Blending Fantasy & Espionage + Revisions Update

The other day, I was Googling stuff about fantasy novels that have prominent espionage threads in them. (There really aren’t very many when compared to other genre mashups.) Anyway, I came upon this article entitled “An Uncoiled Spring: The Absence of Real-world Tensions,” which examines how some science fiction and fantasy stories go about incorporating “the devices and techniques of espionage fiction,” as put by author Chris Gerwel.

As a writer who’s been working on a novel that combines (science) fantasy conventions with espionage trappings, I find this highly interesting.Read More »

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Editing, Life & Spy Stuff

A lot has been happening in my life over the past couple of weeks, and not much of it has included editing. I flew to Chicago for a week to see my long-distance boyfriend, whom I hadn’t seen in 5 months (we weren’t always long distance); he was a complete gentleman and romantic during my entire stay. Also, one of my cats has not been feeling well and has lost over 6 pounds from his original weight of 16. Then tomorrow, I’ll be flying to Summerlin, Nevada to help open a new furniture store with Living Spaces, where I work as a visual merchandiser. (This will be my 3rd store opening since I started about 6 months ago.)

In other words, I haven’t had much downtime—and I won’t, for some time.

Store openings are a whirlwind and can be a lot of fun, but they’re also stressful at times.  Last time I did one we only had 9 days to set up everything from scratch (10 for the rest of the team, since I left a day before grand opening), which was a record time for the company. This next one I’m doing will be similar. Like the last, this will be another large store, clocking in at 140,ooo square feet. (These store showrooms are comparable to IKEA’s in size, by the way; IKEA just tends to advertise the sizes of their entire building with the warehouses included.)

In other words, it’s pretty big.

Luckily, I’ll get to see the boyfriend again as soon as January rolls around, which will be nice. In between my return from Summerlin on December 8th and the boyfriend’s arrival 4 weeks thereafter, I should be able to get some more “read-out-loud” editing done.

I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to finish before the end of the year now, unfortunately. Too much has been going on, and my attention has been spread as a result. I’ll have more of a chance to focus on the novel in the upcoming weeks and later in January after the boyfriend has returned to Chicago.

In Other News…

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting some ideas for the next book and keep thinking about a few scenes in particular that have been inspired by some moody, spacey songs I’ve been listening to by a song artist named Koda. (You can find more of his music here.) I also spent a little time tweaking my two ending chapters, as they didn’t quite feel “right” to me—not that they were “wrong,” per se; just not quite “hitting the mark” for me.

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What happens when a drunk air elementalist with claustrophobia tangos with a brooding clairvoyant wrestler at 3AM in a hotel room? Writing about it in a chapter of my fantasy novel, The Elementalist: Rise of Hara, entitled, “Two Tumblers, a Red Dress & a Bottle of Whiskey.” | Image credit: unknown.

Anyway, the second story will be set in new locations inspired by early 20th-century China, Japan, and Saharan regions especially as opposed to the more European-like settings I’m currently writing in.  It will likely be even more espionage-y than the first novel, I’m gathering—mostly because the main characters will be veering off their usual paths and doing a lot more things their governments may/may not approve of (intrigue!), as possibly hinted at by the novel title I have planned: The Elementalist: Revolutionary.

As such, I’ve been gathering inspiration on life in/near the Sahara as well as spies during WWII.

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I started reading an espionage thriller called The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett, which I’m enjoying so far. It mainly follows a German spy who’s been sent to Cairo, Egypt during WWII, as well as his British intelligence counterpart in an intriguing cat-and-mouse game. I’ve also been watching the miniseries version of a book I once read called The Time In Between, also set around the WWII era. I wrote a blog post about this book a while ago; it was one I really enjoyed.

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The TV series is very well done. Sira Quiroga, a Spanish seamstress turned renowned dressmaker turned spy against the Nazis, is a clever and compelling heroine–with an impeccable sense of style, to boot! If my protagonist Voi Román read her story, I think she would like Sira very much and might even consider her a role model, of sorts.


Anyways, that’s what I’ve been up to. I still need to pack and get ready for my trip to Summerlin, though hopefully, I can get a little editing done before I go. (Once I’m there, it’s 10+ hour work days, and after moving furniture and bending and crouching all day, I know I won’t have the energy to edit then!)

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers, both old and new!

Neo-Noir, Dark Themes & Fantasy

As I comb through my finished draft of The Elementalist: Rise of Hara (TEROH from here on out), reading it out loud for awkward sentence structures and flowing cadences, I’ve come to realize that my novel has a surprising amount of dark writing themes—surprising to me only because I never intentionally sat down and told myself, “Hey, I’m gonna write a dark fantasy novel!” All the same, it’s making me seriously consider whether my story is even a bit neo-noir.

