Reposted – Interview with Kathryn Craft

This is reposted from an interview I did for one of the presenters (and a very dear friend of mine as well) from the thoroughly enjoyable and informative GLVWG Write Stuff conference.


What a delight that you’ll be at the 2017 GLVWG “Write Stuff” Conference as a presenter. You have been a motivating inspiration for GLVWG for many many years in various capacities. We’re happy to have you!

Kathryn Craft: Thanks Tammy! It will be so fun to be back home. I attended this conference every year straight from 2000-2012, when it was my honor to host my brand new agent on the agent panel, and then returned as a presenter in 2013. I’ve missed it.

Could you tell us a little bit about what got you into the writing world? Was it when you became a freelance dance critic for the Morning Call or was it before then? What was the spark?

Kathryn Craft: In 1983, when a company I was dancing with approached The Morning Call about a review, I learned they needed a dance critic. I wrote a sample review. The editor read it and said, “Don’t write in the first person because we don’t yet know who you are. Don’t say, ‘It seemed as if’—it weakens your writing. Don’t use more than five sentences per paragraph. Can you start this weekend?”

When you have an area of expertise and know how to string sentences together, it can sometimes be just that easy to get paid to write nonfiction.

Fifteen years later I entered the longest labor of my life when my family suffered the kind of tragedy that can make a novelist out of you: my first husband committed suicide after a day-long standoff on our idyllic little farm. In the years to come, it grew clear that for me, the medium of story would be crucial to finding hope within this darkest trial of my life

I quickly met the first of many fiction-writing obstacles, and each came stamped with the word “humility.” I took a voluntary downgrade from the nominal pay of a dance critic and wrote fiction without pay for a decade. I learned that stringing lovely sentences was no longer enough. An informed opinion was no longer enough. Desire was not enough. I needed to make a substantial investment of time and money in a storytelling education. I quickly realized I could no longer go it alone, and came to my first GLVWG meeting in 2000.

Would you mind giving us a bit of a teaser about your Friday’s half day workshop “Maximizing the Emotional Potential of Your Novel?”

Kathryn Craft: Lifelong readers intuitively know a lot about writing. Like when to insert a dialogue beat, or a bit of backstory. Yet as writers it can take us a long time to figure out the most elusive aspect of effective fiction, which is creating an emotional bond between the reader and her proxy—your protagonist. The answer is not as easy as having an unlikable character save a puppy. With examples from effective passages in bestselling literature, we are going to identify many factors that contribute to this bond so that you have the tools to give your reader exactly what she came for: a full emotional ride.

Reading ‘The Far End of Happy,’ (a book I read straight through because I couldn’t put it down), and knowing that it’s based on your family’s experience, do you have any advice for others on 1) how to tap into and harvest sometimes overwhelmingly brutal emotions and 2) how to be brave enough to get them on the page without extra fluff around them?

Kathryn Craft: Thank you for your kind words, Tammy.

1) I have to admit, my draft was pretty superficial. Over the seventeen years prior to getting the contract for The Far End of Happy I’d verbally told the story of my first husband’s suicide standoff many times. Like a river taking its same, inevitable course, over time my story grew predictable, tumbling over obstacles so familiar their edges had smoothed. I learned where to pull back so as not to make my listener quite so uncomfortable. Where to breathe so I could make it through to the end without sobbing.

So while novelizing my experience, I wasn’t necessarily surprised to hear from my trusted first reader that I had skimmed over the emotional surface of the story. Her critique of the dark moment, in particular, reflected my worst fear: that I might default to this verbal telling mode and fail to use the full power of literature to evoke my characters’ experiences.

I almost let myself off the hook. I mean, who could blame me if I couldn’t bear to bathe in the blistering tar of memory? No one would. But my reader would not be served. Here were some of the ways I pushed through my own resistance to bring the story fully to life.

I immersed myself in source materials (such as in-person interviews with people who knew my husband, news coverage, photos, journal entries, his suicide note) and listened to music that evoked that period in my life.

I allowed setting to enhance meaning.

I dug beneath the obvious (such as the horror that he had killed himself) until I found more revealing emotions (such as relief that this trial was over).

I got creative with motifs (such as the color red) and the rhythm of sentences. Just as I clamped down on emotion in my verbal telling by controlling my breathing, I found I could let emotion fly by omitting punctuation and not allowing the reader a breath at all.

I reviewed and tweaked emotional turning points so the reader could follow each phase of my protagonist’s inner journey.

2) For me, removing fluff is easy. I overwrite until I nail the essence of what I want to say and then pare down to the barest essentials. A critique partner with a brutal red pen can be quite handy at this point. I’m not a person who has trouble killing her darlings. A novel is comprised of many wonderful words, and the ones you take out will not be missed by a reader who never knew they were there.

What are you working on currently?

Kathryn Craft: Another psychological women’s fiction novel that will force a woman to confront her culpability for her husband’s shocking murder by the way she discounted her childhood friend who killed him. It is set in northern NY State, where my protagonist spent many happy summers with this friend, only her reckoning comes during a winter ice storm.

How would you say that networking within writing communities and volunteering your time and energy have helped you grow as a writer?

Kathryn Craft: Through the various positions I held on the GLVWG board (president, workshop chair, program chair) and for The Write Stuff (conference chair, publicity, agent & editor chair) I was able to build the programs that gave me the support and education I needed. I literally brought my teachers to me. Critiquing for fellow GLVWG writers led me to a career as a developmental editor that is now ten years old. I found mentors among the published authors in our community I hired as lecturers and workshop leaders. I got to know peers as we worked side-by-side, and our shared sweat and tears gave me an audience to cheer me on once I finally got an agent. I would have floundered on my own. And when I joined the Philadelphia Writers Conference board, where I serve for six years, my contacts expanded all the more. This is the very definition of building an author platform.

Both your books ‘The Art of Falling’ and ‘The Far End of Happy’ are great selections for Book Clubs and based on your website, book clubs can see if they can schedule a visit, either in person or via Skype, with you. Being able to interact with your readers has to be a delightful time for you. Any stories you’d like to share?

Kathryn Craft: Reader interaction is the very best, you’re right! The biggest surprise has been how often there is someone else in the room whose world has been rocked by suicide. Often they are the quiet one in the corner, pointed out to me only later by the book club host. At bookstores and libraries, people have held up the signing line because they simply had to tell me about a loss in their own family that they’ve never before spoken about, but they felt my talk gave them permission. I’ve even had people approach to tell me about their own suicide attempts, and how my books have brought a sense of understanding and hope. The first time that happened it gobsmacked me. All I could think to do was give the woman a hug and tell her she is living a story that is worthy.

Would you be able to give us a teaser about one of your Saturday’s sessions, ‘Engaging Backstory Techniques?’

Kathryn Craft: We’ve all had the experience: we are reading along and suddenly the story screeches to a halt while we are regaled with old news of a character’s youth. “She grew up next to a post office…” and now as a reader you are derailed by wondering what this has to do with the book’s premise. The reader will assume the post office was important, and when it isn’t, you feel cheated. This is one of those intuitive inclusions I spoke of earlier, but there is real craft behind what to include! We’ll look at how to determine relevancy, how to help the reader sustain interest from this departure from your story, and look at a variety of ways you can seamlessly interweave this all-important story element.

Out of curiosity, when you are not writing, what sort of books do you like to read?

Kathryn Craft: If I get to choose, it will be a literary bestseller, since reading “up” inspire me to write. But traditional publication is a game-changer as concerns reading. Now there are books to blurb, colleagues’ books to read and recommend, research books to read, comparable titles to read for marketing purposes, your next blurber to identify, contests to judge…the list is endless. I probably only choose 4-5 books per year, and they will probably be for my neighborhood book club.

I understand that you are a part of Tall Poppy Writers who seem like a collaborative bunch. Could you tell us a little more about it?

Kathryn Craft: The Tall Poppy Writers is yet one more writing community from which I benefit. This is a marketing cooperative of women writers who believe that we are stronger together. We are debuts and experienced bestsellers and everywhere in between, traditionally published in multiple genres at publishing houses of all sizes, so it is rare that one of us won’t know the answer to a question posed in our private Facebook group. We do in-person events, joint social media promotion, philanthropy for literacy causes that benefit girls and women, and have an online book club with frequent giveaways.

