Monday, June 30, 2014

Guest Post by Michael Meyerhofer

Thanks, Mary, for letting me crash the party here at Zigzag Timeline!  I thought I’d talk a little bit about the epic fantasy tradition in which I’m writing, aka how I turned childhood escapism into a career (well, more or less).  First, like a lot of writers, I started out as a reader.  Weaned on Tolkien, I graduated to the sci-fi/fantasy aisle at the local bookstore and devoured pretty much anything my parents were willing to buy me.  Epic fantasy was my favorite.  I read enough Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms to contribute significantly to deforestation.  Eventually, I graduated to Raymond Feist, Katherine Kurtz, and Robert Jordan.  I loved (and still love) complicated worlds that, for all their oddity, still resonate with deeply recognizable, human elements—fear, love, loss, selfishness, cowardice, and of course, courage.

That gets me to my next point: building a believable world.  Although I doubt I’m among the first one thousand people to voice this sentiment today alone, George R. R. Martin is a great example of how epic fantasy world-building is done.  Yes, you have dragons and magic, but what really makes A Song of Ice and Fire worth reading is the depth of the characters, the way we relate to the internal struggles of the various members of House Stark (and to the Lannisters, whether we admit it or not).  In other words, magic isn’t the backbone of Martin’s stories; it’s almost peripheral, especially compared to the richness of the characters’ personalities, their many sins and successes. That’s how you create a believable world.  It’s about the characters, not the actual plains and deserts and forests.  You have to build it brick by brick, idiosyncrasy by idiosyncrasy, flaw by flaw.

I also have a background in contemporary poetry, which has influenced and benefited my fiction writing a lot more than you’d think.  In poetry—even narrative poetry, which I favor—the energy has to come not from lofty, pompous abstractions, but from visceral imagery and sound.  The primary goal—as with any art form—is to entertain.  So poetry helps me (at least, Ihope it helps me) to streamline my sentences, to add an extra lyrical/musical quality to my descriptions.  Of course, as with many things, I leave that final judgment up to the reader.

Getting back to my original point, I’d like to stress my belief that you can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader.  Otherwise, it’s like trying to be a chef when you hate food.  You have to not only love language; you have to be curious about different styles, different ways to get from A to B.  When I read (whether it’s fantasy, literary fiction, or poetry), I’m always underlining passages and dog-earring pages so I can come back and savor a certain passage, a unique description, a slightly new take on how to do a fight scene, etc.  That’s been invaluable in building my fantasy worlds.  I described that earlier as escapism but actually, perhaps subconsciously, I think it’s also about building a world in which the events of our world are recast, reinterpreted, so that the outcome is finally what we think it should have been.

Wytchfire (Book One: The Dragonkin Trilogy) by Michael Meyerhofer

In a land haunted by the legacy of dead dragons, Rowen Locke has been many things: orphan, gravedigger, mercenary. All he ever wanted was to become a Knight of Crane and wield a kingsteel sword against the kind of grown horrors his childhood knows all too well.
But that dream crumbled—replaced by a new nightmare.
War is overrunning the realms, an unprecedented duel of desire and revenge, steel and sorcery. And for one disgraced man who would be a knight, in a world where no one is blameless, the time has come to decide which side he’s on.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

REVIEW: Birth of a Nation / James Butler

TITLE: Birth of a Nation
AUTHOR: James Butler
PUBLISHER: Self-published

Science Fiction - Alternate History

Birth of a Nation is James Butler's alternate history about American history and politics. A giant "what if" to the world we live in today. And I know from chatting with the author that it's a very personal book for him, displaying his own believes about our nation and what could have been.

The story follows James, the author stand-in, and a group of his friends back in time to the Civil War. Having grown tired of the current state of affairs, they journey back to change history. What if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, and the Confederate States of America existed alongside the United States of America, the northern part? It's a very interesting thought, and the author explores it in an intriguing manner, touching on topics from politics to culture to science.

