Workshop Episode 47 (Guest Host: Emma Newman)

The Roundtable Podcast, Workshop Episode 47, with Emma Newman and Sara Sambrook Emma Newman – who’s name translates from ancient elvish into “Writes with Tea” and who has crafted such tales as “20 Years Later” and the “From Dark Places” story collection AND will soon have “Between Two Thorns” (first of the Split Worlds series) released by Angry Robot Books – graciously returns to the Bog Chair at the Roundtable to assist Brion and I in the workshopping of a tale by Guest Writer Sara Sambrook. And, great googly moogly, what a workshop! Sara’s tale of wizardry in modern society sets everyone into a creative froth, exploring, expanding, and expounding in grand Roundtable style. Of course, the Literary Gold is served up with finger sandwiches and tea cakes and there’s plenty to go around… so come and get yours! (and you really must make the time to catch Emma’s Showcase Episode, too!)

PROMO: The Zombie Driven Life by David Wood

Workshop Episode 47 (Guest Host: Emma Newman)

[caution: mature language and themes – listener discretion is advised]

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Comments (16)

Though genres differ, The Roundtable Podcast always brings basic writing advice, points sometimes forgotten, to strengthen the story “you” are working toward completing. Thank you so much for the podcast. It was awesome, as always.

::blush:: Thanks, Dolly! Glad you enjoyed it and found some writerly goodness along the way.

We try… we try REALLY hard to stick to the story the writer wants to tell. Sometimes one of us (usually me) jumps the rails, but that’s the beauty of having a reliable co-host and an amazing Guest Host to help keep things on track.

Dear lord… if I was doing this alone, who KNOWS where these workshops would end up?? (writer: “But… I’m writing a paranormal romance.” me:”Yes, but you need a meteor hurtling towards earth that’s actually the egg of a cosmic dragon! Yesssss…”).


Sooo… I shouldn’t include magic Cybermen? 😉

I had two thoughts while listening. Hopefully they’re constructive and useful.

The first is that when Dave gave the example of Nazi Germany using a Mage Corps in WWII and that being an impetus for the US to start not-totally-despising them, I was reminded of Larry Corriea’s Grimnoir Chronicles. In the first book, the male protag remembers back to WWI and how the US and the Kaiser both used magic-users. Then how he and others came back and tried to assimilate back into a culture where some people liked them, some people hated them, and some people were live-and-let-live.

Also noteworthy is that not all mages (if I recall correctly) were treated equally. You can put out fires? Cool! You can carry inhumanly heavy stuff? You must be pretty dumb. You can teleport wherever? We might kill you as a baby when we see your thrice-damned grey eyes.

When I read it, I felt that it added ‘realism’ and more depth to the interactions. You might give it a read, just to see what he played with. (I mean Sara, but I like the books, so everyone should read them.)

The second is about medical research. Even today, a lot of medical research is “Let’s try this. That didn’t work. How about this? Oh, there was something! Let’s try something similar.”

You can make the dad one of those. He doesn’t need to know how exactly magic works in order to test chemicals that affect the pituitary gland (for instance). As a reader, I would not have my suspension of disbelief broken if you told me that a sedative before makes me feel like my body is floating, but it causes a magic user to lose control of their abilities before they fall unconscious. They are still human and it’s perfectly reasonable to map normal-human responses to a slightly different effect for magic-humans.

Also, depending on when he got his degree in the how-society-feels-about-magic-users timeline, he may be open to even less wholesome experiments than the hammer-to-the-head. “I mean, it’s not like they’re human.”

Thanks for the book suggestions! I’ll have to check it out. Lord knows I need to read more.

I really like your idea about sedatives. It got me thinking and I think I can do something cool with that…

Me, I got to thinking of Hellboy, Ian Tregellis’ novels, and the work of Michele Lang as well.

YES! Oh man, I didn’t even consider those alternative worlds and stories. Hm… that sheds a different light on how Sara’s story could be executed. Nice! