A change is in the air…

Hi all! Obviously, it’s been months and months since I updated. This is indicative of how busy I am in my personal life and where reading fiction and updating this blog have fallen on my priority list. I DO have a new review, of G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen, and it is posted over at SpaceGypsies.com. I will continue to read and write reviews, though not so regularly, I think, and they will be posted there. The intermittent schedule fits my life these days, and I wanted to share with all of you where you can find me if you have the urge to do so. :)

Many thanks for your interest these past couple of years!

~OnAPaleStar

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Coming Soon! May 2012 novels that have caught my interest

I can’t believe it’s May already. Where did Spring go? So! May. May means two books I’m very, very curious about are being released soon. Hooray for new books!

The Killing Moon
N.K. Jemisin
Fantasy
May 1, 2012
Orbit
ISBN: 9780356500768
448 pages

The blurb, from Goodreads:

In the city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Along its ancient stone streets, where time is marked by the river’s floods, there is no crime or violence. Within the city’s colored shadows, priests of the dream-goddess harvest the wild power of the sleeping mind as magic, using it to heal, soothe… and kill.

But when corruption blooms at the heart of Gujaareh’s great temple, Ehiru—most famous of the city’s Gatherers—cannot defeat it alone. With the aid of his cold-eyed apprentice and a beautiful foreign spy, he must thwart a conspiracy whose roots lie in his own past. And to prevent the unleashing of deadly forbidden magic, he must somehow defeat a Gatherer’s most terrifying nemesis: the Reaper.

The Battle of Blood and Ink
Jarod Axelrod, writer
Steve Walker, artist
fantasy, graphic novel
May 8, 2012
Tor Books
ISBN: 9780765331304

The blurb, from Goodreads:
If you’re visiting the flying city of Amperstam without the latest printing of The Lurker’s Guide, you might as well be lost. This one-sheet is written, edited, and printed by Ashe, a girl raised on the streets of the flying city, and is dedicated to revealing its hidden treasures and deepest secrets—including many that the overcontrolling government doesn’t want anyone to know. The stakes are raised when Ashe accidentally uncovers the horror of exactly how Amperstam travels among the skies and garners the attention of those who would rather that secret be kept in the hands of the city’s powerful leaders. Soon Ashe is on the run from thugs and assassins, faced with the choice of imperiling her life just to keep publishing, or giving in to the suggestion of a rich patron that she trade in her voice and identity for a quiet, comfortable life. It’s a war of confusion for Ashe, but one thing is very clear: just because you live in a flying city, you can’t always keep your head in the clouds. 

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Book review: Cairo by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker

Cairo
G. Willow Wilson, writer
M.K. Perker, artist
Urban fantasy
November 2007
Vertigo Comics
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1734-1
Format: Trade paperback
accquired: purchased

 The blurb, from the back of the book:

A stolen hookah, a spiritual underworld, and a genie on the run change the lives of five strangers forever on the streets of the Middle East’s largest metropolis.

Cairo interweaves the fates of a drug runner, a down-on-his-luck journalist, an American expatriate, a troubled young student, and an Israeli soldier as they race through the bustling present-day Cairo to find an artifact of unimaginable power, one protected by a dignified jinn and sought by a wrathful gangster-magician. But the vastness of Africa’s legendary City of Victory extends into a spiritual realm—the Undernile—and even darker powers lurk there…

The review:

Cairo opens with a man telling a story. I’m a bit of a sucker for storytellers, so honestly, that was all it took to hook me into the graphic novel. Of course, it helps that the story he’s telling starts with “So today, I hit one of those stoned camels with my truck.”

I’ve never thought of camels being stoned before, or of drug runners crashing into them while trying to smuggle drugs into Israel…but now I have, and it makes perfect sense. Cairo is like that; full of situations I haven’t thought of before, but that slot right into reality perfectly, even if it’s jinn and the Undernile we’re talking about.

Ashraf is, I think, the perfect introductory character. He’s a drug runner, unrepentant about it, but knowing he ought to walk away. As he sits smoking with a hookah, telling his mother about his day, you get a feel for his personality, and when the scene pans out and Ashraf gets up to leave and you realize that he’s been talking to her grave, Ashraf suddenly has depth.