When James and company travel back in time, they don't go alone. Rather, they come equipped with to change the tides of history, and they end up forming an army of their own and significantly altering the course of the Civil War. The plausibility of the premise is quite a stretch, but it's a time travel book, so whatever. The Civil War bits really hit the spot for the American History nerd in me and were interesting to read about.

But more interesting is what happens afterwards, the recreation of history. Butler presents a vision of what he would make the world into if he had the chance, and I must say, I can't disagree with many of the elements.

The narrative is a bit hard to get into because of the abundance of characters, and the plot of the book isn't exactly your usual straightforward are. The pacing can be a bit slow at times, but ultimately, Birth of a Nation isn't about the story. It's about the ideas.


James M. Butler has traveled around the world. Part rock musician, part screenwriter (he's had a work optioned by Lion's Gate) and part novelist, James is perfectly at home with the written word.
James has tutored in many subjects, from Psychology to Geography. He prefers history and excels at the subject.
Originally from the swampy hell of south Florida, James has been called many things in his life, and cynical, sarcastic and sardonic are just three of them. He has also lived in various places around the world. Currently, James works as a care giver for the Developmentally Disabled at a group home somewhere in Ohio...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Brave New Girls cover reveal!

For those of you who might not know, I'm embarking on a mission with fellow sci-fi author and nerdy girl Paige Daniels, author of the fantastic Non-Compliance series of dystopian cyberpunk novels. That mission is to encourage girls to go into STEM professions - that's Science, Technology, Engineering, Math. The numbers right now are just sad... only 26% of STEM professionals are women, and if you look at specific fields, like programming, the numbers are get sadder (just 17% of Google's tech workforce are women).

So we're out to change that, one little bit at a time! We're publishing an anthology of young adult sci-fi tales featuring girls in STEM fields - as programmers, starship mechanics, robot engineers... the possibilities are endless. The title? Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets. Here's the website: We're running a crowdfunding campaign starting Monday, 6/30 to help cover the publishing costs, and we wanted the cover done in time for that (since it's going to grace many of our donor rewards). All revenues from sales of the anthology will be donated to a scholarship program through the Society of Women Engineers. So our goal is twofold: give girls fictional role models to encourage them to become STEM professionals and help raise money for their education.

Okay, okay, now for the part you really came for: the cover, which was designed by the amazing artists at Streetlight Graphics. Drumroll please...

And let the fanfare ring out!

It was very important to both Paige and I that our cover girl not only depict a young lady who's into techy things, but also that she be real. No more bizarre slashed catsuits with protruding curves and impossibly perfect hair. We wanted a girl with a normal body who's comfortable in her own skin. She's smart, confident, fearless, and too busy fixing robots to give a damn about what her hair's doing.

Want in on this? We're open for submissions! And as I mentioned above, our crowdfunding campaign is set to go live in less than a week. Any and all support is appreciated. So please, give us a share, will ya? It's for the children... I mean it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


An interview with Dan Levinson, author of the sci-fi novel Fires of Man.

Hi! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author?

Thanks, Mary! Happy to be here.

I’ve been writing fiction in various forms since before I was in double digits. I’ve also dabbled in screenwriting. However, when I was a teenager, I actually digressed into acting; I studied drama at NYU from ’03 to ’07. I’d say my acting training really helps me put myself into my characters’ shoes, channel their emotions onto the page.

What got you into writing?

Final Fantasy II. True story. I was so enamored with the game and its characters that when it ended, I needed there to be more. So I wrote more. My very first fan fiction!

What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?

I first came up with the concept and some of the characters when I was about 13. At that time, in addition to being a voracious fantasy reader, I was a huge fan of Dragonball Z. I wanted to capture the epic scope and intricate mythology of my favorite fantasy novels at the time (Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy), as well as the sheer “awesomeness” of characters hurling superpowered energy attacks at each other a la DBZ.