And last question, Kathryn… for an aspirating writer hoping some of the stardust from successful writers rub off on them through interaction, what advice would you give him or her?

Kathryn Craft: This is so darn easy people think it won’t work: support that writer whose stardust you seek. Go to their in-person events and introduce yourself and ask questions. Attend social media events such as Facebook book club events and do the same. Read their books and recommend them on Facebook, tagging their author page. Write an early review on Goodreads and copy it to Amazon on release day. Shout out the release. Share their Facebook posts and consistently retweet them. Stop short of downright stalking them, of course, but any of these measures constitutes a huge show of support. I have helped out my supporters in so many ways, from reading chapters to recommending them to my agent to RT-ing them when their big day comes. People notice when you do nice things for them and they won’t forget you.

Thank you taking time out for this interview. I look forward to seeing you at the conference!

Kathryn Craft: Look forward to seeing everyone soon!


kathryn-craft-2Kathryn Craft writes stories that seek beauty and meaning at the edge of darkness. Rich with material for further thought or discussion, her novels make a great choice for book clubs.

Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, Kathryn served for more than a decade in a variety of positions on the boards of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, and volunteers as time allows with the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Kathryn also hosts writing retreats for women and speaks often about writing. She writes a monthly series, “Turning Whine into Gold,” at the Writers in the Storm blog, and freelances as a developmental editor at She is a proud member of the Tall Poppies Writers, a marketing cooperative of women’s fiction writers.

Kathryn is the author of two books, The Art of Falling (2014, Sourcebooks), and The Far End of Happy (2015, Sourcebooks).

You can learn more about Kathryn Craft at, her Facebook Page, and follow her Twitter Feed.

(Revised). Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. She has finished her first YA fantasy adventure book, A Window Into Hazel Truths, and is revising her second book. When not writing, she works in the social services field to help community member in-need, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a rapier fencing cadet and marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Meet David E. Fessenden, literary agent from WordWise Media Services

Reposted from the GLVWG conference blog

By Tammy Burke


Hi David,
We are delighted to have you join us for the 22nd annual GLVWG “Write Stuff” Conference. With your twenty-something years of experience with editorial management, in addition to your writing, speaking, consulting, and also representing — you indeed wear many hats and obviously bring a lot of knowledge for our conferees to enjoy. Welcome!

If I might say your blog “Concept to Contract, Tips on Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book” is a wonderful resource. What was the inspiration behind it? How does it tie in with your book “Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book?” Any new topics coming up soon?

David E. Fessenden: The blog/website ( is an outgrowth of my book, Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book: Concept to Contract. That book, in turn, was the result of 20 years in book publishing, and is sort of my magnum opus. I sometimes say, “It’s everything I know about writing—and more!” Some of my blog posts are borrowed from the book, but others are things I wish I had included in the book.

Speaking earlier of hats, you list the different “ones” you currently wear (editorial coach, publishing consultant and academic literary agent) in your blog. I’m sure you find enjoyment wearing all three but if you had to choose a favorite “hat” which one would it be? And why?

David E. Fessenden: I really like all of those roles, because in each of them, I am helping authors craft their message and get it published. If I had to choose the one I like best, it might be literary agent. And don’t be scared off by the “academic” label. I am representing some academic authors, but I am trying to work with authors of more popular material as well.

One of the things you’re currently looking for is fiction, either historical or speculative sci-fi/fantasy. Anything in particular that you would like to see? Anything that you probably would not be interested in?

David E. Fessenden: Well, the “speculative” label opens up a lot of possibilities, so I am willing to look at just about anything. However, I would like to point out that the “post-apocalyptic/dystopian” story has been overdone. And in historical, the pioneer West 1800s is overdone as well. Also, I tend to shy away from romances, simply because I personally have no appreciation for them, so I don’t think I can judge them fairly!

Do you think it’s important for a nonfiction manuscript to have a story arc? Also, can you give an example or two of nonfiction that you’ve read which made you question what you knew?

David E. Fessenden: Yes, I would say that a nonfiction manuscript should have a “story arc,” in the sense that it should follow a pattern, a standard structure, such as: “1. Identifying the problem; 2. Introducing the solution; and 3. Implementing the solution.” And that is a story arc, in a way, isn’t it? It has to follow a formula without being formulaic. That is, admittedly, a hard thing to do, and I think it’s why so many authors go into fiction. (Then they discover that fiction is harder to write than real life, because fiction has to make sense!)

When pitching or querying, what are things that tend to impress you and, on the other hand, what would tend to “make you shake your head?”

David E. Fessenden: I am impressed by significant media appearances and web presence, coupled with a compelling idea, presented well. The kinds of things that make me shake my head are lame arguments, usually in the form of clumsy use of statistics: “This book is for married people. Did you know there are X-million married people in this country?”

Reading how WordWise Media Services evolved from a manuscript critique and editing services for aspiring authors into a literary agency made me think of serendipity reaching out a hand as if it was meant to happen that way. Could you give us a “fly on the wall” tour on what makes the company a ” Diversified and Publishing Enterprise?” And what makes it stand out from other agencies?

David E. Fessenden: Wow, that’s a question better answered by Steve Hutson, the founder of the company! But I think Steve would say that his decades of experience in writing, editing and publishing have given him a good handle on the current publishing market. I think what makes WordWise stand out is our commitment to fresh, new authors and a diversity of publishing contacts.

You have an impressive topic range for your speaking engagements. They all look great! Do you personally have a favorite one? Also, do you have one that gets called on more often than the others?

David E. Fessenden: The one that is the most fun to present is “That Reminds Me of a Story,” about using anecdotes in you writing. I like it because it gives me a chance to tell stories! The one that seems to be the most popular, however, is “A Fly on the Wall in a Publishing House,” which gives an insider’s view of how a publishing house acquires a manuscript.

I understand your recent whodunit book ‘ The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy’ reflects your love of Sherlock Holmes and history. Out of curiosity, when did you first start reading stories about Sherlock Holmes? What do you like best about the character or that genre?

David E. Fessenden: I was staying overnight at my in-laws’ home and looking for something to read before going to bed. I happened upon a book of Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan-Doyle. This started a life-long love of the great detective, and I read every one of the Sherlock stories many times over. It struck me, however, that one character in the stories was given a raw deal by Conan-Doyle. Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older brother, was described as having the same powers of observation and deduction, but to an even greater degree. He was such a fascinating character, yet he appears in only two of Conan-Doyle’s stories, and is just mentioned in passing in one or two others. It occurred to me that I might be able to write a story myself in which Mycroft appeared. And so began my first major foray into fiction. I stumbled around at it, and felt very discouraged at times, but over the years, various experiences of mine found their way into the novel. Thirty years later, I finished and published it.

The part I like best about my characters is the old man/young man interaction between Mycroft (the story is set in the 1920s, so by now he is almost 80) and Dr. Watson’s son, Thomas, who is just starting his career as a newspaper reporter. This clash of generations allows for some lively and humorous dialogue and action.

And last question… if you were to give three “pearls of wisdom” to an aspiring writer, what would they be?

David E. Fessenden: First, write every day. Second, don’t throw anything away, just keep it organized. Third, learn how to rewrite and edit yourself.

Thank you again, David, for taking time out of your schedule to do this interview. I’m looking forward to meeting you at the conference!


David E. Fessenden is a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and an independent publishing consultant with degrees in journalism and theology, and two decades of editorial management with Christian publishers. He has written six books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. His first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, was published in the fall of 2013. His blog on writing is

I am looking for fiction in the areas of historical (no romance, please) and speculative (sci-fi/fantasy). I am looking for nonfiction in the areas of academic/semi-academic (thoughtful and thought-provoking) theology, biblical studies, church/social/cultural issues, and reference.

Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Forthcoming Agent Interviews


Just an fyi…

As some of you know, I am a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (2011 Conference Chair and Ex Officio). Their conference GLVWG’s “Write Stuff” as far as I’m concerned is one of the best writer’s conferences out there and it’s in its 22nd year.

Last year I had the opportunity to interview the entire conference faculty (presenters, editors and agents). Yes, lots of work but very rewarding. Those interviews are still on this blog around the January-March 2014 time. This year I will be doing more interviews as well (not all of them though) plus share any good tidbits I learn along the way.

