Category Archives: The Quest of the Unaligned

Savvy Saturday: Writing Male and Female Characters

I was asked recently how, as a female writer, I approach writing male characters. In several of my works, including The Quest of the Unaligned, the point-of-view character is male, meaning that I write as if I am inside that character’s head. How do I make sure that it sounds right?

I’ve actually thought about this issue quite a bit – I want my characters to be real and sympathetic to readers, to behave in a manner consistent with who they are and who they have been raised to be by their society. Identifying how men and women behave differently, then, is crucial for writing believable characters. However, the implementation of this is surprisingly easy, since people are far more similar than many of us realize. The trick is not to consider writing a “male character” or a “female character,” but to write a person. A person has goals, motivations, personality, strengths, weaknesses, things they desperately want, and things they desperately fear. Men and women may show these slightly differently, but at the core, we’re all still human beings. We yearn for acceptance, for respect, for safety, for adventure, for success, for love. I would probably say that 80-90% of the action, dialogue, and character development pertaining to a given character in a book could be gender-flipped and readers wouldn’t notice the difference.

It’s that extra 10-20% that adds gender roles and male/female biological differences in thought processes, etc., that makes writing characters of the opposite sex realistic. As a female writer, I have learned that for male characters, I cut out most of the introspection regarding emotions and relationships that I would include for female characters. I also have male characters try to focus more on what the problems are at hand and how to solve them, whereas my female characters may not move so quickly to strategizing and action in every circumstance. My male characters tend to want respect – to be noticed, thought well of, and to prove themselves. While my female characters tend to want these things as well, they also may value harmony, relationships, and being listened to and understood more than male characters would.

For instance, Alaric, my main character in The Quest of the Unaligned, is trained as a security chief to act to assess situations, protect the innocent, stop and detain criminals, and provide physical solutions (e.g. fighting) to problems. He sounds very male, but a female security chief of Tonzimmel would be trained in the same way. I could write the same situation – stopping a thug, for example – and the reactions and dialogue of the two security chiefs would likely be very similar. What might be different would be how the two security chiefs would react to a potentially dangerous situation. Alaric, for instance, refuses to believe Laeshana (his friend and guide) when she says that Dragon Canyon is inhabited by real dragons, and gives her an ultimatum: she can either accompany him into the canyon or not, but he isn’t going to be late for his appointment, and so he’s going to charge forward and trust to his skills to handle whatever dangers lurk in the canyon. If I were writing a female security chief in this situation, she would probably be more willing to listen to what Laeshana had to say, would probably consider whether being late was actually as bad as seriously harming a relationship with a friend, or at least would talk with Laeshana a lot more about why it was that she thought there were dragons in Dragon Canyon rather than simply turning away from the conversation and charging down the canyon full speed ahead.

Finally, I do make sure to have some male beta readers read my work. They are a crucial part of my writing improvement process. Just like I have fantasy-loving beta readers who can tell me if my magic is unclear or my monsters sound too much like something they read recently, and just like I have English-major beta readers who help me catch awkward wording or problems with story flow, I have male readers who note when my male characters are behaving in a way that strikes them as odd, unusual, or inconsistent with their expectations.

Mostly, however, I just try to write characters who are complex people, and let those people create their own stories.

Savvy Saturday – Complex Characters are Our Friends

One tip for writers I read recently was as follows: the best stories are made of simple plots about complex characters. This is a nice maxim, but somewhat difficult to implement. What makes a complex character? Well, many things. But here are three tips to get you started:

  1. Complex motivations.

Just like real people aren’t driven toward a single goal with a single purpose, but instead have multiple purposes that lead them to make sometimes seemingly irrational choices, good complex characters have motivations that pull them in different directions. Alaric, for instance, hero of The Quest of the Unaligned, has a strong sense of duty, coupled with a drive for personal success. He also, however, tends to shrug off risks when he alone bears the consequences, or when he thinks that he can handle whatever may face him. These different motivations pull Alaric in opposite directions when a threatening situation arises, depending on who else is involved in the situation, what he believes his duty to be, and how dangerous the threat appears. As opposed to a robot or a Black-Robed-Evil-Mastermind who will always act in the same way, Alaric will judge the situation and act how he thinks best.

