Monday, March 15, 2021

Characters from Scratch?


A Complete Guide to Special Effects Makeup

Creating the characters for Crown of Bones was like the birth of Athene. They leapt straight out of my head, fully formed, screaming a war cry. 

Moments later, they took over the page, expanding their roles and behaved in ways I couldn't control. More than once, I found myself saying, "Really? You're doing that?"

Crazy, I know, but I have come to believe that characters, and the stories themselves, all exist before we can even imagine them...


Zena Holloway Underwater Photography
Salila was the first to be born, full of wit, snark and hunger. She’s my current answer to Margaret Atwood’s question, "Is it somehow ‘unfeminist’ to depict a woman behaving badly?"

Not in the slightest...


Ash came more gracefully, with more compassion and patience. And with her was born an inner voice, an entity she talks with mind to mind. That was a shock. It took me time to realize the depth of this side of her nature, how it got there, and how it could be set free.


The most challenging of my characters was Marcus. At first, I thought he was all the unanswered questions I had about my own brother, his life and his death...

But then Marcus and his phantom morphed into their own, distinct personalities and I forgot my preconceived ideas and listened to theirs.

Bone Throwers

Elven Forest Festival

Well, they were easy. I've trafficked in fate for most of my life. Bones, cards, planets and stars. It's all one...


The most delightful creatures to unearth were the phantoms, those projections of their savants' unconscious taking solid form. I adore their mystery, strength, and humour. If only we could all raise our phantoms as effortlessly as, say Piper or Samsen.

Of Kaylin and Ash
Jamesdesign1 DeviantArt


Of course, when it came to Kaylin, he was pure wish fulfilment. That sailor is everything I ever dreamed of, and more. I wish I knew the road to Tutapa so I could find him in RL! 

Please tell me about your favourite characters. Have you ever asked an author how they came to life? I'd love to hear about it!

* * *

Kim Falconer, currently writing as A K Wilder, has just released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy.

She can be found on  AKWilder Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site or have a listen to the Audio version below.

Crown of Bones audio sample
Try the Audio Sample

Monday, March 1, 2021

An Interview With Courtney Schafer – Talking Magic In The "Shattered Sigil" Series



Over the past few years I’ve taken a leaf out of fellow Supernatural Underground (SU) author
Amanda Arista’s book and adopted a blogging theme for the year. This year, my theme is Magic Systems in Fantasy – and wherever possible, I hope to talk with a fellow author about the magic systems in their work.

When I first read friend and fellow author,
Courtney Schafer’s debut Shattered Sigil series I was really impressed by both the worldbuilding and the way the magic systems were front and center of the story. In particular, I was impressed by the depth and intricacy of the magic (without it seeming in any way convoluted) and the way in which Courtney's magic systems bound the world, the narrative, and the characters into a cohesive whole.

All of which is why I’m delighted to be chatting with friend and fellow author,
Courtney Schafer, today.

The magical city of Ninavel
Credit: Andreas Rocha


Welcoming Courtney Schafer:

In Conversation On Magic Systems
in the “Shattered Sigil” Series


HL:  Hi Courtney, welcome to Supernatural Underground and the Magic Systems in Fantasy series. J

I’ve always admired the magic systems in your
Shattered Sigil series, which I feel are relatively complex, with magical diversity within cities, but also within nations and realms of being. So did you spend considerable time thinking through the magic and how it would work before you began writing, or did it evolve as you wrote the story?


Shattered Sigil #1

CS:  Hello, and thank you so much for inviting me! I do love magic in fantasy, so it’s always fun to geek out about magic systems and how they influence and enrich a story. I know some writers start by working out the magic first and deciding on characters and plot to suit the world they’ve built, but I always start with the characters and build the magic as I figure out what makes my protagonists tick and what problems I want them to face in the story.

For the
Shattered Sigil books, I knew I wanted two protagonists, because I love stories about initially reluctant friendships that grow into unbreakable bonds. I wanted my two guys to be very different people at the start, with different backgrounds and experiences of magic, because I thought that would be fun to explore in the story.

So, before I set words to page, I had worked out the basics of the blood magic that my mage protagonist Kiran was trained to cast, and my mountain climber protagonist Dev’s history of losing his childhood telekinetic talent, because those are vital pieces of who they are as people. But the rest of the details, and the variety of magic in the world, and how different cultural attitudes to magic impact the society and politics—that, I worked out as I wrote. (I find it more fun to work out some things along the way!)

I did know right off that I wanted the world to have a whole range of magic styles, though. As an engineer, I’ve seen how people come up with a huge variety of ways to use existing tools and solve problems. I felt that same range of creativity and different styles of thinking would apply to magic also.


HL:  As well as admiring the depth of the overall magic system you’ve developed, I also feel it’s the net that binds much of the Shattered Sigil story together. Clearly, Kiran and Dev are key, as the main characters, but are there other threads you consider vital?

Shattered Sigil #2


CS:  For me, a lot of the story is about trust—when to give it, what happens when trust is abused and broken, and how to heal from the wounds. So, a lot of the magic reflects that, especially my version of blood magic, in which the mages must cast in pairs—one to channel and control the magic, the other to wield it. To successfully cast together, blood mages must share a deep mental linkage, which requires a vulnerability and level of emotional connection somewhat at odds with their willingness to kill and torture to raise the power they need. The contrast is the fascinating part to explore! And of course, the trust required between blood mages in order to cast is the dark mirror of the trust between climbing partners, who likewise must put their lives in each other’s hands. It was fun to play with the similarities.

It’s also not just the blood magic that I designed to explore questions of trust. In the country of Alathia, where law and order and safety are valued and blood magic is outlawed, mages don’t put their faith in individuals, but are conditioned to put all their trust in their government. That’s a whole other kettle of worms!


HL: I can well imagine—and in fact, the contrast between the mages of Alathia, and the far more anarchic environment of Ninavel was part of what I loved about your magic system. Given these differences, was there any one magic system, or elements within a magic system, that you particularly enjoyed writing, and why? Or correspondingly found more difficult or challenging than the others?


CS:  Okay, I admit I enjoyed writing the blood magic—not the torture part, but exploring the contrast mentioned in my answer above. How can people who genuinely consider themselves loving partners and devoted to their families commit atrocities on a daily basis? If you’ve been raised in such a system of belief, how do you break free and forge your own path? I guess because those are questions that deeply interested me, it made those scenes easy to write.

I found it more challenging to write the Alathian side of things, in part because Alathian mages cast in groups, so their scenes are always more complex due to more characters to juggle. I don’t know about other writers, but for me, the difficulty of writing a scene goes up exponentially with the number of characters involved.


Shattered Sigil #3

HL:  I absolutely agree about a correlation between numbers of characters and difficulties of writing! You’ve alluded to the family underpinning to blood magic, and in the case of your main blood-mage characters, it’s a “found family” relationship. Can you tell me more about that?


CS:  Well, blood magic as defined in my world does have to be cast in pairs, but I think my villains Ruslan and Lizaveta’s particular success as blood mages lies in their devotion to each other, which made their partnership so long-lasting and powerful. I’m actually writing a short story that covers the time when they first met as apprentices, and how Ruslan convinced Lizaveta he’d make a great partner (it wasn’t easy for him).

You don’t hear about many other blood mages in the
Shattered Sigil books precisely because it’s difficult for powerful mages trained in a dark, violent style of magic to maintain that depth of bond. And the expansion of the partnership to be a full-fledged family was all Ruslan’s idea; as shown in the short story “A Game of Mages” that I wrote for the Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology, Lizaveta would’ve been fine without adding children to the mix.


HL:  The Shattered Sigil world is shaped by the mountains and deserts of America’s western landscapes, including by the mountain climbing you’ve done there. Did these landscapes also shape the magic systems in any way?


Grimdark Magazine, 2017

CS:  I suppose I was thinking about geological forces to some extent when I decided the city of Ninavel was founded on a magical confluence. The Owens Valley of California is the particular location that inspired the geography of Ninavel’s environs; the valley is one of the deepest in the world, a fault block basin with the desert floor dropped down relative to the two massive snowcapped mountain ranges on either side. If you visit the valley, you can see plenty of evidence of old lava flows, including a nifty spot where a now-vanished river carved a canyon through black basalt. So when I thought of a magical confluence underlying my imaginary city, I was to some extent imagining magic pooling as lava does in a magma chamber.


HL:  Both the natural environment and the flow-on into your magic system sound equally fascinating. Did your ideas on, and approach to, writing magic systems alter as a result of writing the Shattered Sigil trilogy? How is it likely to influence new work?


CS:  Hmmm. I don’t think so, but perhaps this is the kind of thing it’s only possible to evaluate in hindsight, after the new work is complete. I feel like I’m using a fairly similar process for my new novel The Dreaming Sea. I started with the protagonist and geographic setting (coral reefs and atolls this time!), and I’ve been designing the magic around what aspects of character I most want to explore, with both magic and world getting richer and deeper as I go. This time my protagonist will have to learn an alien magic that no other human has ever wielded, so she has quite the challenge figuring it out, especially since the magic is far from safe to use. It’s different than any of the magic I created for the Shattered Sigil books, but so far it’s equally fun to write.  


Shattered Sigil Map #1  showing
Ninavel & Alathia
Credit: Curtis Craddock

HL: I’m really thrilled there is a new Courtney Schafer novel on the way! Thank you so much for dropping into the Supernatural Underground today, Courtney, and sharing the magic and depth of your Shattered Sigil world – a series that really does offer so much for readers to experience and enjoy.


To find out more about the Shattered Sigil series, please visit Courtney on her website:


About Courtney Schafer:

Courtney Schafer grew up reading Diana Wynne Jones and Patricia McKillip, and her love of fantasy has only expanded with age. A voracious reader, she took up writing when she found that fantasy books weren't published fast enough to satisfy her craving for new worlds full of magic and wonder. Her Shattered Sigil trilogy (The Whitefire Crossing, The Tainted City, The Labyrinth of Flame) is a tale of blood magic, murder, and mountaineering featuring a sardonic young smuggler and a runaway apprentice who form a reluctant but enduring friendship when they are caught up in a dark game of intrigue between rival mages. Visit her at or on twitter (@cischafer).


Rocking 2021 with “Magic Systems in Fantasy” on Supernatural Underground: Previous Posts 

January 1: 
Happy New Year – Ushering In A Year of Friends, Fellow Authors, & Magic Systems

January 5: 
An Interview with AK Wilder – Talking Magic In Her New-Out Crown Of Bones (AMASSIA #1) 

February 1: An Interview with T Frohock 
– Talking Magic In A Song With Teeth & The LOS NEFILIM Series


About The Interviewer:

Helen Lowe's first  novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we