Month: November 2017

Grammar ain’t just for Pandas

S. Thurtle

(If you don’t get the Panda reference, I’ll explain at the end)

Recently, I was involved in a discussion about grammar over on the Writers Helping Writers Facebook group. The core of the discussion surrounded a YouTube video from the Guardian, take a look:

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Author, Mackenzie Flohr


Mackenzie Flohr is the author of the popular young adult fantasy series The Rite of Wands, which has caught the attention of Doctor Who and Harry Potter fans worldwide. Readers agree that Mackenzie has crafted a robust tale of secrets, mystery, and uncertain destiny that rivals the works of Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling.

Mackenzie grew up in Cleveland, OH, chasing leprechauns and rainbows and dreaming of angels. Her parents nurtured a love of fantasy and make-believe by introducing her at a very young age to the artistic and cultural opportunities that the city had to offer. Yet, it wasn’t until she was on a trip to Indiana, viewing a Lord of the Rings exhibit, that the innermost desire of her heart became clear to her.

Fans have become enchanted by Mierta McKinnon, describing him as an innocent, rambunctious, trouble-seeking, realistic, and believable character whom has quickly become a fan favorite. The Rite of Wands follows the young warlock as he seeks to fulfill his destiny and cure the land of Iverna of a horrendous disease called The Shreya. Readers will find themselves immersed into his story and feel like they are a part of his journey.

The Rite of Wands

One boy…one Rite… And a world of deadly secrets that could change the course of history—forever

And so begins the tale of Mierta McKinnon. When a horrible fate reveals itself during template-1-12172901503297868-largehisRite of Wands ceremony, he must find a way to change not only his destiny but also the land of Iverna’s.
Forbidden from revealing the future he foresees to anyone, he is granted a wand and his magical powers, but still must master the realm of magic in order to save himself and those he loves.
But Mierta is not the only one with secrets…especially when it’s impossible to know who to trust.
“For God’s sake, get out of the road!” he heard a voice shout from the direction of the out of control carriage. “Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee…”
         Mortain stared forward, frozen, unable to move. Life at that very moment seemed to slow to a near standstill. He could hear his heart beating in his ears as the horse and carriage barrelled down upon him. His mind concluded that this was how his life was going to end, rather than the way his Rite of Wands had dictated. There was nothing more tragic than being unable to be who he was.
         Mortain was abruptly lifted off the ground and thrown into a nearby water trough. As he sat up, feeling the water soak through his robe and tunic, he watched a beautiful woman wearing her long black hair in a twist to the side substitute herself in the place he had been previously standing.
         She gazed over to Mortain with annoyance, her green eyes shifting into what appeared to be snake eyes as she reached out a bare hand towards the carriage and shouted, “Concye halímo!”
         The horse snorted and quickly came to a halt.

Mackenzie Flohr

For more information on Mackenzie, visit her website at:

Killing our Darlings – Writers on Death


I wondered this week about how we writers relate to the act of ending the lives of some of our characters. Bumping off major characters has become big in fiction recently. However as authors, we do have conflicted thoughts about killing characters in our works. Sometimes we plan a character’s death, but spare them at the last second. Other times we actually want to do in a character, then can’t find the ideal way to do the deed. In trying to get a handle on these ideas, I again contacted author friends to ask their opinions.

Stephanie Barr gave me her thoughts, “I’m a character writer, so it takes a lot for me to even consider killing off a major characters. My characters do get injured and bloody and tired and stuff, but I usually find some way to squeak ’em out because, well, I love them. But I have done it, in the Taming of Dracul Morsus (first time for a major player in a novel–done it in the odd short story) and, they key element, if I do kill someone off there and in short stories, is to make that death mean something for whoever is left behind. They fight for something as a result. They learn something they never would have learned elsewhere. They’re saved. I give that death meaning so it’s not just an emotional manipulation but a step to a better story.”

Mirren Hogan also commented, “I thrive on bumping off characters. I had a king I was going to kill off in a coup but I couldn’t do it. Turns out he had to wait and be beheaded in front of opposing armies.”

Megan Haskell responded with these ideas, “There are times when killing a character is necessary, and times when it’s not. In my case, there have been two characters that came up to the chopping block. The first was a secondary character in book 2 of my series, Sanyare: The Heir Apparent. The guy was a reader favorite, and I literally debated up to, and through, sending the book to my developmental editor. However, we agreed that he did in fact need to die for emotional resonance. It increased the stakes for my protagonist, and was a turning point for her growth and development. She saw his death as a personal failure, and it became a later insecurity as she tries to lead others in her journey.”

The second character I ultimately chose not to kill, for the opposite reason as the first. This was an important secondary character who had been an integral part of her team since the first book. His survival was a sign of her growing power, and also her ability to trust her allies. She needed to save him to grow into her abilities as a leader. I don’t like killing characters for shock value. It seems a waste. But when done correctly, and for the right reasons, killing a character can add depth and dimension to your protagonist’s story.”

As we see, different authors have alternative approaches to the issue of removing a character. At times, we each face hard decisions, and some characters teeter on the edge between life and death. For me, giving the coup de grâce to a character is always a struggle. I often spare them after a long debate with myself, and agonize over the ones who are lost. Like most authors I lost a few. There is one saving grace for us science fiction and fantasy writers, if we change our mind, there is a way we can write our character back to life…

Stepping Out – Writing Across Genres


Some writers write in more than one genre, for example, a writer might dally in detective stories, romances, YA, and other types of fiction. Others, like me, seldom step outside our comfort zone. All my stories are set in the same world, with a science fiction feel. I don’t understand how writers can write stories across multiple genres. To help me understand, I asked some friends to share their thoughts on this topic.

Here’s what Diane Morrison told me: “You might not think that Western and sci-fi/fantasy blend well, but they really do. Both genres depend upon ancient mythological tropes of heroism; the Hero’s Journey, as it were; especially if you’re going to draw from spaghetti western movies, which I do. They were, in and of themselves, a blended genre; they exist because Italian directors wanted to make westernized samurai movies. To me, this only demonstrates how some themes, like courage, individualism, facing the unknown, the importance of family, the ethical conflicts of battle, and coming to terms with our mortality, are universal to the human experience. Is the Long Arm of the Law, the Sheriff of the mythical Old West, any different from the Knight Errant in Shining Armour? Not really; just the tools of the trade and the costuming differ, and even there we find parallels. It’s important to capture the feel, so sense of place is important. If you’re going to make a reader feel they’re in a Western, you have to spend a lot of time describing the smell of horses, the creak of old leather, and the beauty of enormous prairie sunsets. But in epic fantasy, the only real difference is you’re probably describing an epic trek over a vast mountain range instead. And in a western, your heroes fight with guns, not swords. For me, it was still important when I started my series to re-read a lot of classic Western novels and re-watch the old movies so that I could capture the language and the culture. and then I mess with it, because of course my heroes are from a post-apocalyptic future, and they might look and act a lot like people from the Old West, but their ancestors build satellites, so they’re not nearly as confused by the technology. S.A. Gibson would understand, I’m sure!”

I also asked Stephanie Barr. Here’s her response: “My characters determine the genre, ironically, not the other way around. I think up great characters (well, I think they’re great) and then figure out the best environment for them to show their stuff. Epic fantasy is the easiest to write because I make my own rules (but I have to abide by them), I can solve some things with magic I couldn’t solve otherwise, but there are always limitation with the magic and I run into things I wouldn’t run into as a result as well.”

Mixing fantasy and science fiction means I can take a limited subset of the magic, but I impose some limitations and augment it with addressing things in the real world. I like solving problems and that makes me find real scientific solutions many times, despite the occasional fantastic element.”

“Science fiction is cool, too. There’s a lot of flexibility there, especially for the further out fiction, but I get to use my particular know-how and have to stretch my brain to find solutions and believable scenarios to accomplish what I want. It’s the hardest to write but it can be quite appealing especially with quirky characters.”

Finally, I got Jesse Frankel’s take on the subject: “Writing in different genres takes time and a fair amount of research. I write YA Fantasy for the most part, but if the action takes place in, say, medieval England, as it did in Twisted, then research was in order. That meant checking on hairstyles, food, clothing, castles, patterns of speech, and more.”

“If you’re going to write in a genre not your own, then research is imperative, along with making your characters real. While the background and settings are important, they’re only the backdrop. The characters are what really drive the readers to identify with them. Make them real, do the proper research to lend depth, and you’ve got yourself a winner.”

Their responses inspires me to try writing a story in a new genre. I think I’ll try a detective story, maybe with a little romance in it.


Stephanie Barr: and

Diane Morrison:

J. S. Frankel:

S. A. Gibson: