Category Archives: Fantasy

The Accelerating Advancement of Technology or, What the Heck Are Snips?

Originally, I intended to write this post about gender roles and identity, considering that’s been in the news a lot lately. The nursery rhyme, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” had popped into my head as a cute lead in…

“What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.”

But, that got me to wondering. What the heck is a “snip”?

I mean, I know that a snip is a small bit of something — a cutting — but how did that relate to the context of the poem? The rhyme is old. Maybe snips meant something else back then.

“Look it up!” I hear the voice of my mother, and countless teachers through my years of schooling, say in my head.

In those days, that meant dragging the enormous, hernia-enducing dictionary off the shelf and rifling through its thin pages by using those half-moon notches that separated each section by letter. Remember those?

Snip

And that would likely have been the end of it. I would have been enlightened by a couple of snips of information (see what I did there?), but been no closer to the answer I’d been seeking, although number three seems like it might fit, except that it refers to girls, oddly enough.

(I took this image on my phone, which I then emailed to myself. How many years ago would that sentence have made no sense whatsoever?)

Today, however, when confronted with the question, I simply type in the words “snips and snails” and receive this: SnipsandSnails

Wow. Almost 400,000 instances of that phrase dredged up in less than a second! After a few clicks, I quickly learn that the original rhyme probably read, “snips of snails,” and that other words like “frogs” and “snakes” have been substituted for “snips” down through the years. Another possibility is the word may have been “snigs”, which was a word in the Cumbrian dialect for a small eel, according to Wikipedia. What’s a “Cumbrian dialect” you ask? Well, all you have to do is click the helpful link to find out…

As a writer of fiction, I often ponder the future and the past. Where have we been and where we are going. Through computers and the Internet, we have nearly the entirety of human knowledge at our fingertips. Things we take for granted today, like Google, didn’t exist only twenty years ago! It’s become so prevalent in our society that the company name has become a verb, synonymous with my mother’s, “Look it up,” from my childhood.

Gutenberg developed the first printing press in the mid 1400s. The first electrical computers were invented in the mid 1940s. Pocket calculators appeared in the 1970s. Desktop computers became commonplace in the 1980s and the Internet (the World Wide Web) blossomed in the 1990s. It took around 500 years to make the leap from the printing press to computing, but only about a tenth of that time to get from those first computers to where we are today.

The term “Technological Singularity” is used to describe a computer with the equivalent brain power of a human being, also known as artificial intelligence. Some scientists believe laptop-sized computers, available to the general public, will have the computational capacity and storage of the human brain within five to ten years. This doesn’t mean those computers will be sentient — that technological leap is still nebulous in time frame and affect on the world — but you will have the equivalent of another brain’s worth of computing power on your desk or in your lap.

Our children are growing up in an Internet-driven world, just like me and my peers grew up in a television and telephone-driven world. My parents grew up in a radio-driven world.

What kind of world will our children’s children grow up in?

Science fiction writers attempt to be visionaries of the future. When we watch the original Star Trek series from the 60s, we see Kirk with a flip-phone for a communicator. In the 90s version, The Next Generation, we see the crew members walk around with multiple tablets and iPads. (Why did they need so many?) The shows portray a time hundreds of years in the future, yet some of these technologies appear today — even have been surpassed today. It’s becoming more and more difficult to create stories that stand the test of time because our technology is advancing so rapidly.

Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Humans have never been closer to performing acts of magic in our history. To Gutenberg, our current state of technology would likely be considered nothing short of magical. Who’s to say we won’t be able to conjure up a meal, or travel somewhere across the globe, or across the galaxy, at the snap of our fingers someday?

I had a recent reviewer of my science fiction series say, “typical hokey science, but enjoyable story,” and I had to laugh. Some aspect or another of conventional science is disproved almost daily. Any of you remember when people thought taste buds for salty, sour, bitter, and sweet resided in certain areas of your tongue? Yeah. I was taught that in school. We even did an experiment regarding that when I was in sixth grade and I remember thinking it was bogus then. Yet, that was the accepted “science” of the day. What scientific facts are we teaching now that will seem just as silly in thirty or forty years?

Technology is making the lines between science fiction and fantasy blur. Characters like Gandalf might become reality in our future. (Though he’ll probably only look like that while he’s cosplaying at a comic book convention). So, don’t be afraid to insert fantastical elements in your futuristic stories. They aren’t called “flights of fancy” for nothing!

Maybe someday we’ll actually build boys from snips of snails and puppy dog tails.

Girls from sugar and spice and everything nice? Nah, that’ll never happen.

Exciting New Release!

Bk4Cover_200x300Resurrection of the Phoenix’s Grace by L. R. W. Lee

When Andy Smithson landed back home from his most recent adventure in the land of Oomaldee, little did he realize the hunt the evil King Abaddon, monarch of Oomaldee’s northern neighbor, would initiate to capture and punish him for thwarting his plans for eternal life for yet a third time. Meanwhile, when Methuselah, Andy’s amazong sword, unexpectedly extends in Mom’s hand while in Texas, something it has never done for him, it triggers more revelations about her past.

After a frustrating and, at times, terrifying year, Andy finally returns to Oomaldee and joins the healer, Hans’ quest to locate the only surviving heir to the throne of Cromlech. In the process, Andy and company discover the Giant’s Ring, the center of Cromlech’s healing powers, has been destroyed by Abaddon’s evil sorcerer. The situation grows dire when Andy finds that the phoenix who rose from that land millennia before has returned to be reborn and the evil mage has trapped her inside the decimated Ring. Without the freedom to collect the materials she needs to build a pyre, she will die. Andy knows failure is not an option for he needs a feather from this phoenix as the next ingredient to break the curse. Will Andy and his friends free the phoenix in time? Will they be able to fix the Ring and restore Cromlech’s healing powers? Will Andy collect a phoenix feather?

Purchase in Kindle and Paperback formats

The Buzz

“I really enjoyed this book! The author writes a thrilling action-adventure story that keeps you on the edge of your bean bag chair. I will admit, I stayed up late reading this book – it was that good! L. R. W. Lee has a talent for writing fantasy. The story flows well and has plenty of action to keep the reader wanting more. A great read!”                                                                                                      – Erik Weibel, This Kid Reviews Books (Erik is 14)
Erik awarded the book 5 Bookworms!

“L. R. W. Lee’s best book of the Andy Smithson series to date!”                                                                                                     – Richard Weatherly, Author

Watch L. R. W. Lee discuss Resurrection of the Phoenix’s Grace on Book Nerd Paradise on YouTube at bit.ly/1DsOOfi

First Impressions-Book Covers

banner 2552

We often say that a picture is worth 1,000 words, and I say that in the case of book cover art “words” could be changed to “readers”. With so many books available and so many thumb-sized images to sort through, one of the best ways to gain readership is to make sure that in the first seconds a reader’s eyes land on your book cover, he/she is enticed enough to peel back that cover. Book covers should hook readers much like the first lines of a book; they should entice them enough to spend additional seconds, turn those into minutes, and ultimately spend hours delving into the story behind that enticing cover.

For those authors who are also expert cover artists, I applaud your skills. It is a talent every bit as refined as authoring a book. For those of us who have no business handling this aspect of book publishing, we benefit from surrendering to the talents of such artists. I had the pleasure of meeting my cover artist through a collective that I joined in 2012. Chelsea Starling has created covers for all 3 of my books published over the past few years, and though she only creates covers for a few exclusive clients, she is also a web designer specializing in author web sites (if you are in need of a site, visit her at Starling Magic).

I had it easy from the start where my covers were concerned. I offered a few key ideas and Chelsea conjured up covers beyond my imaginings. For example, I knew that I wanted the cover for ARROW OF THE MIST to be mostly black, include thorny vines, have Lia—a teen girl with a crossbow and red hair—on one side, and a drop of blood somewhere on the other side to match the hair. That’s all I gave her to go on and she created a cover that pretty much hit the mark the very first go around. Cover number two for ARMS OF ANU had nearly the same quick and wonderful creation process AND I am thrilled to announce has just been nominated for Best Supernatural Cover at the utopYA 2015 Awards in June.

Perhaps my greatest advice to an author with regards to working with an accomplished cover artist is to remember that that person is the artist, the expert, the one with the keen eye and skill set needed for such a task. Having a voice as the author is important, but then follow that with a good measure of surrender to allow the artist’s “muse” to create that oh-so-important first impression your book deserves.

