Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Scythe Wielder's Secret

Today, I'm releasing my first teaser video for my series as whole.  Please let me know what you think, and be sure to like the video and share if you enjoy!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Contest

MuseItUp is running a contest. 12 Lucky Winners will win an ebook of their choice!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Also, keep an eye on the horizon, where conflicts are brewing...



Monday, November 17, 2014

Hairspray!



This past week was Hell Week and opening weekend for my school's production of Hairspray. For those who don't know- Hell Week is a week of dress rehearsals, where you work 14 hour days making sure the show comes together before it opens- it involves finishing the set, perfecting lights/sound, and getting the actors ready.

Right before all that started I got an email, out of the blue, from Lily Hung, an associate producer of the original Broadway production of Hairspray, as well as an associate producer on the movie (the Travolta one everyone knows). She was friends with John Waters, Marc Shaiman, and all the original production team and actors, and she's now working at NYU (one of the top theatre schools in the world). She's also an alumn of the high school I teach at, and the former head of their "music theatre club" (which is an ancestor of my current program).

She came to Saturday's performance and spoke to the cast before and after the show. It was a wonderful treat for the cast and crew, but also wonderful for me personally. After the show, we talked about drama at ERHS and she couldn't believe how big the program had become. From a club that spent 6 months preparing a show in 1992, to a program encompassing six classes, four major productions a year, plus a full-time improv team, and more- I realized yet again how lucky I am to have the job I do.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Sword of Deaths: Flames on the Horizon

Shadows from the distant past come to light. Dragons circle the horizon, blood spills, and nothing is what it seems. Susan and her friends struggle to stop a war. They search for the fabled First Scythe, hoping to sway the balance, but who is the true enemy?


SWORD OF DEATHS is coming this spring....

http://www.christophermannino.com/sword-of-deaths.html

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Day Deal

Reap School of Deaths for only 99 cents!  One day only- for Halloween!

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K2GC12M


Also read my Post about Halloween in USA versus Halloween abroad at the MuseItUp Blog.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Guest Post: Ghosty Cues

GHOSTLY CUES
Picture

Blurb 
The sweet scent of lilacs permeates the air around Grandma’s gravesite. Only Sarah Kay can smell Grandma’s favorite flower, and they’re not even in bloom.
Sarah Kay and her best friend, Mary Jane, believe the lilacs are a sign from Grandma’s ghost. The girls follow one ghostly clue after another, uncovering a secret that Mom never wanted Sarah Kay to know.
Grandma makes sure Sarah Kay gets the message even from the grave. As the evidence piles up, Mom still refuses to accept the possibility Sarah Kay’s father is alive.
Sarah Kay finds Dad’s parents. A set of grandparents she didn’t realize existed. They make it clear her father is alive but days and miles separate the father and daughter reunion because Dad is a truck driver on a long haul.
Sarah Kay waits. The news reports a fatal car accident involving a semi and Sarah Kay fears the worse. She runs away which leads to Dad and the truth, Mom wanted Dad to remain dead.
Dad had faked his death so why not just stay dead.  The ghostly clues of Grandma wouldn’t allow Dad to remain dead to Sarah Kay.

Excerpt:
I slid under the covers and closed my eyes and began tossing and turning, trying to block out my haunting thoughts. Once more I flopped over and faced the wall. From somewhere something creaked like someone stepping on the floor board. I pried my eyes open trying to figure out where it was coming from. Under the bed? From the closet? Just outside my closed bedroom door? The noise stopped so I flipped with my back to the wall. A white glow appeared in front of the bedroom door. It came from the center of the door and headed toward the bed. I gasped in a breath, holding back my scream. The light hovered over the foot of the bed.
The smell of lilacs drifted in the air and I held the sneeze in, too afraid of the scene in front of me. My heart beat faster as the glow transformed into the shape of a woman. The lady had snow-white hair pulled back in a bun. A smile formed on her face and her familiar sky-blue eyes twinkled. The springs creaked as she lowered herself to the bed and the smell of lilacs greeted me like a hug.
“Grandma?” I whispered, sitting up and staring.
Grandma looked the same as when she was alive except her hair was grayer than I remembered.
She bent down to pick up the doll. As she handed it to me, her mouth moved but no sound came out.
“Grandma, what are you trying to tell me?” I whispered.
“Kay, darling, don’t cry. Your grandfather will be okay,” Grandma finally said. “It’s not his time to go home yet.”
“Wow.” My jaw dropped open. “I can hear you.” I wanted to wrap my arms around her and squeeze, but fear that any movement would cause Grandma to disappear stopped me. “How do you know Gramps will be okay?”
“He’s too stubborn. He just needs to take it easy. So make sure he does that. It’s not his time to be with me.”
“How can you be here?”
“That’s not important.” Grandma touched my hand.
The touch felt strange like a warm tingling sensation. I sat very still afraid this moment wouldn’t last long.
Grandma stared at me for a moment. Her form seemed to become more transparent. The cluttered dresser behind her started to appear clearer.
“Find your father. There are two sides to a family. I love you, Kay,” she whispered before she vanished along with the sweet flowery aroma.

