A Guide to Epic Fantasy – Part One (of however many I need to get you through this)

In which the Author tours the fantasy landscape… OR… “Let Me Entertain You!”



The “Chosen One”

Birth is one of the most important clues for you, in determining if you are The Chosen One.

Let’s face it, we all would prefer to be royalty: the perks are enormous, and it’s not rare for a Chosen One, as foretold by prophesy, to spring from a line of kings.

The important tell-tale sign will be that you are unloved or in some way betrayed by your parent or guardian. If it is a guardian, their seeming love and concern for you will inevitably be a camouflage: they will be determined to keep you dependent on them, often by the use of Black Magic that renders you either addled or infirm while they conspire to rob you of your rightful throne.

More commonly, though, a Chosen One will find themselves a simple peasant in a remote village.

In this case, you will have at least one deceased parent, and they will have been categorized by your fellow villagers as “not being from around here”. You will also be almost excruciatingly “ordinary” for at least the first thirteen years of life, and may even be the awkward foster child of some brute who resents your very existence, when not cherished and loved by the gruff soldier who took you in when you were just a babe.

Occasionally, though, Chosen Ones are raised in the depths of the forest by a crusty-but-kindly oldster who turns out to be a famous mage or sorceress. Either way, these family or foster kin are almost certainly doomed to a frightening or violent end when the forces of evil close in on your locale. This generally occurs within the first three chapters.

In all cases, regardless of rank, Chosen Ones are distinguished by two important traits, the first of which is the ability to pick up complex skills such as attaining mastery in sword-craft within days of being handed your first weapon and/or found to possess heretofore unsuspected arcane powers never before evidenced, although some C. O.’s have been known to suffer from an amusing lack of control over those powers, sometimes with devastatingly destructive results.

The other notable trait is that of a complete lack of interest in (not to mention, superlative reluctance to) Saving The World. Indeed, if much of your dialogue revolves around your constant, plaintive questioning of “Why Me?” you are almost certainly a Chosen One.

Another common characteristic of a Chosen One, either as royalty or lowly peasant, is to be, in a general way, unfathomably charismatic, and able to gather to him or her the loyalty of stalwart friends or faithful servants, who will be only too willing to drop everything and leave family and future prospects behind in order to accompany you on your Flight from Doom or the Quest for some Mythical Objet d’Art.

Still, while Chosen Ones are certainly not in short supply in Epic Fantasy, you may well realize by now that you are, in fact, one of the last-mentioned group – a sidekick character, destined to live only in proximity to the Child Long Foretold, an also-ran in the Hero stakes.

Do not despair. By latching onto the actual C. O. and becoming part of this fellowship chasing hither and yon, one step ahead of Ultimate Evil as you race to acquire the McGuffin of Lore and Legend, you still have some potential. It is true that your role will be rather dangerous, and your life-expectancy is not always great, but should you survive, you stand a fairly good chance of graduating to at least a short story or novella of your very own.


(This first appeared in the September 2016 issue of Fantasy Worlds eMagazine, reprinted with permission.)

Never be satisfied with “It’ll do”



On Monday, at work, it dawned on me what was going wrong in the novel I’m working on.

Work is good for epiphanies like this: there are tasks that are essentially mindless, like restocking a section, where the only thing I’m doing is visually matching up to make sure all the books that should be there are there. It frees the mind to wander just that little bit, and sometimes, like on my Monday, you get an epiphany.


It just has seemed to me that there needed to be an incident or two that ratcheted up the danger for my plucky heroine, but I’d written an attempted murder scene already, and it’s kind of hard to top that without adding unnecessary gore or something.

And that was when it hit me that the attempted murder happened too early, and if I take it out, re-jig that bit to do a smaller thing, and put the attempted murder in later, I would have solved the problem without increasing the word count for no apparent reason (a thing that a lot of authors do and which annoys the crap out of me).

Which brings me to my next point, which is that you cannot, as the writer, get too emotionally tied to what you’ve written or too intellectually lazy to subject your writing to the glare of critical spotlights.

You cannot be satisfied with “barely works”. You cannot ignore that nagging voice that says “something is wrong” and hope that by just adding more, more, more whatever that the reader won’t notice the problem.

It’s also about “pace”. By having something as big as an attempted murder so early, I had disrupted the pace, and after that, the feeling that things should soon come to a head kept intruding – which for this book, is all wrong.

All fiction needs those places where the action seems to die down a bit – where the characters breathe a little, thinking they are maybe in the clear on some level, while the reader (looking at the amount they still have to go) knows this isn’t true – and creates their own sense of anticipation of the next big thing.

And it’s another good reason to take writing a little slower – to not hurtle towards the finish line as if by pounding out three books in six months you are somehow “winning” at writing.

You know what wins at writing? Really great stories..

Quantity over quality – that’s not my goal.

Romancing the Dollar



I once asked a romance writer if they’d ever thought about writing a novel about two poor people meeting and falling in love.

They said they had, in fact, written one – but when they began to talk about the story line, it turned out that only one of the people in the book was “poor” – and that by “poor”, she meant “not incredibly wealthy/has to have a day job”, and that the other person in the relationship had “once been poor but had worked really hard and gotten rich”.

No, I said. A book about two people in dead-end, minimum wage jobs, where every month it’s a toss-up which bills get paid, and how they have to make the Ramen Noodles last till payday. A book about a guy who couch-surfs and a girl with two kids, three jobs and no education. A book about the love that might flourish between two people who won’t get married because neither one has the $100 needed to get the paperwork part of “marriage” done.

She looked at me as if I was crazy. It wasn’t even that she thought no one would read that book.

It was that she couldn’t imagine those people as – well, as “people”.  They were statistics, they were political footballs, they were sights to turn one’s eyes away from and to hurry past, but they weren’t “people”.

But she was vaguely interested, because even romance writers have heard the word “inclusivity” and her publisher had mentioned that they were looking for “new angles” on romance.

She went off and tried to do a little research, but she discovered that she didn’t really know any poor people. She got some suggestions on how to meet some, from her husband, who was marginally intrigued.

She job-shadowed a mutual friend who was doing social work, but she had to stop after three days because she kept trying to offer “money-saving tips” to people on welfare, and the social worker asked her to not come back. He had a job to do, and that job didn’t involve suggesting the recipients buy $10 worth of potatoes when their entire food budget for the month was only $30.

Then she tried helping out at a place that feeds the homeless. She discovered that not only was she not able to stand on her feet for the two hours they asked of her, but that people who have no access to showers smell less than minty-fresh. So, although she’d promised them a week, she didn’t make it through Day Two and just left, and ignored their phone calls.

She managed two days at a women’s shelter, before being asked politely to go home and stop trying to tell these women they just needed to get jobs and stand on their own two feet.

And then she wrote a book about a world-famous model with a poor self-image and disbelief in her own beauty who meets a shipping magnate who loves her for her beautiful soul and taste in poetry, and whisks her off to a Greek island for hot sex and long swims in the Aegean.

Poverty is not romantic.

Fantastic Creature Anthology Release and Scavenger Hunt!


“Here be dragons … and selkies and griffins and maybe even a mermaid or two.

Twenty fantasy authors band together to bring you a collection of thrilling tales and magical monsters. Do you like to slay dragons? Or befriend them? Do you prefer to meet cephalopods as gigantic kraken or adorable tree octopuses?

Each story focuses around a fantastic creature from folklore or mythology, and they range from light and playful tales for the whole family to darker stories that may make you wish to leave the lights on. These stories carry the Fellowship of Fantasy seal of approval. While our monsters may be horrifying, you won’t stumble into graphic sex and constant swearing.

Perfect for the fantasy lover who can’t get enough of mythical beasts.”

My story, “Skin Deep”, is a bit of a spin on Beauty and the beast, based on a Scandinavian version of the tale.

To help launch this AMAZING collection of tales about Fantastic Creatures, we’re doing a Scavenger Hunt, with fabulous prizes and giveaways for people to enjoy. I am really excited about this group venture, and I hope everyone participates and shares it with their friends. All you have to do is visit our sites and collect the number clues at each site enter a draw for a Kindle Fire and a collection of eBooks by a wide range of fantasy authors.

Scavenger Hunt Itinerary:

Kandi J. Wyatt

A. R. Silverberry

Bokerah Brumley

H. L. Burke

Lea Doué

Morgan Smith

Jessica L. Elliott

Caren Rich

Julie C. Gilbert

Nicole Zoltack

D. G. Driver

Intisar Khanani




a Rafflecopter giveaway



And here you can read about one of the anthology’s authors and their Fantastic Creature – let’s all give a warm welcome to  Jessica L. Elliott.

Hello readers! I’m Jessica L. Elliott, author of the Charming Academy series, and I’m here to tell you about my contribution to the anthology, the story of Talori and the Shark.


Hello readers! I’m Jessica L. Elliott, author of the Charming Academy series, and I’m here to tell you about my contribution to our new anthology, Talori and the Shark.

Most of my characters don’t come to me fully fleshed-out, so to speak. But Talori was a notable exception. What I noticed first about her was that she was less colorful than most mermaids. She’s pale with hair like sea-foam and silvery eyes. She looked almost muted from the flashy, bright mermaids I typically see. In fact, by mermaid standards she might be considered quite plain. But despite her lackluster appearance (if a mermaid can be lackluster), she exhibited a heart of gold. When her father falls on hard times through his own poor choices, Talori rises to the challenge of finding a solution for her beautiful sister and accepting the fate of slavery for herself. Her future is uncertain when we first meet her and things seem to go from bad to worse when she is sold into an arranged marriage with a merman known only as the Shark.

Talori and the Shark was inspired by the classic tale, “Beauty and the Beast” as well as the Roman myth telling the story of Cupid and Psyche. Working these elements into an underwater setting was a fun challenge. You know what else is fun? Giveaways! For a chance to win three signed bookmarks, read the excerpt and tell me here what you would do if you were Talori. If you like what you see here, be sure to download the anthology so you can enjoy this, and other great stories, today.

Talori helped get the cart put away and fed Triton, the hippocampus her father used in his travels. She stroked the animal’s long face and spoke quiet, soothing words. Her mother had once told her about horses, a sort of land hippocampus that humans rode as transportation. Talori couldn’t imagine a hippocampus with four legs and a tail as silky as its mane. She was rather fond of Triton. His large green eyes were expressive and intelligent. He had a powerful body, his neck crested with a flowing mane. Pearly fur gave way to iridescent white scales, dancing with rainbows of color as the light touched them. When she finished, she saw her father floating with his head low, one hand on their pillow basalt and sea rock home. She swam behind him and said gently, “Whatever has happened, I’m sure we can work it out. But first you need to tell me about it.”

As Mako described the business deal he’d entered with the slippery merman, Prospero, Talori felt her heart sink. Searing, consuming anger filled her. There had been many times Mako disappointed her with his poor business decisions. But this was different. He had completely ruined them. The more he talked, the less sure she was that they could make something work out. “And now, I have nothing,” he finished. “He’s coming tomorrow to take the house and the business.” His voice broke. “He’s even going to take you girls.”

UPDATE! There’s a signed Bookmark giveaway from Jessica:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32884266-fantastic-creatures

Download your copy of Fantastic Creatures today!

Amazon: http://smarturl.it/fcaa

B&N: http://smarturl.it/fcab

Kobo: http://smarturl.it/fcak




Editorial Review

Everyone pimps their books like they were the the next big thing.


I’m never very good at this, but this latest review from Publisher’s Weekly/Booklife – an outfit known to be pretty dispassionate, with nothing to gain and, in fact, everything to lose by saying something’s good when it’s not – just released a review of “A Spell in the Country”.