  1. Complex worries, fears, and weaknesses.

Similar to the above, good characters won’t have just a single weakness or fear that keeps them from achieving their goals. While one weakness may be the point of the story – the one that they eventually overcome – overcoming it should not turn the character into a perfect individual. The other main character of The Quest of the Unaligned, Laeshana, has a number of fears that she attempts to keep from controlling her. They aren’t all spelled out for readers, but they shape the way she reacts to situations. First, she hates being looked down upon for her background, and tends to react heatedly to insults by Cadaeren’s nobles. More personally, she is afraid of losing Alaric, and is thus especially bothered by his stubborn refusal to learn things that could save his life. She also worries about the future of her country, while feeling frustrated that she is in many ways powerless to change anything.

  1. Complex interests and personality traits.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, one powerful way of giving characters depth is to give them a hobby or other trait that is “irrelevant” to the story. Maybe your juggler loves insects and collects interesting specimens in each town the circus visits. Maybe a thief took a few years of music lessons in his/her childhood and still plays. Maybe a banker spends every Saturday afternoon hiking with his brother and enjoying nature. As real people, we have a multitude of roles we play and facets to our lives; to reflect reality and give a rich story experience to readers, authors therefore must represent our characters as real people to our audiences.


What are some of your favorite “real” characters from a book? What about them made them feel alive to you?

Savvy Saturday: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2015 is your best year yet!

This year, I’m planning to write more short stories set both in Cadaeren and in Alepago. I quite enjoyed playing with the new Cadaerian duo of Wittanruahk and Tempest, his magical loon, and hope to write more adventures about them in the future. Want a teaser? Here’s the first couple of paragraphs from my newest short story: Witt and Wind and the Bloody Solstice Stealer!


“You know what I love about the Festival of Balance, Tempest?” Witt asked the loon floating near his shoulder. Or, more accurately, floating in a half-sphere of water suspended near his shoulder in midair. Their ability to carry their own lakes with them was one of the Shamainis Lake loons’ more peculiar attributes.

Tempest, however, was even more peculiar than most. You? he replied directly to Witt’s mind, looking up from preening his wing-feathers. Amusement glinted in his intelligent sapphire eyes. I’d guess the free-flowing ale that inclines the peasantry to actually laugh at your jokes.

“Very funny.”

But entirely accurate.

“Fine. Besides that.” Witt took his bearings as he spoke, spinning in a circle in the knee-deep snow the two of them had just materialized into. The afternoon sun reflected blindingly off snow-covered fields in three directions, and off a large snow-covered hill to the south. A small town was nestled at the base of the hill: Snowhaven, the birthplace of the three most popular winter solstice carols in Cadaeren. Assuming, of course, that Lord Yaretzin’s ruahks hadn’t played a practical joke on him by giving him directions to the wrong tiny peasant town in the middle of nowhere.

Not that it mattered to Witt. Whether the town was Snowhaven or not, there would be something there worth seeing, hearing, exploring, or exploding. There always had been, in the five years since he had earned his white sash and set out on his own. It kept life interesting.



Have a wonderful week, everyone! Happy 2015!

Merry Christmas!

hollyMerry Christmas to all! I hope your day is bright, peaceful, and filled with joy and love.

As my Christmas present to you, my faithful readers, I’m excited to share with you the culmination of the Cadaerian Christmas Challenge: a fairy tale I wrote this summer. You’ll find that it mirrors one of our own Brothers Grimm fairy tales quite closely, but with enough tweaks and twists to make it something new and wholly Cadaerian.

You can find the story, titled “Noble Memories,” on this website. However, as you’ll notice, it’s password protected. What’s the password, you ask? Take the Cadaerian Christmas Challenge quiz below and find out! There are 25 questions that will each give you one word of a final password riddle. This answer to this final riddle is the password to unlock “Noble Memories.”

If you don’t know the answer to one of the questions, open a new tab and look around on this website – all answers can be found somewhere on! Good places to check are the “Worlds” page, old blog posts, and my Cadaerian short stories.

It’s been a lot of fun to write and create this contest; I hope you enjoy the challenge and your Christmas present at the end. Merry Christmas, and happy reading!


Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  


Savvy Saturday – Main Character Reveal!

Christmas is fast approaching, and with it, the revelation of (some of) my new short stories! As a teaser, this week’s Savvy Saturday post gives a brief glimpse into the main characters of the stories I’ve been working on most recently. This includes characters you’ve met already (Eshmait from “Noble Memories” and Nikso from “Wolf Who Overcomes”) as well as some new faces…including a first look at Wittanruahk (Witt), the main character of my current work in progress! Are you ready? Then let’s go!

Noble Memories – A Fairy Tale of Cadaeren

Eshmait: The fabled son of Lord and Lady Eshmait, this young man’s story has enchanted the children of Cadaeren for hundreds of years. Like any fairy-tale hero, Eshmait has more noble traits than flaws. Besides his shamai talents – which include spinning rainbows out of mist and, more impressively, bringing clarity to old, faded memories – Eshmait is portrayed as being good, kind, trusting, and generous. It is an overabundance of these traits, rather than actual character flaws, that gets him in trouble throughout the story. Many listeners, for this reason, tend to sympathize more with the more human character in the story: Maretzai.

Maretzai: The eldest of seven peasant sisters, Maretzai is a resourceful, stubborn, aretz healer who harbors a deep sense of guilt regarding her parents’ death years before. Separated once from her sisters when it was discovered that she was an aretz, she is now willing to do whatever it takes to keep her family together – even if it means breaking the law. Some versions of the story of the White Prince tone down Maretzai’s anger toward Cadaeren’s nobility at the beginning of the tale in a blatant attempt to purge the story of any elements that could be harmful to the stability of Cadaeren’s stratified class system. Many of Cadaeren’s lords, however, continue to approve the story in its original version, believing that Maretzai’s character development and the ultimate outcome of the tale contributes a stronger, more positive message regarding Cadaeren’s nobility than could any more sanitized version of the tale.

Wolf Who Overcomes – A Story of Alepago

Nikso: At twelve years old, Nikso knows that she isn’t cut out to be a hunter of Toranquano. Hunters are brave and strong and respected by everyone; they’re chosen by the Great Wolf spirit to keep his people safe and bring him glory through victory. Nikso is none of those things. She is a skilled runner, to be sure, with a keen sense of direction, good tracking skills, and the ability to travel for long distances without tiring. But ever since her father was killed by a bear, she has been known as Nikso the timid – just the opposite of what the Great Wolf values in his people. As Nikso goes on her Lone Hunt, a rite of passage for every young Toranquanois, she secretly yearns for the opportunity to prove herself. The opportunity that comes, however, is as deadly as it is unexpected…

Work in Progress – A Story of Cadaeren

Wittanruahk: Known as Witt to his friends and family (and as “that crazy ruahk white-sash with the loon” to his enemies), Wittanruahk’s mission in life is to uncover the truth behind all of Cadaeren’s innumerable tales and legends – because the truth is often even stranger than the stories. Easily distracted, constantly on the move, eager for adventure, and always optimistic, Witt collects dangerous experiences like shamais collect books and aretzes collect herbs: compulsively. Thus far, his own intuition, cleverness, ruahk powers, and sheer luck have kept him alive, but given his inability to stick to a plan and his tendency to leap before he looks, Witt may one day find himself in more trouble than even he can get himself out of.


“Noble Memories” (formerly titled “The White Prince”) will be made available on Christmas Day 2014 to anyone who answers all questions of the Cadaeren Christmas Challenge, which will be posted here on the blog as well as permanently on the Quiz page of this website. “Wolf Who Overcomes” will be sent as a special Christmas present to the three fastest people to post the answer to any two (or more) of the questions of the Cadaerian Christmas Challenge on the A.L. Phillips facebook page. Excited? Have questions? Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Christmas Treasure Hunt Update

Have you been keeping up with the Christmas Treasure Hunt on Facebook? If you’ve missed a question or two, here are the ones that have been posted since last Saturday. The answers to all these questions can be found somewhere on this website. Keep track of your answers – on Christmas Day, you’ll be able to use them to unlock the Cadaerian fairy tale of the White Prince!

Between now and Christmas, remember to check the A.L. Phillips Facebook page every day for a new question to answer – the first people to answer may find themselves with a bonus prize at Christmas!

Question 7: What is the name of the mountain range that is home to a dangerous race of fire spiders?

Question 8: While earth mages have the power to heal, fire mages have a power known as ______ ______, which gives them magical insight.

Question 9: Since Laeshana graduated from the College of Magic, she is now a member of the Order of the ____ ______.

Question 10: Before Naruahn lived at the Temple of the Elements, where did he call home?

Question 11: How many members of the Tonzimmelian syndicate went on the “simple” mission to conduct forced negotiations with the inventor Mikaesh?


Savvy Saturday – Christmas Treasure Hunt!

Happy December! It’s the month of giving, of joy to the world, and of intriguing interactive treasure hunts! What, you say? Intriguing interactive treasure hunts aren’t typically part of Christmas festivities? Well, they are now!

Twenty-five questions, ranging in difficulty from so-easy-a-badger-could-do-it to are-you-sure-a-hoshek-didn’t-make-this-up challenging, will be posted on this site and on Facebook between now and Christmas. Don’t worry – the answers to all the questions CAN be found on this website.

When you’ve completed the treasure hunt, the answers to the questions will be able to be used to unlock a password that you can use at this link to access an exclusive new story – a familiar fairy tale with a Cadaerian twist. (Impatient? View the first page of the story here!)

And, for a final bonus, anyone who is among the first three people to post a correct answer to any two of these questions on the A.L. Phillips Facebook page will get an additional bonus Christmas present! Yes, it will include extra writing. No, you won’t want to miss it. (So you could be first on one question and third on another, and you’d be eligible. If you’re fourth the first twenty-three times, however, you’ll need to post really fast in the last two or it won’t count!)

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started!

Week 1 (belated)

Question 1: What is the name of the main character of The Quest of the Unaligned?

Question 2: What is this character’s job in Tonzimmel, including rank and company worked for?

Question 3: In Cadaeren, a mage aligned with earth is called a(n) ________, and the emblem of their contingent is a ____________.

Question 4: In what year was The Quest of the Unaligned published?

Question 5: What subject in college inspired A.L. Phillips to create the two cultures of Tonzimmel and Cadaeren?

Question 6: What language inspired the names and titles in The Quest of the Unaligned?

Do you know? Submit your guesses on the A.L. Phillips Facebook page – if you’re among the first three to answer any two questions right, you’ll find yourself on the list to receive a bonus Christmas present! Even if you don’t get the ruahk-speedy prize, however, remember to keep your answers handy: you’ll need them to unlock the fairy tale on Christmas Day! Good luck and happy treasure-hunting!

Savvy Saturday – Rewriting: An Examplar

When most readers think about what writers do, they might tend to think that our time is spent something like this:


In actuality, it may tend to look something more like this:*


*These pie charts are illustrative and do not reflect any real data

Of course, these percentages vary greatly across authors – some writers spend far more time outlining and far less time revising, others spend even less time writing a first draft compared to everything else they do, and so forth. But one common thing that all good writers do, which hardly ever gets seen by readers, is spend a great deal of time editing and rewriting.

As readers, we usually only get to see the final as-good-as-it’s-gonna-get draft of a project, without seeing the in-between phases, the crossed-out ideas, and the clunky sentence structure that good authors catch in the second and third drafts (or that their editors and beta readers point out in the ninth and tenth!). There’s a good reason for this – authors, like anyone else, are understandably reluctant to share things with a public audience that are not their best work. We want to be judged on things we are proud of, not our works in progress. Unfortunately, this can make it difficult for young authors to learn how to edit and rewrite their own works. Many young authors err in one of two ways: thinking that they’ll “never be as good” as an author whose published works are excellent and so not trying, or in a spirit of over-confidence, thinking that “just like” successful authors, their first draft is worthy of publication. Both views can be tempered by a good hard look at what actually happens when an author rewrites their work.

Since we are in the midst of NaNoWriMo (a month long period of first draft binge-writing for novelists), I thought it might be useful to give a real life example of this process, focusing on my published novel The Quest of the Unaligned. This book went through three major drafts (plus a very detailed scene-by-scene outline) before it was finally published, and each draft worked to improve the manuscript in significant ways.

For instance, here is the first page of my novel as it stands in the final published version:

Of the thousand noises, movements, and smells that fought for Alaric’s notice in Peet’s crowded bar, only one thing captured his attention: the man who had just materialized on one side of the room. Alaric slammed down his tankard of beer in shock, squinting through the garish colored lights that blinked on every wall. If it had been later in the evening, he would have assumed that what he was seeing was merely a beer-induced figment of his imagination. As it was, he had just raised his first tankard to lips. That meant that, impossible as it seemed, a long-haired and equally long-bearded man – wearing a robe of all outlandish things – had just appeared out of thin air.

That was news on two fronts. While Alaric would have watched the man carefully in any circumstances, as per his responsibilities as a security chief of Tonzimmel’s First Security Force, the newcomer’s technology made him particularly of interest. Alaric mentally skimmed back through the past year’s SecuriTech Bulletins even as he watched the stranger turn in bemused circles on the side of the room. No, he thought, there hadn’t been even a single article hinting that researchers were developing personal transportation devices. 

That meant that the technology was supposed to be a secret. A slow smile grew on Alaric’s face. He could almost see the commendation letter being put into his file right now for being the first officer to identify a new, potentially dangerous technology in use. But then he stared harder at the stranger, at the way the robed man kept turning as if he didn’t know where he was, at how he cocked his head almost to his shoulder so that his beard stuck out at a forty-five degree angle to his body, and Alaric began rethinking his conclusion. The stranger wasn’t acting like either a member of a covert government operation or a thief. But if he wasn’t either of those, where had he gotten his transportation device? From outside of Tonzimmel?

Alaric snorted into his beer. That thought was even more unlikely than his last: the only realm beyond the city-state of Tonzimmel was Cadaeren, whose population consisted solely of superstitious farmers and lunatic noblemen. But it didn’t really matter, in the end, where the technology had come from. Whatever its origin, Alaric told himself, his supervisor in the TFSF would want a full report. 

With that in mind, Alaric continued to watch the robed man, hiding his interest behind his tankard. The stranger slowly zig-zagged out from the wall where he had first appeared, still turning in circles every once in a while, his head cocked at that odd angle over his shoulder. Eventually, a white strobe-light flashed across the bar’s flickering anti-grav tables, lighting up the bar’s crowded interior for a few seconds. It lasted only long enough to give Alaric a glimpse of the man’s clothing, but that was enough to make his eyes snap open even wider. 

The stranger’s white robe was trimmed in silver that nearly blinded Alaric as it flashed in the strobe light, and he wore a belt of the same color inlaid with colored stones that sparkled with inner fire. Alaric let out a silent whistle at the man’s nerve. Even the wealthiest families he guarded all wore the sensible shirt and pants uniforms of Tonzimmel. If the stranger’s jewels were real, he was openly flaunting more wealth than anyone in the crowded room could make in a lifetime. And if they were fake, then the stranger was just crazy.

Given everything he’d seen thus far, though, that might not be a bad guess. Maybe the man did come from Cadaeren. Alaric allowed himself a brief smile, but didn’t take his eyes off the robed man. He still held his head cocked at an angle, so that his hair – ash-blond, Alaric now saw – all fell to one shoulder. Every second or two, he twitched to peer off in a different direction, and each time, he took a few steps towards the bar where Alaric sat. Was the man looking for someone? 

Just as the thought crossed Alaric’s mind, the stranger pivoted directly towards him. His gray eyes went wide in his deeply wrinkled face. “Prince Alaric! It’s you! Finally!” 

Alaric had been in the middle of sipping his beer; he inhaled it instead, and coughed violently. “Excuse me?”

My original idea in my outline began a little differently. Take a look! (Note that this isn’t in complete sentences: when I’m outlining for myself I tend to shorten things for my own sake.)


We meet Alaric in a bar in the city of Tonzimmel. He's had a boring day as a security guard for a rich family's home, has watched them come and go with their machines, hasn't had a chance to use his training. Considers what to do that night - doesn't have friends, maybe he'll go train with weapons more. That's good efficient use of time; maybe he'll be able to take a test and be promoted once his programming gets as good as his skill with basic weapons. (Scene of the bar is hectic and loud and with lots of bright lights & colors, but he's tuned it out. He's used to it.)  

Ruahkini "pops" into the bar, Alaric's mildly surprised. Never seen that trick before. He doesn't believe it's magic, though. Ruahkini tries to tell him that he's the crown prince of the neighboring kingdom of Cadaeren, Alaric doesn't believe him. Ruahkini tells Alaric he has to go on a quest, Alaric rolls his eyes. Ruahkini offers to bet - if he wins, Alaric will go on a quest for him. If Alaric wins, Ruahkini will pay all his bar bills for the upcoming month.

The first major difference between these scenes, of course, is that the final version begins “in media res” – or in the middle of the action – whereas my outline set up the scene more before anything actually happened. This is a useful tip for writers: start your story when things are interesting, then flash back or use dialogue to explain what’s going on. If you start with someone doing something boring, your audience will be bored too.

My initial draft of this scene, after deciding to start with Ruahkini popping into the bar, was considerably shorter than the final version. You can see for yourself here:

 If Alaric had not just sat down with his first tankard of the evening, he would have assumed that the man who had materialized by his side was a mead-induced figment of his imagination. As it was, he was still entirely sober, which meant that an old man wearing a robe had indeed just appeared out of thin air. That would make for an interesting entry in his daily security report: personal transportation devices were finally on the market. Alaric hadn’t expected them to be invented within his lifetime, but then again, who could keep up with technology? He took another drink from his tankard, exaggerating his movements to mask his examination of the newcomer. If someone was selling personal transportation devices, after all, his boss would want to know. And it definitely wouldn’t hurt his own résumé if he were the first security chief in Tonzimmel to identify a potentially dangerous new technology and its owner. 

With that in mind, Alaric put his trained senses to work. First, the other man was clearly a foreigner, as evidenced by his strange clothing. His robe was a brilliant white, trimmed in sky-blue with a matching belt, and inlaid with large sapphires. Alaric let out a silent whistle at the man’s nerve. Even the wealthiest families he guarded all wore the sensible shirt and pants uniforms of Tonzimmel. If the stranger’s jewels were real, he was openly flaunting more wealth than anyone in the crowded bar would likely make in their lifetime. And if they were fake, then the stranger was just crazy. Though that might not be a bad guess, Alaric told himself, noting the way the man held his head cocked at an angle, so that his ash-blond hair all fell to one shoulder, and how he constantly jerked his thin torso from side to side as if looking for something. And then the stranger pivoted and looked him in the eye.  

“Alaric! It’s you! Finally!”

Alaric choked on his mead. “Excuse me?”

While there are many lines from this version that made it into the final draft, it’s definitely rough. In this version, Alaric is far more detached from the situation – he seems to be observing with mild interest and out of a sense of duty rather than with the keen attention and personal drive that powers him to observe Ruahkini in the final draft. The sense of place is also far more developed in the final draft, through concrete descriptions of Peet’s Bar and also a setting up of the existence of Tonzimmel, Cadaeren, and the basic relationship between the two. We also have a better feeling of who Alaric actually is in the final draft: this was accomplished by getting inside his head and going through his thought processes more carefully, showing his prejudices, his attention to detail, his occupation, and his deep sense of responsibility all within the first page. Of course, there were also tiny factual changes that took place such as exchanging mead for beer, having Ruahkini call Alaric by his royal honorific, and a far more violent reaction by Alaric to the mage’s appearance, all of which were done to make the story more believable and interesting.

