echoing around her. A comet crashed into a small star with a massive explosion, scattering the remains like children’s toy blocks. Pepper gasped and shielded her face, but the shockwaves passed through her harmlessly.

Pepper opened her eyes. Instead of a destroyed moon, crystalline dust scattered around her vicinity. Then the cosmic sand shimmered, coming together at a point. A small flame developed, growing larger.

She stared at the sight, her jaw slack, as the flame grew beyond her line of sight. It was now a star, too massive for her to gauge. Then smaller particles of dirt came, rotating around the star like a solar system.

“Are those planets? What’s going on? Where am I?”

She tried to turn away from the awesome sight, but couldn’t. Countless universes flashed before her eyes: death and birth; an endless cycle of life and transmutation—of alchemy. She saw the future and the past, meshed together. Images of herself flashed before her eyes. She saw herself as a different, but a familiar person—a female soldier. Another vision came, as an old man; others like animals, insects, plants, and even stars. She became it all, merging with the universe.

“Please stop, whatever you are,” Pepper cried, vaguely aware of her body. She grunted and flailed her arms against the cosmic seduction.

The frequency of visions increased, hundreds flashing before her eyes each second.

“No more, please!” she begged, falling to what she assumed were her knees.

The visions ceased as abruptly as they began, leaving Pepper in the bleakness of space. The sensation choked her, robbing what residue of Creation still lingered within her entity. She hugged herself and sobbed, now empty and alone—a nothingness.

Then, she saw it.

A cluster of multiverses, each shaped like gemstones, condensed into a sphere of white plasma. Around the anomaly, arms of multihued light rotated like rings. She couldn’t count how many limbs the thing had, nor how large it was—size was meaningless—only marveled at the magnificence of what she witnessed.

“The Ethereal Seals?” she said, confused about how she knew it was Gate. She glanced down at a jade sword she held. “It must be my connection to the Gate through my sword.”

She looked up. The Gate flashed and released shockwaves of warm electricity that sent pleasure through Pepper’s body, a sensation she could only describe as divine—not fit for mortal comprehension. The smell of lavender wafted in the air, on her taste buds. Her fingers stroked the tips of the Gate. It was soft and tender.

“What do you want from me?”

The Gate flashed again and vanished, leaving her in the void of space. She then noticed a blond youth—alone in the darkness as she—not more than a few yards away. The young man shivered violently, unable to obtain the heat he sought.

A small girl appeared next to Pepper. The newcomer bore jade twintails down her shoulders and clothed in a silver dress. Her earrings were the shape of swords, and her silver eyes equally as sharp. Her hands curved to a single point, the flesh like metal.

“Master, please go to him,” the little girl pleaded, clasping her bladed hands. She took a knee, gesturing to the youth.

“Dwyrm?” said Pepper, examining the girl, who remained bowed.

Pepper approached the youth on the horizon. Her hand caressed his face, felt the cold sweat on his body, and smelled the herbal aroma of his hair. The touch was like a jolt of electricity through her arm. A warmth grew in his body, and he smiled, his eyes closed, as he cuddled with her. She dug her fingers into his robes, savoring his embrace, a smile on her lips. For a few precious moments, nothing else mattered to the girl.

She was complete and one with Creation once more.

The red girl paused as an ominous shadow formed behind the youth. The image of a black dragon roared and seized the man, drawing him away from Pepper’s grasp. She cried in vain, watching the towering dragon devour him amidst his screams of agony. Fire flared in her spine. She bent double and moaned in pain as darkness engulfed her.

 

 

Poetry, Writing Tips, and More

tree tunnel at daytime

Hello, hello to all my readers. It’s only a week into March and it has been a busy month. I’ve worked on my beta manuscript nonstop, seeking feedback and writing, revising chapters—you know the drill. This journey has been a long one, filled with pain and joy.

If you’re interested in beta reading, check me out on betareader.io here. If the link doesn’t work, look for an ebook with a green gem on it. Betareader is a great website for beta testing longer novels.


I’ve posted some dream segments from my beta manuscript involving the main OC, Pepper Slyhart. They’re a bit poetic and romantic, as they involve her love interest, Tarie Beyworth. The antagonist is a dragon queen, seeking to control Pepper’s heart. You can check out my latest one here.


Although it’s March, it’s never too late to celebrate fantasy and science fiction. 😀 February was #Fantasymonth, and I wrote a fun piece about my interests as a fantasy reader. If you feel so inclined, you can participate in the game here.


Last, but not least, I created a simple list about writing a protagonist, building tension between character and plot, and how to bring it all together. You can check out that post here.

That’s all for now, my lovely readers. The rest of this month promises to be a productive one. In the meanwhile, stay cool and persevere in whatever your dreams are. Love and gratitude. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreams of the Scarlet Swordswoman #7

She held a demonic weapon in her hand—a monster, a work of evil. Pepper buried the sword in the dirt, broke it, and threw it away. Still, the fiend would not leave. She ran from the weapon, hearing the laughter of the sword claw at her soul.

Destroyed taverns and churches fell behind her, with misshapen demons and soldiers in pursuit. She came to a cliff side and screamed an unsaid name, lifting her hands. The horrors closed around her; at the front of the demons was the dark twin again. She carried a blade likened to a dragon tooth, its length vibrating with power and tearing at space like a vacuum.

The sinister double raised the weapon to strike. The red girl shrank back against the crag as her death approached, screaming the silent name again. The bone stopped inches before its target, and the villain gave a start before the appearance of a newcomer.

A handsome youth had appeared by Pepper’s side with a jade sword raised. While short of stature, his hair was like a waterfall of gold that stretched down his spine. His vest and pants sparkled with gemstones, like a torch of white flame.

Pepper’s twin growled like a wild beast. She backed up before his radiance.

“You shan’t touch her!” the youth cried, pointing his sword out in challenge, his brows furrowed.

The doppelganger roared and swung her bone of fire. The youth caught the blade, deflecting each follow up like a professional swordfighter. Sparks flew from the clash, the heavens trembled, and the earth shook. The antagonist found herself pushed back again.

“You cannot protect her forever, foolish elf. I, Tiamat, shall have her body and mind eventually. You will see.” With a hiss, Tiamat vanished into smoke, and with her, the rest of her lackeys.

Pepper sighed with relief, her hand at her breast. She regarded her savior, who turned to face her. He seemed familiar, but Pepper couldn’t remember his name, like a splinter lost in the deep recesses of her mind.

“Thank you,” she said, bowing. She hesitated and gasped, noticing she wore a long ball gown. Her mouth parted, fingers caressing each ruby, shining like specks of magma. The fabric was soft like silk, interlaced with tiny jewels.

She looked up at the youth, her brows arched in confusion.

He smiled, gently taking her silk glove, his lips pressed on one of her knuckles. “It’s my pleasure, milady. In exchange, could I ask you for one dance?”

“A dance?” she said, blinking. “Okay.”

He nodded and turned towards the cliff face. Heedlessly, he walked off the edge, still holding her hand. She followed behind him, her feet stepping on air as if it were stone. The gray sky turned sunny, and the milieu smelled of honey and perfume. The sunlight reflected off her dress, the fabric shimmering like diamonds cast in the lava of her hair.

Her heart raced, lips curled into a smile as her body tingled with warmth from his strong grip. He gently took her into a waltz, spinning her around, hands at her hips.

Pepper’s eyes never left his when she faced him. She felt the warmth on her cheeks, the passion in her body surging like wildfire for this mysterious man. Who was he?

He paused, holding Pepper close to his face, his lashes grazing hers. He kissed her on the lips, slowly, deeply. She moaned with the experience of his mouth—wet and soft against hers, so comfortable and exquisite.

He pulled back and frowned, hands at her shoulders. “Pepper, you need to wake up.”

“What?”

“Wake up, please. Everyone is worried.”

He released her and she fell from the sky—her invisible floor had vanished. She screamed as she descended towards the black ocean below. The light of the heavens vanished.

Then, everything fractured like glass.