Books by Melissa Bowersock

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fantasy Influences - Anne McCaffrey

The best fantasy series I have ever read must be, hands down, the books of Anne McCaffrey. For anyone not familiar, McCaffrey (1926- 2011) wrote the infamous Dragonriders of Pern, a series of 22 separate novels that take place on a distant earthlike planet. The largest (literally!) difference between Pern and Earth is the fact that huge dragons exist, they have telepathic powers and they bond (or impress) with humans. The guardians of the planet are the mythic dragonmen who ride these immense creatures and ward off any dangers that might arise.

I believe McCaffrey’s books are so successful partly because she has somehow tapped into an archetypal desire of the human race. From the first time dragons were recognized by human consciousness, they have gripped the imagination and inspired emotions across the board: love, hate, awe, fear, power, life, death, immortality, sexuality and liberation. In China, the dragon has been revered for millennia; ancient peoples of varying cultures have presumed comets were celestial dragons flying across the sky and heralding great changes. During the Age of Exploration, it was common to populate maps of the unknown areas with the famous phrase, “Here be dragons,” denoting dangerous and fearful waters. Dragons have by turns been the stuff of either dreams or nightmares, but they have never failed to fascinate, and riding one seems like the ultimate thrill.

So with a backdrop like that, how could McCaffrey lose? Actually, she could. Although the premise that runs through her books is phenomenally attractive, without good stories, good plot development and believable characters, it still would not be enough. Luckily McCaffrey was a master at every aspect of writing. She fully developed the world of Pern and populated it with a varied, regional-specific and vocation-specific race of humans that must learn to balance their sometimes conflicting needs against the needs of the world as a whole. Her main characters, hard-headed Lessa, equally bull-headed F’lar, Robinton in his cups, the quiet F’nor, are all fully human in that they have their flaws, yet all are (ordinary) people who take on extraordinary challenges. McCaffrey loved her villains, as well, and crafted them with as much care as the heroes; during your time on Pern, you will meet dictators, manipulators, bullies, and the fearfully stupid. This, I believe, is McCaffrey’s strength and the core of all good fantasy writing: no matter how alien the locale, we must have realistic characters to whom we can relate.

Luckily for us, McCaffrey had more energy and more imagination than could be contained on a single planet. Her other bookssome in series, some stand-alone―explore other aspects of alien worlds and human endeavors. Dinosaur Planet, The Ship Who Sang, Killishandra, The Rowan all expand McCaffrey’s story-telling talent in different directions, delivering memorable characters in uniquely different situations. I honestly cannot think of any book of hers that I have read that disappointed.

I certainly did my best to emulate her in my fantasy novel, The Blue Crystal. Although as a stand-alone book it cannot have the scope of McCaffrey’s entire series, I do believe it makes good use of the strengths she employs: admirable characters in extraordinary circumstances amid alien landscapes and cultures. The Blue Crystal tells the story of a young villager who sets out to free his family from the slave mines of the evil emperor Mal-Zor, but instead finds himself drawn into a mythic and magical battle between good and evil. Aided (and often frustrated) by the whining halfling Igli, Jared encounters strange animals, dangerous terrain and unfamiliar cultures as he pursues his quest. The Blue Crystal is an epic fantasy more similar in story to The Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe than to McCaffrey’s books, but I would like to think it reflects well on all of those, as they have all influenced my writing.

Sadly, Anne McCaffrey passed away in November of 2011 at the age of 85. As prolific as she was, I can’t help but wonder how many amazing stories died with her that we will never know. The good news is that her work will be available for all future generations; the bad news is that she will be sorely missed. Story-tellers as real and accomplished as she was are rare gems in the literary world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Guest Blog - Kody Boye, author of Blood

The Three Series that Inspired Me to Write Fantasy
Kody Boye

Readers are often interested in the inspirations that inspired their novel—most particularly, for fantasy novels. Though since 2009 I have refused to read fantasy fiction for fear of accidentally leeching its elements or story plots and incorporating them into my own writing, I was a very avid fantasy reader back in the day. Here are the top three stories that inspired me to write the first novel in my Brotherhood Saga, Blood.

