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Author: Sheryl Steines

ASKING HELP FROM OTHERS: Are you an Annie?

ASKING HELP FROM OTHERS: Are you an Annie?

Annie Pearce has a problem

She keeps going off by herself and doesn’t ask for help. Whether it’s to follow leads, a suspect or even do research, she repeatedly leaves on her own, against the warnings of friends and colleagues to not go anywhere without backup or knowing where she is. It’s a problem throughout book one of the Wizard Hall Chronicles, The Day of First Sun.  

Cham: “Can I look at your neck?” Dark purple bruises covered both sides of her neck. “I should have gone.” His obvious concern caused Annie a great deal of guilt.

Annie: “I shouldn’t go out like that again.”

Consequences Aren’t So High in the Real World

Now, we all slip away on our own from time to time. But in our world, there are few consequences to that action. Annie’s world, however, is fraught with danger. She’s investigating crimes committed by powerful individuals – all of whom have an ax to grind against her specifically. Yet, despite the fact that Annie’s boss, boyfriend, and colleagues consistently offer her their support and services, Annie sneaks off by herself to follow a lead. She goes to a warehouse and witnesses humans being turned into zombies and is almost caught as she leaves.

Cham: “I’ve been calling for you for an hour. We need to talk about the plan, and you’re constantly gone…Please tell me what is going on.”
Annie: “I’m trying to catch a murderer.”
Cham: “Whose murderer?”
Annie: “Does it matter?”
Cham: “If you get yourself killed, yeah, it matters. Where were you?”
Annie: “I broke into his warehouse and hid…They knew someone was there. And I was scared. No one knew where I was…”

She follows the evil wizard behind the creation of this zombie army and winds up doing battle with him without backup. After each occurrence, she is chastised by others but it doesn’t really stop her from doing it again.

Cham: “Where were you?…No call, no idea where you were. I’m sorry if I was worried!”
Annie: “I’m a big girl. I don’t need you to take care of everything. I can take care of myself.”…Her heart raced, and she bit her lip to keep from crying…
I didn’t listen to Milo. No one knew where I was.

“You’re not getting out of here alive!” the evil wizard taunted. Annie rolled her eyes.
But then again no one knows I’m confined with him down here.

Asking for Help

As a reader, I’m sure you want to jump through the pages and shake Annie, screaming “why are you taking these chances? Accept the help being offered!” I oftentimes thought that as I was writing it. But Annie is based on real women with familiar struggles we can relate to.

It might not be as dangerous as chasing zombies. It could be a simple as you are sick and others have offered to help, or you have a lot on your plate and are concerned you can’t do it in the time frame you have available. People offer to help, but you say them you have it covered or you don’t want to bother anyone. Or it could just be a control issue, only you can do it. I’ve been guilty of all of these. Many people have trouble accepting the extended hand of others. And as a person who is independent and intelligent, Annie is one of these individuals.

Annie learns her lesson in the second book of the series, Black Market. Annie is very aware that she has this tendency and works hard to overcome it. So my question to you today– do you see yourself in Annie? Do you ask for help when needed? Or do you take it all on by yourself to your detriment? I have to admit that I frequently struggle with this issue. It is a lot easier to “cure” a character than to “cure” yourself!

Pitching an Agent – Someone Please Read My Book!

Pitching an Agent – Someone Please Read My Book!

The Opportunity: Pitching an Agent

All we writers want is that single opportunity to give our book to an agent. To have one person be intrigued enough to ask for a full manuscript.

It’s the first step, to traditionally publishing a book. You don’t interview agents and pick the one you want to work with. You pitch the book with a query letter, and a small sampling of the book, usually the first 50 pages and a short synopsis. If you’re lucky, they’ll respond and ask for the whole book.

I’ve sent cold queries. Lots and lots and lots of them. I’ve come close. I had an agent tell me she wanted to like the book but couldn’t get into the first three chapters I was required to send with the query. I was crushed.

When you find yourself with an opportunity to pitch an agent, you take it. I’ve been set up with agents through friends. I’ve been unsuccessful. I’ve gone to book conferences where I’ve met agents who have asked for more.

It was my weekend activity. I had the chance to pitch my book to several agents, four to be exact. Now the first pitch when badly in that I was all over the board and in the end realized I had mislabeled my genre. Who knew I wasn’t urban fantasy. I am indeed, contemporary fantasy.

But I digress.

The Stress of Pitching: The Reward

The reward is to give enough information about your book that someone will ask for more; more chapters and the ultimate goal, the entire manuscript.

So back to this weekend. I had a total of four pitches. The first not so good. However, the second, third and fourth went better than expected. All agents asked for me to send them a pitch. One wasn’t specific on requirements, I looked them up online. One agent was specific, I sent her what was required; the first 50 pages of the book to the address she requested.

Now the last agent was unexpected. She asked for the synopsis, my author bio and wait for it…. the manuscript. The holy grail of pitching the book. An actual request for the actual book.

The Aftermath

In the aftermath of a successful pitch; there’s a down side. The feelings that come with sending your book to the agent. After hitting send, the feeling of dread that you’ve sent the book off and it wasn’t ready. It sucks. It needs more work. “What was I thinking?” The process is a painful one for writers. It’s sending your baby off to be critiqued, to be hated, or hopefully to be loved.

Thankfully, I was fortunate. Three of the four requested additional info, from synopses, to the entire manuscript.

I just sent my baby off to the agent. I hope she likes it.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing: The Process – It Goes Round and Round

Writing: The Process – It Goes Round and Round

Once upon a time…

I had a story to tell, my own story of writing. I sat down at the computer and began to type. My fingers flew over the keyboard and the words poured out of me. And in six weeks’ time, I had a book. The End.
Only, it wasn’t the end. It was really the beginning. After that first draft, I must have made 30 more sets of changes. I was a total novice to this process. I used an online self-publishing site to create my book from cover-to-cover. I self-published the book in 2010. The End.

But this wasn’t the end either. After working on Book Two of the series, I hired an editor who suggested that I re-work the first book and re-release it. It had been widely reviewed and very well received. After a blog tour, my book was #1 in occult fiction on Amazon. The End.

The Writing Process Sometimes Doesn’t End

Only, once again, I wasn’t at the end. I released what was then second book in the series called “She Wulf.”* And the writing process completely stalled. I realized that changes needed to be made to the whole series. I decided to rewrite the ending of The Day of First Sun and finish up story lines such as what happened to all the dead bodies and discuss what happened to the zombies.

As I read through the book, I saw many different things I hadn’t seen before. I added scenes, I added conflict, and in the end, I completely rewrote the last half of the book, putting Annie in some serious situations she’d have to work through.

I also added more changes on the advice of my editor. She told me to put in more of the “beginnings” of the relationships rather than having all established relationships in between the pages.

In the process, one seemingly minor change, set the whole tone of the book with the addition of a dead body outside the bar. This new beginning unveiled the theme of protecting the secret of magic from the non-magical world. Lastly, I added a whole new character to the story that will play a big role in the series someone wanting to expose her and magic.

The Final Product

All of these changes led to a fuller, richer story. At least I hope so. In the end, I’m guessing that there were about 40 or 50 different drafts of the book. The current published version of The Day of First Sun is very different from what I sat down to write in 2009. And the process has been very different from I expected it to be when I had the dream of writing a book. It takes flexibility and the willingness to open your heart to change. It takes the advice of experts and listening to the inner voice within yourself about direction of the story and conveying the truth about the characters that you create. And, of course, it takes patience. The End. (for now…)

* She Wulf was shelved for a time and will be rewritten to fit the new timeline as Book 4 in the series. A new Book 2 was then written and published, Black Market. Click here for more information on this exciting chapter in the Wizard Hall Chronicles.

Editing: It’s Like Sending Your Baby to College

Editing: It’s Like Sending Your Baby to College

Editing a Book – Like Setting a Child Free

The mere idea of sending a book to editing is like sending your oldest child to college. You care for and nurture your child, feed and clothe them, heal their wounds, hold them when they cry. It’s 18 years of care, to unceremoniously drop them off and drive away.

I’m not joking.  Sending a book to the editor is much the same emotional roller coaster. I live with my book, everyday. I craft the story, I nurture the characters with words, I work the plot by adding conflict, I tear down my characters to let them rise up again. It’s an up and down roller coaster of emotions, of story, and it takes a lot of time and hard work. And then you send them to college.

So yes, finishing my book and emailing it off to the editor for editing, is much like raising my children. While I don’t tear my children down to build them up, I do hold them up when they fall and I encourage them when they need it. I’m there to nurture and raise them up.

After nurturing a book for a year (sometimes longer), you set it free. Let another set of eyes share in the story, connect with the characters, offer suggestions on how to improve the book. You know… editing. Sometimes the mere thought of having sent the book makes you break out in a cold sweat, jump on the computer and cry for the book back. “I’m not ready!” you might screech.

My Youngest Book

Though it’s not my last, my latest book was the one that had me up at night. After sending the book to my editor, I kept thinking, “It’s not ready.” “I’m not done.” “There’s so much more I could have written.” I waited an paced, much like I do when I’m trying to reach my child who leaves me an email, “There’s a problem mom,” but doesn’t tell me what that problem is. You pace, you worry, you wonder.

Eventually you reach your child. The editor finally sends you editor notes. The wait is worth it. The product is strong, can stand alone, and your child, much like your book is better than okay.

It’s the same roller coaster, children and writing. Both give you joy, both are pain. But in the end both are worth it.

Look for it! My newest book child is coming soon. November 1, 2018 on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Theme Writing – Saying Something with Purpose

Theme Writing – Saying Something with Purpose

Do My Books Have a Theme?

As a pantser, not a plotter, a writer who writes without plotting the story, I very rarely chose the book’s theme before I begin. I actually don’t think I really planned on a theme for any of the stories. To be perfectly honest, my goal has always been to write an entertaining story, one that leaves the reader happy they spent an afternoon with my characters.

I wanted relatable, real characters, a female lead who would be strong, and vulnerable as she navigated her life. I suppose for all intents and purposes, that was theme I was writing about.

After writing and publishing Black Market, I realized I was writing about so much more.

The Review that Got Me Thinking of my Book’s Theme

Black Market – Beautifully and eloquently
combines themes of empowerment,
social justice, resilience, balance,
strength and vulnerability.
Erin – Good Men Project

Yes, I wanted Annie Pearce to be a symbol of empowerment, a woman in a man’s world, navigating difficult men who called her “girl”, vampires who treated her like a dolt. Set in the world of the police procedural you’d even see the theme of social justice and what does good vs. evil look like.

Wizard War – Book Three – Theme of Justice

I hadn’t realized when I wrote Wizard War, that I so heavily discussed the meaning of justice. What it is and how do you determine if justice was served. For example, it’s much like the debate, the death penalty vs life in prison. Though I’m not here to discuss that, I do examine how the magical world makes deals with the demon to further the course of the investigation.

In this story, was justice served if the investigation techniques fall in the ethically gray area?

My characters aren’t perfect and are oftentimes faced with decisions that affect the outcome of the case or challenge their existing beliefs.

I don’t think I could have planned for the story’s themes to blend so beautifully if I tried. But the reader or in the case the reviewer of the attached quote, saw what had been floating around in my head. A book so much more than an afternoon adventure, one that might even have a message, something important to say.

I’m always amazed by what I see in my stories as it compares to what others take away from the book and I’m glad that I can offer something more complex than just a stake through the heart.

 

 

 

 

If Magic Were Real Would We Have to Share

If Magic Were Real Would We Have to Share

Protecting Magic at all Costs

It’s a common trope in supernatural books: magic must be hidden from the non-magical world, no matter the cost. In Harry Potter’s world, the Ministry of Magic would punish offenders for exposing magic. In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, protagonists Newt Scamander and Tina Goldstein were threatened with execution when it was thought that they conspired to release a dangerous Obscurus on the unsuspecting citizens of New York City. When destruction and chaos followed, the American version of the Ministry of Magic repaired the damage and removed all memory of magic from the minds of “non-mags”.

There’s a Plan In Place

In the Wizard Hall Chronicles, my characters are also charged with protecting the secret of magic; a theme important throughout the series. The Wizard Guard has a team of experts, led by Graham Lightner, who come in immediately after an event to clean the scene of all traces of the supernatural. In book one, The Day of the First Sun, kicks off with a vampire attack discovered before Graham’s Vampire Attack Unit can conceal the aftermath. In book two, Black Market, it’s a race against time to keep magic a secret as the barriers between the two worlds are threatened.

But even as I have created this world and bought into the theory that the secret of magic must be protected at all costs, it makes me think; what would happen if the non-magical world knew that magic exists? There are so many benefits that magic could bring to humanity – curing diseases, ending poverty, saving lives…Is it fair to hide these valuable benefits from humankind?

Should the Gifts be Shared

This debate really hit me after watching Black Panther. In the movie, the country of Wauconda has prosperity and incredible technology due to the resource that they possess – vibranium . They can heal, build powerful weapons, and protect their people with this element. For generations, they chose to keep it a secret in order to safeguard their way of life. The moral debate: open up their country and share their “magical” secret with the rest of the world. As they heal an outsider from the brink of death, it’s hard to argue that their abilities should not be shared with all of humanity.

Ethics of Sharing

Even in my world, magic has healed severely injured characters. So why not reveal the beauty and power of magic? For me, I think my characters realize humankind cannot really process and accept magic as a safe way of life. Even as far back as the Salem Witch Trials, we have seen that fear and ignorance can be dangerous. Also – there are nefarious individuals in this world – what would they do to have magic at their control? Right now, the magical world of Wizard Hall uses their magic on a finite group that is considerably small. If we added the rest of humanity into the equation, is there enough magic to take care of the billions more involved?

These answers are not easy. What do you think? Does the magical world have the moral imperative to share their abilities with the non-magical world? Or do you think exposing the secret of magic would be a disaster? Share your thoughts with me .

STORIES, THE COMPULSION TO WRITE: BRINGING WORLDS TO REALITY

STORIES, THE COMPULSION TO WRITE: BRINGING WORLDS TO REALITY

The Young Dreamer

When we are young, I think we all made up stories in our heads. Maybe when we were playing with dolls or building forts in our backyards. We made up the good guys and the bad guys. We made up the winners and the losers. We made up the fairies and the elves. We made up the happy ending. But at some point, for many of us, the stories stopped. Life got in the way — We went to college. We got a job. Kids needed to be fed. Dinner had to get on the table. Bills had to be paid. We no longer had the time to create princesses or dragons. The worlds we had created would simply fade away from reality.

Stories Are Still There

For some of us, however, the stories never went away. In fact, the worlds we were building in our heads became more and more solid, more real. The characters we were inventing compelled us to give them a voice. Every spare minute became lost in the world we were creating. Downtime became the cherished moments to let our imaginations reign free. Driving to work, scrubbing in the shower, breaking eggs over the stove – our heads would be writing dialogue, figuring out ways to save our heroine or mapping out the various paths our characters might take to resolve conflict. For us individuals, we became authors – compelled to make these worlds a reality.

So this is how I became an author. I realized that my daily musings were the foundation of a complex, interconnected world, with stories that I felt compelled to forth to others. When I daydreamed about Annie Pearce, it wasn’t just that I thought of a strong, interesting woman who balanced precariously on the seam between the magical and non-magical realms. Her life, dreams, abilities, family, fears, etc. all became apparent to me. I began to develop her story that would eventually span what would be a five book series. I felt compelled to make her world a reality.

How Far it Goes

Recently, I was explaining this frame of mind to a friend. I told her that I knew the back story to every single character – no matter the size of the role they play in my books. I know who marries who, the names of their children, the names of their grandchildren. Their lives have already been mapped out in my head, developed as I washed the dinner dishes or drove my kids to practice. I can see their stories so clearly and I know that they want me to share their journeys with all of you. And I guess that is what makes authors different from an imaginative child – we want our dreams into reality.

Are you still building worlds in your head? Do you want to make them into reality and don’t know where to start? Feel free to contact me I’d love to chat!

ELVES: THEY MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE

ELVES: THEY MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE

Okay – I want to make a bet with you. Say you are reading some sort of fictional book set in some sort of supernatural world. How long do you think it would take before the author introduces elves? These creatures may look very different and have different purposes in their respective stories, but they have become a favorite microcosm of the paranormal. These creatures seem to make their worlds a better place. Harry Potter had his Dobby. The members of the Fellowship of the Ring had their Legolas. My Annie Pearce has her Bitherby.

In looks, demeanor and in his lot in life, Bitherby is probably closer to Dobby than the tall, blond and glamorous Orlando Bloom (oops – I mean Legolas…) But despite being condemned to an existence of forced labor, Bitherby shows that he is made of the same loyalty and bravery as shown by both of his elf role models. Recognizing the horrors that have taken over the Black Market, Bitherby repeatedly risks his own life to save Annie and her friends, as well as all of magic and humankind. His actions – just like Dobby’s and Legolas’ — make his world a better place.

Bitherby’s Selfless Act

I think his devotion to everyone but himself is best demonstrated by the following section of my second book, Black Market. Bitherby risks his life to go find Annie’s childhood fairy, who has been kidnapped by evil forces. Even as his best friend Huxley warns him that his quest is doomed, Bitherby knows he has to do it. As with Dobby and Legolas, Bitherby continues the tradition of selfless elves who put the needs of others before their own.

Loyal Elves

“Bitherby’s fingers grazed the beds as he passed. He sniffed and recognized the scent that Huxley carried. The elf held his hand over his friend’s mouth, startling the sleeping creature. Unable to scream, he bolted upright and heard a soothing “Ssshh,” beside him. “Huxley, it’s me.”

Huxley removed Bitherby’s hand. “What are you doing here? They see ya and you’re dead.” Huxley’s eyes darted around the room as if the humans lurked in the shadows.

“I need your help,” Bitherby ordered. Huxley’s bruised eyes grew wide with fear, his swollen lip trembled, and his green skin turned ashen white and glowed in the darkness.

“You can’t be here. They find you and kill you.” He quivered in his bed, which vibrated against the stone floor. Bitherby placed a hand on his friend to calm the nervous elf.

“Shhh. You wake everyone. I need help. The wizard guard protects me; she’ll protect you too.”

“Why you come back?” Huxley asked.

“Her Aloja fairy is in the dungeon,” Bitherby whispered angrily.

“You risk your life for her fairy?” Huxley spat.

“Hafta. I need your help. Wizard Guard don’t know the market. Will never find her.” Bitherby wrung his hands and glanced around at his former mates, expecting them to wake and turn him in. They were all still asleep.

Huxley climbed off the bed so he was eye level with his friend. “You stupid elf.”

Bitherby let out the stale air from his lungs.

“They still looking for the girl. And you,” Huxley protested.

“I gotta,” Bitherby said.

“You gotta. You gotta be stupid,” Huxley said and led his friend from the basement.”

What If Elves Existed in Reality?

As a writer and as an avid reader of the supernatural, I often dream of what our world would be like if these paranormal creatures existed in our reality. I can’t help but think that if elves were real, our planet would be a better place. Take a peek at Black Market and see if Bitherby doesn’t work his way into your heart.

Teamwork: Lessons from Law and Order

Teamwork: Lessons from Law and Order

Law and Order for the Supernatural Set

Hi, my name is Sheryl Steines and I am a “Law and Order” addict. From the first uttering of “In the criminal justice system…” to the rolling credits, I get sucked into the story and the characters. Heaven help me if it’s a SVU marathon – I can be in front of the TV all day. I have always had a thing for procedural dramas. I try to follow all of the twists and the turns in the plot. It is a challenge to guess the red herring before they admit that the investigation had taken the wrong turn. And I am proud to say that my keen analytical skills have helped me, many a time, to figure out the guilty party way before Stabler and Benson.

The Basis for the Story

So when I sat down to start writing the Wizard Hall Chronicles, it was only natural that my main characters would be involved is solving crimes – albeit in the realm of the supernatural. Annie Pearce is very similar to Olivia Benson; passionate about keeping the magical world safe. She follows her head and her heart to uncover the villains and protect the innocent. And while she might go out on her own to follow a hunch, she is usually surrounded by a team of compatriots that share her same devotion to fighting those who break their magical laws.

Teamwork

The members of the Wizard Guard are very similar the “dedicated detectives” described in Law and Order’s prologue. Annie’s official partner switches between “The Day of the First Sun” and “Black Market,” but her relationships with those who stand at her side are almost identical. There is a trust and a connection she has built with Gibbs, a wizened older Guard whose curmudgeonly ways makes him even easier for Annie to love. She relies on specialists like Lial and Graham to do their jobs – tracking and hiding magic – as the L&O cops rely on the expertise of others like psychiatrists Huang and Olivet to find their perp. And of course, Annie’s boss Milo has the same no-nonsense approach of SVU’s Captain Cragen.

Dedication and Collaboration

But the trait that these two crime fighting teams share the most is a certain togetherness. It was important to me to create that same feeling of cohesive collaboration and dedication. These are people who have each other’s backs. Communication flows throughout their crew with nary a word spoken. For us on the outside, we can feel safe within this magical world. We know that they stand in the way between us and danger, risking their lives for each other and for us. And, in the end, we love them all the more for it.

Here’s to the Strong Female Character! May we know them; May we be them; May we raise them; AND MAY WE WRITE ABOUT THEM!

Here’s to the Strong Female Character! May we know them; May we be them; May we raise them; AND MAY WE WRITE ABOUT THEM!

March is Women’s History Month

It brings me back to a familiar topic here on my blog – the strong female character at the heart of an interesting, complex story. As a fan, I look to books and movies that feature kick-ass women as their lead. These ladies are the ones who don’t wait until their boyfriends show up to save the day – they kick down the door and take no prisoners.

As an author and as a woman, it was important to me to create such a protagonist. I wanted to imbue Annie Pearce with a sense of fierceness, intelligence and bravery usually associated with heroes like James Bond or Indiana Jones. In MY story, other characters look to Annie for guidance, intuition and answers.

Why I Created a Strong Female Character

Annie Pearce is who I would be, if I could snap my fingers and be anyone. In Annie’s world, magic is a comfortable tool to help her solve crimes. She dares to go in dark, dangerous places to hunt down clues and witnesses – never afraid to step into places like the Black Market filled with vampires, dark magic practitioners, and beasts not seen in our everyday world. When faced by treacherous villains who may have been responsible for her father’s death, she digs deep inside herself and finds the inner strength needed to confront these individuals. When her own life is threatened, she doesn’t wait for someone to come and save her – she finds her own way out of the situation and manages to save others at the same time.

Annie is also compassionate and thoughtful. She has endeared herself to her fellow members of the Wizard Guard and different magical creatures that she meets along the way. She has even garnered the loyalty of some questionable characters that are willing to put their lives on the line for her.

Real Women

You see, strong women have the unique ability to blend the tough and the tender. I wrote the character of Annie to show the importance of both of those traits. Annie is in the front of the battle, but she follows behind to check on those affected by the fray. I hope that she is an inspirational role for young women as they are developing their sense of self. I hope they find the strength to be “Kick-Ass” while being nurturing and loving individuals.

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