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.
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.
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.
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”.
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?
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.
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 .Continue reading
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.
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.
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!Continue reading
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.
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.
“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.”
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.Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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.Continue reading
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.
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.
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.Continue reading
I search for a hero. It's my current life's quest or, in this case, of television time, it's the theme I'm most drawn to as I clamor for a new television show. Generally I watch television for two reasons: first and simply, to entertain me. Secondly and more complexly, I'm drawn to shows that resonate with me in some way. Lately it seems, I'm amenable to shows that center around strong female characters, women who fall and rise up again.
This could range from the obvious, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Charmed come to mind. But it's not the obvious I'm searching for. It's more subtle, based in someway in reality. Stories centered around Queen Victoria or Claire Frasier in Outlander. Or even closer to home, the women of Criminal Minds.
I fully admit, I'm in one of those valleys in life when things seem impossible, too hard. A time when I feel as though I work so hard without anything to show for the world.
It's at those points when the search becomes the focus, looking for that story that will inspire me and lift me from the muck. It's the one thing that can pick me up from this downer I've been in.
I'm drawn to stories of women and their struggles. Not because they struggle although that makes me feel better; rather I'm so very curious about how they overcome and rebound and say “Screw you!”
Queen Victoria and Claire Frasier wanted more, wanted to be heard. Sometimes they knew it would have been easier to be born a man. I look to them with admiration whether they are real or just pretend and realize, we all have our issues. Our downfalls. Our time to shine. I don't want to be them. I want to be me. To be my own hero and prove to myself that I am a good writer, I can do this for a living. Giving up isn't an option.
I write my own hero in Annie Pearce. A women I wrote to be real, to be admirable. To rise and fall in a real way. I want readers to connect with her, to understand her. To love her and at times hate her because she can be vulnerable.
She is me and I am her and as I work through my ups and downs through specifically sought after television shows, I also channel that energy into a hero of my own creation and hope that someone who needs her, can find her, just like I've done in my own search.
Here's to us, who search for that extra lift. A hero that inspires our dreams and grows side by side with us as we live our real woman lives.
A few years ago with a lack of confidence, I joked about dying my hair red and calling myself Lola. My plan was try new things, reinvent myself, pull up and out of the mire, regain my confidence.
I came up with a list of things I wanted to try. It didn't quite work. I still find myself spinning my wheels. Desperate to figure out how to sell my books, to find a better job, to not work so hard for so little reward.
You see, I send out resumes nearly everyday, I join book groups to make contacts, go to book workshops to learn how to handle the business of writing. I plan my social media. And yet every morning, I dread the drive to work, the long hours doing what I don't want to do, and the having the knowledge that book two is so much better than book one and not being able to get it out to the masses.
The therapist told me that maybe I needed to approach the problem in a new way.
So how to you climb out of the funk and change your life when there are so few options because you have responsibilities and little time.
I started looking for ways to change the strategy, the viewpoint, and the outcome.
I stopped forcing myself to write on week nights when I'm so exhausted from a full day of work. Instead, I work on social media, blogs, and other business and if there's time I write. My goal, 500 words. Sometimes I get them in, sometimes, I fall asleep on the couch at 8:30 at night. I always write on the weekend.
But now I stop at 9 pm. I cuddle up in bed and shut out the world with a book, an easy read that allows me to meld into a different world and think of nothing else. It leads me to a more peaceful sleep.
I've been applying to jobs I otherwise might not have. Making a change in hopes that there's a freelance gig that's right for me. Less hours in order to give myself time to do what I really want to do–the thing that actually gives me confidence–Writing.
Most importantly, I decided that I physically feel horrible all the time. Stomach aches, headaches, cramping, bloating, and tight clothes.
Sometimes with all the problems, the kids with issues, law suits, jobs that make me unhappy, the last thing that gets taken care of is myself.
I can do this. I'm re-starting the eating and exercise plan that I've had a lot of success with in the past. It balances the food groups, it balances exercise, and when I've done this in the past, I feel strong and healthy.
I'm looking for new opportunities. Different types of jobs and applying anyway. Just in case. I'm writing because it makes me happy.
I registered for a book workshop and signed up to meet agents. Because maybe in person, I can be heard. It might be good, it might not, but it's interaction with people in the industry.
I'm building a following, a list. Following others. Sharing. A slow sell, encouraging others to read book two. Maybe finding others who like the same things I do.
It's not about reinventing myself, becoming someone I'm not. It's about remembering who I am and where I want to go and never loosing sight on that. To do that, I have to try new things, look at the problem with different eyes and all in all, take care of myself. Give myself a break and live a little.
Day one. I've eaten all the good things I'm supposed to eat. Without hunger, without guilt. I finally crafted a blog and worked on social media. I even took a nap.
We always have it within ourselves to pull ourselves up and out. We just have to let go of the fear and just say go.
I can't see much outside my window at work. It's high on the wall, it tilts inwards, leaving me a view of the sky and of the top of the tree just outside my window.
As a dreamer, I take time outs, day-dream of a story idea, fulfilling a wish and often times my attention turns to the tree outside. I watch with great interest, from season to season, that tree.
From the tiny buds that sprout in the spring, hiding the new bird's nest, to the lush fullness of summer where the birds hide from the mid day heat, to the bright orange contrasting against the bright blue fall sky.
It's barren now, with only a few dead leaves swaying in the breeze.