Click Here for more information about the conference but I’m also sharing some of its highlights.

  • If you are wondering, the keynote this year is Kristen Lamb,author of the new best-selling book, “Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World” along with #1 best-selling books “We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” and “Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.”
  • Conference runs March 26 -28, 2015.
  • There is a Thursday all-day workshop with Kristen Lamb, a Thursday evening Writer’s Cafe, plus additional Friday morning workshops.
  • Then Friday evening is one of the best!! The welcome reception is a great way to mingle with other attendees, volunteers and the conference faculty.
  • As for the rest of conference…it’s full of opportunity. Check it out:
    • 22 interactive sessions with industry leading authors, editors and agents
    • Continental breakfast, lunch, morning and afternoon snacks
    • Page Cuts critique on Friday evening  (Limited attendance, register early)
    • Pitch Practice sessions Friday evening.
    • Agent/editor pitch sessions on Saturday (Limited sessions, register early)
    • Lunch and Keynote Speaker Kristen Lamb: Boy Am I Glad I Didn’t Get a Real Job
    • Friday evening welcome reception with hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, and networking
    • Flash Fiction writing contest with prizes
    • Book fair
  • Stay tuned for more and Happy Writing!

[REPOST] 15 Alternative Steps to Better Writing by Philip Overby

One of the interesting things I’ve found online. This is a great tongue-in-cheek piece on writing. Gives you a nice kick-in-the-pants if you’re waffling…

Since this isn’t my article, if you have a comment please visit the below link and let him know what you think.

15 Alternative Steps to Better Writing

Writing_starOften writing advice comes at a price. You don’t always know what works and what doesn’t unless you actually put it into practice and get results.

I’m here to say that every situation is different. So understand that as a writer, it’s up to you to find out what works.

Below, I’ve presented 15 alternative ways to approach your writing. Despite many of them going against what other professionals may preach, I think you’ll find some wisdom in each step.

1. Always write when you feel like it.

Many writers may suggest that “writer’s write.” Well, anyone who writes anything can be a writer then. Why torture yourself everyday by not putting out your best material? Write when you feel like it, even if it’s five minutes a day. I would even suggest that posting on Facebook or Twitter could count as your five minutes. By networking and discussing your day, you are doing important preparation for your fiction.

2. Probably no need to read anyone else’s work.

Another common bit of advice is to “read, read, read.” Why? Reading other people’s work not only muddies your vision, but wastes precious time you could spend writing. I never understood this bit of advice. The only inspiration you need is what you get from your muse. Plus, you can always use TV or movies to get any extra inspiration you need.

3. Re-invent and experiment.

Oftentimes the worry may come up, “My writing isn’t original enough.” In that case, go experimental. Write your novel in your own made-up language. Perhaps don’t even write it, just make a book out of nothing put pictures. You can do anything you want. It’s your novel. Genre conventions are meant to be broken. So go all out!

4. Intelligent discussions about writing.

This is sort of self-explanatory. Talk about writing as much as you like. You are a writer after all! Even if you’re spending more time talking about it than actually writing, you’re reminding yourself constantly that you should be writing. Talking about something is the best way to show you’re interested in it, after all.

5. Literally describe everything.

Dealing with fantasy, your audience isn’t always going to know what’s going on unless you’re describing every character, every new race, every city, and every piece of clothing. If you really want to immerse your readers in a fantastic world, you have to give them as much description as possible. Need to describe what a minor nobleman is wearing? Do it! It’s your novel, so if you need to spend multiple pages describing everything, by all means do so.

6. Forget “show, don’t tell.” “Tell, don’t show.”

Another bit of advice I’ve never understood is “show, don’t tell.” Why not “tell, don’t show?” It is story-telling after all, not story-showing. If a character is angry, don’t waste time with subtle hints or gestures. Just say “He is angry.” It saves your reader a lot of time trying to figure things out. If more writers employed this technique, reading would be a lot easier, faster and thus more rewarding.

7. Overemphasis on grammar and spelling are overrated.

That’s what editors are for, right? Don’t worry about your grammar and spelling so much. Spell-check covers most of that for you, so there’s no need to spend so much time worrying about your sentence structure. Most readers won’t notice anyway.

8. Old fonts can be boring.

I’ve often seen guidelines say, “Use Times New Roman or Arial.” Then what is the point of having all these other great fonts? My advice: use a new font and make it your own. It can be your “calling card” so to speak.

9. Longer is better.

Novels are getting bigger and bigger nowadays. If other writers are putting out 300,000 word novels, then you need to trump them by putting out 500,000 words. It’s a competitive market and the more words you have, the more “bang for your buck” you’re giving your readers. They will appreciate the longer book because it requires them to spend less money on other books.

While on the subject of the need for longer books, why not have a longer prologue? Prologues are very popular in fantasy novels and are your first introduction to the world. Some writers may say that making a prologue too long may detract from the meat of the book, but I think the more information the reader can get about the world you’re introducing them to, the better. I’d even suggest making the prologue longer than any of your other chapters.

10. Super-awesome magic and characters.

The more awesome and crazy, the better. Fantasy readers love magic, but don’t care so much about how it works. Wizard can pull fire from the sun? Works for me. Magic is derived from ancient glaciers? OK! There’s no need to explain magic or have it make absolute sense. Magic is awesome because it’s mysterious. So making the mechanics of how it works relevant is to me, irrelevant. Save that for hard science fiction.

Also, make your characters as awesome as you can. Near invincible characters prove for interesting stories.

11. Deus ex machina.

Why are these three Latin words so contentious? It exists because it used to be a perfectly acceptable way to end a story for the Greek dramatists. What makes writers today better than Greek dramatists? Use whatever device you need to end the story. Especially if you’re on a deadline. Having Zeus or Gandalf’s eagles or whatever come down and clean-up everything is a fine ending in my view. “It was all a dream” is also doable.

12. Ample info-dumps.

Often critics may say “Oh no, the dreaded info-dump.” But why? Info-dumps are after all, when broken down, “dumps of information.” Don’t readers need information to understand what’s happening? My belief is that if you want to stop the plot to give plenty of information to the reader, then it’s your choice as a writer. To me, plot and character development aren’t as important as knowing what’s going on. A good dump of information now and again can help clear things up.

13. Your characters can do nothing sometimes.

Realism in fantasy is becoming more and more popular. What is more realistic than sitting around and doing nothing? It’s what most normal people do a large percentage of their day. Have your character sit on the porch for six pages or take a nap for two. It’s important to get into the characters’ heads as much as possible. Having them think about daily chores, sharpening their blades, walking their dog, or whatever will make them appear more realistic to the reader.

14. Look at the first letter of each numbered step above.

15. Spell it out.

Tell your friends to read this article and it’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard.

Do you have any “alternative” advice to dispense? Leave some in the comments below.

You can find Phil’s blog about Japan, writing, pro wrestling, and weird stuff at

Philip Overby is a nomadic warrior, indiscriminate troll slayer, undead unicorn enthusiast, former indie wrestler, and lover of all things fantasy. He lives in Yokohama, Japan.

Meet Mary Shafer the Indie Navigator, Indie Publisher, Award-Winning Author, and More!

by Tammy Burke

reposted from

Hi Mary,

Can I just say wow! How impressive the number of “hats you’ve worn!” From award-winning author to marketing consultant to indie publisher and professional speaker (and illustrator, freelance graphic designer, art director, etc.) …everything in the publishing industry from what I understand except distribution. I’m so glad you are taking part in this year’s conference!

Mary Shafer: Wow, thank you! I think in another point of view, the only thing impressive about my background is apparent. ADD. Truth is, I’m a true Gemini and I get bored very easily. Also always afraid of missing out on something if I don’t learn and try everything that catches my interest. Up till now, that has always kind of hurt me in a world where specialization is most rewarded, at least financially. But with the weird turn the publishing industry has taken in the past decade, having this diverse skill set has actually helped, and that’s one reason I launched Indie Navigator — because I remember what it feels like to be in that place where you know what you want to do, but have no idea where to start or how to get there.

I would imagine those taking your pre-conference workshop Indie Publishing Intensive better bring a notebook so they can capture all this excellent information you have listed. I was wondering if we could get a bit of a teaser on some of the things you’re covering?

Mary Shafer: Sure. Actually, I do encourage those who learn better by writing things down (as I do) to take notes. But for others, it’s not necessary. I always prepare very thorough handouts for each of my presentations, as well as making my Powerpoint decks available as PDF downloads for all attendees. I just post the download URL at the bottom of each slide so people can copy that down and that’s about all they really need, because I put any handouts, examples, etc. in the same folder they access for the slide deck download.

That said, here’s a bit of what they can look forward to in my Indie Publishing Intensive, which I’m really excited about. I’ve presented all the elements before, but never all together in one time and place. So this will truly be intensive — I’m thinking of it as more of an Indie Publishing Bootcamp, with the exception that we’re not actually going to go through any hands-on workshops. It’s just going to be an insane amount of real-world information — not hype or vaguely disguised wishfulness — shared in a four-hour afternoon. But I guarantee that anyone who’s been on the fence about whether or not to become an indie publisher won’t feel that way when it’s over. They will know what to truly expect as an indie/self-publisher, and will either feel energized and excited by the challenge, or will save themselves a lot of time, effort, money and heartache by resolving to seek a traditional publishing deal because they realize they’re just not cut out to be a publisher themselves.

What I’m going to cover includes content from several of my more popular narrated slide presentations. I’ve broken out the process into three steps: Possibilities, Publishing and Promotion.

Possibilities will explore in detail what to expect if you decide to take the traditional publishing route and, alternatively, if you decide to self-publish. This is the amalgamation of these presentations I currently give to writing and indie publishing groups:

  • I Finally Finished My Book…Now What? – Options for modern authors
  • 21st Century Books: What Is A Publisher, and Should I Become One? – Telling it like it is; the good, the bad and the ugly

Publishing will outline the very real considerations of what it means to actually be a publisher: setting up your business structure; choosing whether to publish only your own work or that of others, as well; apps and other technology that can help you manage day-to-day operations; sourcing vendors, etc. It encompasses some of the content of my presentation.

  • Digility: Digital Agility in Publishing – bit technical, laying out important considerations for someone building a modern publishing house from scratch

Promotion offers guidance in the nitty-gritty of publicizing and marketing your publication products and authors – arguably as important as offering a quality product in potential for success. It includes content from these presentations I often give at writer’s conferences:

  • Getting Published Ain’t For Sissies – Marketing for Nonfiction Authors: Finding your niche, building your author’s platform, effectively employing guerilla promotion tactics, creating a killer press kit, mastering modern technology to serve as your 24/7 personal publicity agent, and anticipating, identifying and leveraging trends.
  • Takin’ It to the Tweeps: Twitter for Authors and Independent Publishers
  • Your Book’s Website: Separate or Connected – Explores the advantages and disadvantages of single author/book sites and separate sites for each title inside a whole publishing web presence strategy
  • Online Newsrooms: What You Need and How To Build It – A step-by-step tutorial on this most important yet often neglected element of any successful author and publisher website

As you can see, it’s truly an exhaustive amount of material, but that’s what an intensive is about. Attendees may leave feeling a bit overwhelmed, but they will no longer face the dizzying confusion of wondering what they should be paying attention to and what lies ahead of them depending on the route they choose. Plus, they’ll be able to refer back to my handouts and slide downloads again and again. I tried hard to formulate a way to share the hard-won knowledge I wish I’d had when I faced the need to become an indie publisher. I don’t want anyone to have to struggle that way.

One the things you mentioned in your bio is that you share what you know so other authors and indie publishers don’t have to learn the hard way too. (And thank you for that, by the way) I am curious…what do you typically find as the top three most common mistakes?

Mary Shafer: Among authors and would-be authors seeking publishing deals, the top three mistakes I see are:

  1. Failing to invest themselves and perhaps a bit of money in making their manuscript as polished and fully edited as possible before turning it in to the publisher or publishing it themselves. (I consider this a cardinal sin, frankly. There’s no excuse for turning in or publishing shoddy work other than laziness or lack of caring, both of which reflect not just on that author but on all authors and indie publishers.)
  2. Failing to build a promotional platform for themselves as an author “brand” before ever approaching a publisher.
  3. Not understanding the publishing process, resulting in their having unrealistic expectations of the experience.

For indie publishers, I think the top three errors I see would be:

  1. The same as #3 above: lacking an understanding of what to realistically expect from being a publisher because they don’t really comprehend the entirety of what’s entailed in present-day book publishing. Far too many would-be publishers are still stuck in the last century when it comes to grasping how drastically this industry has changed in the past 10-20 years.
  2. Overestimating their own knowledge, skill sets and capacity to get the work done. There are few fields in which it’s so critical to know what you can do well on your own, and what parts of each project you’d be better off delegating to someone with the right mix of skill and experience.
  3. Underestimating the start-up costs in money, time and energy it takes to become a truly successful publisher.

I’m certainly not pointing any fingers—I’m as guilty as the next person in not having really known what I was doing when I first got started as an indie publisher almost 10 years ago. But I have a rather unique background that provided me with the exact mix of diverse skills that allowed me to survive all my dumb decisions.

It is both fascinating and inspiring to hear tales of the “blissfully unaware” overcoming the odds — like the success you had marketing your first book when, at the time, it wasn’t expected to earn out. What did you do that perhaps others haven’t or didn’t do?

Mary Shafer: In addition to the relatively unusual skill set I just referenced, I’m also lucky to be a quick study. When I’m in focused mode, I can take in a great deal of information at once, process it quickly and almost immediately integrate it into current projects and apply it in place of less-than-effective activities I would previously have used to get a job done. Not unsurprisingly, this typifies why indie publishers are able to be successful in today’s ever-evolving book industry: we’re small, and so much more agile. Our lack of overhead and the structural inflexibility that plagues larger organizations allows us to adapt quickly to the rapid changes that have characterized book publishing for decades now. Other advantages I had were that I am a proactive seeker of new information, and I have the courage of my convictions. If I know I am capable of doing something, I just don’t listen to the naysayers.

In the case of my first book, though, I must admit that I wasn’t up against that — I simply didn’t know the prevailing conventional wisdom was (and still is) that first-time authors are pretty much expected to fail. This isn’t nastiness on anyone’s part, it’s simply an acknowledgment of how much work it is to create, publish and market a book. Happily, there are many first-time authors not just succeeding, but doing so at a level unprecedented before the rise of digital technology. My entire reason for doing the presentations I do is to dispel that myth. Yes, odds are against the first-time author, but that’s mostly because the majority of them are woefully ignorant, unprepared, arrogant, lazy or all of the above. Anyone who doesn’t fit that stereotype in fact has a good chance of succeeding not only with their first book, but also in the long term!

You mentioned a new “Wild West” of publishing. I like that term. Could you tell us some of the opportunity that’s available?

Mary Shafer: I call it that because, just as on America’s frontier in the mid-1800s through the turn of the 20th century, the industry is without most of the “laws” that governed it for centuries. There are no longer any hard-and-fast gatekeepers and exclusionary forces that served for so long to keep people out of publishing. The Internet has largely democratized access with a still-proliferating array of publication/distribution platforms, marketing and promotion services and tools, and apps to handle almost any business operations function. Provided people are willing to self-police against inadvisable business practices, poor production values and bad customer service, there’s no reason they can’t create and sell books very successfully to an international audience of repeat buyers.

Is it easy to determine if someone should consider self or indie publishing?

Mary Shafer: If it were, GLVWG would not have had to hire me to give this intensive. 🙂

I understand being in a Category 3 storm as a child along with having two tornadoes (yikes!) pass by either side of your house during the early 1990s left you with a bit of a weather obsession. How much do you think these experiences led you to the writing and publishing of your award-winning “Devastation on the Delaware: Stories and Images of the Deadly Flood of 1955?” Also, I’m curious, what does a Skywarn Weather Spotter do?

Mary Shafer: Just to be clear, I was not in the main circulation of Hurricane Alma as a child, only in the outer bands — so I never experienced true Cat 3 storm conditions. But what I did was certainly bad enough to have made a lifelong impression. And yes, I do absolutely believe these brushes with Nature’s most violent forces played a large part in forming my weather obsession. SkyWarn is a program of the National Weather Service that trains volunteers from age 14-100 to recognize conditions amendable to severe weather and to use established criteria to spot and report actual severe weather conditions to local NWS offices. This is far easier and more immediate to do today, with smartphones that allow us to call in our observations or to report via a mobile Internet interface. You can learn more at

I understand there is a story behind how “Word Forge Books” came into existence. Could you tell us a little bit about when, and maybe more importantly, how you decided to create it?

Mary Shafer: I had begun writing my book under contract with a new indie publisher in Doylestown in 2003, with guidance from a trusted colleague and friend who was, at the time, affiliated with the non-profit organization. Two years later, as I was in the final revisions of the manuscript, I was informed that the publisher had been forced to go out of business, leaving me with no publisher and no rights to my own work, since I’d already been paid a partial advance. Two wonderful friends/business clients of mine who supported my project graciously donated the $2,500 for me to buy back my rights, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. However, by that time it was far too late to find another publisher if I were to make my goal of publishing in time for the mid-August, 2005, anniversary of the flood, which I was going to use as the publicity “hook” on which to hang the launch of the book. Realizing that I had most of the experience and know-how I needed to get the book published, I decided that rather than throw away the three years I’d invested in the project, I’d just publish it myself. And so Word Forge Books was born. I named it as a division of The Word Forge, my freelance copywriting and marketing consultancy business.

It’s worth noting that in 2005, Facebook was just being born, most folks didn’t yet even have a website or know what a blog was, many weren’t yet even fluent on email, and was just getting on its feet. There was no Kobo, Smashwords, GoodReads or any of the other online tools that now make getting a book into the hands of readers such a relatively easy process. As has happened more than once in my career, my needs were ahead of the market, so I plowed ahead using the tools I had at hand. I try not to think now of all the money I poured into that pioneering effort and just try to be happy for my colleagues who won’t have to go through that now, when they try to do the same.

Less than a year ago, you started “The Indie Navigator” so you could focus on the consulting work on publishing…presumably one of your favorite parts. Could you tell us about that deciding moment and what you envision for its future?

Mary Shafer: It wasn’t any earth-shaking thing, really. I just finally realized that the majority of my new consulting clients in 2011-12 were authors and indie publishers, and that it would be far easier for me to brand myself that way. After all, one must take one’s own advice, no? So I found my market niche and am now working on building the Indie Navigator brand among those professionals. As for the future, I’m trying more to envision simply success, without too much detail around what that means. I’m learning, albeit slowly, that even though creative visualization (my way of manifesting what I want from my life) usually works best when it’s very detailed, sometimes those details can be limiting when they’re taking place in an industry changing as rapidly as publishing is. SO I’m just remaining open to following the needs of my market right now. I don’t need to lead the market — that’s an expensive and exhausting place to be, I’ve discovered. I’m happy simply helping people not make the same mistakes I did, and hopefully making their publishing experiences as rewarding and enjoyable as possible.

Last question, with as many “hats on your head” do you still have time to write? And if yes, what are you currently working on?

Mary Shafer: Sadly, I don’t have much time to write anymore, and that’s one thing with which I struggle these days. Still, I have had some success the last two years using NaNoWriMo as the disciplined framework upon which to work up to nearly 26,000 words on my novel-in-progress, “Lonely Cottage Road.” It’s a Civil War-era historical romance with a slight paranormal twist, whose theme is the importance of honoring the creative urge. How’s that for vague? It’s my first novel, and I’m looking forward to having more time to work on it as I consolidate some of my other obligations in the near future. I’ve recently finished some rather large volunteer commitments that had become tremendously time- and energy-consuming, and I’m also re-tooling how I make my living to produce more income in less time. We’ll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, as I do all that, I’m also laying the groundwork for a novel series called “The Storm Diaries.” It features the adventures of forensic meteorologist Stephanie “Stormy” McLeod, her special needs dog Oogie, and her best pal, metal detectorist T.J. Tanner in solving cold-case mysteries around severe weather events. This series will allow me to combine my three great passions — severe weather, treasure hunting and animal rescue — into what I hope will be a long-running novel series that will allow me to make a living while writing off as a business expense my research trips to the National Severe Storms Laboratory and the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, and my own storm chasing tours. You can learn more at, and follow me on Twitter at @stormdiaries, where I often live-tweet severe weather events all over the US. You might wonder why I’m doing all that so long before the first novel even comes out. I’m taking my own advice and building my author platform ahead of time so that when it’s time for the book to come out, not only will I have a ready-made market to promote to, I’ll even be able to fund the first printing with pre-orders!

Thank you again, Mary, for taking the time for this interview! I look forward to seeing you at the conference.

Mary Shafer: Tammy, thank YOU for the good questions and your willingness to write up the interview. I hope I’ve been helpful and not too overwhelming. Also looking forward to meeting you at The Write Stuff!

Mary Shafer. The Indie Navigator, is an award-winning author, indie publisher, marketing consultant and professional speaker. She shares what she learned the hard way with other authors and indie publishers, so they don’t have to make the same mistakes.

Entering book publishing in 1990 as an art director, Mary developed experience in most facets of the industry, including editing and marketing. By 1993, her first book was published by a mid-sized indie publisher. As a first-time author, her book wasn’t even expected to earn out. Blissfully unaware the odds were stacked against her, she used what she knew about marketing to tirelessly promote her book. It eventually went into three printings, selling 15,000 hardcover and earning her some attractive royalties. Her second hardcover came out in 1995, and her first self-published book sold out its entire first run of 2,500 copies in 42 days. Now in its second, updated edition and sixth printing, it has sold more than 6,000 print copies to date and is about to come out as an eBook.

In 2013, she launched The Indie Navigator brand to allow her to concentrate her consulting work on the market she knows best, publishing. She doesn’t want other authors to have to make all the painful mistakes she’s made, but believes that despite all the upheaval, this is the most exciting time to be a small, independent publisher and self-published author. In addition to her consulting work, she presents at writers conferences, to writers groups, publishing organizations and online to help authors and small publishers recognize the great potential for success in the new “wild west” of publishing brought on by technological innovation and the resulting changes in the marketplace.

Mary brings her knowledge and experience to every project she works on with her Indie Navigator clients (


Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published around 400 newspaper and regional magazine articles. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities, in addition to helping write scripts for over a dozen television commercials and writing various business communications. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

(REPOST) The Why of Weapons: The Great Sword of War

This is a fabulous well-researched piece on weaponry. (Definitely online with the avoiding the four-door horse, I’ll explain later. Anyway, I wanted this both at my fingertips and to share it. Hope you enjoy!

Mythic Scribes
Fantasy Writing Community

2014-01-25 13:40:20-05
The Why of Weapons: The Great Sword of War
This article is by Joseph Malik.

Today I’m going to discuss an underrepresented weapon in fantasy, although it was likely the single greatest casualty-producing weapon on the medieval battlefield until the development of the longbow.

A Gran Espée de Guerre by Michael “Tinker” Pearce. (

It’s a sword. It’s arguably the sword. It’s the Oakeshott Type XIIIa great sword of war, referred to as a gran espée de guerre.

Calling it a sword is something of a misnomer, as it was really a demolition tool that happened to be sword-shaped.

Weighing between two and three pounds, a gran espée de guerre typically had a wide 30- to 40-inch blade, six to ten inches of handle, and a spatulate tip built to shatter bones and wreck armor. This sword was typically not ornate. Soldiers didn’t trick out their grans espées de guerre because construction workers don’t trick out their shovels.

The gran espée de guerre is often called a “greatsword,” and is often incorrectly referred-to as a “two-handed sword.” It is, in point of fact, a sword intended to be used with two hands but it works just fine with one. Assuming that your hero can get a hand around it, of course. (Halflings, Hobbits, Kender, gnomes, and dwarves, you can just leave now. We’ll catch up with you in a few articles when we get to the saxe.)

Despite frequent depictions in historical literature and art, fantasy authors often overlook the gran espée de guerre, going instead for either the two-handed Type XX, the Scottish Claymore, or something equally monstrous (bigger, of course, is always better).

