Saturday, May 16, 2015

Opening Spells

Lost in her Thoughts - Samy Charnine
Every story begins with a spell, invoked through the opening line.

Why? According the the Harry Potter universe, an opening spell facilitates the passage between two zones, creating an accessible connection. In the case of fiction, the connection is between the reader and writer, a conduit that transports both to a “secondary world” where the story takes place.

Think of the opening spell as the magic that draws the reader in, convincing them to sets aside their ‘real’ world responsibilities and immerse in the pages. Like any good spell, there are a variety of ways to go about it, but realize this inaugural line is rarely written first. Often the first line, paragraph and chapter are edited and revised for days, weeks and months after the story is completed.

To make this opening spell powerful, you have to be willing to give it your all. It might help to identify your approach. Here are four to consider:

  • The plunge
  • The mood
  • The compel
  • The back story

Ingredients required for each will vary. I’ll break it down but note all will require a measure of time, imagination, paper and pen or word processor, and of course, solitude.

However you create the opening line, it must always whisper: Listen to me . . . Stay with me . . .

1) The Plunge
The Plunge

This opening spell is usually dynamic, dangerous and always in medias res. In other words, it starts in the middle of the action, where disaster doesn’t have long to wait.

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races

“Sammy’s voice was low, his fingers warmly persuasive. Terri Garey, A match Made in Hell

“I didn’t realize he was a werewolf at first.” Pamela Briggs, Moon Called - Mercy Thompson

‘Where’s papa going with that axe?’ E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

“Mother, I’m in love with a robot.” Tanith Lee, The Silver Metal Lover

“Screaming, I slashed and kicked wildly.” Jocelynn Drake, Nightwalker

2) The Mood
The Lost Correspondent -
Jason deCaires Taylor.

These opening spells tend to be more world building. They rely on voice, and the promise of what is to come.

"Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.” Brandon Sanderson - Elantris

“Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day.” Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“By the time the first AIVAS had finished its recital of the first nine years of the colonization of Pern, the sun, Rukbat, has set with an unusually fine display. Anne McCaffrey - All the Werys of Pern

“‘Ark-aawl’ —a hundred voices calling their territory from the treetops. Ly de Angeles - The Quickening

“There was a momentary feeling of pressure against her mind, then the stone door shimmered and disappeared.” Nicole Murphy - Secret Ones, Dream of Asarlai

“In the days following the holocaust, which came to be known as the Great White, there was death and madness.” Isobelle Carmody - Obernewtyn

“It is said, in Imardin, that the wind has a soul, and that it wails through the narrow city streets because it is grieved by what it finds there." Trudi Canavan - The Magicians’ Guild

3) The Compel
Falling by
Igor Grushko Vayne

This opening spell is often a cross between the Plunge and the Mood. It has elements of both.

“What I have chosen to do is shocking.” Traci Harding - AWOL

"Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.” Terry Pratchett - Hogfather

"The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault.” Jim Butcher - Blood Rites: the Dresden Files

"The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.” Ursula K. Le Guin - A Wizard of Earthsea

“The wind blew out of the northwest in dry, fierce gusts, sweeping across the face of the Gray Lands.” Helen Low - The Wall of Night

4) The Back Story
In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.

Back story as an opening spell is tricky. Readers want to be in the here and now, diving into what is, not what was. But with the right tone and pace, it can work.

Back story first lines deal with the past in a way that draws the reader in. We must be compelled to ask, “And then what?”

“Eight Months ago, I was attacked in the back alley of my home town and rescued by an uber-hot guy named Chaz.” Amanda Arista - Nine Lives of an Urban Panther

“I came to London to write and found myself practicing magic instead.” Kim Wilkins - Angel of Ruin/Fallen Angel.

“I never believed in ghost.” Merrie Destefano - Fathom

“In the early 1800’s a man named Amadeo Avogadro hypothesized a number—a baker’s dozen for chemists, but in his equation hid a paradox, one that could alter reality with a single thought." Kim Falconer - Path of the Stray

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” JRR Tolkien - The Hobbit

Whether the opening begins with fear, shock, surprise, a problem, a question, a character or history, if you keep reading, it has done it’s job.

What are your favorite opening lines? The Plunge? The Mood? Back story? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Kim Falconer is a Supernatural Underground author writing paranormal romance, urban fantasy, YA and epic science fantasy novels.

You can find out more about Kim at the 11th House Blog, and on FaceBook and Twitter.

She posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month.

Her latest release is "Blood and Water" in Supernatural Underground: Vampires Gone Wild.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Its hard to type on an emotional roller coaster

Year of Living Authentically: When life happens.

April was a little bit of a crap month. Something good would happen, something bad would happen. I'd hear great news from a friend, and then I'd hear terrible news from a friend. I thought I finally found a nice rhythm at work and had everything settled for a while and then my boss dumps this potentially huge thing in my lap with nothing more than a wave of his hand. I got a killer idea for a book and then discovered that something just like it was bought not a week earlier.

It was one of those months that it was impossible to even slow down enough to really ask: Am I being authentic? Is this what I really need to do? Will this take away from another part of my life and am I willing to sacrifice it?

Nope. It was pants on fire all month.

But I survived. I made it out the other side and now it is May. An opportunity to shake it off, restock my wine fridge, and hopefully take a nap.

As I was surviving the month, I was writing up a storm. I was unabashedly using my writing as a way to deal with the ups and downs and I wrote the hell out of my newest project. It reminded me of another reason that I write: escape. I can't experience everything there is to know in my life, so I seek the experiences of a million other lives to live, even for an hour or two. Or sometimes I just don't have the energy to experience my own life, so I need to borrow someone else's for a while

Especially in his fine company of writers on the blog, we create the worlds and welcome you in. We create the dragons and you help us fight them. We create the sword and you pull it from the stone with us. We are there with you, on these foreign planets or hobbit shires because we are looking for something too. And I thank you for letting us create that.

YOLA Authenticity test: Why do you read? Adventure? Escape? The thrill of first love? The passion of battle? What worlds do you escape to?


Amanda Arista
Author, Diaries of an Urban Panther

Friday, May 1, 2015

Love, Actually..."Might Have Been's' and "Star-Crossed"

For my January and February posts I featured a short story, Bird Of Passage.

Now, any story is what it is, but one important aspect of Bird Of Passage is that it's a tale of love that "might-have-been."

Another story I posted on my own blog during March, Ithaca, features enduring love and also mother love.

Both stories got me thinking about how many different kinds of love there are, in fiction as in real life — so I thought I'd take a closer look at romantic love in particular over the new few months, including examples from my own fiction.

Starting today with "might-have-been's" first cousin, Star-Crossed Love.

Literature's most famous example would have to be the original star-crossed pair, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:

"From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;"

One of the lesser themes of The Gathering Of The Lost is another star-crossed pair, Ghiselaine of Ormond and Audin Sondargent. Descended from states that (not unlike the Montagues and Capulets) have only recently declared peace after generations of war, they may fall in love but not marry:

"Yet after a few miles ... Audin dropped back to ride beside Ghiselaine. At first they did not look at each other, until Audin reached across and covered Ghiselaine's hand with his own. She did turn her head, then, and Carick looked away from what he saw in her expression..."

Perhaps the ultimate star-crossed couple of recent times is Buffy and Angel, from the television series Buffy. Vampire Slayer, Buffy, and reformed vampire, Angel, fall deeply in love but can never be together because Angel is cursed: if he knows a moment of true happiness he will revert to his former evil ways.

So how about you? Do you have a favorite star-crossed pair in literature or on the silver screen?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Great "Never Have I Ever" Reveal -- Plus We Have A Giveaway Winner!

So it's time--24 April has ticked past the midnight hour and the veil shall be lifted on our "Never Have I Ever"entries!

The giveaway has also been drawn from those who commented on either the original April 1 post or our April 22nd 'Counting Down' post--a big thank you to all the participants, but our thanks, as well, to everyone who dropped by to check out the fun. :-)

Now for the Big "Never Have I Ever" Reveal: (Drum Roll!)

Amanda Arista: "Never have I ever gone skinny dipping to research what it felt like to be a mermaid."

Amanda says: True!

"I grew up on a lake, so I do swim like a fish, and have dreamed of having fins. But nothing in the nude so far. "


Merrie Destefano: "Never have I ever been held at gunpoint or surrounded by a SWAT team."