To say I’m pleased would be an understatement.

“This digital reissue of an excellent 1999 fantasy in Smith’s Averraine Cycle stars Keridwen of Orliegh, youngest child of a minor house in the kingdom of Keraine. While seeking her fortune, Keri enters into military service with Lord Uln, who then turns traitor to his prince, Tirais. After the rebellion’s defeat and Uln’s flight, Keri is spared and sent to Penvarron, a posting for the kingdom’s misfit soldiers, where she earns the respect of her comrades. Together with the rest of the garrison, she interrupts a ritual by evil Camrhyssi priests who have infiltrated Penvarron’s ancient tower, where mystical forces still linger. Keridwen then finds herself in the company of powerful figures, including the very prince who pardoned her, trying to discover where foul magic may strike next. Though the mythologies differ, this feels much like Lois Bujold’s novels set in the World of the Five Gods. Keridwen is a wonderful protagonist to follow: a skilled soldier with something of a stubborn streak and a keen eye but no great powers. Smith’s terrific storytelling and worldbuilding will thrill fantasy fans. (BookLife)”



After the Bugles Have Sounded



It’s a funny thing about Remembrance Day.

We all put on our poppy pins. We listen to the prayers and poems, we sing the hymns and anthems. We lay wreaths, and we do it together, as a community, honouring the veterans among us.

And then we go home and back to our regular lives and vote in elections for the same kinds of people that keep getting us into these wars, without so much as a second thought.

I have a lot of relatives I never met. They lie in graves in France and Belgium. I had a few relatives, when I was growing up, who would not talk about their war. And they had relatives that they had never met, or ones who wouldn’t talk about their war, either.

But they were the ones who made that commitment. They gave us a motto – I’ve seen it plastered all over the internet both before and on November 11th: Lest We Forget.

Lest We Forget.

It doesn’t mean what you think it means.

It wasn’t meant as a slogan to turn dead bodies of our young into objects of warrior fetishism. It wasn’t meant to be a day for people who have never fought to get all teary-eyed and borrow the dead’s glory.

It wasn’t about honour or courage, or a way to elevate conflict into a holy act.

It was meant to remind us that when leaders make bad choices, it is the innocent who pay the price. We weren’t supposed to remember the dead as plaster casts of “heroes” – we were meant to remember that they wanted an end to war, to conflict, to strife.

Both wars ended, in many, many ways, the old order of things. The men and women who came home wanted a far different future than the one their leaders had sent them to preserve. They had fought, and bled, and died, and they wanted to never again be at the mercy of demagogues playing diplomacy chess with other people’s lives.

They demanded real freedom, in the form of universal suffrage, medical care, welfare, old age pensions, and access to good education. In most countries, they got all, or part – and then, as we lost sight of the message, those things have disappeared, one by one, stolen by the false god of patriotism, draped in a flag to hide the naked greed that lives underneath.

And not one of the veterans we trot out onto a stage once a year went there to defend a pretty piece of cotton fabric. They didn’t go to defend a way of life that denied most of them any real choices or protections – they went for the future. They went for their dreams of what could be.


Don’t make that sacrifice an empty one, by pretending that we don’t still have a long way to go.

Anthology News


I have a story in this!

This wasn’t your usual self-aggrandizing, all-our-friends-get-to-play exercise: the stories were judged against very high standards, sent back for edits and rewrites and many authors that were initially part of this venture didn’t make the cut (or the deadlines, which were kind of tight).

It was the brainchild and result of hardworking volunteers, and I feel very honoured to have made it into the collection. It’s wide-ranging and eclectic and there’s something for everyone – and best of all, the eBook is FREE!

In support of this, I’ll be hosting an author spotlight as part of an ongoing Scavenger Hunt (prizes to be won! Fun times!) here – in this very space.

And at the “drop-in whenever style Launch party”, I think there will be more fun and games, so consider yourself invited.

Here’s the link for the party and don’t forget to grab a download on the 17th!