Phoenix Fire on Release the Geek

I got a surprise email from  Les Allen at GeekXP, asking me whether I’d like to do a podcast for Phoenix Fire on Release the Geek. I’m sure that you can tell from this post’s title that my answer was “Yes, please!”

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It was a truly novel experience to sit next to Vittorio (Phoenix Fire author) for this interview. I know him as the loudmouth joker whom everyone listens to at parties and gatherings. He’s charismatic and always the life of the party (right along with Les, our host). On this auspicious Sunday, he was quiet as a mouse, waiting for his turn to speak. It actually threw me off my game a little. Good thing Les is such a good talker. He smoothed over most of my confusion at having Vittorio so well behaved and nervously excited. (Heck, Vittorio’s been in movies! I have a DVD of District 9 with his signature on it.)

Shout out to my cat, Pantoffel, who clawed Vittorio during the interview. You’ll hear mention of the grumpy kitty in the podcast. Poor thing has a bad back.

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Have a listen to what Vittorio Leonardi and I had to say about Phoenix Fire on Release the Geek – the GeekXP podcast. Just click on the GeekXP button or <<here>>.

 

 

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Phoenix Fire book launch

It’s time for the South African book launch! If you are in Gauteng on 24 February 2018, you should hightail it to Nexus in Randburg to come meet the authors and have your copy of Phoenix Fire signed. Don’t have a copy? No problem! We have a few on hand at R200 each. And, if you buy your copy at the launch, you stand a chance to win a R500 Nexus voucher!

If you missed out on the previous anthology, The Flight of the Phoenix, you will be able to buy a copy at R150 at the Phoenix Fire launch.

Book launch details:

  • Date: 24 February 2018
  • Time: 14:00-16:00
  • Venue: The Nexus – 21 Harley Street, Ferndale, Randburg

Authors attending:

Natalie Rivener Flame_black_100 Ann-Elize de Ridder Flame_black_100 Richard T Wheeler Flame_black_100 Carmen Dominique Taxer Flame_black_100 Ryhen E Knight Flame_black_100 Vittorio Leonardi

Come join us at Nexus Cafe afterwards! Us authors will be having some of its legendary milkshakes to celebrate the launch. You can check out the Nexus Cafe menu right now if you’re curious. It’s definitely in the local geek style. I had a self-deprecating laugh when I checked it out. My order so far? Roasted Marshmallow Deluxe Milkshake and Cheesy Chips. Droooooooool.

Phoenix Fire – RSA pre-orders

The plan hadn’t been to do a local print run…but, it turns out, I have a bunch of local fans who prefer getting my books, not online, but from me…in person. So, here we are. I am currently wrangling with our printers for technical specifications (there are oh-so-many little niggly details that no one ever hears about).

Local release details

  • Release date: 16 February 2018
  • Cost: R200 per copy (excluding shipping)
  • Fill in this handy form ↓ with the number of copies you want in the Comment section.

    If you want to get your copy of Phoenix Fire from me in person, keep an eye out for my next blog post that will cover our book launch at Nexus in Randburg.

Phoenix Fire – illustrator and designer

It is time to meet Ida van Os, our illustrator and designer. She has assisted me with a few different projects over the years and, again, she jumped right in when I realised that we need help.

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Ida van Os – Graphic designer extraordinaire!

She came up with a design that was so close to what I had envisioned, I could hardly believe she had done it from scratch in less than three days. We fixed a few small design elements (and several typos *cough cough* – those were my fault) and voilá! Behold the cover for Phoenix Fire!

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About Ida

She is an experienced graphic design all-rounder, focusing on User Interface (UI)

Phoenix Fire - illustrator and designer

Watercolour – Ida van Os

and User Experience (UX) design. She is a strong arts and design professional with a BA (BK) Information Design, focused in Graphic Design from the University of Pretoria. Ida loves everything that has to do with the fluid process of creating mobile first solutions and apps. She strives to design solutions that answer to the users’ needs in the most intuitive form, packaged in elegant user interfaces.

Phoenix Fire - illustrator and designer

Pencil sketch – Ida van Os

Ida has over 20 years’ design experience with 18 years as an in-house designer and brand guardian in an engineering environment, working closely with business analysts and development teams, to create elegant, effective mobile and web solutions for consumer, government and corporate clients.

Ida’s hobbies

Ida likes to spend her free time on side-quests, doing any creative challenges or

Phoenix Fire - illustrator and designer

Ceramic art – Ida van Os

outdoor activities that inspire and expand the boundaries of her imagination. She believes that one should never stop dreaming, because without dreaming freely and without boundaries one cannot create with something of significant impact. One should also not just commit to one single hobby. Try everything once and try as many things as possible! For example, this year, Ida kept herself busy painting ceramic mugs and salad

bowls for friends, she learned how to brew and bottle beer, made a doodle series in pen and ink and is now venturing into needle point, making table cloths.

 

Phoenix Fire - illustrator and designer

Beer – Ida van Os

Greatest inspirations

Ida finds her greatest inspiration in traveling and experiencing new and interesting places. It doesn’t have to be an expensive overseas trip, just leave your comfort zone and travel through our country (South Africa, for those who assume some other country) and see how different and amazing life can be.

In the words of Mark Twain “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.”

Phoenix Fire – authors

You’ve seen the Phoenix Fire blurbs, now it’s time to meet their authors!

Natalie Rivener

You already know me but, who knows, maybe you’ve never read my bio before…

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If Natalie had been born a few odd centuries earlier, she would have been burned as a witch. Her nonconformity has branded her as not-a-sheep and she loves exploring new things without caring too much about what others may think.

She currently spends most of her time running after her two kids but she’s really a Jill of all trades…everything from sewing to pole dancing to painting to calligraphy to baking has taken up her time, but her favourite remains writing.

She lives with her husband, two children, cat and tarantula in a quiet part of Gauteng, South Africa.

Connect with Natalie Rivener:

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Natalie-Rivener-writer/103681193158365

Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/Siygrah

Smashwords:
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/TheRivener

 

Ann-Elize de Ridder

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Ann-Elize de Ridder completed her BA Honours degree in 2005 at The University of Pretoria. She lives with her husband, dog and cat in Pretoria where they keep company with Pratchett, Gaiman, Coelho, King, Feist, Shakespeare and others. She is a teacher and a true believer in the unlimited potential of the human mind. Having the opportunity to work with learners with ASD has given her an interesting perspective on the human condition.

After a near brush with world domination, she decided to down scale to a quiet life of chaos and magic. Granted, that last part is not entirely accurate, but as a LARPER, imagination is the limit of possibility.

She is grateful to her mother who gave her a love for reading and introduced her to fantasy and horror writers from a young age, and to her husband who supports her reading habits.

This will be her first publication. It is dedicated to the people and the families of those on the Autistic spectrum. May they find their voices.

 

Richard T Wheeler

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Richard T. Wheeler is the author of The Kobold who Breathed Fire in the Phoenix Fire anthology, Guardian Angel in the Flight of the Phoenix anthology and A Girl Called Storm in the STORM anthology of short stories, and the co-author for the Sanguinem Emere universe of Gaslight Vamp novels. Richard holds a BA Degree in English Language

and Literature (with a specialisation in Creative Writing), the content of which he disregards in the creative process. He aims to liberate writers from their day jobs at Dauntlesswriting.com.

Connect with Richard T Wheeler:

Websites:
http://www.richardtwheeler.com/
http://www.dauntlesswriting.com/
http://www.sanguinememere.com/

Smashwords:
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/RichardTWheeler

Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6456004.Richard_T_Wheeler

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/richardtwheelerauthor

 

Rob McShane

“Building a life is similar to writing a successful story,” Rob says. “The plot, characters and action must flow together and it takes a team effort. As with writing a story, you

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cannot do it alone.”

 

He should know, he has lived several different lives shared with various characters, and written many stories on his journey: novels (The MageStaff), poetry (regularly on his blog, The Wayward Warrior, and published in several chapbooks), short stories, songs and music. Thrilled to be accepted as part of Phoenix Fire he has also been recently accepted by the AVBOB Poetry Competition and regularly finds success amongst his worldwide blog readership.

Connect with Rob McShane:

Website:
https://robmcshane.wordpress.com/

Smashwords:
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/robmcshane

Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/robmcshane

 

Carmen Dominique Taxer

As a South African writer, Carmen understands the complexities of the human spirit and the urge to escapCarms Author Pic.jpege the ravages of newsworthy stories of cruelty and injustice. She spent her childhood dreaming about suave, eloquent strangers that could change the world, that could sweep the filth away and leave a gleaming, beautiful darkness behind them.

 

A daydreaming gothling, Carmen has always found beauty in the dark and hope in horror. Romance and love, twisted into the struggles and grit of reality, are the core of humanity. But horror doesn’t have to be ugly. At the centre of the horror genre lies a kernel of hope that explores the intricacies of the human psyche and its power to overcome suffering. She writes Dark Romance, Horror, and Erotica, and what she and her co-author and long-suffering husband, Richard T. Wheeler, have coined as Gaslight Vamp – a look at vampires through a fictionalised Victorian setting, ruled by vampires.

 

Carmen uses vampires to give voice to the struggles and successes of humanity, painting a portrait of the world that is both dark and beautifully highlighted with love conquering death above all else.

Connect with Carmen Dominique Taxer:

Websites:
http://www.sanguinememere.com/

Smashwords:
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/CDTaxer

Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/Orionangel

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/richardtwheelerauthor

 

Ryhen E Knight

Ryhen E Knight was born in Pretoria, RyhenEKnight_B&W.jpeg

South Africa in 1976. He received his doctorate degree in engineering in 2003 and has been working in the field of engineering since 2003, to pay for his addictions: travelling and coffee.

An engineer by trade and a writer at heart, he has a passion for history, dragons and Lego. Short stories are one of his preferred writing formats, but he has dabbled in poetry and travel writing. The dream is to publish a series of fantasy novels from his cottage in Scotland. He and his wife have two young squires that resemble sons and they live happily ever after in Pretoria.

Connect with Ryhen E Knight:

Facebook:
https://facebook.com/RyhenEKnight

Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14050160.Ryhen_E_Knight

 

Minki Pool

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Minki was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1985. It soon became apparent that she was the artistic type, and she found an outlet for her creativity in music, art and writing. She is a graphic and website designer by day, and a writer, corsetiere, horn player, and maker of things by night. She currently lives in Cape Town where she spends most of her time reading anything she can lay her hands on. She enjoys yoga and miscellaneous musings over a good cup of tea.

Connect with Minki Pool:

Website:
http://www.minkipool.com/

Instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/minkipool/

 

Vittorio Leonardi

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Born in Warrenton in the Northern Cape, South Africa and raised in Welkom in the Free State, Vittorio started his flights of fancy very early. A passion for Star Wars and a desire to be Luke Skywalker took him to study Drama at Pretoria Technikon, which naturally led him to becoming a full time stand-up comedian… Because you need something solid to fall back on.

In 2009, he began making thoughts into reality as the head writer on Last Say on Sunday – a political satire show ahead of its time but one step behind the censors. However, once TV-Land had him, they wouldn’t let him go as he has continued in this vein, writing for SABC 1’s local celebrity gossip show The Real Goboza since 2010; for children’s television on Let’s Get Quizzical and on sitcoms such as Thandeka’s Diary, Ses’Top La and Abo Mzala.

On the big screen, you can see him in award-winning sci-fi film District 9 as well as Death in the 48-Hour Film Project 2014 short Death’s (Man)date.

A full-time geek; when he’s not gaming, he co-hosts the GeekXP podcast Release the Geek and his own podcast Urbane Myths.

This will be his first short story… And about time too.

Connect with Vittorio Leonardi:

Website:
http://vittorio.sharp.fm/archives/heres_a_thought/

YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/user/GritPypeThin

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/VittorioLeo/

Twitter:
https://mobile.twitter.com/vittorioleo

Instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/vthejester/

Phoenix Fire is about to break out!

Mark your diary for 15 December, Phoenix Fire is about to break out!

More Than a Fish by Natalie Rivener

When Myhrrl runs away from her arranged marriage and (sort of) into Eldvin’s arms, he can almost ignore the fact that they have been captured by pirates. Maybe this fisher boy is destined for more than gutting fish after all.

Layers of Darkness by Ann-Elize de Ridder

Growing up with tales of great warriors taught Eveline one thing: When things get tough, a true knight will not ride off into the sunset with you. A true knight will stand by your side through the darkness.

The Kobold Who Breathed Fire by Richard T Wheeler

The Eldkin told Kobold Nix that he’s to become a snatcher. He, however, is set on becoming a mysterious flametongue to impress enigmatic she-kobold Shi’zine. Nix’s a little greedy thing. Too bad kobolds define greediness as a four-letter yip.

Dragon’s Breath by Rob McShane

A dragon without fire? When Warheart is called to lead his house to war, he can hide the loss of his dragon’s breath no longer. Will he find his strength or is he doomed to fail and burn?

Radiance by Carmen Dominique Taxer

For six decades, Ka-Jyn has sworn to protect the people of Disara from pain and disease. But now, succumbing to the ravages of age, she must defy the laws of nature and seek help from an old friend.

The Pirate Who Played with Fire by Ryhen E Knight

When magical fire and a drunk pirate collide, things go south and it is up to Tom and Elyan to set aside their wedding plans to rescue the situation. And maybe a cat.

Ancient Ashes by Minki Pool

Dell, a troublemaking heiress, is sent on an archaeological expedition to unearth an ancient religious relic. When it becomes clear that the relic has devastating secrets of its own, she must choose between betraying her family, or betraying everything she has come to believe in.

What Remains by Vittorio Leonardi

“It’s amazing what you’ll agree to when you’re on fire.”

Cole has been haunted by his father’s words since the old man’s death. On the dark side of the moon, he’ll come closer to understanding them than he can imagine.

 

 

Implementing feedback

Implementing feedback is daunting. Because real feedback (at least, on your first few drafts) will probably require rewriting and some serious story editing. Unless your feedback was that polite drivel I mentioned before in my post about providing useful feedback, in that case, you may just have a few typo corrections to do.

And, here, I want to stop and make you really listen.

If a beta reader points out a problem, you can harp on about why it makes sense and isn’t wrong for three hours and it won’t make the problem go away UNTIL you make it clear in your story why it makes sense and isn’t wrong. I understand that you don’t want to spell out everything. It feels lame. I agree. But you CAN give hints and seemingly insignificant little indicators that later make the whole thing come together. It’s called foreshadowing.

Now, we can go on.

Characters

I can currently think of three main things that tend to come up – character growth, believability and relatability. Yes, yes, there are more. Please leave a comment.

Character growth

About half my writers got this one for feedback (and I was one of them!!! *gasp*): The protagonist shows no character growth. At the beginning, they had this and that opinion, then, things happened and they didn’t change their opinion. Soooo…what is the point of the story?

I can promise you, every reader likes a different kind of story. But we all feel cheated if the protagonist doesn’t discover something that changes them or their life. Does he discover something about himself? Does she learn something that changes how she treats someone else? Does he find out everything he believed was a lie? Does she finally find it within herself to forgive her parents for divorcing each other? We need some catharsis!

Believability

When your beta readers tell you that a character is not believable because they don’t act the way a real person does in the given situation, it is not just a comment. It’s an obstacle to reading your story.

There’s no glossing over a problem like this. It needs to be addressed by taking the character and defining his or her:

  • personality
  • motivation
  • history
  • frame of reference
  • sense of morality and
  • more.

Then, you go to every single appearance, action, dialogue or thought by this character and make sure that it makes sense considering who this character is and what they’ve been through.

If you think this is a waste of time, be prepared to lose half your audience. Not half their attention. You’re losing half the people who will ever bother to read your stories.

Relatability

If your beta reader tells you that they couldn’t get into the story because they couldn’t identify with any of the characters, you need to ask why. What made the protagonist or supporting characters so off-putting?

The biggest problem here is that relatability is extremely subjective. And, no, you can’t please everyone. But I can tell you this: If more than one of your beta readers have brought this up, you need to do something about it.

Things that put readers off:

  • Cruelty and/or being abusive – to others, ESPECIALLY children and animals
  • Rape
  • There are more, I’m sure. Please leave a few comments.

These are gold for making a hateable antagonist. They are contraindicated for protagonists.

It takes an extremely skilled writer to make a protagonist guilty of these things relatable. So far, I have not come across one.

People want to identify with at least one of your main or supporting characters. If they don’t identify with anyone, they won’t read.

Plot holes

It seems like a no brainer but, trust me, plot holes happen to everyone. If you wrote them, chances are that you won’t be able to spot them. When someone points it out, you may even want to say something stupid, like: “Is it really that bad? Can’t I just leave it like that? Who will notice that, anyway?”

Buck up.

Take that plot hole and kill it. If your beta reader found it, some hateful troll on the Internet will too. And that troll will show the whole world that they found it. Rather fix every plot hole beta readers find and give that troll less to embarrass you with.

No story hook or a weak ending

There are two spots in your story where people form lasting opinions: At the beginning and at the end.

Bad first impressions can stop the reader from reading your story past the first page. You need something tantalising. Narrative summary (descriptive paragraphs) is not tantalising. You need something immediate – dialogue or in-the-moment action. If you don’t know how to come up with something tantalising, ASK your beta reader what would have appealed more to them.