If you are in the market for an expert cover artist (or for many other experts involved in the writing and publishing process), check out Indie-Visible.  As one of the co-founders, I can attest for our PubHub feature where authors can “Build Their Publishing Teams” by utilizing a referral list of Recommended Freelancers (at least one of our crew can vouch for them!). Our goal there is to provide authors a place to find experts with skills either not contained in their own bags of tricks and/or to find experts who can take on tasks authors might simply not have time enough to accomplish on their own.

head shot image extra crop color

Christina Mercer is an award-winning author of fiction for children and young adults. Honored titles include Tween Fantasy ARROW OF THE MIST and its sequel ARMS OF ANU, and YA Paranormal Romance HONEY QUEEN. She is also the co-founder of www.indie-visible.com. Christina enjoys life in the foothills of Northern California with her husband and sons, a pack of large dogs, and about 100,000 honeybees. For more about her and her writing, visit:

ChristinaMercer.com | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads

 

Crowd Sourced Writing and Fan Fiction

logo_icon-31103daccd200c7aef41bc4df6737cec

I recently began frequenting a crowd-sourced writing website called Skrawl.com. And I have to say I’m having a lot of fun.  Skrawl is set up for you to start a new story or to add to someone else’s story. Stories can be original fiction, non-fiction discussions, or fan fiction.

What makes it so much fun is that Skrawl has a competitive edge to it. When you add to someone’s story everyone in the community gets a chance to vote for your “bit” against anyone else who posted a “bit” for the same storyline. Points are awarded each time you post or vote and you can earn even more points if your “bit” wins.

There’s a social aspect to it too, you can comment on the stories like you would on sites like Facebook.

It’s a great way for me to play with ideas and see where other people take them.

One of my favorite stories posted by Greg Fishbone is a story called Trek Elementary. Trek Elementary is an alternate universe where Kirk, Spock and the gang are children and have created their own group called the Enterprise gang. They sometimes have run-ins with another gang on the block who call themselves the Klingons.

The story started with the kids trying to find a way to get candy from the candy store. Simple enough, but the next writer added the Klingons, then Jimmy Kirk got into trouble, etc. etc.  As you can imagine stories can go anywhere and they often do!

If  you have moment and want to read some short stories, or better yet, if you’d like to play along, join some of us over at Skrawl.com.  I currently have a few fan-fictions running, Divergent, Maleficent and Percy Jackson. Oh, and I just started a new adventure for Big Hero 6! Search for me, Ansha Kotyk, using the magnifying glass icon, I’d love to see you, and read your stories!!

AnshaKotyk Ansha Kotyk writes adventure stories for boys and girls. Check out Gangsterland, the story of Jonathan, who falls into a magical comic book and has to draw his way out.

What in the World are Videogames Doing to Our Readers?

I know what you are thinking. ‘Here comes another anti-videogame message.’ We’ve been hearing it for years. Videogames are damaging our children. They are the reason for all of the corruption. Children have lost their desire for creativity and imagination. Kids are more prone to excessive violence and they now all have ADHD. Videogames are the reason that America is in the sorry state it is in…blah yada blah.

Well if that is where you are thinking this post is going, you are WRONG! If you think that access to videogames is destroying a child’s creativity, I dare you to spend twenty minutes watching an eight or nine-year-old kid play Minecraft. It will BLOW. YOUR. MIND! Seriously, as the father of nine-year-old twins, the volcano-moated fortresses that my children build in that game are amazing! Honestly, they put my old Lego and Lincoln Log creations to shame…but I digress.

Videogames have come a long way from the old Mario and Marble Madness days of the original Nintendo. Games now demand a sense of realism. Game developers have progressed in their ability to immerse a gamer into a story. Don’t believe me? Go and play Last of Us, Mass Effect, Skyward Sword, Skyrim or any of the Uncharted games. Heck, go play Pokemon (although I ABSOLUTELY do not want to hear about what stupid Pokemon you capture, what their weaknesses are, and who they evolve into). The advances in gaming have been seriously amazing and there is no reason to believe that it will be tapering off any time soon.

So…what does this mean for us as writers, especially those of us that shoot for the midgrade audience? Have we lost our target audience forever? Are they drowned in a sea of visual stimulation and mindless button mashing? I say NO! In fact, I shout it from the rooftops!

Why you might ask? What possible reason can this thirty-something aged Clydesdale (that is a triathlon reference for those of you who might be wondering) have for such a response? To answer your unspoken question, I must take you all back with me to my youth and the glory days of the old Nintendo. Remember those fascinating times? Blowing into the cartridges until you were light-headed? Stuffing one game on top of another in the console with the hope that you could find that sweet spot and the screen would stop flashing and the game would fire up? Rage quitting a game by slamming your controller to the floor after reaching the end boss only to die for the last time and be forced to start over?

In those days there were no studies about the effects of prolonged videogame exposure (well, I’m sure there were, but due to a lack of social media, most parents were blissfully unaware of them). The adults in those days discovered one simple thing. Nintendos were built in babysitters! Videogames kept their destructive, attention-craved, overly energetic little boys from leaving Legos all over the floor, coloring on the walls, and beating the stuffing out of any sibling within reach…for hours at a time! It was a wonderful age for both parent and male child (I know there are many female gamers, but lets face it, those early Nintendo games were made for us guys). However, for all of those boy children that grew up on videogames…there were girl children. Girl children that watched as their brothers’ eyes became glued to TV screens and dismissed everything around them. In many cases, those poor siblings became the replacement babysitters and job-doers. They were the children that got things done while their brothers wasted hour after hour in front of the tube, controller in hand, every bit as plugged in as the inanimate console they played.

Well, guess what? Now those sisters are Moms! And you know what else? They don’t want their own kids to follow down the same path as those brothers of old…and they have a strategy. Oh yes, those wily mothers have plotted together and they have come up with ways to keep their children from becoming too entrenched in gaming. Now they even conspire through social media to keep videogames from rotting out the brains of their precious darlings. Pinterest boards and Facebook groups have ended the limitless gaming that the boys of my generation took for granted. Now kids have to work for those precious nuggets of game time. They do jobs, they play outside, they do art projects, they do homework…and they read!!!

Yes, mothers are a bigger advocate for reading than ever before. But…we must accept the fact that videogames have altered the minds of our readers. Kids now have experienced a realism through story telling that didn’t exist before. So, as authors competing for their limited time and attention, we must up our game as well. Now, I am a huge fan of fantasy, and I have often wondered what I could do to hold a child’s interest for prolonged periods of time. What can I do to keep a child reading, even when the sirens call of a videogame beckons?

For me, I have found that the solution lies in the minor details. Often, when a child is telling me what they have found appealing in my book, it turned out to be some minor thing that I considered unimportant at the time. They added a sense of realism for the reader that even videogames couldn’t provide. Simple things such as picking burrs out of socks after beating through the brush, the ache in the back after sitting for a prolonged period of time, or the pain and swelling of feet after a long hike.

The question is, how can we as authors provide those kinds of details to kids? The kind they can’t pick up in the game world. Sure, we can always fall back on research, but I propose a better solution. Experience!!! If we as authors challenge ourselves to try something new, we can use the knowledge and information we’ve gathered in our writing. It was always easy for me to write that my characters were tired after a trying ordeal, but after staggering across the finish-line of a half-marathon or a summersaulting over the finish mat of the Spudman triathlon, I truly knew what exhaustion meant. I now understand how muscles can turn to watery jello and how calves can burn as though you are actually standing in the midst of a fire. I now realize that fleeing from an enemy is more than simply pressing down on the b button for an unending sprint up and over the mountain to the safety of the plains on the other side.

After taking combat classes, I realize that close quarters combat is more than simply throwing a series of punches and blocks. It is all about position, speed, timing, breathing, conditioning, and everything else that can give you an advantage over an enemy. The experiences I gained there were something that made my combat scenes much more realistic and lent a sense of immediacy that had been lacking before.

Now, I am not proposing that we go out and experience everything that we plan to put our characters through. Is your character going to jail? DON’T GO AND GET ARRESTED! Sometimes we need to use our imaginations, and of course, we need to research. But sometimes, a dash of real life experience in an adventure might just be the secret ingredient in the mix to winning the fight for a child’s attention. Whether that battle might be to get our next book onto the bookshelf in the home, or simply to keep our current book in their hands five minutes after a mother calls out those sweet, magical words that nearly every kid longs to hear:

“You can play now!”

JR JR Simmons lives in Northern Utah with his wife and 4 boys. He loves spending time with his family and coaching his kids in all of their different sports. He is an avid gamer and is very excited that his boys are picking up on his hobby. JR was recently introduced to triathlons and has since found that he loves the sport. Most nights he can be found either sitting down with a good game or hunched over his iPad writing.