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Oliviarfrias

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  1. I haven't posted in a bit. That’s because I’ve not only been taking care of my new twin babies, but because I’ve been a bit preoccupied with my other baby…my first novel. Transitioning from writing games to writing a book has been a challenge, but I’ve learned a lot along the way. I thought I’d take some time to share some of my biggest takeaways. World Building is Anthropology When I started writing my novel, I attempted to be as “realistic” with my world building as possible. My protagonist is a merchant sailor in a culture with tech equivalent to the late middle ages. I did in-depth research about several real world cultures from that time. I learned a lot, but it was exhausting, daunting, and almost paralyzing. I began to question if I could even write the book. I mean, after all, I’m not a medieval historian. I was bound to get things wrong. And since in some cases I was writing outside of my own ethnic background, I was worried getting things wrong could end my career before it even began. Things changed after I listened to this talk by NK Jeminson, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6xyFQhbsjQ I won’t spoil the whole thing for you, because you should really, really listen to it yourself. But the TLDR is that fantasy worlds are better if they aren’t “based” off a specific real world culture. Instead, think about how the world you want to write about is fundamentally different from our own. Imagine what culture or cultures would grow out of that difference. What you get will be more unique and feel more real than taking an existing culture and tweaking it to feel fantastical. Outlines are a Living Document There’s a lot of talk in writing circles about the advantages of plotters *people who outline their books before writing) versus pantsers (people who just write what comes to them). Traditionally you’ll learn that writers who are “plotters” tend to have better stories whereas writers who are “pantsers” tend to have better character development. I say, why not both? While I started out with a strong outline, I noticed that as I wrote, things changed. Some important beats that I had in the outline just didn’t feel natural on the page. Instead of forcing the characters to behave like my outline wanted I temporarily embraced the mindset of a pantser and let the characters do their thing. But I didn’t go full pantser. After making a major change, I’d go back to my outline and see how those intuitive changes affected the act structure as a whole and rewrite the outline until I had a solid plot again. Sentence Structure Matters I’ve always thought of myself as a substance over style kind of person. So naturally when I began writing, my first impulse was to think of the style as secondary to the content. What I didn’t realize was that the style of the writing is what allows the reader to get immersed in the content. That may seem obvious, but as someone with experience mostly in a dialogue focused medium, I hadn’t put much thought into writing action or description until I tried writing a novel. While I still employ a simple, straightforward writing style, I find that writing in a way that doesn’t call attention to the writing is a skill in itself. A book that I highly recommend for teaching that skill is Ken Rand’s “The Ten Percent Solution.” Take Beta Reader Feedback with a Heaping Helping of Salt While I do think having a beta reader period is important, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you don’t let amateur feedback put you in a worse position than when you started. Firstly, you should be selective of who you invite to participate. If your target audience is 18-25 year old males, then your 60 year old mom’s feedback isn’t very useful. In fact, your mom’s feedback probably isn’t very useful anyway because she’s likely already biased to like your book. When selecting beta readers, the most useful readers are people within your target demographic who’s taste you respect. If possible, I also find it useful to do a second round of feedback with people I don’t know personally to eliminate bias. People in this category include friends of friends or other writers I find through trusted groups and forums. When working with this second group, I’m especially careful not to take the advice they have too seriously. One person’s opinion is just that, one person’s opinion. People you meet in writer’s groups aren’t professional agents or editors. They don’t know what will or won’t get you published. Instead of using beta readers as editors, use them as a temperature check. Is there a part of the book where multiple people stop reading? A character more people tend to like or dislike? I find sending out a survey at the end of a beta reading period is useful for collecting this kind of data. When It Comes to Publishing…Patience is a Virtue The worst thing I did when working on my book was sending it out to some of my top choice agents before it was ready which led to form rejections. Of course, I didn’t know anything was wrong with my book at the time or I wouldn’t have sent it out. It wasn’t until rejections started rolling in that I realized something had to change. After that I decided to go to New York Pitch where I talked to professionals and realized that my antagonist wasn’t strong enough, which led to the book coming across as uneventful and therefore difficult to market. Obviously since you are here, you know about New York Pitch so I won’t rehash the benefits with you. Another way to talk to professionals before submitting would be to other professional conventions. In the case of Science Fiction and Fantasy, WorldCon and the Nebula Conference are good opportunities for meeting publishers and agents. Secondly, if you can afford it Manuscript Academy does paid consultations with top agents that can be a good temperature check before submitting. Obviously, if any of this advice doesn't appeal to you, you by no means have to follow it. No one person's experience as a writer is universal. These are just a few things I wish I'd read before I got started.
  2. For this post, I had a talk with Gemma Creffield, the managing editor at Angry Robot UK. Angry Robot is an independent publisher that specializes in science fiction and fantasy. Angry Robot books have won some of the biggest prizes in SFF, including Hugos, the Philip K. Dick Award and the Kitchies. Disclaimer: Some of the interview content is edited for brevity and clarity. Olivia: Tell us a bit about your background and how you wound up working as the commissioning editor at Angry Robot UK. Gemma: I started a couple of years out of university. I did creative writing with English literature and wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with it. I thought maybe I'd write a book, but it's been a long time since then and that hasn't happened. I decided to get into publishing because I really liked books and thought I might like making books. So I had a look at internships. At the time I was looking, it was very, very difficult to get into publishing. I mean, it's not easy now, but it was particularly difficult at the time. You could get work experience, but you couldn't get paid from anyone anywhere. I applied for a two week internship at Penguin Random House, Transworld. I really liked the books that they did. My favorite author, Mo Hayder, published there. It was great fun and I ended up in the publicity department. It was something I didn't know much about at the time, but it was really, really exciting. It was on the other end of publishing, where the book's been made and you just shout about it basically. After that, I applied to do more work experience. I got another two week internship at Octopus Publishing, a non-fiction part of Hachette. I worked in the special sales department, which was similar to publicity. That was really fun. They asked if I wanted to stay on longer. I still wasn't getting paid, but I was happy to do it. I worked with digital editorial which, at the time, was a department of one person. I got to do more of the editorial side of things. I checked the physical copy against the ebook copy to make sure no errors had slipped through. Then I was applying for any assistant level job. I finally I landed a job at Watkins Media as a publicity assistant. I worked my way up in publicity, eventually I became a publicist. Then I had a baby. About ten months into my maternity leave, I did some freelance stuff because I was going a little bit stir crazy. At Watkins, their sci-fi and fantasy imprint (Angry Robot) was restructuring. The owner was bringing the imprint into London, but that didn't work out for the people who were working there because it didn't make sense for them to move from a relatively cheap place to live to one of the most expensive places to work, which meant the entire Angry Robot staff was no longer available. They were looking for a commissioning editor and a publicity and editorial coordinator. I thought, well, I like editorial so I'll apply for that. Obviously, I got the job. Turned out it was just me for about 4 months. I was running absolutely everything. It meant that I definitely learned very, very quickly. So much of the editorial process involves InDesign and I knew nothing about InDesign. So I was learning as I was going. I went on to being a managing editor, so I was making sure every book went through the editorial process fine. Also ddoing publicity work, because we didn't have the publicity support, but we recently got a full time publicist, which has freed me up to being a commissioning editor, which is what I do now. Olivia: What do you think sets Angry Robot apart? Gemma: First of all,, being an independent publisher is completely different from being one of the big 5. Everything that is done you can have a hand in. You're in a very small team. So, like even the publicist knows how a book is put together. They may not know how to do it, but everybody is fully involved in every stage. You get so much more say, more responsibility. Your workload is always too much, but in a good way. In terms of Angry Robot specifically, we like to specialize in "genre fluid" works. We love crossover fiction. We like the weird and wonderful stuff that the mainstream publishers wouldn't really know what to do with. We've got a really great community of science fiction and fantasy fans who love the fact we are bringing out all this new stuff. Olivia: For new authors, what do you think is the major difference between choosing an independent publisher over a mainstream publisher? Gemma: Like with the team that works at Angry Robot, as a writer you get so much more say with an independent publisher. At a mainstream publisher, you don't get a lot of say in the cover design, for example. A lot of the time, they'll just pass you a cover and ask, "What do you think?" and you can maybe tweak a couple of things. From the get go at Angry Robot, we ask the author what they're looking for -- what tone they want, if they want a specific artist, things like that. So that we are joining their vision with our vision. Obviously it's their book and we want them to be happy with it. We like to feel that there is always someone they can come to and ask whatever questions they have. If they want to know how well their book is selling, even if it's bad news, we'll be open and honest as much as possible. That's what I've been told from authors who've come from bigger publishing houses, that they feel like the line of communication is always open. Olivia: What are some things you look for when considering work by new authors? Gemma: I would always say to work super hard on the hook pitch, which I often call the elevator pitch, which is like a two line hook that will sell me your book. Especially in an open submission, which we run once a year. We specifically asked this year just for an elevator pitch and then to attach the submission and the synopsis as two separate documents. A lot of people did not follow that advice. I would also say, read what people are asking you to do and only do what people are asking you to do. Don't give me more information than I'm asking you for. Those two lines are going to tell me whether I'm interested or not. You can talk someone's ear off and they'll say, "Okay, I'll read it." But they aren't going into that with any excitement. They're reading it out of a sense of duty. If you can hook someone within two lines, then you've got their attention. That's the crucial thing about submitting. Olivia: Other than not following the directions, what are some typical "red flags" that you see in submissions from new authors? Gemma: I would say one of my pet peeves is sentences that are too long. If you're pitching me or showing me a synopsis and the entire paragraph is one sentence, I don't have a lot of faith in the writing itself, like they don't recognize that sentence structure is hugely important in delivering a book that's going to get people's attention. Also, not checking the submission itself. I've had submissions sent that are an early draft, where they have things crossed out. I'm not going to read that. If you don't want that there, I'm not going to read it. So double, triple check that what you're sending is the right thing. Olivia: Do you advise new authors to seek representation before submitting to an independent publisher? Gemma: That would entirely depend on the publisher. We don't accept unsolicited manuscripts unless it's our open submission process that we run for two to three weeks once a year. But if the publisher is open to unrepresented authors anyway, then that's fine. If a publisher says they don't accept unsolicited manuscripts, then don't send it to them. They won't read it. They won't even send you an email back. If you get selected by the publisher, you can then go to the agent with an offer in hand and say, "I have a publisher interested in me, would you like to represent me?" It gives you a better in with the agent, but it also makes it easier on our side of things. It makes the whole process super simple. Some people would disagree and say if they are offering an open submission, that means they don't want an agent involved, but that's not how we feel. We like to give people an offer and give people a chance to get an agent if they want. It's someone else fighting in your corner, and we would always say it's worth looking into. Olivia: What are some of the most exciting debut novels that you've read in the past year? (Either published by Angry Robot or elsewhere) Gemma: I'll tell you about one coming out in September. It's called Ledge by Stacey McEwan. It's our one hardback of the year. Stacey is a Tiktoker and she was originally going to bring out her book self-published, but an agent approached her and said, "If you want to give me a chance I can get you a book deal." And then we snapped her up. That's definitely the one I'm dying to have come out. In terms of the other book that I've read, I tend to be a year or two behind, but this year I read Followers by Megan Angelo. I love dystopian stuff. It gives a light to the dangerous side of social media and one view on how our world could evolve. I love that stuff. Olivia: Oh, that kind of reminds me of Black Mirror. Gemma: It is very much. That is definitely the stuff that I love. Olivia: Thanks so much! I'm sure my readers will look forward to checking this out. __________________ So, you heard it here first, be sure to send Gemma all your weird wonderful near future dystopias (during the appropriate submissions window) and check out Ledge coming this fall.