Merrie says: False! 

"I’ve been held at gunpoint twice, once as a runaway teen and once while grocery shopping in an upscale San Marino neighborhood. Neither one of those scared me, but I was terrified when I accidentally got caught in the middle of a SWAT sting takedown. I was sitting in my car at a gas station when suddenly everyone around my car pulled out guns. One team member was a woman and she stood right next to my window, her gun inches from my face. A man had been walking in front of my car and he fell to the ground, everyone’s weapon pointed at him. It wasn’t until one of the plain-clothes detectives leaned forward to cuff the perp that I saw a badge on the arresting officer's belt. So twice, I was held at gunpoint by bad guys, but I only got scared the time I was surrounded by the good guys"


Jocelynn Drake: "Never have attended a cocktail party with Guillermo del Toro and Jerry O'Connell."

Jocelynn says: False!.

"As I have honestly done this thing!" (A cocktail party with Guillermo del Toro--awesome!)

Kim Falconer: "Never have I ever been stuck at 80 ft, bottom of the anchor line, waiting for a school of 12 ft long tiger sharks to pass overhead . . . with only 3 minutes of air left in the tanks . . ."
Kim says: False!

"1979, first dive of the day, just off Santa Rosa in the Norther Channel Islands. The current picked up but the water was crystal clear. I’d been taking photos of a beautiful pinnacle, but as I focused on the  drop off below me, shadows crossed overhead. A lot of them. Very quickly I worked out three things. My tank was low on air, my dive buddy nowhere in sight and dozens of limousine size tiger sharks were cruising third feet over my head. The Truth, our  dive boat, was about a hundred yards south east, the same direction the sharks were headed. I waited them out until there was only a few minutes of air left, then slowly swam for the boat, trying to make myself look powerful and unappetising. There were still a few tigers in view as I swam up the anchor line, but many helping hands reached down to grab me when my head broke the surface. I was the last one back onboard!"


Terri Garey: "Never have I ever stayed in a "haunted house" while doing research for a book."

Terri says: False!

"I DID stay in a supposedly haunted house as part of my research on a book. While writing A MATCH MADE IN HELL, I took a trip to Savannah, GA and stayed in an old brownstone house in the Historic District that had been converted to a vacation rental. Several odd things did, in fact, occur - items were moved, the doorbell kept ringing even though no one was there, all the pictures we took inside the house came out fuzzy no matter how many times we tried to take them, and one of the bedrooms had such a creepy feeling to it that no one would sleep in it!"

Helen Lowe: "Never have I ever ridden across Mongolia and hunted from horseback using a golden eagle."

Helen says: True!

"I personally have never ridden across Mongolia or hunted from horseback using a golden eagle--but it sounds a wonderfully epic and adventurous thing to do and my fellow New Zealander, Chloe Phillips Harris, has done both: ridden in the Mongolian Derby and hunted with golden eagles alongside Kazak nomads! You can find out more about Chloe and her true life adventures by clicking on"


The Final Reveal: True-False-False-False-False-True! 

We hope you all had fun guessing! :-)

And Now For The E-Book Giveaway (Of All the Titles Featured Above)

(All comments  were valid entries and the draw was made via

(Long Drum Roll!!) 

And the winner is: Raven

Congratulations, Raven! 

Please contact Helen on contact[at]helenlowe[dot]info to claim the giveaway.*

And our thanks again to everyone who commented.


* If Helen has not been contacted with 7 days (midnight May 2, US Eastern Standard Time), the giveaway will be redrawn.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Counting Down To Our "Never Have I Ever" Giveaway

This month we've been having a little "Never Have I Ever Fun" here on the Supernatural Underground – & we've seen you've been looking, so hope you're having fun guessing what's true and what's false!

But there's the giveaway as well and we're now in the final countdown for the midnight draw on Friday 24th!

By way of a reminder, here's what's in our Supernatural Underground grab-bag:

* Diaries of an Urban Panther from the awesome Amanda Arista (ebook)

Amanda's "Never Have I Ever" entry: "Never have I ever gone skinny dipping to research what it felt like to be a mermaid."

* Fathom from the marvelous Merrie Destefano (ebook)

Merrie's "Never Have I Ever" entry: "Never have I ever been held at gunpoint or surrounded by a SWAT team."

* Angel's Ink from the dazzling Jocelynn Drake (ebook)

Jocelynn's "Never Have I Ever" entry: "Never have attended a cocktail party with Guillermo del Torro and Jerry O'Connell."

* Path Of The Stray from the kickass Kim Falconer (ebook)

Kim's "Never Have I Ever" entry: "Never have I ever been stuck at 80 ft, bottom of the anchor line, waiting for a school of 12 ft long tiger sharks to pass overhead . . . with only 3 minutes of air left in the tanks . . ."

* Whistling Past The Graveyard from the terrific  Terri Garey (ebook)

Terri's "Never Have I Ever" entry: "Never have I ever stayed in a "haunted house" while doing research for a book."

* The Heir Of Night from the heroic Helen Lowe (ebook or hard copy, winner's choice)

Helen's "Never Have I Ever" entry: "Never have I ever ridden across Mongolia and hunted from horseback using a golden eagle."

All you have to do to enter is:

i) Leave a comment with your take on whether our "Never Have I Ever" contributions are true or false 

ii) Every comment will go in the draw (via Random) to decide who gets the books.

You have up until midnight on Friday 24 April to enter just two days left to go! 

The result will post shortly after the midnight hour, on Saturday 25.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Supernatural Sidekickin'

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 12.13.20 pm

Hello Sup readers and writers!

Before we begin, remember everyone, the Supernatural Underground "Never Have I Ever" giveaway is still on. Pop into the comments and be in the draw! 

This month, I'm blogging about sidekicks! I want to explore the qualities of a 'good' sidekick/wing woman/man, what traits they have, their roles in the storytelling and how to write them. Re-blogged from the 11th House

What Sidekicks Are Good For

Back story: A well written, three dimensional sidekick can help with back story, allowing the reader to see and hear about things that came before page one without wading through heavy exposition. We see this in Star Wars with the sidekick Chewbacca, where his adventures in the past with Han Solo help shape our understanding of the man. Also in the sidekicks C-3PO and R2-D2. We learn much about the world through their cometary.

World Building: The sidekick can represent a culture or social group as Gimli and Legolas do in Lord of the Rings. Gollum, a 'minor' character, but with a major goal, provides a talking point for the long and complex history of the ring. What life was like in the past, the roots of the hobbits as a people. He is kind of an 'anti-skidekick' to the anti-hero Frodo.

Contrast: The sidekick can have different values, ethics, goals and motivations, making for a contrast to the main protagonist. Damon Salvatore in The Vampire Diaries, for example, hasn't much of a moral compass. At all. His buddy Alaric Saltzman, however, does, and watching that friendship grow is a measure of the main character's arc and emotional evolution.

Humor and wit: The protagonist has to be pretty serious at times, playing it 'straight' as they work out how to fight the baddy, retrieve the lost treasure and save the day. The sidekick, however, is free to use wit and humor at times when the hero cannot. We see this in Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Xander (one of Buffy's many sidekicks). She may be in deep emotional angst and he can pop a one-liner that lifts the moment without throwing away her feelings.

Throw-aways: Similar to wit and humor, there are times when a scene is too intense, deep or meaningful and the sidekick can be just the one to lighten it all with a 'throw-away' line. Clive and Ravi do this on iZombie when Liv is too deep into the fact that she is dead, turned into a zombie and has to eat brains to survive. It can turn a scene around in a flash.

Freedom of Speech: The sidekick can say things the hero might be thinking, or wish they could say, but can't. In the Quantum Enchantment Series, Rosette has a sentient familiar, a temple cat who links with her telepathically. She might be having a conversation with a mentor or rival while her familiar does a running commentary on the whole thing, adding a new element to the scene.

Sympathy: The hero may also relate to the sidekick in ways they can't to others, allowing the reader to gain more compassion or understanding. This works especially well for main characters that are not fully sympathetic. Eric Northman's compassion for his progeny, Pam, is an example from True Blood, or Charlain Harrie's Southern Vampire Mysteries.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 12.35.52 pm

Writing the Sidekick

The first question to answer when developing a sidekick in the story is why are they there? They have to move the plot forward, be part of the part of the story. They also have to have their own GMC - goals, motivations and conflicts, internal and external. In a shorter work, these won't be explored to a great depth, but with novel length stories and series, there is room for these subplots to be woven.

In Lord of the Rings, Gollum is a shadow figure of Frodo, a kind of "anti-sidekick" representing the "anit-hero's" darker obsessions, passions, and also his instinctual side. Gollum knows natures ways, leads Sam and Frodo into dark places, with darker designs. Gollum's inner goals, in the end, aren't any different than Frodo's, but he still has his own history, motivations, conflicts, and outer challenges.
Further questions to ask when developing a sidekick:
  • How do they move the plot forward?
  • What do they contribute?
  • Do they have heart or at least evoke an emotional response?
  • Are their stakes genuine?
  • Is their dialog strong and juicy?
  • Are they redundant in any way?
When getting the story down, the writer isn't usually thinking of all these things. I know I'm not! Still, it's a useful checklist for the next edit, and the next.

How about you all? Who are some of your favorite sidekicks?

Writers, how to you approach these types of Characters?

Comments are always welcome!

Kim Falconer is a Supernatural Underground author writing paranormal romance, urban fantasy, YA and epic science fantasy novels.

You can find out more about Kim at the 11th House Blog, and on FaceBook and Twitter.

She posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month.

Her latest release is"Blood and Water" in Supernatural Underground: Vampires Gone Wild.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The messy art of life



Year of Living Authentically #3: What a writers life really looks like.

After last months post, I got a few comments about how self-aware I was and how put together I appeared. And I laughed. I, like my current manuscript, am a work in progress. I just happen to know where my plot lags and what my filler phrases are.

I like to look at what other writers' spaces look like, where they do their creating. Marissa Meyer talked about the 10 Things that Lived on her desk. With nice neat pictures, she told of the ten things that she needs to write, that help her get her juices flowing.

It was beautiful and I think wistfully for that kind of space. So, to face my fears and let you guys know what one writer's life really looks like, I thought I would show you where I write when I'm at home. My mother is going to kill me, but I wanted you guys to know the truth.

I do have an office with a lovely desk that I picked up on craig'slist with all these neat ideas about refurbishing it to make my office into some gothic red and black den of magic and creativity.  This is what it actually looks like, including a brief cameo by the Bean because she likes Mommy's office supplies too.

I did manage to paint a wall red and get a bookshelf of all my writing books in one place in the house, until my collection over flowed and now the rest of the pile is on my nightstand by my bed.

This is wear I actually end up writing when I'm at home, the kitchen table. Tonight, it is still cluttered from a weekend away, mail, and cookbooks from the grocery trip we just went on. But now that the Bean has gone to bed, Mommy gets to unpack what she needs to be creative: notes, a computer, a hot beverage (tonight it is honey chamomile), and some books on story structure. And my current book-o-the-moment- Blood Rites by Jim Butcher.

I'm sure that the above pictures might make some of you itch. And yes, some days I will actively use decluttering to avoid writing when my characters aren't talking to me, or I'm just about to do something horrible to them. But most nights, I just recycle what I can, put away what can be within four feet, and get on with the writing. Clutter has never killed anyone. Yet.

I believe in the notion that a first draft of a novel is figuring out what you are trying to say, and the second draft is figuring out how to say it. The first pass is heart, the second pass is head. The same is true for life. Your mess helps define what you find important and what isn't. You collect things that are important to you, and your second pass, your spring cleaning, is when you get to appreciate what happened or learn from what didn't happen.  My clutter is cookbooks because I love to cook for my family. We still haven't fully unpacked from our annual family trip to San Antonio. And there is a box of books that I need to put on a bookshelf that I haven't had time to buy yet because I love stories. Life is in this clutter.

Life is messy. Life is layers of things that can stack up next to you and make you feel small. My life has become a daily juggling act of art and motherhood and work and marriage. Some things are going to get dropped from day to day. But maybe they slide off to the pile until a moment when you can pick them up and have time to appreciate them again.

Authenticity test: When you are doing your spring cleaning, take time to think about the mess. Appreciate the mess. Let it tell you a story that you can love or learn from. And SNAP, the job's a game!

Until next time, LIVE AUTHENTICALLY!

Amanda Arista