The story of his day leads to the next character we meet, an injured Israeli soldier who was found in the desert by a group of Bedouin heading into Cairo. When Tova wakes up in their care, she’s grateful they cared for her. When she realizes where they are headed, her response is an appropriate “fuck.”

Cairo is like this—one person’s story blends with another until we’ve met all five. Kate and Shaheed meet on a plane ride from the U.S. to Cairo; pretty soon we as readers realize that Kate is an idealistic middle-class young woman and it’s not hard to make a leap to “naïve” as she talks to Shaheed. Shaheed, though, is less transparent and it’s not until the narration follows him more closely that you realize that he’s very troubled, indeed.

Soon we find that Ashraf knows a journalist, Ali… and then Ali meets Kate, and Shaheed meets (and gets conned by) Ashraf, who has a run in with Tova. And like that, five disparate characters are connected and Wilson manages to make it feel completely natural. It would’ve been easy for this to feel contrived, so I’m impressed at how well orchestrated this string of meetings was.

The plot is pushed forward by Ashraf’s drug-running history coming back to bite him in the butt and a jinni (in, and then not in, a hookah). It’s a fantastic blend of the region’s mythology and religion with modern day Cairo. Shams, the jinn, is not at all the comedic blue guy from a Disney movie. He’s motivated, earnest, and a teacher–an example of a benevolent jinni.

Shams, benevolent being that he is, helps these five—one in particular—reach their potential. At one point in the story, he tells Shaheed that he manipulates probabilities, rather than creating items or events from scratch. With the cast he had to work with, I’m inclined to think that guiding this group might have been a bit like herding cats. They each have free-will, and own their own choices, but with some gentle and un-subtle nudges from Shams, they learn that they can choose differently than they have in the past. The message for readers isn’t subtle, but I think that’s okay. Sometimes we need clue-by-fours to smack us over the head with an idea, particularly a worthy one.

Wilson’s story is beautifully complimented by Perker’s art. The characters and setting are rendered beautifully, the panels accenting and expanding the text to make the entire story rich and nuanced. If you haven’t gathered by now, Cairo is not stereotypical comic book/super hero fair. There are no spandex or leather-encased vigilantes here, just excellently drawn men and women and a jinni who want more from life than what they’ve already experienced.

If you get the chance to read Cairo, do. It’s well worth your time.

Visit the author’s Website. Visit the artist’s Website.

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Book Review: Road to Hell by Krista Ball

Road to Hell
Krista Ball
Science Fiction
December 2011
Mundania Press
ISBN: 978-1-60659-286-1
155 pages, according to my e-reader
format: electronic
accquired: author sent it for review

The blurb, from the publisher:
Captain Katherine Francis is about to disobey every Ethics Law the Union of Planets throws at her. After the Union’s enemy destroys her home planet and murders her family, she makes the decision to bring an end to the war–whatever it takes.

When an opportunity arises to ally with the neutral Alliance and turn the tide of war, Katherine throws aside her moral code, partners with a known spy, and risks sacrificing the very core of who she is.

And when faced with choosing between her conscience and stopping the bloodshed, she realizes that, either way, she’ll lose.

The review:
Shortly after Road to Hell opens, Katherine Francis, captain of the space port Perdition, receives terrible news about her family’s fate in the on-going war that is costing millions of lives and slowly chipping away at the Union of Planets. She’s devastated. More than devastated, she’s furious, and she nurses that rage until it’s what sustains her.

The Union’s Fleet Command puts out a request that all captains come up with a “local action plan” that might help the war end sooner, and Katherine begins to toy with an idea that skirts the Ethics Law, bending it without breaking it. And then, there’s an opportunity that goes against everything she’s been taught about honesty, trust, ethics, and the higher ground.

Bereft of her family, with her estranged wife somewhere out near the front, Katherine is faced with a question: just what are her ethics–the codes and values enforced by the Ethics law and the foundation of her and of the Unions’ way of life–worth?

We all know what the road to hell is paved with, and Krista Ball, by way of her tall, strong, grieving captain, reminds us that “hell” isn’t just a physical place but a state of mind and of being. Katherine decides that ending the war and defeating the Coalition is an end that will justify her means. What she doesn’t expect, I think, is just how much her methods will cost her personally and how much her decision will ripple outward to affect others in her life.