It’s very much dieselpunk and fantasy, sure, but that doesn’t describe the tone. Not that a series of labels for a novel has to, per se, but if I want to give people a better idea of what they can expect from TEROH, then I wonder now if I should also be adding “neo-noir” to the mix somewhere. (Depending on what version of my blurb I use, I could see people interpreting the story as a light-hearted, swashbuckling type, which could be misleading. Especially if I use my shorter “under 200 words” version versus my slightly longer “under 300 words” one, the latter currently showing on my site.)

Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain why I suspect my novel may be neo-noir.Read More »

The Time In Between

Last time I posted I said I was going to share my thoughts on a novel I’d just finished reading.  I’ll try and keep this brief, though, ’cause I already talked some about it before.

The Time In Between

The Time In Between is an international bestselling novel (historical fiction) by Spanish author María Dueñas.  Written in first person, the story is set in 1930s Spain (initially) and follows Sira Quiroga, daughter and apprentice to a seamstress.  By her twenties she’s learned a great deal about the business which, unbeknownst to her, will help her immensely in the near future.

The novel opens splendidly: “A typewriter shattered my destiny.”  Immediately you want to know how this could possibly be.  From there the story is completely engaging.

Sira is already engaged to a government clerk at the beginning, but things go terribly awry when she meets a particularly charming salesman.  Unfortunately, she decides to leave her fiance for Señor Suave and her life is completely turned upside down.  She later ends up stranded in Morocco with her father’s inheritance in the hands of the conniving salesman, who’s gone off to God knows where.  Though, perhaps this was a blessing in disguise; back home there’s a civil war a-brewing, and WWII is just around the corner…

With no means of leaving Morocco, fate has left Sira with no other choice but to depend on the one thing she knows well: how to sew clothes.  With the help of a weary commissioner and a landlady of questionable repute, Sira decides to reinvent herself and open her own haute couture studio.  Word starts to spread about her work, and before she knows it she’s developed quite the reputation.

What she wasn’t expecting by now was to become a target of a British intelligence recruiter.  And that’s where things get really interesting…

Why I Love This Novel

First off, Dueñas really knows how to keep you turning the pages.  There were several times throughout the story where I simply did not want to put my e-reader down.  Interested writers could learn a thing or two on where to end their scenes and chapters from this author.

Another thing I mentioned before that was done well was the characters.  Sira doesn’t especially grab me until the latter half of the book–which is, btw, over 600 pages long–but initially the secondary characters were what really caught my interest.  Some are smoldering, some are quirky, and some are suspiciously plucky.  In any case, these characters add a lot of spice to Sira’s adventures.

Something else I liked was the way Dueñas tied in the whole espionage thread.  It developed slowly over time so that when it finally came it made sense.  Sira’s skills as a seamstress were brilliantly incorporated into the plot, both in the methods she passed on coded messages and her cover story for relocating to Spain in order to spy on a certain businessman.  Overall, I thought this was done well.

There were very few things I did not like about this novel.

The Nit-Picky Cons

Genre writers are forever encouraged to “show, don’t tell”; put the reader in the center of the story rather than making them watch.  It’s practically been drilled into our brains.  But The Time In Between is historical fiction–and to be honest I’m not sure if that’s really under “genre fiction”.  In any case, historical fiction tends to follow different rules than, say, fantasy does.  I tend to see a lot more telling with historical and for some reason it seems a bit more acceptable there than it would in sf/f.  (But maybe that’s just my skewed opinion.)  In any case, I think The Time In Between does a lot of telling, but you know what?  I actually didn’t mind it, for the most part.  At first I was aware of it, but over time it didn’t matter because Dueñas tells the parts that need to be told, never more.  And she does it interestingly.

This is really comparing apples to oranges, I realize, so it’s not so much a criticism as it is pointing out an observation.

The only real “con” I can think of with this novel is that sometimes Dueñas makes unnecessary long lists of things that have already happened–I presume for the purpose of reminding the reader.  But we really don’t need to be reminded of all the details, just the major ones.  And even then not all that often.  I guess it’s just a matter of balance, is all.

…And maybe Sira could have been more interesting in the first half, as the secondary characters fairly out-shined her.

Though, besides that, I pretty much loved everything else about this novel and would give it 5/5 stars.  Or how about hearts.

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

(Ha!  So much for “brief”…)

Has anyone else read this novel?

If so, what did you think?  Or, if you haven’t, does this sound like something you might read?

I Think I’m In Love (Plus Thoughts on Pioneers & Unassuming Heroines)

No, not in love with a man.  (Or with a woman, for that matter.)  But rather, with a book.

Oh, come on, now, don’t give me that look!  Like it’s never happened to you.

Here, allow me to explain.

Pioneering OSS Agents (need I say more?)

While on vacation I was reading (studying, more like) this super interesting book called Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of World War II’s OSS by Patrick K. O’Donnell…and OMG, it has all sorts of information I haven’t been able to find about technology just before and during WWII.  (It’s the little things in life that make me squeal with delight, simultaneously rousing my muse to an uber happy place.)  This book talks about what kind of training their recruits had to go through, some key operations and also some of the gadgets spies used back then like knives disguised as pens, fairly elegant dart guns, and the “L” (lethal) pill, among other things.  (Whispers: it even has pictures!)

Quite fascinating, really, and I’m simply in awe by the amount of research that went into putting this book together.  Lots of riveting first-hand accounts.  (I haven’t read a book this interesting in ages, so I guess this says something about the fiction I’ve read in that time, eh?)

…And the whole time I’m reading it I’m mentally generating scene ideas for my next novel while meditating on how to improve various details in my current WIP to make them more life-like.

Entertainment, education, inspiration… What more could you possibly ask for in a historical novel?

Why Else This Book Rox My Sox

It’s especially lovely because it almost reads like a genre historical war/espionage thriller yet at the same time is so informative.  (The only big difference is that the author likes to tell you things before he reveals them via storytelling.  “Operation X would be his demise.  This is how it happened.”  He does it more elegantly than this, of course, and in more detail, but that’s pretty much how it goes down.)

Also, when reading the first-hand accounts, you really do get a sense of the character of a lot of these guys and the human aspect of being involved in a pioneer organization.  One of my favorite passages was regarding a mission to gather intelligence in Istanbul; surviving team member Spiro Cappony recalls:

I accepted the mission and was joined by two other team members, A. Georgiades and Mike Angelos, and they said, ‘Gus (they called me Gus), how the hell are we going to get to Istanbul?’  This is how new we were.  ‘Who’s going to meet us?’  ‘A guy by the name of Spurning, he’s a professor from Yale University.’  One of them said, ‘How the hell are we going to know who the guy is?’  I said, ‘Well, my orders say he’s going to show a ruby ring on his finger.’  ‘Man oh man these guys are crazy,’ remarked one of the guys. (107)

I mean this is enough cause and inspiration for me to make parodies of the classic spy story or something.  I love it.

Here’s another brief passage that I just love about an operational group, comprising Greek-American and Greek national recruits, who were to be deployed in Greece:

At [Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia] our boys would march and sing, both in English and Greek, and the entire camp would say, ‘Who are these guys?’  We were dressed smartly, had new experimental clothing including jump boots, and we were the first unit to be assigned the new Eisenhower jacket.  We looked good, acted good, and the biggest thing, we felt good. (110-111)

Yeah, classic cocky guy talk and behavior.  I am just itching to write about more characters like this in my next novel who are new to some experimental endeavor.  (Much like America’s pioneering airmail pilots, who have also been a big inspiration for me; I guess you could say I have a thing for pioneers, heh.)

As it turns out, though, my heroine is more of a “sky spy” than a conventional field agent (kind of playing off those conspiracy stories that claim Amelia Earhart was spying on the Japanese here), so I’ll probably get more mileage out of this historical account after I start writing the next novel…like sometime next year, heh.  Still, it does help.

Learning Along With Your Characters

Sometimes I feel I’m at a big disadvantage in that I don’t have any experience in the types of things I want to write about, so reading books like this really helps to put things in perspective for me.

I remember when I first started doing drafts of my novel how I wanted to write about a heroine who was highly experienced in all of tasks she is hired to do throughout the story but then later decided to go the route of someone who was new to many aspects of her world.  T. S. Bazelli once wrote an article about Lost World Fiction in her Speculative Fiction Genre Glossary Project, and while talking about the Lara Croft adventures I mentioned how originally I wanted to write about an actiony Croft-type character who was not only adventurous and very knowledgeable in her field but could also kick some serious butt.  However, the more my story evolved and the more I learned about my leading character, the more I realized that this approach wasn’t right for her story because I was starting it at a point in her life where she didn’t (yet) have those kinds of qualities.  Instead, she starts off more like Evelyn from The Mummy, with some background in art history and pretty much zero experience as a treasure-seeker or gunfighter–thank you very much, Mr. O’Connell-types.

And as a first-time novelist I think there’s some advantage to not writing about a woman who is super kick-ass heroine right off the bat, but rather an unassuming heroine–one who is clearly not everything her employers need her to be though chooses to undergo transformation in order to become that person.  (This is a perfect place to start with a protagonist if you’re writing epic fantasy, I think, and I suspect my story could actually be classified as epic, though it is not traditionally so.)  For one, as she learns more about her world and is trained to acquire new skill sets, the reader also learns about the world and how things are supposed to work.  Also, as the author, such an approach allows you to learn things as you go along–especially during the editing stage when you’re trying to color in those little particulars you just kind of sketched in before.

…Which is kind of nice when you know just a little as your protagonist going in!

So Yeah, This Has All Been Extremely Fascinating…

But I really should get back to work now!  (Returning from vacation doesn’t make this easy, heh.)

Though, I do still need a prompt…

What are/were some major sources of inspiration for your current or most recent WIP?

Also, how has learning more about that source shaped the direction you chose to take your story in?