Purchase: http://www.amazon.com/Ghostly-Clues-ebook/dp/B00AFGJRLM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360619828&sr=8-1&keywords=ghostly+Clues
or visit: http://kaylalone.weebly.com/books.html


Guest Post: Kim Baccellia

CROSSED OUT

Blurb:
Stephanie Stewart didn't ask for her gift of guiding the deceased to the other side but she's stuck with it. Why can't dead people just follow that bright light and leave her alone? When Mr. Undead wants to use her special talent for his own evil purposes, her little gift becomes a major liability.
Kim Baccellia

Thursday, October 16, 2014

99 cents for the most exciting new Reaper novel

School of Deaths reaps three new 5-Star Reviews this week.


THIS WEEKEND ONLY- ON SALE FOR ONLY 99 cents!!!  
Find out why reviewers love this new Reaper fantasy, the perfect read for Halloween.




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Guest Post: Death Scene

Today the Poet's Fire welcomes fellow MuseItUp Author Sara-Jayne Townsend for an interview about her writing and a look at her book Death Scene.  


Sara-Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror.  She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there.  She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her guitarist husband Chris.  She co-founded the T Party Writers’ Group in 1994, and remains Chair Person. The first two books in her amateur sleuth series about Canadian actress Shara Summers will be released by MuseItUp Publishing in 2014.  DEATH SCENE, the first book (and a re-release) will be available in Summer, with the sequel, DEAD COOL, following in Autumn.

I find horror scary and disturbing, what draws you to write horror?

I think because it is scary and disturbing, but in a controlled environment.  The things in horror stories can’t really hurt you.  I tend to use my horror stories as a way of dealing with my own fears and insecurities.  By writing about the things that scare me, I exorcise them.

What frightens you the most?

I write a lot about betrayal, isolation and death.  Going back to the previous question, the fact that these are recurring themes in my stories is a clear indication that these are things I have difficulty dealing with.  But I think my biggest fear is loss of identity.  I take pride in being me.  Some people find me strange and unusual, but I am unique.  The thought that somehow that might be taken away from me is terrifying.

When writing a mystery, how do you organize the story?  Do you start at the end and work backwards, or plant clues along the way?

I’m a meticulous plotter, so I work out the plot first.  The first thing I’ve got to do is work out who the killer is.  One I’ve got that, I’ll draft out a plot summary.  From there I’ll take the summary and work it out into a chapter plan, which gives a brief summary of what’s going to happen in each chapter, including vital clues that my sleuth must uncover  So by the time I sit down to write chapter 1, I’ve got my road map.  Like taking a journey, the process of writing the novel might throw up some unexpected diversions along the way, but I know where I have to end up and roughly how I need to get there.

What's your favorite thing to do when not writing?

I love video games, and I wish I had more time to play them.  Current favourites are Dragon Age Origins and the Resident Evil series.

I see you like to travel, one of my loves as well.  What's your favorite place that you've visited to so far?

There are so many wonderful places in the world.  I loved New Zealand, and long to go there again.  Such a beautiful place, and full of friendly, welcoming people.  But I also love cities – as a Londoner I am used to the bustle and vibe of big cities and find the same thing in other cities across the world.  New York City is probably my favourite place in the world, and if I could live anywhere, I would live there.

If you could meet anyone living or dead, who would it be, and why?

I think I’d like to meet Queen Elizabeth the First, because I consider her one of the first feminists.  She was a woman in a man’s world, ruling England and refusing to marry even though everyone said she had to because a woman could not run the country.  But on the whole she did a very fine job, and England was in pretty good shape when she died.  Though I suspect by necessity she would not be a very nice person in reality.  Even so, I’d like to meet her.

Sounds good.  Tell us a little about Death Scene.

Poking around in family closets produces skeletons…

British-born, Toronto-based, actress Shara Summers turns amateur sleuth when her sister is stricken with a mysterious illness. Summoned back to England to be with her family during a time of crisis, Shara discovers doctors are at a loss as to what's causing Astrid’s debilitating sickness.

After her aunt is found dead at the bottom of the stairs the death is deemed an accident. Shara suspects otherwise. Her investigation unearths shocking family secrets and a chilling realization that could have far-reaching and tragic consequences that affect not only her own future, but Astrid’s as well.


EXCERPT:

Ruth sat in her rocking chair watching the television–which was probably about ten years old, and appeared to be the most modern thing in the room.   She was wearing a blue floral dress, with a patchwork blanket over her knees.  I had seen that dress before.  Her hairstyle hadn’t changed, either–her white hair was thinning, and she wore it short and curly, in the style of old ladies everywhere.  When we came in she looked up, a toothless smile breaking out over her face.  She had dentures that she never wore–something else she only saved for special occasions.  As a child, Ruth had appeared very scary to me on the occasions she wore her dentures because we just weren’t used to seeing her with them.

My mother went up to Ruth and leaned in to give her a kiss on her soft wrinkled cheek.  “How are you, Auntie Ruth?” she said loudly.  Ruth’s hearing had been going even back then.  She must be virtually deaf by now.

The house was freezing.  The only source of heat was a three-bar electric fire on the floor by Ruth’s feet.
“I’m doing all right, dear,” Ruth said.  Her voice was husky, ravaged by age and lack of use.  “Mustn’t complain.”

Summer, still in my mother’s arms, began to cry and squirm, no doubt intimidated by the presence of this ancient lady.  “Who’s this?” Ruth said, stroking one of Summer’s chubby legs.

“This is Summer,” Mum said.  “This is my granddaughter.  You’ve met Summer.  Astrid’s daughter.”

Ruth frowned.  “Astrid?  Your little one?”

“Not a little girl any more, Auntie Ruth.  She’s all grown up now.”  Mum pointed in my direction.  “This is my other daughter, Shara.  Do you remember?  Shara lives in Canada.”

Ruth was staring at me, frowning.  There was no indication that she recognised me.  “It’s been a long time,” she said eventually.

“Hello Auntie Ruth,” I said.

“Have you taken your pills, Auntie Ruth?” my mother asked.

Ruth frowned in concentration.  “Pills?  Think so.  Can’t remember, you know.  My memory’s not what it was.”

My mother thrust the crying child into my arms.  “Watch Summer for a moment, Shara.  I’m going to make Auntie Ruth some lunch.”  And off she went into the kitchen.

I sat down in the faded armchair and bounced Summer on my knee.  She kept crying.  Ruth stared fixedly at the television.  There seemed to be an Australian soap opera on.  I couldn’t tell which one.  I wasn’t a fan, and they all looked the same to me.  “So what are you watching, Auntie Ruth?”

“Eh?”  She swivelled round to stare at me.

I raised my voice.  “The television.  What are you watching?”

“Oh, I don’t know, dear.  I watch everything.  Keeps me company, you know.”  And she lapsed back into silence, staring at the television.  A couple of minutes went by and then she said suddenly, “they’re stealing from me, you know.”

“Who?”

"They’re stealing from me.”  Ruth continued to stare at the television.  I wasn’t at all sure she was even aware of anyone else in the room.  I stood up with Summer in my arms and hurriedly went to find my mother in the kitchen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Enchanted Book Tour Begins

Time for a blog tour!  What better time than October to celebrate a book about reaping souls?

click the banner to see the complete tour schedule.
The tour begins Wednesday Oct 1st at I Heart Reading
Be sure to check out the giveaway for 20 dollar gift cards, and the chance to get discounted books!


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Guest Post: Elixir Bound by Katie Carroll

Guest Post!  Today the Poets Fire welcomes Kate Carroll



ELIXIR BOUND
YA fantasy
by Katie L. Carroll



Katora Kase is next in line to take over as guardian to a secret and powerful healing Elixir. Now she must journey into the wilds of Faway Forest to find the ingredient that gives the Elixir its potency. Even though she has her sister and brother, an old family friend, and the handsome son of a mapmaker as companions, she feels alone.

It is her decision alone whether or not to bind herself to the Elixir to serve and protect it until it chooses a new guardian. The forest hosts many dangers, including wicked beings that will stop at nothing to gain power, but the biggest danger Katora may face is whether or not to open up her heart to love.


Ebook on sale for $.99 until September 27:












About the Author:




Katie L. Carroll began writing at a very sad time in her life after her 16-year-old sister, Kylene, unexpectedly passed away. Since then writing has taken her to many wonderful places, real and imagined. She wrote ELIXIR BOUND and the forthcoming ELIXIR SAVED so Kylene could live on in the pages of a book. Katie is also the author of the picture app THE BEDTIME KNIGHT and an editor for MuseItUp Publishing. She lives not too far from the beach in a small Connecticut city with her husband and son. For more about Katie, visit her website at www.katielcarroll.com and follow her on Twitter (@KatieLCarroll) or Tumblr.

Monday, September 8, 2014


Two more 5-Star reviews arrived this weekend.
Check out the buzz, and see what everyone's taling about.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K2GC12M

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to School - Two Perspectives

Tomorrow is the first day of school for students. I'm going to look at Back to School as a teacher, and then what Back to School feels like as an author.

Teacher

I laugh when people tell me teachers get the summers off. No, as 10-month employees, every teacher I know, myself included, works a separate job during the summer. I teach younger kids theatre during the summer, and return to teaching high school during the school year. However, it is true that I work much fewer hours during the summer. Back to School means back to long days, back to stress, and back to the hustle of the school year.



However, this is also an exciting time.  Back to School is like New Year's. It's a time when everything starts again. You know the content and lessons you'll teach, but you don't yet know the most important part of the puzzle, the students you'll be working with. It's a blank slate time of year. The paper is before you, and the words are sitting in a pile, but the order is still a mystery...

Writer

While it can be an exciting time for a teacher, this is the absolute worst time to be both a teacher and a writer. During the summer I had some time to market, and even more importantly to work on my second novel. I finished the early drafts of Sword of Deaths, and am currently editing it. Yet, even now I feel the time I have to work on writing is slipping away...


How does one write at the most stressful and busy time of the school year? How does one concentrate? For me, the fall semester is the time of new students, as well as our fall musical, and the busiest time for theatre. We have auditions for Hairspray in two weeks. When will I find time to write, edit, or market?  The answer is to make a small amount of time every week. You might not get the time you have at other parts of the year, and you might have to put some things off until your schedule opens up more, but hopefully you find a way to keep writing.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Magic: Part Two

Last week I looked at the cost and limits involved when an author uses magic in their story. There are some other questions to consider.

As I mentioned last week, magic makes anything possible, and there is no right and wrong to incorporate magic, it's just good to be aware of what choices you're making.


1. The Role of Magic

I have never encountered a story about magic. There might be one, but it's likely written as a nonfiction-style book, describing how magic works. Fiction stories incorporate magic to varying degrees, but it's the stories and characters that make the world interesting. The amount of magic used in your world is like deciding what seasoning to use in a recipe. Too much spice might not be the flavor your going for, or perhaps that's exactly what you want.

In some stories, magic is everywhere. In JK Rowling's Harry Potter books, it's impossible to read more than a couple pages without encountering magic. The world is magic, the characters are magicians, and magic is the primary flavor in her world.


However, even at Hogwarts, there's a lot more going on besides magic. The series is ultimately about revenge. Orphan with murdered parents grows up and kills his his parents' murderer in cold blood - sounds grisly, but that's the basic storyline of the Potter series. It a classic revenge tale, mixed with a traditional coming-of-age scenario. It's these familiar elements we latch on to, and neither has anything to do with magic!  



It's important to know how much magic you plan to use in your world. George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones begins with a hint of magic, when the zombie-like White Walkers attack a group of Rangers. No mention of magic then occurs until nearly the end of the novel. He's added a bit of color to remind us it's a magical world, but magic plays a minor role in Westeros. The magic is often pivotal, but chapters can come and go with no mention of magic at all.



In some stories, there might be no usable magic at all, but a magical creature such as a dragon or phoenix might still give your story a sense of magic or wonder. Perhaps only a setting is magical, such in the Miyazaki film Castle in the Sky, which features a castle able to hover above the earth because of a magic stone. Again, there's no right or wrong way, but as a reader, I tend to enjoy stories where the role of magic is consistent. If there's no magic for an entire book, and then at the end a magic spell suddenly solves everyone problems, it feels contrived. 