Eddard Stark rockin’ a true “Two-Handed Sword,” an Oakeshott Type XX. The Type XX is a descendant of the Type XIIIa, and came into use a few hundred years later as a raised middle finger to knights in full harness. (HBO Entertainment)

In fact, the greatsword is so widely misrepresented, and apparently so misunderstood, that a Google search for “greatsword” returns this in the first ten results:

Ah, yes. The medieval greatsword. History is awesome. (

And this:

You will put so much more than an eye out with that thing. (

The gran espée de guerre was a professional soldier’s primary weapon from about 1100-1350 AD, the sweet spot of the Dark Ages where a lot of authors choose to place their fantasy milieus. For nearly three hundred years, it was the greatest casualty-producing weapon – maybe not the killing-est, but the hurting-est – and consistently the weapon that would get its wielder off a field in one piece.

Then, as now, soldiers used what they used because it worked at the time. Let’s look at why.

The gran espée de guerre was heavier than a longsword, not as deadly sharp as an arming sword, and not as task-specific as a true two-handed sword like the Claymore. It combined many different facets of metallurgy and physics to produce perhaps the ultimate hand-to-hand combat weapon of its day.

To understand this, you first need to understand that armored combat is not fencing. Nor is it tightly-regulated re-enacted historical competitive combat you see at the (insert historical society of your choice) Faire. It’s not even close. Sword-shield-sword-shield-bam-bam-bam makes for a fun sport, but the myriad safety considerations of sport combat reduce you to a hideously small range of options that, on a battlefield, would get you murdered in short order.

Hand-to-hand armored combat – whether it’s in helmets and hauberks or modern IOTV’s – is a matter of wearing your opponent down until he no longer presents a threat. Period. In advanced military combatives, where we learn to engage opponents in heavy body armor, we train to throw, sweep, stomp, choke, lock, and break bones. You engage and neutralize the threat. And you do it with a degree of abandon because your body is not merely protected in armor; it’s weaponized.

Trends and customs come and go, but the basis of physical combat has not changed. Medieval armored combat, like modern armored combat, was a matter of trying to break the other guy apart inside his armor between weapon strikes.

And that brings us to armor.

Your character is not going to cut someone in half through his armor. That’s why armor existed. If anything in the day could cut through armor easily, people wouldn’t wear it. That has not changed throughout history. (If you run up against a weapon that you know for certain will compromise your armor, you leave. That, also, has not changed throughout history.)

Armor has always sucked. It sucked for the Etruscans. It sucked for the Romans. It sucked for the Norse. It sucked for the Mongols. It sucked for Harold and his armies. Even our modern armor in today’s military – the Interceptor and the IOTV and even the Dragon Skin back when we could use it – sucks. Soldiers wear armor, and have always worn armor, despite the fact that it sucks; we wear it because it works. I’m a professional soldier. If I knew I was going into a fight where my armor wasn’t going to matter, believe me, I would leave it in my tent. Any soldier would.

Armor works.

Check that. Most armor works. (Second Life)

A different avenue to threat neutralization was to wreck your opponent’s armor to the point where he either had to retreat for his own safety, or where he could no longer fight effectively because all his broken armor was hampering his mobility. The gran espée de guerre was designed for this. It might not kill an opponent, but it would neutralize him, and that was plenty.

Steel was prohibitively expensive at the time the gran espée de guerre was in use, so most armor was made of iron. Look up the shear steel process and then imagine making a suit of armor from it. Go on; I’ll wait.

Having a suit of steel armor in 1100 AD would be like driving a car made of hammered gold today.

Armor from 1000-1300 AD was primarily iron mail, with reinforced areas of wrought iron, cuir boulli, and, very occasionally, steel. (The full field harnesses we saw in pseudo-historical-fantasy atrocities like John Boorman’s Excalibur didn’t come about until a couple of hundred years after the gran espée de guerre had outlived its usefulness, at which point the massive Type XX greatsword was giving their wearers a run for their money.)

Sword edges around this time period were made of steel, typically welded onto iron spines. Steel is harder than iron, but iron has flexibility and impact resistance, called ductility, that steel lacks. The flexibility of an iron spine meant that your sword wasn’t as likely snap in half while you were beating someone up with it.

In order to make a flexible blade that still had sharp edges, the Europeans – and the Romans before them – welded steel edges onto iron spines. There were other ways to come up with a workable result, but welding was the most convenient and cost-effective solution, and it must have worked because it’s how people made swords and tools for over a thousand years.

A broken-back saxe blade by Jeroen Zuiderwijk, moderator at Note the weld line along the edge where the steel is folded into the iron. Historically-accurate swords would have a line like this along each cutting edge.

A carbon steel edge will bite into iron the way a diamond will bite into glass. The gran espée de guerre coupled this differential in hardness with a peculiar type of edge geometry: a stout edge with a bevel that made it functionally less like a kitchen knife and more like a splitting maul. This was not a particularly sharp edge by any definition that you’d recognize today. It would not shave you, nor part a dropped silk scarf like a katana, nor do any of the other magically-sharp stuff that a hero’s sword always seems to do in fantasy novels. In point of fact, you’d have to punch the edge of the sword to cut yourself on it.

No, seriously.

The reason you don’t use a “sharp” sword against armor is that sharpness, in simplest terms, is reduced drag. Reduced drag results from a combination of edge bevel and sectional density. In order to make an edge razor-sharp, you have to file down the edge until it is quite thin. This makes for a long bevel with a very shallow slope (authentic swords didn’t have secondary bevels the way modern kitchen knives do). This is the edge you find on a straight razor, and it is ridiculously delicate. Straight razors are honed with a leather strop, literally aligning the molecules.

If you slam an edge that delicate against plate iron, you will make a useless spot on the blade. (If you drop a straight razor onto a marble countertop, you can destroy it.) This is why I sigh inwardly every time I read fantasy works where the hero has a super-sharp battlesword and he’s cleaving badguys in twain, armor and all, as if it’s a lightsaber. He’d hack through about two and a half mooks before his sword became a metal cricket bat.

However, a gran espée de guerre, with its beefy edge and trick bevel on five or six feet of moment arm – arm’s length, plus blade – would sink its teeth into iron. It may not compromise the armor – it may not even draw blood – but that didn’t matter.

Stick with me on this.

The primary function of armor is not to stop a weapon, but to redirect it. Armor does this by either absorbing a weapon’s energy, or by glancing the weapon off a curved surface such as a cop, a plate, or a helmet.

Driven against an iron or cuir boulli surface, the beveled edge of a gran espée de guerre bites and transfers the full force of the blow instead of skipping off. A gran espée de guerre might not penetrate an iron helmet, but it would make a dent you could rest a cantaloupe in. That’s the kind of injury that sidelines a guy for days, if it doesn’t leave him drooling and twitching for the rest of his life.

Against a hauberk or byrnie, the gran espée de guerre transmits far more kinetic energy than other weapons of the time. The trick bevel not only damages the mail but carries the impact to the padding beneath. It hits like a crowbar, breaking bones under repeated blows before all but the finest mail falls away in tatters.

This has a lot to do with blade harmonics and center of effort, as well. If you look at the Type XIIIa . . .

Mmmm. Just look at it. It doesn’t mind. Go on and look.

. . . the ideal point of impact, where the main focus of the mass comes together, is just past the end of the fuller. The fuller serves to lighten the sword. Yet the tip of a Type XIIIa is built heavy. The weight is carried forward for the same reason that Abrams tanks fire rods and not big bullets: for maximum penetration, you want to stack mass behind the impact. The Type XIIIa is amazing for its concentration of effort. It is an engineering miracle, considering the time period.

A full-speed blow from a gran espée de guerre wouldn’t kill you in sturdy armor, but you’d be done for the day. A hit to the chest or back – or even a heavy blow driving the edge of your shield against your helmet – would leave you out of breath and seeing pink-and-purple Rorschach tests everywhere for a few minutes, and you would probably have to be carried off the field.

That’s what the gran espée de guerre brought to the fight: BAM. “You’re done.” BAM. “You, too.” BAM. “I can do this all day.”

Up until now, we’ve discussed using the gran espée de guerre on foot. Brandished from horseback, it was a slate-wiper.

If you were a professional soldier – a knight or well-paid mercenary, as opposed to a conscripted mook with a spear and a linen jack – you brought home big bucks swinging this monster on the field, sending badguys home one after the other to get their armor fixed.

It was a “Great Sword of War.” A war sword.

The war sword.

The weapon is not undefeatable. You can counter a greatsword by engaging with a gran espée de guerre of your own, or bum-rushing the wielder with five or six of your buddies and taking him down. Ideally, you’d use a combination of both. One or two of you are going to get injured or maimed in the process, though, and generally the caliber of military discipline required for such a stunt didn’t exist back then. So if you were wielding this sword on a battlefield, you’d find that things were pretty much going your way most of the time.

Soldiers carry weapons that get them off the field in one piece. That hasn’t changed since the days of living in caves and fighting with rocks and sticks. The gran espée de guerre is a weapon that did exactly that, yet it’s criminally underrepresented by authors who haven’t given a lot of thought to why their heroes carry the weapons they do.

There’s your why.

Your fantasy writing doesn’t have to be historically or physically accurate. But when you start digging into the history and physics of weaponry, you can come up with some interesting springboards for your own writing. Consider the gran espée de guerre and then look at your hero’s sword.

Most of all, have fun. And write, dammit.

Why do your characters carry the swords that they do?

About the Author:

Joseph Malik is one of the authors of The Syria Policy Playbook. He has worked as a stuntman, a high-rise window washer, a freelance writer, a computational linguist, a touring rock musician, and a soldier in U.S. Army Special Operations. He currently serves in the Army Reserve and consults for infrastructure development projects in areas of ongoing geostrategic concern. His blog on writing and fighting can be found at

See Also:

Medieval Archery for Fantasy Writers
Medieval Armor – A Primer for Writers
Ask Me About Swords

2014-01-26 17:02:16-05
Fantasy Writing Discussions January 27, 2014
No Adjectives Too?
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Trying to figure out the cost of Magic
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Becoming grim-dark
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How to Explain Magic Without a Detailed Magic System
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Age of gunpowder setting?
Recently i’ve been heavily contemplating reskinning my WIP from a medieval low fantasy to a…..Renaissance Low fantasy. After thinking over my major…
Critiquing a young writer’s first chapter
So this young man who watches me on DeviantArt asked me to review his story’s first chapter. I’ve given it a gander and I have to say I don’t care…
Starting a chapter with dialogue: okay to do?
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a question from other people
what makes a story timeless, is it their settings stories or characters? is it possible for one to make one on purpose? if so what do you think? put…
34. Cornelia Funke Discussion
Been a long bit (well, maybe not too long) since I posted a discussion. Cornelia Funke is number 34. This German children’s writer has been called…
Magic – attainable levels of power
In my WIP magic has several ‘levels’ of power, each one allowing a mage to cast different spells.Level 1: Bending – this is what new mages are…
Missed Opportunities for Self-Publishers?
I’ve mentioned this elsewhere on the forum and some other places, but I felt like it deserves its own thread. I’ve been thinking a lot about my…

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[Reposted from Writer Unboxed] Frog Marching the Muse: Eighteen Tips to Get Words on the Page

~~There are several of these excellent tips that I’ve started using. I found this article helpful and figured I would pass it along. ~~

Two days ago, I turned in a manuscript that I truly feared I would never finish. That has never happened to me before, and to have it happen when the final installment in a trilogy was DUE NOW, was as potentially disastrous as it was unacceptable.
Keep in mind that I am one of those people who does not subscribe to the belief that you must write every day; for me, forced writing does not always equal useable writing and can often times derail the story. I also believe that sometimes fallow periods and distance from our manuscripts are the best thing for them and those philosophies have served me well in the past. However, there are times when you simply have no choice.
My first option is always to try and coax the muse out to play, using music, collage, artist dates, whatever I think will work. But sometimes, she just isn’t coax-able. In this particular case, I think she was simply exhausted. And that’s okay, but as a writer with contracts and deadlines, I can’t always wait for her.
Here are eighteen tips I use to help me produce words when my creative muse packed up and left me, leaving no forwarding address. You can, in fact, get an entire book written this way, although it is not the most joyful of processes.
Some of the things on this list are about assembling the raw materials you will need to write the story. Others are about priming the writing pump to get the words flowing. Often, the suggestions will do both. But all of them are about building forward momentum and finding a way—any way—to get those damn words on the page.
I tend to think of them as the equivalent of hauling the bricks, bag of cement, mortar, etc. over to where I am going to build the wall, assembling all the things I will need. Sometimes, having them all there and ready provides motivational juice. Other times I still have to build brick by brick, but at least I don’t have to go hunting for all the parts.
And look! Just in time for NaNoWriMo!

1. Write in short bursts of 20-30 minutes or 500 words.

2. Take a short 10-15 minute walk. Bring a small notebook or recording device.

3. Even if you’re not an outliner see if you can at least find your story’s turning points. It is much easier to build drama and write across shorter distances and can seem more doable. Exploring either of the internal or external turning points can often produce scene ideas and help propel you forward.
External turning points are those moment when everything shifts for your character; surprises or twists are revealed; or the stakes suddenly become higher. (And if none of those happen, then brainstorm some immediately.)
Internal turning points—think about your character’s emotional arc, who she is at the beginning of the story and how she will be different at the end. Be sure there is enough there there, then look at the incremental steps she will need to take in order to achieve that emotional growth.

4. Assemble the story’s descriptive details and building blocks. Map out the world of your story so all the info you need will be there when you’re ready. Map of the word, the neighborhood, history of the players involved, floor plan of the castle, whatever. This is not procrastinating because at some point you will need to be grounded in the story logistics enough that you can block your scenes and character movements.

5. Journal your characters wounds and scars and early life traumas. Once your character is fleshed out more, you often get a better idea for the sorts of obstacles she will need to face in the story, which in turn creates dramatic events and scene ideas.

6. If your antagonist is not a POV character, consider writing a few short scenes from his POV anyway, just for your own benefit. Knowing what your antagonist is doing, thinking, planning often helps you understand what needs to happen next and what your protagonist will need to do.

7. Repeat the above for the love interest, especially if they are not a POV character. It gives you a better feel for the push/pull of the relationship dynamics.

8. Plot out the beats of the main romance/relationship. What characteristics/attributes/specific moments/personality details feed the attraction between the two characters. Writing them down will help you see what needs to be woven into the story and will often generate scene ideas.

9. Create character cards. This can be especially helpful for secondary characters and creates a wonderful shorthand to help you focus the way the character interacts with other people, which in turn can help provide scene momentum. Oftentimes just being reminded of character’s dominant traits and the way they move in the world can help get things started.
Take a 3 x 5 index card for each character with their name on the top: Baron Geffoy
List three characteristics for that person: jovial, opportunistic, nurses grudges.
Add a hidden core motivation for both his personality traits and actions: impotent
Next, list a handful of dominant physical features that will help you key into that character and can also act as tags to help anchor the reader:
pale read beard hides a weak chin,
blue eyes watery from too many evenings spent drinking wine,
barrel chested.

Lastly, come up with two or three mannerisms the person uses:
stroking his beard,
shifting eyes,
rocking back on his heels

10. Assemble a list of physical actions for the story in general, individual scenes, and for each character. These physical actions characters perform are a great way to pull action into the scene—action you can then tweak to create DRAMATIC action and subtext. For example, let’s say one of your characters whittles wood to keep his hands busy whenever he is sitting still. If he does that enough times, at some point he can fumble the wood or drop it or the knife can slip and you won’t even have to tell the reader that he was surprised or perturbed by what just happened. How he whittles–slowly, vigorously, carelessly–will add depth of emotion and subtext to the scene. And really, there are thousands of everyday actions that can be used to give the scene some extra layering.

11. Write whatever scene is most vivid in your mind, regardless of where it will come in the book. I know this is hard for a lot of people, but sometimes those vivid scenes will provide story juice or clues or touchstones that we can then use to work back from. Yes, it does involve some scene stitching later on, but if you are on a deadline and that’s all you’ve got to work with, you sometimes can’t afford not to try it.

12. Assemble a book specific thesaurus. We all have words we overuse, and each manuscript has it’s own special set of words we use too often. Mysterious, dangerous, dark, compelling, whatever words you see coming up thematically in your work. Take some time and a really good thesaurus and fill your word well with new choices that you haven’t used or thought of before. (Not overly fancy words or those that force people to use dictionaries—this is more of a way to break out of your word rut.)

13. Scene sketching – This is a great tool for brainstorming a scene and getting some bare bones down that you can then fill in with more detail. You can pick one of these per scene or throw the full monty at it, depending on how utterly blank your mind is.
a) gather the descriptive details you will need for the scene, location, weather, clothing
b) block out the physical action and logistics of the scene
c) list what has to happen here—what is the reason the scene exists.
D) write the dialog only—as if you are listening in on a conversation—what can you hear the characters saying to one another.

14. Write transitions. These are those chunks of writing that propel the reader from one scene to the next or across time and space where nothing happens. It’s a great way to jump through swaths of time and keep moving. You also might find in the end that you don’t actually need anything there. It’s a great way to avoid boring daily accounting of characters’ activities and keep the story moving forward.

15. Switch into a telling mode if you need to. This allows you to ‘tell’ the story. You can then go back in and convert it to showing/action based scenes later but being able to ‘tell’ helps you keep moving forward.

16. Give yourself 10-15 minutes to research visuals for your scene—the location, the room, the clothing, a picture of what your character either looks like or expressions that convey the emotion she is feeling. Sometimes it can be easier to describe what we can actually see.

17. Pick five or six dramatic events that you know occur in your story. Take those moments and really dig deep, delving into your characters deepest layer of thoughts and feelings. Sometimes the story stalls out not due to lack of action, but because we don’t truly understand what our characters would be experiencing in the moment and how that would impact their future decisions and actions.

18. Turn off the internet. No, really. Just turn it off.

And there you have it! All my quick and dirty tricks for getting words on the page. What about you? Do you have any tricks you fall back on for getting the words to flow when your well is feeling dry?

Villainy 101 Villains Are People Too How To Avoid a Protagonist-Centric Villain (repost)

Reposted from

Villainy 101: Villains Are People Too
How To Avoid a Protagonist-Centric Villain

Hello again. This is your friendly neighborhood Spy speaking.

In my extended stint as an unwelcome guest at the Academy of Ultimate Villainy, I met quite a few villains. Minor villains. Minions. Evil Henchmen. Super Villains. Criminal Masterminds. The works.

And if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that villains are not the mindless embodiment of evil that we think they are. At least not the good—bad?—ones.

Villains are people too.

Ever held a conversation with one? It’s not easy, I’ll admit. But once you can get past the typical shallow conversations about how magnificent they are, and who they’ve killed today, and their evil plans or hatred of the heroes, you’ll discover that villains are not so very different from you … though with different life plans and certain moral ambiguities.

Villains possess goals, motives, dreams, beliefs … just like anyone else. And their personal goals drive all of their actions.

A handbill printed by the Society for Villain’s Rights.

One common mistake among fledgling novelists is the tendency to make their villains protagonist-centric.

What does that mean?

A protagonist-centric villain exists for no other purpose than to make life difficult for the hero/heroine. Their one aim in life is to stop/kill/humiliate/embarrass/torture the hero/heroine.

What is their motivation? Oh, just because they enjoy seeing the hero/heroine stopped/killed/humiliated/embarrassed/tortured/etc.

Can you see the problem here?

The villain is no longer acting for himself to get what he (or she) desires. The villain acts solely to provide opposition for the hero. He is not a person. He is a puppet dancing at the tip of the author’s pen.

The author who writes such a villain strips him of any life he might have possessed in and of himself, making him little more than a robot programmed to oppose the hero.

But, you ask, how does one avoid this?

So glad you asked.

In order to avoid a protagonist-centric villain, you must look at things from the villain’s point of view.

Tip 1: Answer the question why from the villain’s perspective.

Every writer’s favorite question is why. You must know why your protagonist makes the choice that allows them to embark on their heroic journey. You must know why they fail halfway through. You must know why they are able to succeed in the end.

But you almost must know why your villain does what he or she does. And when you ask yourself why, write your answer from the villain’s perspective.

For example, instead of replying: Villain wants to destroy the protagonist because the protagonist is trying to stop the villain from dominating the world in a reign of terror.

(Can you see how this is focused on the protagonist, instead of the villain?)

Try writing: All Villain wants is power. A chance to unleash the evil genius that has always been neglected, ignored, looked down upon. The world will recognize his greatness … even if he has to force it on one person at a time at the tip of his sword. And no one is going to stand in his way.

Tip 2: Instead of looking at how the villain is getting in the protagonist’s way, try seeing how the protagonist is getting in the villain’s way.

Ever read a novel where the villain just seems to handily pop up from time to time, at just the right moment to foil the protagonist’s plan or issue some rarely-fulfilled threat? But you have no clue what the villain does the rest of the story? He just disappears whenever he’s not needed on stage. A puppet.

Don’t do that. When you outline, outline the story from the villain’s perspective. Know what the villain is trying to accomplish, and use his goals to thwart the protagonist. Know what the villain’s journey looks like. Know what the villain does when the protagonist is not around.

Which brings us to my final admonishment:

Tip 3: Get to know your villain.

Admittedly, it can be dangerous. Casual conversation with a villain usually is. But how else are you going to discover that your Dark Lord has an unnatural fear of spiders, likes cuddly kittens, and is allergic to blue cheese?

Quite a few of them are, actually.

Get to know your villain, know his deepest desires and his darkest fears, and your villain will no longer be protagonist-centric. He will possess a life of his own. Your very own Frankenstein.

I rest my case.

Tune in next time, for another lesson from the Spy and the Academy of Ultimate Villainy.

Previous Villainy 101 Posts:

10 Things Every Villain Should Avoid ~ 5 Things Every Villain Should Do ~ On Heroic Propoganda ~ 3 Steps to Launching Yourself as a Super-Villain ~ Proper Procedure for Hiring Evil Henchmen ~ How to Trap a Hero ~ Jail Breaks: What Not To Do

How to Ride the Storm

A friend of mine, after recently being publicly recognized, admitted he had been feeling like he was working inside a vacuum. I imagine we all feel like that sometimes. Who doesn’t know that demoralizing and lonely feeling?

I had told him it takes a while sometimes for the ripples we make to hit the shore but it made me wonder later….

What happens if we don’t have a muse’s friend standing at the shore to take notice? Do we lash out with a tsunami of effort? Or do we drown in frustration and despair?

There are so many sayings to cling to as one “bobs” along looking for a place to pushoff.

(One more hammer strike before the rock cracks — just one more — just one more –just one more)

But back to the vacuum. I would imagine any suffocating and tumbling person needs air and somewhere to place their feet. And isn’t it wonderful that perspective plays a huge role in our internal landscape.

The love of our “brainchild” be it service or art or sport provides a foundation, a ground to stand on. We focus on that and the tumbling can stop. There is “land.”

And as for “air” — What ignites our creative souls as assuredly as oxygen ignites the thermal heat in our physical bodies. What is it that “sparks” you? What remains when we cast away laurel wreaths and parades.

For me, with my writing it is giving life to the images. It’s therapeutic because it makes it a whole lot quieter inside my head. It keeps the nightmares at bay. It allows me to contemplate the human equation in complex and fractured perspectives, to harvest emotions and gift/curse them to my imaginary people.

For my fencing, it is becoming more than I am. To become that song in motion. And to be one of the instruments in the orchestra.

For my mentoring…it is to see my young chargers grow and to reach their potential.

My art….my singing…my involvement in the SCA, my professional life, my relationships….

Each of us wear so many hats….

But what happens when you no longer feel your muse’s sweet whispers brushing against your face… if the turmoil of frustration and despair encases you as a maelstrom sucking away the “air” ….and a break consistently does nothing… then perhaps it is time to throw yourself into that blustery storm.

Yes. Allow that tempest (cast aside the despair) to give you the Herculean effort to sweep you back to your muse –perhaps after that tsunami ripple.

(Remember your main goal should never be the needless destruction of the world

And one more thing —
Don’t allow others to be your only source of air)

The journey, with all its hard-won rewards, delights and obstacles is our road. Stay the course, breathe in deep and best wishes.