The end should also be satisfying. It needs to answer questions raised during the story. It needs to show that your protagonist has grown. It needs to show that the crisis has been resolved OR resolved enough until the sequel can address it more thoroughly.

More than one of my writers for Phoenix Fire ended their story too late. How does this happen? If you start adding more and more to your story after the crisis. That’s how. Keep it concise. If you suddenly need to add two more chapters because of something that came up after the story hit 75%, you are probably adding an unnecessary side quest. Kill it. Your story needs to end strong.

Again, if you don’t know where that is: ASK someone you trust, AKA your beta reader. If they don’t give you a solution that appeals to you, ask someone else until they give you something you can use or you hit an ah-hah! moment.

Stilted or unnatural speech

This isn’t quite as big a sin as the stuff above but it can make your story really hard to read. If your reader is expecting good writing, this will put them right off.

Soliloquies

If your characters tend to talk for more than 4 lines at a time, they are essentially giving a speech every time they open their mouths. People don’t talk like that unless they’re being interviewed or addressing a large congregation of people.

Sit down and listen to people talking. Write down everything they say, from full sentences to false starts to wordless utterances. They give away a lot about what they are thinking through non-verbal cues (body language, harrumphing, coughing, facial expressions etc.). Their word choice might reveal enough to put you under a pretty specific impression of their intentions.

Jargon

These are topic-specific terms or – if my jargon is leaving you blank – fancy words. If your beta reader says they couldn’t keep track of all the story-specific words, you may be overdoing it.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. For instance, unless the animal they are riding is an insect-like creature or an antelope with the feet of a bear, I’m sure “horse” will do. We already have words for ‘day’ and ‘night’. If you start calling them ‘light’ and ‘dark’ in your book, you’re just setting yourself up for awkward prose.

Sci-fi settinge lend themselves to all kinds of futuristic tech. Yes, this stuff should have names but, if you make the names obscure (e.g. “OrgonnnonXII” for an AI bot that has a green stripe on its torso) and difficult to pronounce or remember (e.g. “Xhi-BVotholYn” or something similarly obscure), your are hampering your own story.

If you need to differentiate between two cultures and you want them to use different words for the same concept, make the words familiar-sounding enough that your reader doesn’t feel brain whiplash every time they come across it. “Ch’kta, o bishni” is a lot harder to remember than “G’day, mate” or “Greetings, my good sir”. If it is actually important to the plot that you have this kind of unmistakable phrase, then, use it. But if you have five of these crucial phrases in one story…I don’t think you understand what “important to the plot” means.

In A Song of Ice and Fire (AKA A Game of Thrones), we come across “Valar morghulis” – “all men must die”. Why isn’t this too difficult? Because we come across only three important High Valyrian terms (“Valar morghulis”, “Valar dohaeris” and “dracarys”) across all of the books (each of them well over 500 pages).

Awkward or stilted speech

Unless the character who’s talking is identified by his awkward phrasing, you should use normal sentences, normal speech, normal words. As much as Shakespeare is praised for his clever play on words, normal people don’t talk like that. People who use flowery speech tend to be the butt of jokes because other people think it’s ridiculous to talk like that.

Overuse of names

“Hi, James!” Basil said.
“Basil! Good to see you!” James replied.
“How are you doing, James old pal?”
“Well, as always, Basil. Why did you say my name again?”
“I don’t know, James. It just keeps coming out of my mouth.”
“Basil, I’m scared. It feels like someone is forcing me to say your name.”

Catch my drift? People use terms of endearment like “dear” and “pal” and “sweetie” when they talk to each other…if they refer to each other while talking at all.

“Hi!”
“Basil! Good to see you.” James smiled.
“How are you doing, old pal?”
“Well, as always. How’s your wife?”

See, no more creepy, weird overuse of names.

***

There are so many things feedback can point out, I simply don’t have the energy to cover all of it. I welcome comments to fill out the list and advice.

If you take home nothing else from this post, remember this: Implementing helpful feedback takes real effort. If you put on “track changes” (it’s a review function in Microsoft Word) while you do story editing, it’s going to look like a bloodbath. Don’t let that scare you. Making mistakes does not make you a bad writer. Refusing to correct mistakes beta readers point out because you don’t feel like it does, though. As does pretending to correct mistakes by changing two words that have nothing to do with the problem.

You can do this. Just take it one sentence at a time.