  3. Warning: This article contains spoilers for the most recent season of Love, Death and Robots. Read at your own risk. As a writer of short fiction, I've been an avid follower of Netflix's Love, Death and Robots. There aren't many avenues for short works to be adapted, especially as faithfully as the aforementioned anthology series. I wanted to take a look at the stories that inspired the latest season of the show. Unlike previous seasons, which featured only episodes based on short stories, season 3 mixed it up by including original short films as well. "Jibaro" and "Night of the Mini Dead" were both completely original, and "Three Robots: Exit Strategies" featured an original screenplay by John Scalzi, the author of Season 1's "Three Robots." Those three aside, I was able to track down all the source stories for the remaining episodes. "Bad Travelling" by Neal Asher (Originally Published in Full Throttle Space Tales Vol #1) David Fincher's adaptation of "Bad Travelling," which features a pirate who makes a deal with a giant crab-like monster to save himself at the expense of his crew, was my favorite episode of the season. It's not surprising that the short story written by series veteran Neal Asher holds up. One interesting difference between the story and the episode is the morality of the protagonist. In the animated adaptation, the protagonist, Torrin, feeds the crew to the monster because they voted to take it to the inhabited Phaiden Island, as opposed to attempting to trick it by dropping it off on a deserted island. In the story, Torrin's choice lacks that moral context, making him more of an anti-hero. Which was better? It's a close call, but I personally liked the Fincher adaptation since the crew's death is a result of their own immoral decision. Want more? If you liked "Bad Travelling," Neal Asher has written another story set in the same world called "Jable Sharks" that is worth checking out. "The Very Pulse of the Machine" by Micheal Swanwick (Originally Published in Clarkesworld) While the imagery of astronaut Martha Kivelson dragging her deceased companion across the surface of the Jovian moon, Io, was stunning, the plot coherency left a little to be desired. I was hoping the short story would give more context to the odd reveal at the end of the episode that Io is in fact a chemical machine left in our solar system by an unknown alien race. Unfortunately, I felt like the reveal was as much of an odd turn on the page as it was on the screen. Despite that, I really enjoyed Kivelson's internal monologue in the story, as it filled in more details of her relationship with Burton, the woman whose body she was towing across the lunar landscape. Which was better? Objectively, it's probably a toss up between the stunning visuals of the animated short film and the strong internal monologue of the story, but for me personally the story felt more coherent and provided a more satisfying character arc. Want more? "The Very Pulse of the Machine" is a stand alone short story, but it was clearly inspired by this poem from William Wordsworth. "Kill Team Kill" by Justin Coates (Originally Published in SNAFU) The story of a team of green berets who searched for a squad that was lost in the forest was almost a scene for scene adaptation from the story. That being said, it was surprising how much better the comedy of the story came across when voiced by actors and how much more exciting the action of the green berets fighting the half-bear, half-robot who killed the missing squad was on the screen versus the page. Which was better? In this case, the animated short wins, no question. Want more? "Kill Team Kill" is a stand alone short story, but you can see more of Justin Coates military sci-fi in his short story "The Deicide Machine," also published in SNAFU. "Swarm" by Bruce Sterling (Originally Published in The Magazine of F&SF) This was another very faithful adaptation. The short followed the story of Dr. Afriel as he immerses himself into the insect-like space faring race, the swarm, almost scene for scene. In fact, they included some scenes like a conversation with the investor who gives Afriel a ride to the colony that would be better left on the cutting room floor. The biggest difference between the two is one of context. In the story it is mentioned, as part of Dr. Afriel's backstory, that he is part of a posthuman genetically altered community called the Shapers, who are at war with the cybernetic Mechanists. In the television episode, this contextual information was left out. While this detail does not directly affect the action of the story, it helps make sense of the otherwise confusing final twist. Which was better? The story just barely edges out its adaptation. Want more? Sterling has published several additional works in the Shaper / Mechanist universe: the novel Schismatrix and the short stories "Spider Rose," "Cicada Queen," "Sunken Gardens", and "Twenty Evocations." "Mason's Rats" by Neal Asher (Originally Published in Mason's Rats) This story, was also written by Neal Asher who penned the aforementioned story "Bad Travelling." The two tales couldn't be more different. While they both pit a man against an unwanted pest, "Mason's Rats", which features a man who sends a pest-destroying cyborg after the rats in his barn who have evolved the intelligence to use basic weapons, tackles the subject with absurdity and humor as opposed to the stark terror of "Bad Travelling." The story version of "Mason's Rats" is much shorter than the animated film. While the film goes through several cycles of Mason trying to get rid of the rats only to have them get smarter each time, the story pretty much focuses on the one occurrence. We also don't see too much of the rats in the story itself, versus the adaptation which features them not only building weapons and tools, but also outsmarting the increasingly ridiculous contraptions. Which was better? The additional visuals in the animated short add emotional depth and humor to the already charming short story. Want more? The collected anthology has two additional stories dealing with Mason and his titular rats. "In Vaulted Halls Entombed" by Alan Baxter (Originally Published in SNAFU) Of the two military action focused entries this season, this story of soldiers in Afghanistan who find Lovecraftian horrors in subterranean caves underneath Kandahar is definitely the weaker. The animated short looks like a cheaply made video game and has the story to match. There's little to no character development; the four soldiers just go into a cave, discover some monsters, and that's it. I was hoping reading the story would add additional context, either about the soldiers or the horrors they encounter, but sadly I was out of luck. Which was better? Neither. Both the story and its adaptation are lacking the necessary depth to make this a worthy entry in the series. Want more? Served Cold is an anthology collecting sixteen of Alan Baxter's most lauded works.
  4. Warning: This article is coming later than anticipated, and for oddly relevant reasons... Just as I prepared to write a review of Sam Raimi's latest jaunt into the superhero genre, my water broke and I gave birth to two beautiful twin boys. So you would think I, more than anyone, would understand Wanda Maximoff's struggle as she tries desperately to get back to her own twins, Billy and Tommy. Unfortunately, like many, I found her journey forced -- a bad rehash of the character arc she went through much more believably in WandaVision. While watching the movie, I asked myself, why did her motivation here fall flat when they worked so well on the small screen? If you keep up with MCU news, you've no doubt run across articles that blame sexism. These pieces state that, like Daenerys Targaryen before her, Hollywood just can't write female villains without falling back on sexist tropes. Whether or not this is true, I think both heroines turned villains actually suffer from a much more common Hollywood failing that plagues almost every comic book movie ever written, and that is the two dimensional villain. This problem is particularly noticeable with Wanda, as we've seen what her story looks like when she's treated as the protagonist. In WandaVision, Wanda wants to live an idyllic suburban life with the deceased Vision. This causes her to mind control the entire population of a small town to play parts in her family sitcom fantasy -- but, she doesn't realize that the harm she's causing others. This version of Wanda is lost in the madness of grief. She does horrible things, but is ultimately relatable because of the emotions that ground her actions. When this Wanda realized what she was doing to the citizens of Westview, she couldn't bring herself to continue. The Wanda of Dr. Strange isn't like that. Because she's framed as the antagonist, the film doesn't even bother to try to make her relatable. She's willing to knowingly murder a teenage girl, as well as an alternate universe version of herself, to get what she wants. Sure, they give her a "good reason" for acting the way she does; she's a mother who wants to see her kids. On the surface this is a relatable reason, but it falls apart when given closer scrutiny. We don't see her emotional arc, which makes her motivation not a relatable flaw, but a single minded obsession. We don't see the Wanda of Dr. Strange struggle with her difficult decisions until the very end of the film when it's dramatically mandated. We don't feel her pain. Instead we get some BS about how she was corrupted by an evil spell book. To be clear, the problem that I'm talking about is not exclusive to Wanda. It can be applied to every bad villain both in and out of the comic book genre. It's only more obvious because WandaVision showed how the exact same arc works when you treat the villain like a protagonist…which brings me to my last point. How do you avoid creating a two dimensional villain in your own work? While the trope may seem easy to avoid, we've all fallen into the pattern of simplifying an antagonist either to make the plot work or to highlight the protagonist's virtues, but despite being common it's lazy writing. Writing a multi-dimensional antagonist, one that the readers/viewers can root for, is crucial for not only suspension of disbelief, but also for forcing the protagonist to challenge their own views and morals. And the way to do that? I like to make a version of my outline where the antagonist is the protagonist and vice versa. Basically create your own Wicked to your Wizard of Oz, your own WandaVision to your Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. While this work doesn't necessarily make its way into the final book/script, it helps to truly understand your villain as a person. Because if you don't, who will?
