inspiration, Uncategorized, writing

My Writing Process Blog Hop

K.L. Schwengel, fantasy author extraordinaire and founder of the weekly WIPpet (work in progress snippet) challenge, tagged me here to participate in a writing process blog tour. So here goes!

1. What am I working on?

Currently, I am finishing up the next to the last draft of the first book in my new historical adventure series, called City of Ages. I will be finished with that draft within a matter of days, and then it goes out to my beta readers and back to me for final fixes. I met some agents and an editor at last year’s Historical Novel Society Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida and I’d really like to get the book out to them sooner rather than later. I’ve written about 50,000 words of Book 2 in the series, but it’s a rather a rough state, so as soon as I hear back from the various agents and editors and figure out how the book will be published – hopefully via a traditional publisher, since that’s what I think would be the best fit for this particular project – then I will continue on with the rest of the books in the series. In the meantime, I will be researching and researching and researching some more.

Picture of books and files.
This is some of the research I have for City of Ages – the hard copy stuff anyhow.

I also have a fantasy series that I wrote 20+ years ago that I’m determined will see the light of day this year. So that will be my next major project, rewriting and editing and sweating blood over that one. It’s exciting, though, because I spent so much of my life, passion, and energy dwelling on it over the years, so the fact that might bear fruit soon makes me happy.

2. How does my work different from others of its genre?

Well, I guess that is different for two reasons:

a. Intense focus on characterizations and an accompanying fascination with their emotional journeys, which always forms the core of whatever I’m working on. I try not to be too heavy-handed with it, because such a thing is more of a theme than a plot device, but some sort of transformation and emotional journey/quest really forms the core of my work  more than anything.

b. Historical detail and setting/details in general. Throughout my life I’ve also kind of swung between obsession with history — which utilizes the more analytical, critical thinking centers of my brain — and writing — which utilizes the creative part of my brain. At this point they have merged together to produce historical fiction. I have a master’s degree in history with a focus on the Ancient Mediterranean, so the ancient world and its influence on the Early Middle Ages really floats my boat. The world and setting of my first novel Necropolis really has been influenced by this, although it is not a straight historical book but rather a fantasy world. It’s based on the societies of the Ancient Mediterranean rather than those of many fantasies, which are based on the societies of Western Europe.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because there’s only one me, and despite the fact that I am only one small flickering light in the blazing sun of the universe, I have a unique take on certain things, or so I would like to think, anyhow. Because of that hopefully my work will appeal to other like-minded people. I had a rather difficult childhood and a lot of health problems in adulthood so reading has really been a wonderful escape for me from the pain of daily existence. I would like to bring that same escape and wonder to others.

4. How does my writing process work?

Sam and Dean Winchester from season 6 Supernatural
This bag from Comic Con hangs over my computer monitors as … inspiration.

Well, work wouldn’t exactly be the term I’d use for it LOL. Back in the day when I first started writing it was like falling in love, effortless and exciting and all-consuming. I wrote and wrote and wrote with nary a thought for passive verbs, run-on sentences, and stupid plot lines. Then I grew up and obsessed over those things for so long that I didn’t get any writing done for many years.

My latest book City of Ages started its life as fanfic, believe it or not. I’ve been heavily involved in a fandom which I will not name here, although you can figure it out if you look at the accompanying photograph, and I used the two lovely leads as inspiration for the main characters in this book. Justus’s physical appearance is based on the physical appearance of the blonde dude here, and Tristan’s is based on the physical appearance of the dark-haired guy. That’s pretty much where the similarities end, because their personalities are original, as is the storyline of the novel.

Anyhow, I participated in a fandom challenge that provided me with support and a deadline that I really needed to crank out the first draft of the book. It was quite a painful experience. I literally only wrote 100 to 200 words a day for months on end and it was like pulling teeth. I collapsed into a dramatic weeping heap upon finishing it because it had been such a difficult experience. Yeah, I wish I was kidding about that, but sadly, I’m not.

Upon reflection, I think that is because I allowed my critical mind – my editor’s mind – too much hold over me when I was trying to write the first draft. Plus I find plotting really difficult, and my process until now has been to just jump in feet first, and wander around like a lost little puppy trying to find the signposts that make for a satisfying story. Afterward, then, I figure out the book’s theme and write the one to two sentence logline describing what happens therein, and generally just figure out what it’s all about. My dear friend Cheryl Dyson introduced me to a different way of setting up and plotting a book called the Snowflake Method, which basically does this process in reverse. You figure out your book’s theme, then create a short description, in-depth profiles of characters, scenes that fill up the book, and then you write. It seems like a much more efficient and – hopefully – quicker means of writing. I’m going to give it a shot. Wish me luck!

~

So here’s the place where I tag three other writers to continue on with the Writing Process Blog Hop. Since one of these writers is currently on vacation, I’m going to put the deadline for their blog posts out at April 21, 2014.

  • Cheryl Dyson’s father’s occupation as an actual cowboy caused the family to move around a lot – in fact, she’s lived in so many Western towns that she can’t remember them all. As a youngster, she competed in professional Appaloosa horse shows, winning numerous ribbons and trophies in varied events. Her favorite thing to do was ride a horse (at a dead gallop) to a nice, secluded spot where she could read in peace. When she eventually ran out of books, this habit led her to writing. Adulthood brought experience working in various accounting positions, all the while writing novels, short stories, and screenplays. Cheryl lives in Washington state where she spends her free time cooking, crafting, and—of course—reading and writing. Her status as Commander of the Universe, coupled with her prolific writing of Harry Potter fan fiction, has garnered her many groveling peons (and several marriage proposals) in the U.S., Russia, and China. Cheryl’s available ebooks include The Gauntlet Thrown and The Challenge Accepted, Books One and Two of the Gauntlet Trilogy.
  • Janet Loftis – Born and raised in the Midwest, Janet fled to sunny California to escape the cold, dark winters, only to now explore the colder and darker sides of human nature in her horror and fantasy fiction. With a BA in Anthropology and Archaeology, and a MA combining Cultural Anthropology with Creative Writing, Janet’s stories are inspired by the mythos of cultures around the world. From science-fiction to fantasy to horror, and from short stories to screenplays, Janet has seen her fiction published in a variety of online and print magazines, and placed in the finals and semi-finals of screenplay competitions. Next on Janet’s agenda are more horror shorts, a horror screenplay, and the marketing of (believe it or not) a family-friendly screenplay! Janet’s available story collections include Skin and BonesZombies and AliensMother’s Day, and Gnomes & Aliens.
  • Deb Ochery has had an interesting and vaguely checkered history, although it probably more closely resembles paisley than checkers. She has roamed the earth searching for suitable converts to add to her growing stable of sturdy boytoys and like-minded friends. She loves to meet new people and spends most of her non-writing time studying unsuspecting humans for fiction fodder, or sometimes bedroom fodder, or occasionally both. Deb has a deep and abiding interest in all things erotic with a particular slant towards romantic erotica. Let’s face it, sex is much more enjoyable with some nice foreplay, whether it be a glass of wine and dinner out or choosing a selection of silk ties and lubricants for the bedroom. Deb is very open-minded when it comes to sex and her books and stories reflect that. She believes human sexuality is fluid and ever-evolving and her characters often face some unexpected attractions that lead to difficult, albeit ultimately rewarding, choices. Getting there is half the fun. Her erotica novel Be Careful What You Wish For, the first book of The Kendra Chronicles, is available now.
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writing

Cover Redesign, Sale, and WIPpet Wednesday

Good morning everyone! Well, “morning” might be an exaggeration. I’m not quite awake despite the fact that it’s closing on 10. Still, hurrah! Lots of news today:

Necropolis has a shiny, brand new cover AND a limited time $.99 price tag. What could be better?

Cover art for Necropolis by Xina Marie Uhl

When prison guard Conyr rescues a young priest from execution, he sets off a dangerous adventure that brings allies in a scheming politician, a mischievous urchin, and a beautiful tavern server. Together, the group must navigate a maze of power-hungry rivals, skilled assassins, and deadly sorcery. For the young priest’s lost memory holds the key to more than his past, but the fate of two cities.

Regular price – $3.99 / on sale for $.99 through 3/16

While I absolutely LOVED my last cover, I received very good feedback that it didn’t communicate “epic fantasy” to readers. I’m hoping that this one does, and that sales will improve forthwith. *keeping fingers crossed*

WIPpet … whip it good

Today is the day of the week where I share a little snippet of my work in progress, thus, a WIPpet. It is posted as part of a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them.

HistoryOrb.com tells me that on this day in 538 AD Witiges, king of the Ostrogoths, gave over his siege of Rome, and retreated to Italy’s capital of the day, Ravenna. He left the city in the hands of Belisarius, that most wily and talented of Byzantine generals. Alas, Justinian’s generals did recapture a good part of the old Roman Empire for the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) but it was not to last long before the barbarian hordes reasserted themselves. While I do not feature any Ostrogoths (the name means “eastern Goths”) in City of Ages, I do feature some Visigoths (the name meaning “western Goths”). Our intrepid hero Justus has just met one, Gundemar, who complements him on his “obvious” riches. At first Justus thinks he is referring to his horse …

Gundemar made an appreciative clucking sound. “Yes, he is strong and sturdy, indeed. But that is not what I speak of.” A sly look came over his features. His eyes, large and hazel, combined with his defined cheekbones, gave him the air of a crafty, wild creature – a fox, perhaps, or maybe a cougar. The woman who sat next to him – thin and smudged with old, oily dirt – tittered.

 “Then what, my armor?”

“Yes, of course your armor! Well-oiled and obviously labored over by your young man.” He indicated Tristan, who lurked in the shadows behind Justus, finding the heat of the fire too intense, not to mention the light. The shadows suited him better. “Yet that is not all, for many have armor that is finer, or better fitting. Perhaps even some of your own men.”

At this, several of the mercenaries who were standing around the fire, listening or relaxing or poking at the fire with sticks, elbowed one another and laughed.

“What, then?” asked Justus.

“Have you no more guesses?”

“I suspect that whatever I come up with next will be similarly discarded. Come now, sir. I grow impatient.”

“Why, it is your hair and your bare chin, of course! Not only have you obviously bathed most recently –” at this he gave an exaggerated sniff and sighed with pleasure at the smell, much to the amusement of the two young boys who flitted back and forth, playing some sort of loud, shrieking game that everyone ignored. “—but it is clear that your hair has been shaped by someone who caters to the wealthy.” He gestured at the mercenaries. “In other words, you did not shear it off yourself with your cooking knife like these fellows.” He regarded Justus critically. “This same person shaved your beard, did he not? It is cut most nicely, and what little has grown back since this grooming seems entirely lacking in lice and fleas!”

Justus laughed. “This is your evidence? That I am not swarming with insects?”

Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself:

photography, travel, Weekly Travel Theme, writing

Travel Theme: Ancient

The ancient world has long been an obsession of mine. It’s so far away from us, but remnants still exist, like the 360° circle which originated with the Babylonians, and the tumbled remains of blocks in the Roman Forum, which is where the below photo was taken. It really resonated with me because “Sena” is the way that the Italians pronounced my first name, Xina. And indeed, I do love Rome. If you, too, love the ancient world, consider checking out my fantasy adventure Necropolis, which has been my piece of fiction which was most inspired by those long ago cultures around the Mediterranean.

Tumbled columns in Roman Forum

 

Would you like to participate in this photography challenge? Visit Wheresmybackpack to learn more or view other photos.

history, writing

Can Truth Father Fantasy?

Cover art for fantasy adventure Necropolis by Xina Marie Uhl
When Dru wakes up in an enemy city after being savagely beaten, he knows he has a mission. But he can’t remember what it is. The assassins, magical creatures, and age-old demons chasing him don’t much care about that, though.

I’m going to tell you a secret.

When writing parts of my fantasy novel Necropolis, I cheated. I took my inspiration from already published works. Did I plagiarize? No, nothing like that. Yet, something about this seems shady. Just what are these published works?

Primary sources.  They are firsthand accounts of history by people who lived through the events they are writing about. These could be letters, or photographs, or other items or documents, even something such as a Viking broadsword etched with runes. There’s nothing like a primary source to give you the essence of the time period or event you’re studying, the vibrancy and power of it. I referenced many primary sources when writing the short descriptive pieces that preceded each of Necropolis’s 22 chapters. These largely come from ancient history, since the world I created is sort of an amalgamation of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Mesopotamia. For instance, here is the stele inscription that appears at the start of Chapter 1:

Under the searing gaze of the sun god Rumda
did I march my army
my army of ten thousand

Before me fled the people of the land
The harvest lay withered on the threshing floor
Figs shriveled unpicked on the trees
Dust piled high in the homes
Homes where only jackals and foxes now live
Even these fled before me
before my army’s might