2. Visibility

Tying directly into the role of magic in your story is the visibility of magic. At Hogwarts, we see magic everywhere.  Because it's such a large element in the environment we expect in on every page. However, this also diminishes our surprise at what magic can do. For example, if Harry walks into a room, pulls out his wand and causes a piece of paper to float around, we don't even blink. But in a different story, where the protagonist is given magical gifts that develop slowly, and only in the climax can perform an act of telekinesis (such as in Roald Dahl's Matilda), the act of levitation can take on an entirely different and stunning meaning. 


One of my personal favorite wizards is Gandalf, pictured above in the film adaptation of Fellowship of the Ring. I think of him as an extremely powerful wizard, yet what magic does he actually perform? In Lord of the Rings his biggest magical moment is breaking a bridge with a glowing staff. It sounds like beginner's magic by Harry Potter standards, but in Tolkien's world, magic is hidden. We know magic exists in Middle Earth. The Ring is a symbol of unused magical potential. Other than making people vanish (and we somehow know that's not what the Ring really does) the Ring is never used, but is brought across page after page. By hiding the magic in the subtext, it makes instances of magic much more potent and memorable.  




It's also interesting to note characters' reactions to magic. Is magic dark and forbidden, or is it wonderful and desired. In a world that's entirely fantasy, such as Paolini's Alagaesia, the characters know about and recognize magic. In Pratchett's Discworld, it's how the entire world is run, but is also distrusted. In the Star Wars universe, where technology and planets fill everyone's mind, the magic of the Jedi is strange and hard to understand. Hans Solo claims he'll never believe in any type of Force, or anything other than his blaster. Like Middle Earth, Star Wars is a world where magic is present but hidden. When it's used, such as in fight scenes, it then becomes even more memorable. 

What type of magic will you use in you stories, or do you like to encounter in fiction?  Leave a comment below and share!


Monday, August 4, 2014

Magic: Part One

Nearly every fantasy author wrestles at some point with the issue of magic. This will be a 2-part entry, discussing magic in fiction.


Loosely defined, magic is anything which isn't possible in the universe we know. It often involves special powers and the ability to bend the laws of physics. In Fantasy literature magic is extremely common, and even alluring. Many readers turn to certain books, movies, or television programs because they enjoy pushing the limits of what is and isn't possible. 

Magic makes anything possible.   

The first question an author needs to address if using magic in their world is what are the limits and costs of magic? Does the magic in your world have restrictions?  A character who can perform limitless magic, with no cost, is usually called a god. These characters have been popular in literature since Ancient times.  Homer wrote about the gods, just as teens go to the movies to watch Thor. In other fantasy novels, some characters have different limits or different costs than other characters.

1. Limits

Limits are boundaries as to what magic can or cannot do. Since magic essentially replaces the laws of physics, the question that arises is are there other laws or rules which govern how magic works in your universe? Let's look at a few concrete examples of what magic can/cannot do in some examples of popular fiction.


The X-Men, pictured above, probably aren't the first group of fictional magicians who spring to mind, but as characters able to completely bend or alter the rules of physics, these figures all practice their own form of magic. They're also uniquely limited. Each mutant has one power, that only they can do. Wolverine cannot read minds, and Magneto doesn't control lightning. Stan Lee devised a world where the magic is limited by dividing it equally among characters. Everyone has one gift, and nothing else. This works well in confrontational situations, where powers clash. This is the basis for many superhero stories. Other authors who divide their magic to create limits include Piers Anthony's Xanth books, where each character has a single "Talent" and is unable to do any other type of magic. Michael DiMartino's Avatar the Last Airbender series is an example where entire nations possess a similar magical ability, and the different nations clash. A fire-bender controls fire, whereas a water-bender controls water and so on.



