Tag Archive: Voro

  1. Mining Tales of Old for Worldbuilding

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    A few weeks ago someone wrote me to compliment me on my book, Whom the Gods Love. They enjoyed most of it, but one particular scene struck them as odd. If you’ve read the series, you might already have guessed which scene this is. In a story rich with allusions to various mythologies and folktales, there’s a creature that seems out of place, something created for what might look at first glance to be a low-brow laugh — the aswang.

    Before I go into what exactly an aswang is, I want to briefly touch on how I choose to borrow elements from history. Some authors enjoy re-writing historical events with a twist or in a new setting. George R.R. Martin, for instance, has said the War of the Roses was partial inspiration for his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Some authors use stories written hundreds of years ago and modernize them, like Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer winning novel, A Thousand Acres, which is a modernized re-telling of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

    Fairies are sexy now, too, I guess. I’m here to ruin that for you. 😉

    Whenever I write of fantastical things, I often go back to my love of folklore and mythology. I enjoy using those stories to pepper my worlds with the familiar, and I enjoy playing with the idea of what we remember those stories to be about. For instance, in Whom the Gods Love the fairies are closer to the malicious version of that creature than to the cuter version we see in fanciful garden ornamentation. I’ve taken the malicious nature to the extreme in that series — the fairies are despicable creatures.

    When I use these elements in my stories, I take a liberal definition of the creatures when they are well known. Most people have read fairy stories so have some idea of what they are. I don’t want to simply cut and paste fairy descriptions to people; I prefer to twist the tale in some way to upend expectations. However, when I’m using a story that might not be so familiar to my readers, I adhere more closely to the stories I’ve read. Sun, in Enchanted Legacy, remains a trickster character and even has several of the powers common in Monkey King tales, like duplicating themselves with hairs from their body. Similarly, the aswang closely resemble the horrors they are in Filipino tales about them.

    I could put something scary here, but instead a bulldog on it’s back. Relevant.

    Aswang are as familiar to Filipino people as vampires or werewolves would be to westerners. It’s their version of the boogie monster – a creature so terrifying it’s stories have carried on for hundreds of years. There are many variations of aswang, much like there are many variations of vampires. Some vampires can turn into mist, garlic is dangerous to some, some can control your mind, etc. While the Wikipedia article I’ve linked does not mention the use of phallic symbols to ward Aswang away, other sources frequently mention this method of keeping the aswang at bay. Thus, in my story, I included that tidbit. Lest you think the story of the aswang is meant to titillate (I’ll admit, in Whom the Gods Love it’s played up for a laugh) in the Filipino culture such is not the case. If the percentage of Catholics in that country doesn’t convince you of that (80%), then perhaps the habit of what the aswang does will — one of the common prey of aswang are pregnant women — specifically, fetuses.

    A great deal of folklore comes from times when people didn’t quite understand science. Sometimes folklore was accurately related to real remedies we still use today — the leaves of a willow tree to alleviate pain, for instance, became aspirin. Superstitions surrounding fertility in ancient cultures often resulted in the use of phallic symbols for fairly obvious reasons — you use those to make babies, so a symbol celebrating the baby making seems appropriate when successfully having a baby in those times was extremely difficult. In the case of the aswang, they are used in a manner to ward off miscarriages, a distressing and common event where the cautionary behaviors to prevent it from occurring remained mysterious. Even today we continue to discover new causes of miscarriages as science advances, such as chromosomal abnormalities. In the days when these types of stories were being spoken around a fire, things like folic acid and other prenatal vitamins wouldn’t be worked out for hundreds of years.

    As a species, we tend to like tangible answers to our problems. Creating a monster that steals the unborn is a problem we can mentally tackle. Science we haven’t discovered yet, less so. So the aswang was born, and the warding to keep it away invented, giving hopeful parents some comfort that they were doing what they could to keep their baby safe. And thinking on it, since stress isn’t great for mothers to be, it probably worked in some small capacity at relieving at least that problem.

    I tell you all this, because I’d like people to know the choices I make for my stories are thought through. I didn’t just put the aswang into my book because I was amused by the idea of a phallus keeping monsters away, though that is amusing to me. I put it in there because I worked with a Filipino woman for a few years while in undergrad. When I was in grad school, I worked on a large project gathering myths, legends, folktales and fairy tales from around the world. My friend and co-worker wanted to make sure I included Filipino tales in the project. She provided me with a lot of resources, and I was delighted to learn new stories as much as she was delighted I included them in my research.

    I love camping. Also relevant.

    I find the differences in stories from far flung regions fascinating, but not nearly as fascinating as I find the similarities. These are the stories we carried with us, before we had paper, before we had written language, before we had any kind of technology, aside from biological technology (spoken word) to carry them on. We thought they were important enough to keep telling. I’m happy to do my part to keep telling them and I hope you enjoy finding them in my stories. Feel free to ask me where something comes from if you suspect it has an origin older than my book. I love talking about them.

    Next entry I’ll discuss sex scenes and why I choose to write them the way I do. Now that discussion will be titillating. 😉

    P.S. It isn’t just tales I’m careful about including, but words as well. I’ve had a couple readers ask me about the title for Voro, and where it comes from. It’s Latin, and tangentially referenced in the book. The word is tattooed on Casey’s back — more than once.

  2. Voro available on Amazon and on sale!

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    Voro is now available on Amazon and on sale for 99¢ until this weekend. Grab a copy at 75% off before it goes back to its regular price on Sunday!

    What is Voro about? I’ve written about the book here, here, here and here. It’s a character driven horror story, so similar in style to something like Cujo, where the story follows a couple of main characters who must face a monster –  though, there’s no rabid dog in Voro. 😉

    I’ve said so much about Voro, I don’t want to accidentally spoil it writing more, so…. Speaking of Cujo, I’m going to pivot abruptly to wax about phobias.

    A lot of great horror comes from fear. Sometimes it’s fear of the unknown, but oftentimes authors will delve into the more mundane fears — phobias. Spiders, heights and even birds have been used by horror greats to spin fearful tales. Most of those are covered by one man, Hitchcock. Hitchcock was a master of taking a phobia and turning it into a nightmare for everyone. Looking back at the movie Birds, we might giggle because the effects are silly, but the movie was terrifying for audiences of the day. Stephen King, who I’ve mentioned multiple times as I’m a big fan, uses phobias to great effect in his book IT. The creature in IT feeds on fear, and shows the protagonists in the film visions of the things they are most afraid of. The kids must face down their fears to overcome the creature. While some of their fears are born from real and harmful trauma, others fears that are used in the book are less rational. For instance, the very fact that the creature uses the guise of a clown is meant to be terrifying for some.

    It probably doesn’t help they always look so manic.

    While I’m not afraid of clowns, I can certainly see where the fear stems from. Clown make-up is so disorienting, it can even screw up face identification software. It’s designed to give the impression of a permanent emotional state of the wearer – happiness, sadness, etc. Humans instinctually use facial cues to understand one another. Clown make-up takes away that vital visual communication. It’s a mask — another thing people have strong phobias about — and makes us uneasy. Besides not being able to tell how the person wearing the clown make-up feels when they’re speaking, it also takes away our ability to identify the individual. We can’t know who they are as easily. Clowns are in disguise, which is a kind of lie. For a lot of people, it’s a fun lie. For some, the lie makes them so uneasy they become fearful.

    Fears help make us who we are. For instance, I’m low-key afraid of dogs — probably why I use Cujo as an example of monster horror as opposed to something like Friday the 13th. The fact that I’m afraid of dogs can tell you something about my past. When I was young, I watched Cujo and was terrified. It wasn’t that alone, however. When my brother was seven, he was bit in the face by a dog. He had a hundred stitches and a very large, prominent scar for many years. Even then, my fear of dogs hadn’t manifested. But it was starting. It wasn’t until I was a teenager riding my bike when the true fear set in. I was with my friends and we were riding bikes around the neighborhood after dark. Someone’s dog was loose, and when we rode by, it tore after us. I was in the back of the pack of riders, and I could hear that dog snarling just behind my tire for almost two blocks. I pedaled as fast as I could, my heart racing, terrified the dog would grab my ankle and bring me down. It was dark, and the only noise was the sound of our bikes and that snarl.

    I had dogs all my life growing up. I loved them all. But in that moment, fear turned me into someone hesitant to even touch a dog. It stayed with me even as I grew up. Even with all the evidence from my childhood that dogs were lovely animals, that one instance kept me from getting one as a pet for many years.

    She’s gettin’ her back scritched.

    About six years ago I finally decided I wanted to try to face this fear. It’s actually why I ended up with a pug. Someone once asked me why I picked a pug. I told them I wanted a dog as helpless as I was. That’s mostly true. I wanted a dog I wasn’t going to be afraid of. I’d read up on dogs for a long time before I picked. I wanted a chill dog that wouldn’t bark too much — barking is one of my triggers — and one that was known for being friendly. I also wanted a small dog. Not too small — I’d been snapped at by a Pekingese when I was a kid —but small enough it’s face wouldn’t scare me. That’s why I picked Posy.

    Over the years, having her around has eased my phobia quite a lot. I even pet the pit bulls next door to me from time to time, a big deal for me since those kinds of dogs are known to be more aggressive. I’m re-learning that not all dogs are bad dogs, and biters and snarlers are rarer than waggers. Barking is still a pretty big dog thing, but the sound doesn’t scare me as much as it used to. I’m glad I decided to face my fears, because Posy is a delight and my life is richer for having her around.

    I still don’t think I’ll ever read or watch Cujo, though. 🙂

    Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll come back next week.

  3. From a man’s perspective

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    I don’t typically write stories from one character’s perspective, choosing instead to dip in and out of character’s heads when the story demands it. When I started Voro, I began writing it straight away from Casey’s point of view. It wasn’t even a question in my mind as to who was going to tell the story. It’s a far more personal story for Casey, so he should be the one to tell it.

    But things aren’t as straightforward as that. As you read through the story, you’ll note that it isn’t just Casey’s story — it’s Max’s story, too. While Max isn’t presented as the main character — certainly not from a narrative standpoint — she’s just as important as Casey to this story. This particular story couldn’t exist without Max, and obviously not without Casey, either.

    So why did I choose to see things from Casey’s POV rather than Max’s? Most of my stories, while third person omniscient (as I wrote about in a previous post), still center around a strong female lead. In Voro, the female lead is relegated to a supporting character. This was mainly because of Casey’s position within the world — he’s the one with the knowledge about the monster. By focusing on Casey, I could have someone who knew everything about the creature slowly trickle out revelations as he tracked them down. Concurrently, his motivation for pursuing the creatures is more personal. If we were to see things through Max’s eyes, she’d see little but a killer. Casey sees something quite a bit different. I felt this perspective was stronger from a narrative sense, and makes the eventual reveal more powerful.

    Don’t worry. Casey figures it out in the end.

    I also liked the idea of telling the story from Casey’s POV for the relationship development aspect of the story. Casey is a very troubled person, who has had minimal success in the past connecting with people. Max, on the other hand, is a relatively well-adjusted woman, albeit with some trauma in her past — though that’s clearly something she’s been able to move beyond. Casey is still working on his trauma and how it affects his relationships with others. I thought it would be interesting to reside, for a time, inside the head of someone so stunted emotionally. He’s not a young man — at nearly 35, he should be someone who has had numerous long-term relationships to inform his personality. But due to circumstances, he hasn’t had even short-term relationships. He’s clumsy, like a teenager, in his approach to relationships, but still has the experience to understand that he’s clumsy. Teenagers, while awkward, have little comparison to judge their awkwardness against to know just how awkward they are. Additionally, the people they typically get in relationships with are on equal footing. Casey is at a strange junction where the person he starts to connect with is more confident, so he is even more unsure of his own mind than he might’ve been had this happened when he was nineteen.

    Dragons. In space.

    I liked the idea of exploring this type of character. When I think up a story, it isn’t just the scenario that pulls me in — Dragons. In space. — it’s also the characters. In fact, my focus is often on these characters and how they’ll confront the story they’re in — how does Samantha deal with dragons? In space? For me, that’s as important as the story itself. People are at the core of everything I write. How they feel and what their backgrounds are is as important to me as why there happen to be dragons. In space. So in the case of Voro, I wanted to see how the horror of the story was solved, but I also wanted to see how Casey navigated his own struggles, big and small. I’ve explored characters like Max before — confident women who know their mind and are extremely capable. But Casey was a character I hadn’t spent much time inside the head of. He made the most sense to be the main POV for both narrative and personal exploration reasons.

    Thanks for reading these postings about my writing process. I hope they’ve been interesting and that they gave a little deeper insight into Voro. I won’t be writing any more about Voro — I don’t want to analyze it to death and diminish some of the magic of the world-building for readers. But I will post next week about the series that’s currently going through edits — the four part epic fantasy series I hope to start releasing this fall and conclude releasing by no later than January. And I’ll touch on my projected schedule for the Mission’s End series as well. Thanks, again, for reading!

  4. The claustrophobia of one mind

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    Starting today, readers signed up to my list will have had a chance to take a look at my newest book, Voro. In a little over a week, it will be available on Amazon for 99¢, so make sure you get your copy. I’ll make a posting when it goes live. The 99¢ sale will only run for a few days before it goes to the full price.

    Fans of my work will notice some differences in the way the story was told. I’m going to go over one of the key decisions I made when writing Voro that gives it that unique feel among my other works.

    Third person limited omniscient narration

    Readers of my work know I typically write in third person omniscient. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means the “narrator” of the book can see everything, up to and often including the internal thoughts of all the characters. When you read a book like And Then There Were None by the late, great Agatha Christie, you notice she jumps from head to head to give the reader insight into the motivations and reasoning behind the characters actions and words. This can be a very powerful tool for an author as it lets us really dig in to all the characters.

    When I think of books people call “character driven stories” I often think of third person omniscient, because it’s the easiest way to make a story more about the characters. It’s not more work to write one way than any other — each style of narration brings its own set of rules and best practices. I’ve gotten better over the years with how I employ third person omniscient, primarily because I started studying how it was done in other great works, and read up on the best ways to approach it – by the way, if you’re thinking of writing and wondering what person you should put your narrator in, I highly recommend Ursula Le Guin’s book, Steering the Craft. She has a whole section on narration choice, including prolific examples of each form presented alongside the perks and problems with each.

    I choose to write this way because I like the freedom of exploring all the characters fully. That being said, I knew when I started writing Voro that it was a different kind of story. For one, it’s a horror story. I felt like some of the mystery of the story might be diminished if the reader was able to see so much of everyone’s thoughts. While a book like the aforementioned And Then There Were None uses head hopping to keep the reader guessing whodunit, I didn’t feel that would work so well with my story due to the much smaller main cast. Christie’s seminal mystery has at least ten main characters, thirteen if we include the inspectors, which allows a lot more room for mystery to unfurl. Voro has three main characters and a smattering of side – though important – characters.

    Secondly, I wanted the narrative to feel claustrophobic. I wanted the reader to actively feel like there was knowledge out there that could ease their uncertainty, but be unable to access it. The best way to do this was to make my third person omniscient constricted as well, by limiting the viewpoint to one person. For the majority of the book, you only see things through the eyes of the main character, Casey. In the opening scene, you are in the head of a young woman. But that’s the last you ever see of her. In a later chapter, towards the end of the book, I go into one other head – I won’t say who here, so as not to spoil anything for readers. The narrator can see things Casey doesn’t see, but I only used this sparingly, to note specific things. In fact, I can think of only one place in the book where the narrator calls out something Casey can’t specifically see.

    Limited third person omniscient can be employed in this way — probably the most famous current example is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one character. That means what you’re “hearing” in the narrator’s voice is tinged with the opinions of the character’s perspective. Cersei might perceive herself as a victim in one scenario, whereas another character at that same point and time might see what happens to her as justice. Third person limited omniscient is a powerful narrative device that can help get a reader to empathize with an otherwise despicable character, something Martin excels at, as well as slowly revealing a full picture of events as seen through different character’s eyes.

    In the case of Voro, I’m using it to close in on the reader, to restrict their access to knowledge — to keep them in the dark. I want the reader to be just close enough to the truth to be frightened of it without giving away the true terror until I’m ready. I want the reader to invest in the character of Casey before I let them in on the horror. Limited third person omniscient provides a way for me to control pacing as well as atmosphere.

    This was a new style of writing for me, so it took me longer than usual to finish the book. The closest I think I ever came to third person limited omniscient was The Arbiter — most of that story is told from Drystan’s perspective – though I was less aware of what I was doing at the time since it was the first book I wrote. Since then, I’ve been more purposeful with my choices in narration. I think it’s made my stories better, smoother and easier to read.

    I do look at my reviews, and I take in the criticism with a careful eye for what is simply someone who doesn’t like my style versus someone making commentary about the craft of the story. If I get a review where someone complains about, for instance, too much “relationship stuff,” I take that to mean my stories probably aren’t for them. But, over the years, I’ve seen a lot of comments that use the phrase “head hopping” to describe my work, and not in a positive way. I have taken this comment to heart, and upon re-examining some of my earlier work, I can see that the transitions between character’s thoughts were sometimes jarring. I’ve since been more conscientious about these transitions, and have been working harder to make them feel more natural. Voro is probably the most constricted I’ve ever felt writing a book, in large part because I couldn’t just explore the other character’s thoughts; everything had to be relayed through Casey’s eyes and feelings. Writing this book helped me get a better grasp on the techniques of storytelling, and I feel it shows in the work I’m editing now – a fantasy series told in traditional third person omniscient.

    My next post will be about some of my influences in writing Voro, including horror masters, as well as ancient stories older than the written word. Thank you for reading!

  5. The night is hungry


    I know most horror movies tend to come out in the fall, usually planted somewhere around Halloween. Some authors also release scary short stories during that time as well. I could have waited to drop my new book until then, but summer just felt like the right time. For one, the book takes place in August. For another, summer is as much a time for horror as Halloween. So many classic horror stories take place in the summer. When we think of horror and summer, images of creepy summer camps and serial killers spring to mind. Scary stories told around a campfire or at summer sleepovers are also common tropes. That’s the vibe I was going for in my newest book, Voro. In the stifling heat of summer, monsters come out to play.

    In the next few days, perhaps even tomorrow if I can make a little magic happen, I’ll be sending out a copy of Voro to all the readers subscribed to my email list. It’s a thank you of sorts for being patient as I get through some of the long term stuff I’ve been working on. I know it’s been more than a year since you’ve seen any new stories from me, and I apologize for the lack of updates. I’ve been busy writing a four part fantasy series all at once. I’ll tell you more about that later — I don’t want to steal the spotlight away from Voro. The book will be available for pre-order on Amazon shortly, and on all other retailers beginning in October. I’m entering Voro in the Kindle Storyteller contest, which requires Amazon exclusivity temporarily. I’d like to take the shot, long as it may be, on the chance that this book might catch on with Amazon readers.

    Voro isn’t the first horror book I’ve written, but it will be the first I publish. It’s a standalone title in the style of other classic horror books like those by Stephen King or Clive Barker. It’s a monster tale, so not a serial killer horror or psychological horror — more IT than The Shining. I’m really excited to hear what readers think. My editor loved it, and I feel like it’s marked a new period of growth for me as an author. By now, I’ve published more than a million words. I’ve probably written closer to two million, but I’m pretty sure I’ve scrapped a million words over the course of my career as an author – either through editing or simply restarting a book I wasn’t satisfied with after I’d mostly finished it. In that time, I’ve grown immensely in terms of technical expertise. My editors continue to send me fewer and fewer comments with regard to my technique. I’m starting to feel like I’ve hit a new level when it comes to the craft. I hope you enjoy what I’ve come up with.

    I’ll tell you more about Voro in a couple days, including some of the decisions I made when writing it regarding style and technique. For now, I’m going to make this promise: I will update this blog more. It might not be weekly, though that’s a tentative goal I’m working on, but it will be at least monthly. I have a lot of things to update everyone on, so there will probably be more posts in the next few weeks than usual. Just know that I have a lot of big news to share regarding upcoming books — my new fantasy series announcement and, yes, news about the next installment of Mission’s End. Thank you so much for your continued support!



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