I crossed the harsh wasteland
to the edge of the world
to Eretria by the sea
That nest of vipers
Home to the Dwellers — the Old Ones
Defilers of the land

With the might of my sword
I slew the young men
With the point of my javelin
I made rivers of blood flow to the thirsty soil
I took the young women
I made widows of all
They heaped dust upon their heads
The air was filled with their weeping
Sweet music to my army
to the weary travelers
with the bloody sandals

O Eretria
Your walls are crumbled
Your temples are burning
Your city is no more
I am Kar the Mighty
Conqueror of Nations
I will clear away the old and make a new land
A new city, strong and fast
A new people that no one shall conquer

In this vow I stand firm as a yew
My arms held wide as a god to my people
As king of Eretria
King of the World

‘The Founding of Eretria’
Stele inscription
Year 1, Eretrian Calendar

Stele of Adad Nirari. Look closely to see the text written across the figure. Here is where the ruler’s conquests would be recorded. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adad-Nirari_stela.jpg

This inscription was based primarily on boastful words from 3,000-odd years ago. Tiglath Pileaser I ruled the Assyrian Empire from 1115-1077 BC.

Tiglath-pileser, the powerful king, king of hosts, who has no rival, king of the four quarters (of the world), king of all rulers, lord of lords, king of kings; the lofty prince . . . who rules over the nations, the legitimate shepherd whose name is exalted above all rulers; the lofty judge, whose weapons Ashur has sharpened, and whose name, as ruler over the four quarters (of the world), he has proclaimed forever; the conqueror of distant lands, which form the boundaries on north and south; the brilliant day, whose splendor overthrows the world’s regions; the terrible, destroying flame, which like the rush of the storm sweeps over the enemy’s country; who . . . has no adversary, and overthrows the foes of Ashur.

Ashur and the great gods who have enlarged my kingdom, who have given me strength and power as my portion, commanded me to extend the territory of their (the gods’) country, putting into my hand their powerful weapons, the cyclone of battle. I subjugated lands and mountains, cities and their rulers, enemies of Ashur, and conquered their territories. With sixty kings I fought, spreading terror (among them), and achieved a glorious victory over them. A rival in combat, or an adversary in battle, I did not have. To Assyria I added more land, to its people I added more people, enlarging the boundaries of my land and conquering all (neighboring?) territories.

In the beginning of my government, five kings . . . with an army of twenty thousand men . . .–and whose power no king had ever broken and overcome in battle–trusting to their strength rushed down and conquered the land of Qummuh (Commagene). With the help of Ashur, my lord, I gathered my war chariots and assembled my warriors; I made no delay, but traversed Kashiari, an almost impassable region. I waged battle in Qummuh with these five kings and their twenty thousand soldiers and accomplished their defeat. Like the Thunderer (the storm god Adad) I crushed the corpses of their warriors in the battle that caused their overthrow. I made their blood to flow over all the ravines and high places of mountains. I cut off their heads and piled them up at the walls of their cities like heaps of grain. I carried off their booty, their goods, and their property beyond reckoning. Six thousand, the rest of their troops, who had fled before my weapons and had thrown themselves at my feet, I took away as prisoners and added to the people of my country.

At that time I marched also against the people of Qummuh, who had become unsubmissive, withholding the tax and tribute due to Ashur, my lord. I conquered Qummuh to its whole extent, and carried off their booty, their goods, and their property; I burned their cities with fire, destroyed, and devastated.*

I tried to keep the spirit of Tiglath Pileser I alive when I created the poem that opens my fantasy novel. After reading inscriptions similar to this one, it was much easier to write the poem. I think I succeeded in conveying a haughty ruler who has no qualms about laying the countryside to waste. What do you think? Did I succeed?

I always tell people that I studied history in school because it is nothing more than stories – human stories from thousands of years. What could be more interesting and vital than such stories? Very little, I contend.

__

Source: R. F. Harper, Assyrian and Babylonian Literature (New York; D. Appleton, 1904) pp. 12-14. Reprinted in Marvin Peryy, Joseph R. Peden and Theodore H. Von Laue, eds.,Sources of the Western Tradition, Vol. I: From Ancient Times to the Enlightenment, 2nd ed., (Boston; Houghton Mifflin, 1991) pp. 20-21.