Another option, if limiting magic, is to choose things that magic simply cannot do. In Disney's version of Aladdin, the genie pops out of the lamp, filled with magical potential, and immediately tells Aladdin there are "rules". There are things he cannot do for Aladdin, which in that case include bringing back the dead, making people fall in love, or granting unlimited wishes. It's one of the clearest and most concise examples of a magician spelling out the limits of magic in his world. It's important to make sure your rules coincide with your plot. If Aladdin wishes for unlimited wishes, he becomes a god. If he makes Jasmine fall in love with him, the entire point of the movie ends. And of course, if he brings the dead to life, Disney probably won't make the movie. An alternate take on putting strict limits on what magic can do, is to put an internal limit, as to what the magician is willing to do. In Christopher Paolini's Eragon series, for example, the magician Ergaon has the ability to draw energy (which he needs for magic) from living things around him. He is unwilling to kill those things, which adds depth to the character, while also adding a slightly fluid barrier to the limit of his magic.

It is, as was mentioned, a viable option to have limitless magic. If an author goes this route they often put limits somewhere else. The most popular books about magic ever published introduces a world with nearly limitless magic. 



The scene pictured above, from the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is one of the scenes where JK Rowling discusses the three "forbidden" curses in the Harry Potter world, namely the powers to torture, control against one's will, and murder. These three curses are limits, yet it's important to note that all three are used by characters in her books. In other words, the ability to use this type of magic not only exists, but is necessary. In Harry Potter, there is only one specific limit given to magic, which is that magic cannot bring the dead back to life. All other magic is possible, so Rowling employs laws which restrict the uses of magic. She's added limits to the characters, since the world is nearly limitless. 

If an author creates a world where magic is limitless or nearly limitless, they often create limits elsewhere. One such mechanism is to increase the cost of magic.

2. Costs

Prince Allan stares at his four remaining fingers, trembling. He remembers the terrible pain, but he has no choice. He closes his eyes... 

In the above example, which I just made up, a character is born with the ability to use magic whenever he wants. His magic is limitless, yet the cost is specific. Each time he casts a spell, he loses a finger. He can therefore only use magic ten times. Hopefully he uses his powers well.

In your world, it's important to know the cost of using magic. Often there is a penalty. To return to the Eragon example, in Alagaesia (Eragon's world), the cost is life energy. If Eragon casts a powerful spell that never ends, he will die. If he's weak he has to either draw energy from somewhere else, or wait until he's healed to cast the spell. In George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire the cost of potent magic is royal blood. This helps propel several plotlines, especially around the figure of Stannis. The magic used is literally blood magic, coming at a dire cost. In video games and anime, many worlds incorporate an actual monetary cost. If you have enough money, you buy a spell. The more money you have, the greater your power will be.


The cost of magic doesn't have to be external. In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Frodo offers Gandalf the One Ring very early in the story. Gandalf refuses, as do later characters, saying that if they used the Ring's power to overcome the villain Sauron, they would be turned to evil. The cost of using the Ring is to lose oneself. Similarly, in the Star Wars universe, Jedi have the ability to use the Dark Side of the Force. Yet doing so turns them evil, as is the case when Annekin becomes Darth Vader after using the Dark Side. 



If magic doesn't come with a cost, can anyone use it? To return to Hogwarts and the Potter world, there is no cost to magic in Rowling's world. A student can spend all day at school, and if they know all the words, they can cast a thousand spells with no repercussions. To compensate for what would otherwise be a series about a god going to school to train with other gods, Rowling tells us that only certain people can use magic, people born as wizards. They must also use magical extensions, such as wands in order to facilitate their power. In other series, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson, who is himself an actual demigod, is limited by his human emotions. At the end, when he is offered godhood, Jackson declines, in favor of a mortal love.

As a fantasy author, there's no right or wrong way to do magic. Magic can be limitless, or be so controlled that its nearly impossible to use. Magic can have no cost, or have a cost so high, you fear using it. What if the cost of magic was the life of your child? Would you use it? What if magic could do anything at all, except the one thing your protagonist needs?

Fantasy opens all of these possibilities and more.

The discussion of magic will continue next week...

Friday, August 1, 2014

99 Cent Weekend

School of Deaths is on sale this weekend only for 99 cents!  Sale applies to Muse It Up (all ebook formats) and Amazon.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Hidden Spark

It has been over two years since I've published a poem here on The Poet's Fire.  This came to me yesterday, a poem about inspiration:

The Hidden Spark

It begins with stellar pain:
An explosion of flame.
Fire erupts,
Casting light, a burning light, a searing light
In every direction.
Dancing away from the cradle,
Wondering why space isn’t white
From so much rushing light.

It never ends, the mental pain:
Wait, try, struggle, cry.
A circle of doubt,
Leave the stove on? Pay the bill? Do they know?
Am I happy?
Stumbling away from the cradle
Wondering if life ever eases
In a sea of confusion.

Dawn breaks, masking the hidden spark
It waits behind the brazen sun,
A blanket of gold and blue,
Hides its ancient idea,
That tiny dancing flame.

You gaze up at the empty sky
An empty shell yourself
Sun draws away; the waiting star falls
Tumbling from heaven.

Down it dashes, jumping in your eye
Catching hold of the doubt
Burning it away
An idea.





Sunday, July 20, 2014

Evolution

In my novel School of Deaths, Suzie is the first Death in a million years.  Why a million? A million is a far longer time frame than most people can even comprehend.  This length of time boggled some early readers, including my wife.

For some comparasions to other fantasy novels, as well as historic equivalents:

500 years - length of time J.R.R. Tolkien's One Ring lies dormant with Gollum, between Sauron's rise and the War of the Ring.  *





500 years ago today, Henry VIII was negotiating peace with France, while Coppernicus published his theory that the earth revolved around the sun.

2,500 years - length of time CS Lewis's Narnia exists, from its creation to its destruction *




2500 years ago, nearly five centuries before Jesus, 300 Spartans fought at the battle of Thermopylae.



12,300 years  - length of time in George R.R. Martin's Westeros, between the First Men and the current events in the Song of Ice and Fire series. *






roughly 12,300 years ago, Ancient Engyptians and Sumerians used sickles (early scythes) as part of the Agricultural revolution *


30,000 years - length of the "Dark Age" in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series between the First and Second Galactic Empires. *



roughly 30,000 years ago, the first Americans crossed over a land bridge in the Bering Strait region.

1 million years - length of time between the War between Deaths and Dragons, and the events in School of Deaths.

I chose to set the prehistory of the novel this far back, so that it could account both for the creation of the World of Deaths as well as a flawed, obsessive narrative of the Deaths' own history.  I also wanted to heavily emphasize the idea that everything dies, not just human beings.

Dragons ferried souls for as long as there was life on Earth. The current scientific data shows the earliest life forming on earth roughly 3.5 billion years ago.  Dragons eventually learned to shape and create life, forming creatures similar to their own image, which accounts for 150 million years of dinosaurs.

Click here for an interative timeline of early earth history.

In School of Deaths, it's revealed that ferrying souls became more complicated when some souls gained self-awareness.  This event is impossible to date, however the genuses of early primates and hominids which eventually evolved into humans have been on earth for several million years.  The first tool use is estimated at roughly 2.6 million years ago, and the control of fire is estimated to be roughly 800,000 years old.

Click here for an interactive timeline (through the Smithsonian) of human evolution. 

A million years ago:

The Dragon's creations had vanished, consumed by shadows. Only the primates, pale shadows of the Donraki, the Dragons' failed experiment, remained. Calling themselves "Deaths" a war loomed. Rights to most precious commodity in Creation hung in the balance. 

Rights to the dead...

Can Suzie uncover the truth about what happened a million years ago, or has it been lost to myth?
What will she do when she learns the terrible secret? 



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

From Stages to Scythes

Read an interview today, discussing how I wrote School of Deaths, on author Heather Greenis's blog:

http://heathergreenis.weebly.com/heathers-blog/school-of-deaths-by-christopher-mannino?


Also, be sure to check out the new FIVE STAR review for the novel on Amazon, saying the book is "Too Good to Put Down."

http://www.amazon.com/review/R2GCJSDB8IGBPY/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00K2GC12M



Monday, July 14, 2014

Maps

In Fantasy writing, one of the key elements to any story is the world.  Fantasy readers enjoy escaping into an alternate place, a world with different rules, sights, and sounds.  These fantasy realms are often shown in a map.

Fascination with maps, strange lands, and even monsters is nothing new. As long as mankind's walked around, there have been people who dreamed about what lurks beyond the horizon. The map below shows Scandinavia as one cartographer imagined it, surrounded by sea monsters.

Carta Marina - printed 1539

Today, many epic fantasy novels feature a map drawn by the author.  I, myself, was unable to start writing School of Deaths until I'd sketched a quick reference map on a sheet of paper. I remembered all of the fantasy worlds I'd encountered as a child.  Wonderland isn't a story about Alice, it's a story about a magical place. Tolkien never considered having Gandalf hop onto an eagle and toss the Ring down the open top of Mt Doom, because the readers wouldn't be able to fully immerse themselves into the richly imagined world he'd created.