A second draft between the first and final gives another interesting perspective – progress isn’t always linear! This draft is closer to the final one, but as you can see, some things were added that got taken out again before the manuscript went to press, and many of the descriptions from the final version are either in a different place in this draft, or hadn’t been added yet at all…

Of the thousand noises, movements, and smells that fought for Alaric’s notice in Peet’s crowded bar, only one thing captured his attention: the man who had just materialized on one side of the room. If it had been later in the evening, Alaric would have assumed that the old man in the strange robe was a beer-induced figment of his imagination. As it was, however, he had just sat down with his first tankard of the evening, which meant that the newcomer had indeed appeared out of thin air.

That was news. Nothing in the SecuriTech Bulletin had ever hinted that researchers were developing personal transportation devices. That meant, then, that either the technology was supposed to be a secret, or that it had been developed outside of Tonzimmel. Not that the second option was likely: the only realm beyond the city-state of Tonzimmel was Cadaeren, whose population consisted solely of superstitious farmers and lunatic noblemen. Alaric snorted into his beer at the thought, but kept his eyes fixed on the strange man in front of him. Wherever the transporter had come from, Alaric’s supervisor in the Tonzimmelian First Security Force would want a full report. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt Alaric’s own file with the TFSF if he were the first security chief in Tonzimmel to identify a new, potentially dangerous, technology in use.

Alaric squinted at the man across the room, mentally cursing the garish colored lights that blinked on every wall at Peet’s. Finally, a white strobe light flashed through the room, showing the newcomer’s robe to be a brilliant white, trimmed in silver, with a belt of the same color inlaid with colored stones that sparkled in the light. Alaric let out a silent whistle at the man’s nerve. Even the wealthiest families he guarded all wore the sensible shirt and pants uniforms of Tonzimmel. If the stranger’s jewels were real, he was openly flaunting more wealth than anyone in the crowded room could make in a lifetime. And if they were fake, then the stranger was just crazy. Though that might not be a bad guess – maybe the newcomer did come from Cadaeren. The man held his head cocked at an angle, so that his ash-blond hair all fell to one shoulder, and he constantly peered from side to side as if looking for something. And then he pivoted and looked Alaric in the eye.  

“Prince Alaric! It’s you! Finally!” 

Alaric coughed on his beer. “Excuse me?”

So how did I progress from my first draft to my final one? Some of these changes were based on suggestions from my writing group peers – things like, give us more information about where we are and why we care about Alaric right off the bat. Other changes were made by reading through the draft and getting stuck on wording or sentences or pacing or tone aspects that I didn’t like. These are the changes that take the most practice as a writer, and the most time. Between my second draft and my draft that I submitted for consideration to my publisher, I let the entire manuscript sit for months. When I came back to it with fresh eyes, I saw new ways of saying things that were (in my opinion), tighter, cleaner, and more interesting. I hope you feel the same way!

Now go write – and then when you think you’re done, go rewrite! You’ll be glad you did, and so will your readers.

Savvy Saturday – Hijacked by Alaric and Naruahn

Today’s Savvy Saturday post is on the power of dialogue. Often, as authors, we think that we have to add descriptions, dialogue tags (e.g. “he drawled, rolling the words around on his tongue as he thought about each one”), and other prose far more often than we actually need to. While these can be important, dialogue can also stand on its own and speak powerfully to both characterization and plot. For example, when

  • I don’t think that it’s working, Your Highness. Princess Laeshana said that there’s supposed to be a light that goes on when the transmitter’s working.  Blue I think she said – or was it purple? That’s funny, because I like purple much better than I like blue, and you’d think that I’d remember which one it was. It wasn’t silver. I’d have definitely remembered if it was supposed to be a silver light.

Okay, that’s weird. The Cadaerian transmitter isn’t supposed to hijack my blogging software… Naruahn? Is that you? I’m trying to write a blog post.

  • That’s strange. I’m sure I followed the directions Laeshana gave me. She might have skipped a step or two, though, and not realized it.

Alaric! It’s me, Phillips! I can read you just fine, but I’m not getting visual. Is everything all right?

  • What should we do, Your Highness? Should we ask Laeshana for help?
  • No! She’d want to know why we were trying to contact Phillips without her, and I want this to be a surprise.

Hmm. I guess the transmitter is only transmitting in one direction. At least it doesn’t sound like anything’s actually wrong…Sorry, guys, I won’t be able to continue my blog post until this is over. In the silver lining category, at least I suppose I can make snarky comments without Alaric or Naruahn finding out about it.

  • You could just tell her that it’s a secret.
  • No, Naruahn. That would make her suspicious, which is exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

Do tell. What are you plotting?

  • I could tell her that it’s a secret. She’s never suspicious of me!
  • Oh, really?
  • Well, not as suspicious of me as she’d be of you. I’m not her husband.
  • No, you’re just the one who popped all of the furniture from our room into the courtyard last week.

Naruahn – you did what?

  • I told you, I was going to put it back once I finished cleaning the room!
  • And that wasn’t due to circumstances that would make anyone suspicious of your behavior at all.

*cough* I hope the flying pigs didn’t make a reappearance.

  • They were supposed to sit on the beams and coo gently and make it all romantic! Not poop on the floor and shed feathers everywhere!

Oh dear.

  • That’s what birds do. One would think that a ruahk would know that.
  • They were DOVES! Doves brought roses and marigolds and lilies to Rilith the Fair, and sat on her shoulder and sang songs to her of her beloved’s loyalty while he was off in the king’s army! They didn’t poop on her floor!

And this, boys and girls, is what happens when you learn about wildlife from Epic Poetry.

  • We’re getting off subject. Suffice it to say, the transmitter isn’t working, so we’re going to have to figure out what to do for Laeshana’s birthday without anyone else’s help.

Is THAT what this is all about? No problem. Take her out for a picnic dinner in a part of Cadaeren she hasn’t visited yet, preferably where Something Important Historically happened, give her a new book, and let her tell you about her research. It’ll make her day.

  • OH! I know!
  • What, Naruahn?

Indeed. We’re all ears.

  • You could teach her how to fly!

Actually, that’s a pretty awesome idea.

  • How to fly? I didn’t know ruahks could fly. 
  • I’ll teach you! It’s easy! Watch!
  • Naruahn – stop! Watch out for the – are you all right?
  • No problem, Your Highness, I’m fine.
  • Not so sure the ceiling is. Are you sure you didn’t smash a hole through the bricks?
  • Come up and look for yourself! You see? It’s easy! Just take my hand and focus on moving the air around you. It’s fun!
  • As long as you don’t ram yourself into walls.
  • That’s it, Your Highness! See? You’re doing it!

LUCKY. And so not fair.

  • This is so odd. I feel like a paper hovercraft.
  • A what?
  • I’ll show you later.
  • Okay, now that you’re in the air, point yourself at something and direct the wind around you. See? It’s easy! Just like this!
  • Naruahn! Not near the transm…


I guess we can figure out what happened there. Ouch. I hope Naruahn’s all right. With Alaric nearby, though, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure about the transmitter. Maybe they’ll have to tell Laeshana about their plans in the end after all. Ah well. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Now, back to the blog post. The importance of dialogue. Hmm. I think Alaric and Naruahn have pretty much made my points for me. I’ll have to tell them thank you when Laeshana gets the transmitter working again. Assuming, of course, that it’s after her birthday.

Speaking of which, what should I tell Alaric if he actually does get the transmitter working? How do you think he should surprise Laeshana for her special day? Leave a comment and let me know!

*Note: If you want to know more about Alaric, Laeshana, and Naruahn, you can read about their adventures in my novel, The Quest of the Unaligned.



A Q&A with INh Magazine

I’m very excited to share with you a Q&A session I did with the wonderfully talented publisher of the INh (In Honolulu) magazine, Karleanne Matthews. A graduate student as well as a journalism professional, Karleanne is a delight to know and also an insightful interviewer.

You can check out the full feature, titled “Unaligned: breaking stereotypes in literature and school” (a fantastic title, by the way – major points to Karleanne for pulling that one together) at: