Thursday, May 16, 2019

Choose Your Poison

Poison in a Bottle
As synchronicity would have it, the last three books I've read had much to do about poisons, toxic substances that caused grievous harm. Some of the results are accidental, some intentional, but what ties all three reads together is the way the poison itself becomes a character.

Sure, you could say that chemical/magical substances are just tools, good or evil depending on who wields them. But in these books, I found the alchemy so unique and essential to the plot that it warrants a life of its own. 

I'll highlight them here so you can judge for yourself if you want to partake. I liked them all very much, in different ways.

Poison Study by Maria V Snider -

Book one of nine in the Poison Study Series

In this dance with poisons, the hero, Yelena, convicted of murder, is offered the option of becoming a taste tester to the Commander of Ixia. The other choice is death. Being a taster means she's well housed and very well fed. Of course, it also means she will die at any moment if she can't identify a poison quickly.

There's another twist to the plot that keeps her from running away, an ingenious addition by Snider that keeps the story moving as well as elevating the poison to a supreme 'power over.'

Fabulous writing. I love how you can settle in for nine whole books in this series!

An Affair of Poisons by Addie Thorley

YA Historical Fantasy

This debut story whisks us away to the time of King Louis XIV, focusing on a seventeen-year-old who is shocked when she learns the truth about her mother's once-revered Shadow Society. Mirabelle Monvoisin is an alchemist, after her father, whose love of chemistry and magic, life-saving and life-taking, brings to life the plants and herbs and elements she works with.

While she struggles with a life or death situation, she meets the
Royal bastard Josse de Bourbon, loathed by his father the Sun King but devoted to his siblings who are in desperate need of saving.

As the captions reads: "She’s a deadly poisoner. He’s a bastard prince. As sworn enemies, they form a tenuous pact to unite the commoners and nobility against the Shadow Society. But can a rebellion built on mistrust ever hope to succeed?"

A rich and entertaining read. It made me dust off a history book to learn more about the French Revolution.

A Beautiful Poison - Lydia Kang

YA Historical Fiction/Mystery

I just realized this is one of the few non-fantasy novels I've read in some time. I was drawn to the author by reading her YA fantasy title - The November Girl - and although this story is very different, the writing is every bit as engaging and immersive.

Set in the early 1900s, in both the homes of upper-class New Yorkers and those less fortunate, we meet Allene, smart, educated, entitled and out to solve a murder mystery. She teams up with two old friends, the fragile and stunning Birdy, and Jasper, a young apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital. 

As the story deepens, I found myself guessing 'who done it?' but oh boy, was I surprised at the very end. Brilliant writing. Amazing toxins and characters so real it makes you cry. Set in the era of NY jazz and the Spanish flu... Highly recommended.

As I think on these three authors and how they have weaved their poisons into the plots, I am reminded of Paracelsus when he said:

Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either deleterious or healing... 

Have you read any books about poison lately? Authors, how do you use toxins in your books? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

* * * 

Kim Falconer's New YA Fantasy Series is out in 2019 - The Bone Throwers. 

Also, check her urban fantasy out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel and the SFF Quantum Enchantment Series

You can find Kim on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

High Fives from Amanda: Conference Season!!!!

Five things to take to writer conferences

The season is upon us for writing conferences. The one time of the year that us hermits dust off our extroversion hat and meet other writers.

Personally, I love going to conferences. But I'm that perpetual nerd who loves learning and, as an instructor, I really love listening to how others have figured out something or how they frame a concept. I love the energy that conferences give me. Much like meeting with a writers group, there is a buzz that seeps into your skin and just makes you want to write, write, write.

In fact, I'm running a little behind schedule on my blog post because I'm headed out to Inkerscon tomorrow!

But there are some essentials to conference season, so here are my top five things to make sure you have when you attend any conference.

1). A TARDIS bag. Not in that it is a police box blue, but a bag big enough to hide the water bottle, snacks, notebooks, swag, free books, and computer with charger that you are going to be hauling around with you all day. There might even be another pair of shoes. You just don't know.
This thing needs to be like Mary Poppin's carpet bag and be HUGE on the inside.
2). Author Identification. Yes, self promotion can be icky, but always be on the ready when someone asks for your contact info or the books you have written. Don't shove them at people, but other attendees might actually keep hold of a business card for a day or two instead of that bar napkin that you write your email on. Also, sparkly business card holder for the win.

3). A scarf, sweater, or pashmina. The hotel industry has yet to find a way to regulate temperatures in conference settings. I'm either too hot or too cold, so I always have a scarf or something to wrap up in. And bonus points for any literary themed wear.
Also very helpful for hiding stains for when you accidentally spill coffee on yourself first thing in the morning or drop a carrot down your shirt during the keynote speaker. Trust me on this one.

4). Special notebook. Notebooks are precious to writers, so I always buy a new one for each conference, because I don't want notes getting lost in the back of some notebook that I'm using for plotting. I've also got the current novel notebook in tow as well just in case a presentation knocks loose a brilliant idea  and I must scribble it down now.
And of course post-its. Are there people who actually leave home without post-its?

5). Something interesting to read at break time. Conferences are hard. Lots of people in a tiny space. Lots of human noise. So I always take something to read. Something to use to help disconnect my brain from the conference even if its only over lunch or a small break in the afternoon. Doing something even for a few moments that isn't siting, smiling, or taking notes helps with my energy over the course of the conference. Just a few moments to focus, center-yourself, and in this case, get a little research done as well!

What do you take? Let me know if there is an essential that is essential to you at conference!

If you have a Top Five list you'd like me to cultivate, please let me know in the comments below or at @pantherista

In the meantime, give yourself a high five!

Amanda Arista

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Romance In Fantasy Fiction: Constancy Amid Tumult & Patricia McKillip’s “Riddle-Master” Series


I have dedicated 2019 as my Year of Romance (#YOR) here on Supernatural Underground, specifically Romance in Fantasy Fiction (#RIFF) because Fantasy fiction is how I roll. ;-)

I began in March with JRR Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings (aka when romance is missing-in-action) and continued last month with Laini Taylor’sDaughter of Smoke and Bone, which is romance of the kind I loosely describe as “my enemy, my love.”

This month’s story, which is in fact a trilogy like both the preceding works, is Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster series, which comprises three instalments: The Riddlemaster of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist In The Wind. It also (roughly) bridges the first two books covered in terms of time period, with The Riddlemaster of Hed published in 1979. And it’s one of my favorite romances, as well as my favorite Fantasy series, so it had to be part of my #RIFF on #YOR. J

When I first read The Riddle-Master of Hed, I thought this was going to be very much in the style of The Lord Of The Rings (LoTR) with the romance very much in the background. (Don’t get me wrong, btw, I adored the story anyway, and still do.) In fact the treatment of Raederle, the romantic interest for our hero, Morgon, the eponymous Riddle Master of Hed, is initially very similar to that of Arwen in LoTR, i.e. she’s there in the background but she doesn’t play an active part in the story.

Although at least the reader knows that Morgon cherishes romantic notions in that direction – in fact it’s what kicks off the story. Morgon, who has won a supposedly unwinnable riddle game, learns that the King of neighboring An had promised to marry his daughter, Raederle, to whoever wins that game. I am sure you pick up on the classic fairytale overtones here! As it turns out, Morgon has actually met Raederle because he and her brother studied together at the Riddle-Master’s College, and yes, he is definitely interested in marrying her – although somewhat less sure of her views on the same matter. (In a very unfairytale-like way he actually thinks she should have a say in the matter…)

So he sets sail to meet Raederle again and ascertain her inclination, which is when (of course!) matters gang awry, with Morgon first being shipwrecked then finding out that a mysterious and powerful people are trying to murder him. Rather than marrying the woman of his dreams, he is instead swept up in a complex and dangerous riddle game, which takes him a quest journey across the face of the Realm (which is the name of the world in this series.)

So we never get to meet Raederle at all in Book 1, although she’s always there in the background of the story. He also makes friends with another young woman called Lira, so as reader you think maybe that’s where the real romance going to be, although she reminds Morgon of his kid sister, which is hardly a promising indication…

So you can imagine my surprise – and yes, delight, dear readers – when I opened Heir Of Sea and Fire and started reading, and boom!, there I was in Raederle’s point of view. And not only is she the main character in this book, she’s setting out – with Lira and Tristan, Morgon’s kid sister – to find and rescue him. This mission naturally takes them on a quest-journey across the Realm where they also run foul of Morgon’s mysterious enemies and Raederle finds out that she, too, has a destiny…

I mean, only think, dear readers – a heroine and love interest with a destiny as well. If not for Eowyn, I would have thought the great JRR must be spinning in his grave at this point. It’s nothing new now, but back in 1979 I imagine it must have been quite revolutionary, especially in epic fantasy literature.

The third book, Harpist In The Wind, returns to Morgon as the point-of-view character, but he and Raederle are together throughout most of the story  and part of why they ultimately win through is because they’re together. I’ve always found their romance really satisfying for that reason, but also because it’s very much a relationship between equals. In terms of the style of romance, because of Morgon and Raederle’s relationship before the story starts, I think it has elements of the “boy and girl next door”, as well as “friends and lovers” that transitions into “ever after.”

As romances go, I would also describe Raederle and Morgon’s love as gentle, rather than tumultuous. The events of the story provide the tumult, while Morgon and Raederle’s constancy, as well as their power, enable them to ride the storm – and yanno, that makes for pretty satisfying reading.

So if you haven’t read the Riddle-Master series yet – which you probably have since it’s now regarded as a classic – hie thee and read it. It’s a gorgeous tale, with gorgeous writing, and a worthy addition to the #YOR look at #RIFF.


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is Helen's most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Novel Inspired Visual Art

Moby Dick or The Great Whale by Lisel Jane.

Last month I looked at the Art of Inspiration, namely, novels inspired by artists like John Waterhouse, Rene Magritte, Leonardo Da Vinci...  This month, I'm turning it around, exploring artistic expression rising directly from novels.

One of my favorite pieces is the above image of the whale, inspired by Herman Melville's Moby dick. The enormity of the creature comes across immediately with the contrast to the tiny human presences in the great sea.

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure..... Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?” - Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

 And then there is the artist I've been in awe of since the 60s - Salvidor Dali. Did you know he did a series of paintings, twelve in total, for an illustrated reprint of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865)?

Salvador Dalí, Mad Tea Party (1969). Image courtesy William Bennet Gallery
“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked."Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.""How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice."You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”  ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

I love Rene Magritte's  Domain of Arnheim, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's work by the same name (1847)

Rene Magritte, Domain of Arnheim (1962)
“There may be a class of beings, human once, but now invisible to humanity, to whom, from afar, our disorder may seem order—our unpicturesqueness picturesque, in a word, the earth-angels, for whose scrutiny more especially than our own, and for whose death—refined appreciation of the beautiful, may have been set in array by God the wide landscape-gardens of the hemispheres.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Domain of Arnheim

Another artist who has influenced me for decades is John William Waterhouse. Bellow is his 
1888 oil painting, The Lady of Shalott,  based on Tennyson’s 1832 poem by the same title.

The Lady of Shalott by Jon William Waterhouse 1888

“She left the web, she left the loom, 
She made three paces through the room, She saw the water-lily bloom, She saw the helmet and the plume, She look'd down to Camelot. Out flew the web and floated wide; The mirror crack'd from side to side; "The curse is come upon me," cried The Lady of Shalott.”  ― Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Lady of Shalott
Finally, for today's journey, Pablo Picasso's depiction of Cervantes’s Don Quixote de la Mancha and companion Sancho Panza.

Don Quixote (1955). Pablo Picasso.
“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”  ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

It's stunning how these classic novels have morphed into visual art, answering questions as well as asking new ones.

If you have a favourite work of art inspired by a novel, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

* * * 

Kim Falconer's New YA Fantasy Series is out in 2019 - The Bone Throwers. 

Also, check her urban fantasy out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel and the SFF Quantum Enchantment Series

You can find Kim on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

High Fives from Amanda: Resources

High Fives:  Helpful tools and resources I depend on. 

I recently did a little speaking gig to an audience of relatively new writers. And they asked, as most do, what books I used to teach myself about writing. 

Well, I had to be honest. I didn't teach myself about writing. I took course, spoke to writers, went to conferences, and read in my genre until my eyes bled. But they seemed to want actual books titles, so I looked at my shelves and these were the ones that I didn't find there, because they were on the floor by my writing chair, or by my bed, or in my purse. 

So Top Five books I reach for when I'm stuck, when something isn't working and I need to go back to basics:

 1). The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by  Christopher Vogler
This is my go to when I'm having a problem in a certain section in my book. If my Ordeal is not ordealy enough or my Ordinary world is just not working. I'll re-read the section I'm trying to work through to remind myself of what I'm going for. 

2) Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge Honestly, this one is on my shelf because once I learned the golden nougat about finding the authenticity in your characters journey, I was sold. It changed my game entirely. 

Hauge and Vogler also have a duo comedy act where they both share their story structures and how they can work together. 

3). The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Becca Puglisi & Angela Ackerman. This one is just what is sounds like, a thesaurus. This duo has loads of them. And its just different ways to describe everything. I'll usually comb through this when I'm building a characters voice to find neat words that are different from what I would say. 

4) 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald TobiasThis is by no means means that there are only 20 master plots, but when you are dealing with one external plot, an internal arc and potentially 2 subplots, having this guy handy to tell you where your twist should be and make sure that you actually KNOW the story you are telling has become a story saver. Specifically for my subplots!

5). Netflix. I know it isn't a book, but the vast amount of storytelling that I can sample form all over the world now is AMAZING! I can see how they are doing it, see how others are twisting and turning and I'm not limited to what I can get on TV any more. Korean Horror. Swedish Paranormals. Comic books adaptations. Sometimes this is all I need to knock the ideas loose. 

If you have a Top Five list you'd like me to cultivate, please let me know in the comments below or at @pantherista. 

In the meantime, give yourself a high five!

Amanda Arista

Monday, April 1, 2019

Romance In Fantasy Fiction: My Enemy, My Love & Laini Taylor's "Daughter Of Smoke and Bone"

Laini Taylor
I have dedicated 2019 as my Year of Romance (#YOR), specifically Romance in Fantasy Fiction (#RIFF.)

Last month, having started with The Lord of the Rings,  I promised to return with a Fantasy novel "where love is far closer to the core of what makes the story tick."

Which was an easy-peasy choice since Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone is not only a favorite of mine, but the love between protagonists' Karou-Madrigal and Akiva is absolutely the center of the story.

And as evidenced by the foreword, it also epitomizes the style of romance I term "My enemy, my love":

"Once upon a time an angel and a devil fell in love.
It did not end well."

As well as ticking both the Fantasy and Romance boxes, Daughter of Smoke and Bone includes elements of "time slip", which is popular in historical fiction, and also past lives affecting the present, so there's plenty to give the storytelling interest in that respect.

The basis of the story is this. Karou, a young woman living in Prague, with blue hair and hamsa tattooed on her hands, encounters Akiva, a seraph warrior who is burning black handprints onto secret doorways in the human world. From first meeting, they feel a sense of connection, although Karou's instinctive reaction to Akiva is "enemy, enemy, enemy", while Akiva learns that Karou knows those who dwell behind the secret doors: his enemies, the chimaera or beasts.