I tried to execute the story in multiple incarnations over the years. A previous novelization, a screenplay. It wasn’t until I studied under the amazing Jacob Krueger that I found my “character first” approach to fiction. I went back to basics—to a handful of characters I’d fallen in love with from the start—and went from there.

Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?

Tough question! I feel like it changes from day to day, and I know I’ve given different answers to this question before.

Today, I’ll say Katherine “Kay” Barrett. On the surface, she’s tough as hell. Snarky, strong, a natural leader. Yet that veneer of confidence hides the vulnerability within. She’s suffered tragedy in her life, loss, and it’s left her damaged, with a fear of intimacy, and an inability to fully understand her own emotions, the reasons she does what she does. I believe in having flawed, multifaceted characters, and Kay exemplifies this principle.

What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

Hmm, another tough one. Again, I feel like I might give a different answer depending on the day and my mood.

Without spoilers, I’ll just say it’s a “break-up scene.” Takes place in a restaurant, and elucidates both the depth of feeling two characters have for each other, and why they just don’t work at this moment in their lives. It’s that timing thing, you know? They’re not on the same page. And maybe they could be in the future. But right now there’s a fundamental dichotomy in what they’re looking for from each other, and that makes it impossible for them to come to terms, even though they both care deeply for each other.

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

Getting to the “big moments.” The ones I’ve been writing toward for pages and pages, or even across entire books. One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received is not to hold back. If there’s some cool moment I’m moving toward, I try to go for it. I make sure there are at least a few in every book when I’m writing a series. Those big revelations or exciting, climactic “wow” moments; there’s no need to hold them in reserve. It’s so exciting to build up to something, and then deliver.

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

I’d say about six months to a well-revised draft. Not a final draft, perhaps, but one that’s most of the way there. I write at least a thousand words a day, six days a week.

What is it about the genre you chose that appeals to you?

The freedom! The ability to create a different world, infuse it with these incredible powers and people. The chance to craft something truly epic in scope.

Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you?

Oh, so many. Foremost among them, these days, is Stephen King. His On Writing was simply the best dissertation on writing craft I’ve ever read. Rather than doing what so many “writing gurus” have done—trying to distill the mystery of writing down to “structure” and “techniques”—he focuses on its heart and soul.

To call King a simple “horror” writer, I think, is to show him short shrift. The man is a master at crafting complex characters. One of my favorite books is It. Many might remember it from the miniseries with the incredible Tim Curry as the title character. I’ve never seen it. To me, the novel is so profound that I dare not watch, for fear I might dilute its impact on me. It’s a coming of age story, I feel, far more than a horror story, and I shed more than a few tears when the book came to a close.

Other writers who’ve influenced me over the years include the aforementioned Robert Jordan and C.S. Friedman, as well as David and Leigh Eddings, Terry Goodkind, George R.R. Martin, Brian Jacques, and Jim Butcher, among many, many others.

Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?

Absolutely! I’m a big believer in letting the characters lead the way. There have even been moments where I wasn’t sure if certain characters would live or die, and it’s only by virtue of their determinations and convictions that they lived to fight another day (or didn’t).

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you very much for having me! It’s been a pleasure.

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Monday, June 16, 2014


J. Leigh, author of Way Walkers: Tangled Paths, chats about her book and background.

Hi, thanks for stopping by! Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer? What got you into writing?

Honestly, I can't recall, exactly. I know I started writing heavily at the age of 11, day and night penning away in one of those old composition notebooks the starting tales of Way Walkers.  I even drew a map of the continent, which I still use to this day. But even before that I was always writing, mostly short stories and a few poems, or lyrics to songs my cousin (a year older than me) had composed. Since I learned to read, to learned to write. It was for me, and I knew that even then.

What does the lovely symbol on your cover represent?