Ice collects on the ledge between the glass and the cement window ledge. Snow collects on the glass only to melt by the mid day sun, even as the temperatures plummet so close to zero. I stare all day at the grayness outside my window, dull and lifeless as I long for the coming spring.
Today I saw something different, unexpected, the first sign of the changing seasons. Several cardinals, several lady birds and their mates, red against the gray sky. They're pecking at the water that collects near the base of the window, heated only by the heater in my office space. They keep at it for many long minutes, preparing for the gathering storm. I watch with interest as they fly to the barren tree and back again, lapping up the water as if it will be their last for some time.
A simple act of survival, and I stood there and watched until they flew away.
When they were gone and I was alone in the grayness, I turned and walked back to my desk and waited for the gathering storm.Continue reading
I watch quirky, I also watch relatable characters, most recently, strong, real women. I've started a new show. You may have heard of it, Victoria on Masterpiece. While I'm a sucker for the dresses, the jewelry, the crowns, I'm wildly fascinated by the role of women in each century. While I realize that writers take liberties, I'm guessing there's some truth to the portrayal of the Queen, and I'm finding it fascinating to see that a woman's many struggles haven't changed all that much.
Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837 at the tender age of 18. Almost immediately, she found herself struggling to be heard, to be thought of as the monarch, of a strong leader. It hadn't helped that she was a petite, delicate flower, considered mildly incapable of doing much more than having children and spending time in the nursery. The life she would most likely have had, had it not been the accident of her birth, to be born as the heir to the throne.
You can hear the frustration in her voice as the young girl fights to be heard, to find her way in a male dominated world, where simply by her sex and stature, she brushed aside as nothing more than a girl.
Victoria stumbles along the way, but remains steadfast in her duty, in her desire to make a difference, to rule her subjects with honesty and do what's right. But she does all this by her own rules, choosing to marry for love, not duty, standing up to those who wish to sway her and push her aside.
Though she's the ruler of England, a vast kingdom in 1837, she's still a woman. She suffers postpartum depression, she struggles being heard, she's jealous, when her husband flirts with a female mathematician. But when Victoria meets the woman face to face, she sees a woman struggling just like her, who is constantly trying to find her footing and prove herself.
Who knew I'd find a role model in a woman who lived 181 years ago, in a time and place so different from my own. And who knew just how much just being a woman, has not changed. How we still want the same things, and our difficulties are universal. And more than anything, the answer is same. We are the solution to our own situation and only we can make it right or better. We are our own strength and we owe it to each of to be supportive of our choices whether we chose to stay at home and raise our kids or we chose to work outside of our homes.
And just like Victoria, I stand firm in my desire to write, to create, to say something and leave behind a legacy. To help others like myself by sharing my story in hopes I can help someone else find their way.
No matter what, we're all strong, or delicate flowers, smart and capable and sometimes we stumble.
And Victoria isn't just the strong female character, it's not just watching and getting angry by thoughts and ideas I'm not used to, it's also the dresses, jewels, and crowns. Because hey, there's still that.
This self-proclaimed television junkie fully admits I love the medium. It's easy as it comes to me. I can watch in my pajamas, under a blanket while the snow falls and the temperature drops, eating my weight in chocolate.
Movies, while fun spectacles of light and sound in it two-story glory, can't always tell the full story. Plot lines are shortened, back stories almost non-existent. Television can take it's time.
Characters and plots can roll out slowly, and meander through a plot, like a river gliding through the countryside.
I like the bizarre characters, good writing, good acting and fresh stories. And there in a commercial I see it. My perfect show. Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency. In my head, it seemed like the best of both worlds. Detective shows (one of my favorite (with quirky characters and fun stories).
I got so much more.
Obviously by the title, it's a detective agency based in a different reality. Here there's time travel and fantasy elements. Just making it that much better. I was told once you couldn't mix genres. But this mixing creates an amusing tale that leads the viewer down a twisty, windy road. A little like following the white rabbit down the rabbit hole.
And yes. You can mix genres.
Slightly supernatural in that Dirk the detective, believes “It's all connected”, and it's that philosophy that lets Dirk glide from one clue to the next. He knows it will happen that way though he doesn't know what or when it will happen. He's adorable, he positive until he isn't and he walks through the case believing that it will turn out just fine.
Todd Brotzman, his unwilling partner, stubborn, lonely, working a dead-end job, is dragged through the adventure, sharing with Dirk the discovering of each new clue, he soon realizes just how true “It's all connected” really is.
There's Farrah, Amanda and Bart and Ken and the Rowdy Three, all quirky in their own manners, their own very different lives and psychic abilities. Each of them roll out to us slowly, confusingly as we wonder what their place is in this murder mystery. None of them are walking billboards for a type of person. They're all complex, multi layered people, who you love, you hate, you cheer for, you boo, depending on the episode. They're human, they're funny, they get frustrated, and upset as their worlds collide, and fall apart and they pick themselves back up, just like the rest of us.
I didn't even mind that I was thoroughly confused each episode, because you were meant to be confused. We were meant to experience the story in a frustrating, confusing way, just like the characters do. I couldn't wait for each episode just to experience the rainbow of emotions, fun and frustrating in each hour-long episode.
I couldn't wait for season two. And it didn't disappoint. They grew closer, they missed each other, they were so determined to find each other and solve the crime. Unwavering belief that “All things are connected”. And then they cancelled it.
Please bring it back. Please let me hide under the covers and wear a smile on my face for an hour as the friends take me on a bumpy ride through another case that will get solved because “It's all connected”.