Eventually, Karou and Akiva work out that they were once lovers, when Karou was the chimaera, Madrigal -- a love that crossed the bitter divide of the war-to-the-death between seraphim and chimaera and transgressed the codes of both their peoples.

In perhaps the ultimate expression of "my enemy, my love", they first meet on a battlefield where Madrigal is gathering the souls of the chimaera dead and a wounded Akiva is close to dead. She saves his life, and the rest of their story and their love unfolds from there, until the secret lovers are betrayed. It is a long time afterward before Akiva encounters Karou and discovers that she is also Madrigal...

The rest of Karou and Akiva's story you will have to read for yourselves, if you have not done so already. I can promise you, however, that their story is sorrowful and joyful, magical and adventurous -- and above all, intensely romantic:

'His head bent toward her, his mask muzzle brushing her ear. In his nearness, there was an aura of warmth. He said, "I know who you are. I came here for you."... His face was only inches from her own, his head tilted down so that now she could see into his mask.

His eyes blazed like flames.

She whispered,
"You." '

Daughter of Smoke and Bone has a whole raft of great secondary characters, too, such as Zuzana and Brimstone -- there are definitely no "cardboard cutouts" in this book. And I have to mention the lyrical writing, which enhanced the beauty and mystery of the story.

So whether you love Romance or Fantasy best, I think you'll find a lot to like in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which was definitely an easy choice for my #YOR: Year of Romance and #RIFF: Romance in Fantasy Fiction bookshelf.

I'll be back on 1 May with another personal #YOR #RIFF favorite. In the meantime, be careful out there -- and keep reading!


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is Helen's most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Art of Inspiration

René Magritte’s painting, The Empire of Lights) was the inspiration for William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) movie including the famous scene in the film where Father Merrin first appears outside of possessed Regan MacNeil's home.
As an author, I'm often asked, where do you get your ideas? It's a common interview question and I think the most honest answer, for me, is EVERYWHERE.

Ideas are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the colors we see, the sounds we hear, the textures we feel whether they warm or chill. Everything contains a kernel of inspiration, a spark that can contribute to a scene, a character, a twist in the plot.

One of the most visual inspirations is through art. In a painting, there is a story, and translating that story into words is pure magic. In this sense, art is the inspiration.

The Siren by John Waterhouse

A new series I'm writing under AK Wilder, for example, came to life at the behest of John Waterhouse's The Siren. It has also given rise to a paranormal romance novella, Blood and Water and an urban fantasy novel, The Blood in the Beginning.

Can you feel the inspiration coming from these paintings?

Mona Lisa by Leonardo Di Vinci 
Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code is powerfully plot driven, the main character being the Mona Lisa. Film or book - which brought the art to life the most for you?

The Blue Scarf by Tamara de Lempicka
The Last Nude by Ellis Avery found inspiration in Tamara de Lempicka's life and art. It's a story of a struggling American, Rafaela Fano, who avoiding the path to prostitution by agreeing to model for an artist... the results are as sultry as Lempicka’s Jazz Age paintings.

John Singer Sargent’s Madame X
The novel, I am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto. brings to life the image by John Singer Sargent in a way the painting, in its time, could not. Unveiled in Paris in 1884, it met with shock and ridicule for being too provocative, too risque. The book, in 2003, met with no such objection.

Vermeer's View of Delft

Finally, in Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, the elderly writer, Bergotte, visits a Dutch art exhibit and, while gazing at a detail of Vermeer's View of Delft, drops dead.

Many critics search for what it is in the painting that killed Bergotte and triggered his final thoughts in the book.

I love how these pieces of art morph into a character in the story, answering questions as well as asking new ones.

If you have a favourite book born of a work of art, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

* * * 

Kim Falconer's New YA Fantasy Series is out in 2019 - The Bone Throwers. 

Also, check her urban fantasy out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel and the SFF Quantum Enchantment Series

You can find Kim on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.