Tolkien's Middle Earth
When creating a map for a fantasy world, it's important to keep several things in mind.  First, the world must look familiar enough to be recognizable.  In the map of Middle Earth above, the primary elements are mountains, ocean, forest, and rivers.  These features aren't fantastic at all, so we feel we can understand the map. The magical elements are then woven into the features we already recognize.  The features on a map in a quest-based story, such as Lord of the Rings, also have to be arranged in a progression.  In the map, obstacles are conveniently located in a line.  Connect the top and bottom mountains in Mordor, and you'd see a snaking arrow, mirroring the direction that the action takes.  At each point on the journey, the struggles become harder.  The map then serves as an anchor to the reader, so they can gauge how far along the journey the characters are.

Title Credits- HBO's Game of Thrones
Another consideration in most fantasy writing is to make the world interesting and fantastic, but not the main focus. No matter how exciting an author's worldbuilding skills, the plot and characters ultimately drive the story.  HBO's television fantasy Game of Thrones, is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.  Martin creates a vivid fantasy world, including fantastic elements such as an enormous wall of solid ice.  Yet again, these elements are rooted in ideas we understand.  My parents just returned from a trip to the Great Wall of China.  In the Game of Thrones television series, the opening credits feature a map coming to life. It is the ultimate expression of active worldbuilding. Yet in both the books and television series, it is the characters' struggles, and not the location, which creates the primary interest and plot.



School of Deaths is not epic fantasy. The characters know and begin in our world. However, setting a novel in a location that trains Grim Reapers opened up many avenues for a fantasy world.  The World of Deaths is home to struggle between three races: Deaths, Elementals, and Dragons.  As I work on the second novel Sword of Deaths, the nature of their struggle has taken new shape, and I find myself drawn repeatedly to the map of their world.

The World of Deaths
 When I'd originally sketched the map, I'd been focusing on where the College of Deaths sat in relation to the other races. I used recognizable elements (rivers, forests, mountains, and ocean), and made sure my world would not overshadow my characters.  I then began to emphasize the fantastic nature of some of the locations.  My personal favorite on the above map is the Door (lower right of map).  The Door to the Hereafter sits in the middle of an upward flowing waterfall.  A narrow beach stretches from horizon to horizon, surrounded by a cliff of perpendicular stone on one side, and the wall of water opposite.  When readers look at my map, I hope they envision such fantastic places and feel more drawn into the story.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Growing Up on the Fourth of July


This past week has been a whirlwind. I normally write a weekly post about writing or inspiration, but this week's post is about life, and growing up in a flash.

Our first summer,Rachel and I met and courted. Second summer, we planned a wedding. This summer, we got married and started shopping for houses.

 

On June 30th, we visited a house both of us liked.  We'd visited a dozen houses already, and this was the first that felt right.  On Thursday July 3rd, we spent 3 hours at a meeting with our broker, and placed an offer on the house.  We started budgeting, and looking at retirement money. We didn't expect to hear back for some time, due to the holiday weekend.  We both looked forward to the Fourth, we'd made plans with a huge group of our friends, and were tired from the househunting.

At 9 pm, my brother called.  My sister-in-law was having contractions 3 weeks early, and my parents are out of the country.  He asked if we could be "on-call," especially to watch my nephew, who's 2.  Rachel and I looked at each other.  Neither of us had ever babysat.  I make a living out of working with children, but know nothing about toddlers.  We started youtubing videos to learn how to change a diaper.

At 3 am on the 4th of July, having not slept a wink, we picked up Owen, my 2-year-old nephew at the hospital.  We brought him to our house, and spent the next 12 hours trying to entertain him. We changed our first diaper (apparently backwards), dealt with a few tantrums, and had a good time overall.


After returning Owen, and hearing that my new nephew William had been born successfully (we met him the following day), Rachel and I cancelled our Fourth of July plans, collapsed on the couch and slept for 11 hours straight.  Wow, having a kid seems like exhausting work.  We also got a phone call- our offer on the house had been accepted!  

To sum up: In a single day, Rachel and I bought a house, waited to hear about contractions, learned to change a diaper, took care of a 2-year-old, and planned our retirement.  Talk about growing up in a day!