  5. Hi, I'm Olivia Frias -- video game writer and general nerd / F&SF enthusiast. I thought I'd use this first post as an opportunity to both introduce myself and to give a little background on what I do (and how you can do it too!). I got into writing for games as a sort of happy accident after moving to LA in 2011 while trying to become a screenwriter. Back then, there weren't many dedicated game writers (also known as "narrative designers"). Most of the people who wrote games were contracted screenwriters and novelists hired through agencies. I was only able to get my first position as a production assistant working at Sony, which eventually lead to my first writing job, because I was willing to work for $10 an hour. Today the landscape has changed. It is a growing field with a lot of open positions for part time contract work or a full time stable "day job" for novelists. There's a lot of material out there about learning how to write for games, and why game writing is different from writing for novels or tv / film. A good starting primer is this quick read from the Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines writer, https://www.gamedeveloper.com/design/a-practical-guide-to-game-writing While there's lots of information on game writing craft, there is far less information on how to actually get a job writing games.The first thing I wish I had known going in was that, unlike TV, you don't need an agent or an industry connection to find out about positions. You can literally just apply online like a regular job. Search for "game writer" or "narrative designer" on sites like Indeed or LinkedIn, and you'll find a lot of options. Now that you know how to find jobs, how do you stand out from the crowd? Write the Right Resume - The first thing you'll want to do is highlight your published works first. For a lot of studios, published, or even self-published, novels are a huge plus. Focus less on day jobs that are not writing or games related. Learn the Tools of the Trade - If you haven't worked as a game writer before, it's very important to have interactive samples. Twine is a good learning tool and a great way to make your first interactive short story. Make sure to include a link to the game in your resume or cover letter. Be a Gamer - In your interview, you will be asked what sort of games you play. You'll need an answer. If you're not up on current trends, some games that narrative designers tend to love are Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War (2018), Life is Strange, Disco Elysium, and old-school point and clicks like the Monkey Island games. I'd suggest checking them out. Of course, if you're already a gamer, talk about your own preferences here. Target the Right Studios - While it doesn't hurt to cast a wide net, you're unlikely to get a job at a major AAA studio on your first try. Never fear though, there are a lot of smaller studios. For novelists, a great place to start would be a studio that makes visual novels. These companies care less about games experience and more about solid writing. Some of these studios are Pocket Gems (Episode app), Pixelberry (Choices app), and Crazy Maple (Chapters app). Some of these contracts are not especially well paid, but getting a few under your belt really helps you get noticed by larger studios. Anyway, that's my spiel for now. Let me know if you have questions in the comments down below. Stay tuned for my review of Doctor Strange 2, coming this weekend. About the Author Olivia Frias is a former Disney Imagineer and videogame game/interactive fiction writer. She is currently working on the upcoming social MMO Palia. Her previous credits include Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, Pirates of the Caribbean: Tides of War, Disney Heroes, Katy Perry POP, and the award-winning History Adventures series.
  6. Title: The Frozen War, Book 1 of The Dragonsilk Sea series Genre: Adult Fantasy with Romance elements (about 115,000 word) Comps: Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Cold Magic by Kate Elliot When raiders from the frozen South capture sea dragons with the power to teleport long distances, they go from being a local menace to a worldwide threat. After Astra’s village is pillaged by the raiders and her sister is kidnaped, she sets out with her fiancé, Taryl, to break into the enemy stronghold and save her sister. Before they can succeed, they are discovered, and Taryl is mortally wounded during their escape. In his final moments, Astra intertwines her hands with his to save his soul, in a ritual known as a soul bond. His thoughts and memories become a part of her. Meanwhile on the other side of the world, Phoebus is a pariah because can’t share his soul through his hands. He sets out to find Loa, the legendary home of dragons where sea dragons enter silk cocoons to become spirit beings with the power to cure any ill. There he makes a deal with a mother dragon. She’ll give him what he wants if he saves her young from the raiders. Phoebus seeks out Astra, now the chief of her village, based on stories that she faced the raiders and lived. Despite finding him initially intolerable, she agrees to act his guide and help him infiltrate the raiders’ stronghold since Phoebus has a magical item she needs to exact her vengeance. During the journey, they are drawn to each other, but can Astra be with Phoebus without betraying the man who is still part of her soul? And will Phoebus be willing to expose his secret condition? Most importantly, will they succeed in freeing the dragons or will the raiders conquer the Dragonsilk Sea?
  7. Opening scenes – Introduces one of the co-protagonists, world/setting, voice. Experiments with new plot elements developed during the conference. The frigid wind choked Astra. Her body burned with intense cold. Despite growing up in the Giant's Fingers, the frozen islands that stretched out like fingers from the Great Southern Glacier at the edge of the world, Astra had never been as cold as she was on the three months journey from her fishing village in Myrt to the harsh Skyrlish tunda. Luckily, she'd had Taryl to keep her warm. The chief's daughter turned to her fire haired companion, who hid behind an obelisk of smooth obsidian-colored stone. He was using the spyglass he'd made to make objects look closer to spy on the enemy Stronghold, but it didn't seem like he was having much luck. "Can you see the spire?" Astra asked. While she'd never seen it herself, she'd heard Svengaard, the man who led the raid that burned her family's farm and took half her village as thralls, had built himself a great palace out of the mysterious black stones that grew from the frozen tundra like black rocky vines "No, the Dragonsilk wall is so high, I can't see past it. In fact, I can barely tell there's a wall there at all." Taryl's eyes, the light lilac of a lupus flower, look worried. He passed Astra the spy glass. She took her turn looking through it. Taryl was right as always. One would hardly know the Stronghold was there if it weren't for the conspicuous absence of stars. "Do you have the claw?"Taryl asked. Astra patted the doeskin bag she attached to her waist, "I've got it." Much to her father's dismay, Astra had used the money that was put aside for her dowry to buy a pubescent dragon's silk claw from a traveling Zhangorese merchant. He was the only merchant she'd ever seen from that part of the world, and she couldn't pass up the opportunity to get the one thing that could penetrate dragonsilk. As much as she wanted to marry Taryl, their bonding could wait until after the Skryl were defeated. Astra owed as much to her mother and brother who'd died in their latest raid, and her sister who'd been taken. "Good," Taryl looked relieved. "So we'll go in the dead of night when they're all asleep, cut a hole in the wall, and infiltrate the wyrmling stables. Simple as that." Taryl repeated the plan they'd both told each other a thousand times. The Skryl used dragon wyrms to conduct raids up and down the coast of the Giant's Fingers and southern Andria. Without them, the infamous marauders would be reliant on boats and the wind to travel, just like everyone else. If they could steal the pre-pubescent dragons for Myrt, the tides of war would turn in their favor. During the day, the wyrms ruled the ocean, and were impossible to catch. But at night, the aquatic beasts slept on land and could be safely approached. Taryl had been studying the hand signals used by the Skryl to control the wyrmlings. He believed he could coax one to let him ride it and the others to follow him. "Should we go tonight?" Astra asked, dreading the answer. "No," Taryl focused his spyglass on the horizon. "It's already the first light." Taryl pointed across the waves to the small bit of violet peeking out between two sheets of midnight blue. "We'll have to wait until tomorrow." "I can't say I'm disappointed," Astra nuzzled herself into her fiance's furs. She was shaking and this time not because of the cold. "I know you're scared, but we can do this." Taryl kissed Astra's forehead lovingly. "How can you be so sure? No one else has ever entered a Skyrlish Stronghold and lived to tell about it." "No one who's tried has been me." Astra swore Taryl's smile could melt the great Southern Glacier. She let Taryl kiss her. His lips felt like a bath in a summer hot spring. Taryl brought his gloved hand to hers, mimicking the behavior of a soul bound. "You know one of these days I'm going to get you out of those gloves…" Astra blushed as bright as langoustine flesh. When two people wed, they took off their gloves and intertwined their hands to combine their Light, the material component of the soul. During the bond, they would share thoughts, feelings, and even ways of thinking. It was all Astra could do not to peel Taryl's glove off with her teeth right now. She loved him so much, and she wanted to be one with him. She wanted to know how his brain worked. Think through problems like he did. She wanted to know how it felt to have his heart. To feel his love for her as acutely as she felt her love for him. But they had to wait…if they bonded too early and the Fathers found out, they would be put to death in the town's square. "But for now, why don't I just get you out of those clothes?" Taryl read Astra's mind. It was as if they were already bonded. He picked her up and took her to the bed furs. Skin to skin contact was the best cure for frostbite after all.
  8. Story Statement: In a world where people can share thoughts and feelings with the touch of a hand, a young man without this ability seeks love and acceptance, while also trying to hide his disability from the world. Antagonists: There are three main factors keeping Phoebus, the primary protagonist, from reaching his goal. Achamal - A priest who believes all those with Phoebus’s condition are cursed and must devote their lives to God to redeem themselves. He simultaneously shows the readers how society, in general, responds to people like Phoebus while also providing a genuine obstacle in Act 1 of the story when Phoebus’s goal is to escape his role as a servant to the priesthood. Tikazoma - Phoebus’ first love interest. Knowing his condition, Tikazoma treats Phoebus poorly. She constantly points out that he is physically incapable of solidifying their romantic bond, and thus requires him to prove his love to her in other ways. As a result, Phoebus puts himself in danger time and time again to impress this woman who will never see him as her equal. Internalized Self-Hatred - When Phoebus does meet people he can connect with, he often pushes them away for fear they will discover who he really is. Title: The Dragonsilk Sea Route Genre and Comps: Genre: Adult Fantasy with Romance elements Comps: Cold Steel, Kate Elliot (Worldbuilding) Warbreaker, Brandon Sanderson (Magic Systems) A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J Maas (Romance) Logline: Attempting to run away from the societal consequences of having a magical disability, Phoebus seeks a nomadic life where he can comfortably have few personal attachments as a merchant sailor along the famed Dragonsilk Sea Route; however, he is forced to confront his past when he finds himself drawn to an enigmatic young woman from the other side of the world. Conflict: Inner Conflict: Growing up, Phoebus was taught that the fact he couldn’t “share souls” meant he was less than human – a member of an underclass called the Lightless. He is told that because he can't communicate his thoughts with a touch like everyone else, he is doomed to live a lonely life where no one can really know him. These fears are confirmed when the first woman he falls in love with treats him poorly because of his condition. After escaping the priesthood who treated him like a slave, Phoebus is determined to do whatever he can to avoid his condition being discovered. Everyone wears gloves to save themselves from sharing souls accidentally, but as a Lightless child, he was not allowed to. So the first thing Phoebus does when he escapes is to get a pair of gloves. For Phoebus, those gloves become a sort of emotional armor. Phoebus eventually falls in love a second time, this time with a woman the reader knows would accept him as he is, but he ends the relationship because he doesn’t want to take his gloves off for her. He can't bear the thought of her knowing he's Lightless. Secondary Conflict: Phoebus’s job as a merchant sailor (and occasional magic smuggler) exposes him to a variety of societies and societal taboos, including those that mirror his own. For example, he meets people who have gone mad from sharing their soul too many times and a woman who would face death if her family knew she had shared her soul with a man outside of marriage. Phoebus’s own history has caused him to be irreverent towards such rules and taboos. As a result, he tends to leave chaos wherever he goes and is wanted in several countries. Setting: The book takes place in a secondary world that technology-wise roughly mirrors our late medieval or early Renaissance period. The physical substance of the soul is called “Light.” Light is studied as a science and can be used to perform a variety of magic. The most common expression of this magic is when people touch hands and share souls. This allows both people to immediately share each other’s memories, thoughts, and ways of thinking. Inspired loosely by the silk road, the book takes place along a trade route that primarily focuses on getting magical goods from one side of the world to another. Phoebus was born in the Imperial Capital of a country that takes inspiration both from ancient Rome and Mesoamerica circa 1400. He eventually travels to countries loosely inspired by India, China, North Africa, and Scandinavia. In addition to a story of self-discovery and romance, The Dragonsilk Sea Route is meant to be a bit of a fantasy travel
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