1. Tamora Pierce’s Tortal Universe. Through a series of nearly twenty books now, Tamora Pierce has introduced readers and lovers of fantasy to the vast and sprawling country of Tortal. The first quartet, Alana, dealt with a young girl who wished to become a knight. The second, Realm of the Gods, followed a young nature mage named Diane as she attempted to thwart against the Gods themselves. Finally, the third quartet (and ultimately my favorite,) Protector of the Small, takes place dozens of years after Alana did in a time where girls can now train as knights. It was this last quartet that inspired me to write a story about a young man who journeys to his capital and then is acquisitioned into the royal army after he is deemed appropriate for training because of his magical talent.

2. The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix. Back in the day, Garth Nix influenced me to the point where I wrote a semi fan-fiction book that surrounded the idea of a Necromancer being ‘good,’ though my story came nowhere near the perfection that Nix accomplished in his trilogy. It follows a series of characters—first an anti-necromancer called an Abhorsen, then a charter mage and her companion—as they attempt to not only protect the kingdom from the slowly-growing undead, but also a threat that could destroy the country behind ‘the wall’ entirely. It features something I was always interested in—zombies; or, more appropriately, the ‘undead.’ Unlike zombies who just shamble for food, however, these dead things have consciences, and use them to their deadliest advantage.

3. The Harry Potter Saga. Spanning an entire decade, the story of a young man who journeys to a wizarding school entertained my imagination ever since I started reading the Harry Potter series when I was in sixth grade (it ended when I was just fresh out of high school.) The magic, the creativity, the worldbuilding and the plot is enough to drive any fan of fantasy, old and young alike. It isn’t until after the fourth book that my favorite thing comes into play—the darkness, the death, the destruction and the omens. It is in the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, that we are introduced to one of the most demonic and cruel villains of the early twenty-first century. To say J.K. Rowling inspired me would be to discount all the impact she had on me as a child. Her story and her power of telling it made me venture into fantasy and then write The Brotherhood Trilogy (which is now a saga) when I was only thirteen.

See all Kody's books at

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Formatting for Self-Publishing

Self-publishing has come of age. If you have any doubts about that, you might check out this article on the evolution of publishing over the year 2011. Now, not only can anyone write the book they’ve always wanted to, but they can publish it as well without having to pass the muster of the triumvirate agent-editor-publisher. That’s the good news. The bad news is that publishing without the help and know-how of a professional can be daunting. On many of the online forums to which I subscribe, there are frequent calls for help from newbies who are totally intimidated by the idea of self-publishing.

There are many publishing options, everything from the almost-free, do-it-yourself route to the pay-as-you-go services. If you were to Google publishing services, you’d get oodles of pages of people and companies offering their expertise, all for a price. It’s pretty much a straight across trade: the more of the work you do yourself, the more cheaply you can do it. The more services you require, the more you will pay.

The good news is—it’s not that hard.

I’ve been self-publishing now for several years and have done many different types of books: fiction, non-fiction, art, children’s, memoirs. When I was researching the options, I got a line on CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing subsidiary. What drew me to CreateSpace was the fact that I had about 99% control of my book, although that meant having 99% responsibility for the formatting as well. Scary stuff. What was also extremely attractive was the fact that I could publish for almost nothing. The only required costs were a proof copy and shipping. You can essentially publish a book for no more than maybe $10 (additional proofs require cost and shipping). I do recommend CreateSpace’s $39 Pro Plan, however; it widens the distribution channels, lowers the cost of the book and provides for more royalties. Well worth the price.

So where do you start? If you’ve got your manuscript in Word, it’s a fairly simple matter to format it for publication. The screen shots I’ll use are from Word 2010; earlier versions will look slightly different. Any other word processing program will have similar settings.

First choose your page size. Most trade paperbacks these days are 6 inches by 9 inches. If my book is roughly 200 pages or better, I will choose this size. If the book is smaller, maybe 150 pages, I will go with 5.5 inches by 8.5. This way the book is still a good size without being too slim. I like a book with a little heft to it.

Word’s default page size is 8.5 inches by 11 inches. In order to change the size of your pages, you must go into the Page Layout tab (see screenshot) and click on the Paper tab. The paper size will show Letter 8.5x11in. Hit the drop down arrow and scroll to the bottom of the options listed until you find “custom.” Select that. Now in the Width box, delete whatever is in there and type in 5.5”. In the Height box, delete whatever is there and type in 8.5”. (Use this same method to create a 6” x 9” format.) Note at the bottom of the dialog box where it says Apply to: and make sure “Whole document” is selected. Click on OK.

 Now because we haven’t changed the margins yet, the result of this may look terribly wrong. If you want to be safe, save this document with a different name than your original, but we’ll get this one fixed up.

So the next thing to do is choose your margins. Again opening up your Page Setup dialog box, set your margins to 1” in the Top, Bottom, Inside and Outside boxes. Set your gutter to .25”. This is the extra allowance for the inside closest to the spine of the book. Make sure your Orientation is correct (Portrait here, as the pages are taller than they are wide), and where it says Multiple pages, choose “Mirror margins.” This will ensure that your gutter allowance is always toward the spine of the book instead of the outside margin. (You’ll see that in the small Preview figure.) Again where it says Apply to: make sure it says “Whole document.” Click OK.

The nice thing about the margins is that you can tweak them as necessary to get the pages to look their best. If your book is a behemoth and you want to keep the page count minimal, you can lessen the margins, say from 1” to .75” or even .5”. You’ll have less white space around your text, but it’ll lightweight the book more. Look at other books in your personal library and see what looks good, what appeals to your eye and duplicate that.

Your next decisions involve headers, footers and page numbers. If you look at several different books, you’ll see these things in various ways, and no one way is correct. Some books have the book title as the header on every page; some alternate the book title with the author’s name, i.e. author’s name on the even pages, title on the odd pages. In order to do this, open the Page Setup dialog box again and click on the Layout tab. Under Headers and footers, check the two boxes marked Different odd and even, and Different first page. This way you won’t have a header on your first chapter page, which gives it a much cleaner look.

And speaking of chapter pages, there are more style decisions you can make. Again, there is no one “correct” way to do this; it’s all a matter of style. I generally start my chapters about halfway down the page rather than right at the top. I also generally start my chapters on the right-hand (or odd) page, but this is another point that, if you’re worried about a lengthy page count, you can change. It’s perfectly permissible to start a new chapter on the next page after a chapter end, whether it’s on the left or right, with no blank pages in between. Just depends on what you like.

Now that you’ve got the basics done, you can concentrate on the details. This is the time to consider the font that you use. Again, look at other books and see what fonts have been used, how easy they are to read and how appealing they look. Generally speaking, a serif or footed font (like Times New Roman) is thought to be easier to read as the small flourishes tend to “lead” the eye to the next letter and word. A san-serif or non-footed font (like Arial) has a cleaner look but does not have that flowing style. There are many free font collections online where you can find a font that appeals to you.

Finally you might think about drop caps. Drop caps are generally the large (maybe 3 lines tall) first letter or first word of a chapter, often in a different or more elegant font. If your book is about chicken-farming, this may not appeal to you. If your book is a romance, it adds a bit of a flourish to your chapter starts.

When you think you’ve got the book pretty well formatted the way you want it, convert it to a pdf file. While Word does have a built-in function that will convert to pdf, you might be better off to buy the full version of Adobe Acrobat and convert with that. Adobe gives you options like “press quality” resolution, allows you to imbed your own fonts, and you can create your custom page size settings to make sure your pdf looks exactly like your Word document.

Once you’ve got your pdf file, of course, it’s time for the zillionith review, but you’re in the home stretch. Review, edit, tweak, polish (and repeat as necessary), and you’re ready to upload your book to CreateSpace!