That would be the Ways' star or Spirit star. Twelve points to represent the Twelve Children of Spirit and their Ways, the crux of spirituality in the Way Walkers universe. You see each Child has a Way, and method they believe is the 'best' way to evolve to once more become 'one with Spirit' when the souls die. Each color stone on the star represents a Child and a Way, and are as follows clockwise from top: Montage, gold, Way of all Ways; Rosin, amethyst, Way of Magic; Ulic, silver, Way of Truth; Beleskie, rose quartz, Way of Relationships; Bree, amber, Way of Creativity; Rhean, obsidian, Way of Protection; The Red, garnet, Way of Evil (this is the divergent Way, the only one not interested in evolving, only gaining for oneself); Desmoulein, emerald, Way of Hearth and Healing; Kubesh, citrine, Way of the Warrior; Turin, sapphire, Way of Death; Feator, bronze, Way of History; Angani, pearl, Way of Purity. Each trained follower of a way is referred to as a Way Walker.

Tangled Paths takes place in a world that started with a game, Way Walkers University. Could you tell us about the game, and how it relates to Tangled Paths?

In all honesty, the books came years and years before the game, the game just got published first. [light laughter] All told, the “game” is more an interactive novel, similar to the old “choose your own adventure” books. It got started because I stumbled across the company Choice of Games, who were looking for authors to write in their new, app-based format making these text-based games. The project called to me, as the Way Walkers universe already had a strong emphasis on the concept of choice being sacred, and the idea of a choice-heavy game based on this world was a really good fit. The setting for Way Walkers University is Tar'citadel, the city of ice and light and the seat of Walker training. Aside from that though, it has little to do with Tangled Paths, as the two storylines take place thousands of years apart in the timeline. Though anyone who does read Way Walkers University will find I few references here and there in Tangled Paths to events in the game.

What was the most challenging part of writing Tangled Paths? Plotting? Characterizations? World-building?

Editing and action scenes. While I do have the occasional issue of characters going rogue and creating difficult story arcs I have to somehow make work, by far and away my biggest weakness is in the editing. This is mostly due to being dyslexic, which on top of making it very hard for me tell if I've made a spelling or grammar mistake, it also makes it difficult for me to tell if I'm repeating myself too often. This becomes especially sticky in action scenes, where being short and to the point is preferable, but I tend to linger too long describing shoelaces. 
Thankfully, I've got some really talented editors on my side at Red Adept, and such craziness is not passed on to the readers.

Your world contains a multitude of different cultures in a fantastical world. Where did you draw inspiration from to create them?

Everything. Every local legend I've heard, every TV show I've watched, every painting I've ever admired, every song I've listened to, and every person I've ever talked to. The key to creating a believable culture in another world is to remember that anything that exists in our world can conceivably exist in some form in another world. It requires a lot of time and effort though, as all aspects of the culture must interlock and relate to each other, and then in turn each culture you create has to interact and mingle with each other as well.

If you lived in the Way Walkers universe, what would you be?

Probably far more well-adjusted. [laughter] No, in reality, I'm not sure. I throw myself into a lot of skins as an author, and flow through a lot of characters and personalities, so it's hard to nail down a race or country. I think ultimately though I'd be a Montage Walker, following the Way that combines all Ways, simply because of my inability to choose just one. From there I'd probably wind-up in Tar'citadel as a scholar or author, doing much the same there as I do here—writing.

Has your experience as an artist played a role in your writing?

Goodness yes. I'm extremely visual, and that feeds directly into how I describe everything. I'm also a junkie when it comes to colors, making certain to explain the exact color of things, which sometimes is wonderful and sometimes leaves my editor clicking her tongue at me. (And she's right of course, most people don’t know nor care about the difference between viridian and terre verte.)

Epic fantasies have a reputation for being long, long, long. What's your opinion on that?

I think, for the most part, it's necessary just because of the world building. While a lot of other genres (even sci-fi) can lean on more modern analogies and terms, fantasy requires a level of from the ground up crafting that, well, takes a lot of words to convey if you're doing it right. That being said, I do also believe a lot of fantasy authors can get a bit side-tracked in the world to the point of becoming too long, but this as always, subjective. In the end, if the story is interesting, and the reader still wants to read it, then it makes sense. If the pace is just slow for slowness sake, and the reader is bored, then there's a problem. Like I said though, it really is subjective to the reader--for example, I won't even pick up a fantasy novel unless it's over 300 pages, sometime 400.

What's your book's soundtrack? Pick 10 songs that you'd put on a playlist to accompany Tangled Paths.

These are mostly "Jathen" songs, but there's a few other characters thrown in too. ;)
Tonight is what it means to be young-- Streets of Fire soundtrack
King Nothing-- Metallica
Firework-- Katy Perry
All that I Am-- Rob Thomas
Duel-- The Bond Girls
Roses from my Friends-- Ben Harper
Time Takes its Toll on Us-- Bebo Norman
Higher Window-- Josh Groban
Lessons Learned-- Carrie Underwood
Beautiful Disaster-- Kelly Clarkson

What's next? Working on anything new?

Welp, the Tangled Paths sequel, for one. The third and final part to Way Walkers: University for another. And after that, I have at least one more book for Jathen and the Tazu Saga before I bring forth what had been my original Way Walkers series, this one set in the Clan Lands. (that’s going to be the “long” one lol) All in all, I'm going to be around for a while, spinning out books as fast as I can.

Crafting a Culture: A glimpse into how the Tazu Nation was built

by J. Leigh

For those of you who've not yet read Tangled Paths, the Tazu are a race of tall, humanoid people who have scales in a multitude of colors and patterns instead of traditional skin. Oh, and they can shape-shift into dragons.

Interestingly enough, in creating their corner of the Way Walkers world, I did not start with the Tazu themselves, I stared with a moot-- a genetic throw back who couldn't shape shift into a dragon as the Tazu can. I'd already written three books for another Walkers series before this set in the Clan Lands, home to the vampric Clan, (who also make an appearance in Tangled Paths, but not as prominent) and in that setting introduced my first moot-- a human looking person, born from two Tazu but the only physical indicator of that was his draconic eyes. When I decided I wanted to move away from my Clan Lands in favor of a shorter series, I choose the idea of a moot for a main character.

What would it be like, as a moot amid Tazu? For that matter, what was it like as a human, living side-by-side with these shape-shifting creatures? What were the main differences, just in day-to-day living? Structure became an immediate issue to flesh-out, and coupled with an Architecture for Dummies book and a trip to of all places Las Vegas, NV, my obsession with draconic buildings and the crux of Jathen's personality began.

Now I had previously lived in Las Vegas for three years prior to that 2010 visit, and had already developed a love for a particular artist's glass work sculptures, one Dale Chihuly. ( Now this is the man who crafted the Bellagio's ceiling and even more for the Wynn hotel, but it was the trip in 2010 to the newly opened City Center on the strip that found me inside an art gallery dedicated solely to Dale Chihuly's glory.  I stood beneath those tall, spiky glass forms and the little sea form bowls under glass and thought, "My god, what if the Tazu could make buildings that looked like this--or at least were supplemented with it?"

And off I went.

It just worked so well. A dragon's natural tendency to be ostentatious and their love for shiny things, all crafted not with just gemstones as might be expected, but with glass. Beautiful, colorful, flowing glass. Granted, there were a lot of practical issues I had to address, like stairways and size accommodations for humans that didn't quite gel with my more wild glass-built ideas, but I was still able to bring a lot of the beauty I'd found in Las Vegas to life inside the Tazu Nation.  And what's more, my main character Jathen, the moot who couldn't fly through all the beautiful colors, he fell in love with all this wild architecture, too. I'd never had a character with the mind of an engineer and an artist, and it was refreshing and new, and wholly Jathen.

The path of Tazu Nation architecture also lead me down the road of architecture throughout the continent, starting with the places Jathen visited on his journey. Now I won't go into deep details, but all this plotting and planning and considering the possibilities of using magic to make buildings helped to also shape certain plot-points of Tangled Paths as well.


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