It wasn’t easy to read Captain Katherine Francis’ struggles in this novel, but I’m glad that I did, even my own personal moral code wouldn’t have struggled with what to do as Katherine’s did. She’s well written and consistent even as she does things that she never, ever dreamed she would do. I very much appreciated her character development even as I found that I sometimes had more in common with her (much less morally rigid) cohort-in-espionage, Salim.

Salim is a Coalition exile, both familiar to Katherine and utterly, utterly foreign. Not being Union means Salim hasn’t been raised on the strict Ethics Law, and doesn’t have the same boundaries as those he live among. He breaks Coalition codes for the Union and does so to benefit himself: agreeing to decode only in return for upgrades to his access to technology or for similar rewards. Early on Katherine comments that she’s fine with Salim as long as she remembers that “he will do what benefits him most.”

Of course Salim becomes her go-to person when she decides to go full-out, ignore the Ethics Law, and end the war. They are excellent foils to one another.

I’m not going to spoil the book and tell you if her plan comes to fruition and her end goal is met because while it is important, it is not really the point of the novel. Katherine’s constant struggle to reconcile herself to this path she’s chosen, her horror at the bad (very very bad) events that occur because of her choice, and even her inability to change a lifetime of conditioning and habits to effectively lie, those are the important parts of the story.

When does practicality win out over ideals? What would you do if you were told you have carte blanche to act as you want, as long as you don’t get caught? What are your personal morals and ethics worth? What’s your price?

Visit the author’s Website. Follow the author on Twitter.


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Coming Soon! March 2012

March 2012 has several books that I am interested in, but these are the two that have most caught my attention. Vodník in particular is one I want to read!

Vodnik, by Bryce MooreVodník
Bryce Moore
Urban fantasy, young adult
March 28, 2012
Tu Books
ISBN: 9781600608520
368 pages

The blurb, from Goodreads:
When Tomas was six, someone — something — tried to drown him. And burn him to a crisp. Tomas survived, but whatever was trying to kill him freaked out his parents enough to convince them to move from Slovakia to the United States.

Now sixteen-year-old Tomas and his family are back in Slovakia, and that something still lurks somewhere. Nearby. It wants to drown him again and put his soul in a teacup. And that’s not all. There’s also the fire víla, the water ghost, pitchfork-happy city folk, and Death herself who are after him.

If Tomas wants to survive, he’ll have to embrace the meaning behind the Slovak proverb, So smrťou ešte nik zmluvu neurobil. With Death, nobody makes a pact.

The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving HumanityThe Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity
Ed. by Joshua Palmatier & Patricia Bray
Urban fantasy, anthology
March 6, 2012
DAW Books
ISBN: 9780756407193
320 pages

The blurb, from the publisher:
What if the fae were still here, living among us? Perhaps living in secret, doing their best to pass for human? Or perhaps their existence is acknowledged, but they’re still struggling to fit in. How have they survived? Are they outcasts clinging to the edges of society, or do their powers ensure success in the mortal realm? Here are fourteen fabulous tales-ranging from humor to dark fantasy-that explore how the creatures of fae are fitting into the modern world.


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Blogosphere Round Up, February 2012

New-to-me articles, blog posts and interesting reading from the publishing, writing, and general geekery blogsophere, February 2012 edition.

World-building: The Politics of Race. Kody Boye at Maurice Broaddus’ blog. “To say that we’ve experienced major conflict in our world would be an understatement. From enslavement of blacks by plantation owners in America, the attempted genocide of the Jewish people, to even the complete and utter annihilation of the Aztecs, there has never been a shortage of crimes against humanity.”

Curse Like an Orc, Woo Like an Elf: The Secret to Fantasy Languages, from Omnivoracious. “The purpose you have in mind for your fantasy language will dictate not only its sound and vocabulary, but also its use. So figuring out the purpose of your language–be it to add flavor to a culture, to serve as a calling card for a character, to manipulate the reader, or to accomplish some new goal–is the first and most important step to creating your language.”

From the Author’s Guild Blog: Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory. “These stories capture pretty well the state of book publishing: this appears to be no ordinary, cyclical crisis that future authors and publishers will shrug off. To understand how the book industry got into this predicament, however, a broader perspective may be needed.”

Bracing for Impact: The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm. Kristen Lamb’s blog. (This is, in many ways, a rebuttal to the above linked article.) “I have wanted NY to pull its head out of the sand, and you know what? I still do. Competition is good. It keeps a market healthy. I want NY to avoid the fate of the music industry and the film industry, but I have been shouting for four years and now time is running out.”

The Art of the Dungeon Map at Black Gate. “Once again, digital seems to make everyone’s job easier, but I contend that the passion of a map is still better seen if drawn by the human hand. To give some resonance to this claim, I’m going to show you a few examples of old school style that’s still being employed today.”

From The Night Bazaar: Things are more like they are today than they have ever been. John Love. “Dystopia is a fine word, concentrated and resonant, for society gone wrong. We like to think that complexity (of politics, economics, technology, religion, demographics) means there are now more ways than ever in which society can go wrong”

Nine truths about e-books, from FutureBook. “So, as a former online business-type and e-book (and publishing) novice, here are the most important things I have picked up and worked out about e-book production since I started nearly two years ago.”

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Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon
Saladin Ahmed
Fantasy
February 2012
DAW
ISBN: 978-0-7564-0711-7
274 pages
hard cover
accquired: purchased

This has been cross-posted to SpaceGypsies.com

The blurb, from Goodreads:
From Saladin Ahmed, finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of the year’s most anticipated fantasy debuts, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights.

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God’s justice. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man’s title. She lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father’s killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time–and struggle against their own misgivings–to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

The Review:

Throne of the Crescent Moon opens with an enjoyable morning for Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, one of the last ghul hunters, and the last such in the city of Dhamsawaat. He’s had a long life, has fought monsters for most of it, and what he wants–and what he knows won’t last long, if his history holds true–is to just relax and have a peaceful cup of tea.

Adoulla is a good man, a very very good man, who has a wonderfully earthy attitude. A page into his point of view and I had a great deal of affection for him. His sense of humor, fatalism, and faith instantly sucked me in, and I found myself wanting a cranky, funny, tired, and strong Adoulla is my own life. He reminded me of composite of my uncles, with the added kick-ass ability to destroy the monsters that roam the world.

A perfect foil for Adoulla is the devout and straight-as-an-arrow Raseed bas Raseed, a dervish who, until his apprenticeship to Adoulla two years prior to the story, had seen precious little of the real world, living the sheltered life of a monk. Raseed’s idealistic, black and white view of the world clashes often with the worn practicality of Adoulla’s attitude and perspective. It’s the vitality and naivete of youthful inexperience against the jaded and nuanced view of an old man’s experience. It could be trite, but Ahmed writes them both so well that it feels completely natural.

Raseed and Adoulla come across Lamia Banu Laith Badawi, the Protector of the Band, a young woman who has been touched by Angels and given the ability to shift into the shape of a lioness. She’s on a mission to avenge the deaths of her people, killed by the beings that Adoulla and Raseed are hunting. Lamia is driven by revenge and grief over the loss of her family and band, which has the potential to come across as simple and two-dimensional, but as Adoulla gets to know her, and as the point of view shifts to Lamia, we realize how complex a person she is.

The point of view of the novel starts off with Adoulla, and later shifts to the other major characters, who all are well rounded and believable people. I’m not always a fan of a rotating point of view in novels, but it was handled well here, so no complaints from me.

There is more, of course, to the novel than the characters. I just keep going on about them because I got quite attached. The pace, despite Adoulla’s internal grumblings, is quite fast, giving Adoulla, Raseed, Lamia, and their companions barely time to recover from setbacks and injuries. There are ghuls of different varieties, human monsters, a political crisis, and on the edges, romance. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s woven together beautifully.

Throne of the Crescent Moon is the first book in a planned trilogy, and after reading it, I’m impatient to read the next installment. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and encourage everyone to check it out.

Visit the author’s Website. Follow the author on Twitter.

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An aside – Wraith, by Angel Lawson

The cover of Wraith by Angel LawsonI have a friend (Angel Lawson) who has published her first novel, Wraith, which is available for the Kindle over at Amazon. Paperback options are forthcoming. I’m  ridiculously excited for her and want to support her in this.

Because I know Angel and think she’s awesome, I don’t feel like I can be an objective reviewer… so I’ll just say that I really, really like the characters, the story, and the whole feel of Wraith and tell you to go check it out to see it it’s something you might like, too.

Here is the blurb:

Freak. Weird. Crazy. These are the names tossed around seventeen-year old Jane Watts by her fellow classmates. But things aren’t always as they seem. Sometimes there’s a reason for talking to yourself in the hallway at school.

Adjusting to her new home and school after an abrupt move, Jane wants one thing in life—to be like everyone else at school, but that’s hard to do when you’re the new kid. Although she does manage to make one friend, Evan—he’s sixteen, charming, and protective. Everything a girl could want in a best friend…with one minor caveat.

He’s dead.

Caught somewhere between life and death, Evan is tied to Jane and the living world unable to complete the journey to the other side. She thinks he’s here to be her friend, to take care of her, and that’s why no one can see or hear him.

That is until a new boy shows up at school after a rumored stretch in Juvie. Connor can see Evan and he’s not convinced the ghost is being completely honest. From his own experience ghosts tend to need something from the humans they connect to and Evan, despite his arguments isn’t any different.

Jane is resentful of Connor’s intrusion but realizes soon enough he’s right. Evan has secrets about his past and not only did his life end tragically but members of his family are still in danger. Jane must face her fears and battle Evan’s human demons to free both of them.

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Coming Soon! February 2012

There are several releases this month that look interesting, but the one that I have been waiting in anticipation for is Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon. I’ve enjoyed the short stories of Ahmed’s I’ve read, and when he shared that he had his first novel/series picked up by DAW I was excited…and then bummed that I had to wait until February 2012, which seemed so very far away at that point. But! February is here, and the wait is almost over. Yay!

Throne of the Crescent Moon
Saladin Ahmed
Fantasy
February 7, 2012
DAW Books
ISBN:9780756407117
288 pages

The blurb, from Goodreads:
From Saladin Ahmed, finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of the year’s most anticipated fantasy debuts, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights.

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God’s justice. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man’s title. She lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father’s killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time–and struggle against their own misgivings–to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

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January’s blogosphere round up

New-to-me interesting bits from around the reading, writing, and geekery Internet and blogging worlds, January 2012 version.

On Tor.com, Marissa Meyer writes From Werewolf Hunters to Rights Activists: Updating Fairy Tale Heroines “It suggested that if a girl were good and pious and silently put up with all the miseries of her life, she had a chance of being lifted up to something better.”

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, #21: African SF & Fantasy! Nollywood! Entomology! With Guest Nnedi Okorafor. “Nnedi Okorafor, author of Zahrah the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker, joins us to talk about Africa as it’s represented in science fiction and fantasy. Dave and John discuss portrayals of Africa in fiction and film.”

Beyond Orcs and Elves: Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy for Young Readers, a three-part series. Part I, Part II, Part III. From Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire. “One of the hallmarks of this kind of epic fantasy are worlds populated by what has become the standard fantasy races: any combination of elves, orcs, goblins, hobbit-like halflings—called “kender” in Dragonlance, halflings elsewhere—ogres, giants, and dragons (though usually the hero is a white human or light-skinned elf or half-elf, and most often that hero is also a man/boy).”

Matthew David Surridge has A Few Words About Order of the Stick over at Black Gate. Since it’s a favorite webcomic of mine, I wanted to share. “The strip isn’t just about the game, nor is it just a showcase for Burlew’s killer sense of humour. The comic’s run for over eight hundred installments up to this point, plus extra stories in various print collections; it’s developed a coherent story, and surprisingly sympathetic characters. It’s gone from a gag strip to a fantasy epic — a nice trick, given that the story’s told with stick figures.”

Wake Up! It’s Time for a History Lesson, Victoria Martinez at Kristen Lamb’s blog. “So how does an historical author avoid the pitfalls that plague historical research and writing and keep even the most scrupulous readers happy?”

Over at Magical Words: What inspires you. “Today I want to talk about what inspires you to write. Not what gives you ideas, but what puts you in the mood or makes you want to write.”

Give Your Characters a Voice: Writing Strong Dialogue from Susan J. Morris at Omnivoracious. “When your dialogue is strong enough, and each character has a unique voice, readers not only feel like they’ve known your characters their whole life—they fall in love with them.”

A Checklist for creating alternate social and cultural norms in a fictional world at TalkToYoUniverse. “You’ve created a world. The “people” there, human or not, don’t live like we do. How do you go about writing their lives – their manners, their rules, etc. – without sounding either pedantic or overblown? It’s not as easy as it looks, but I hope this checklist will help you to get a good start.”

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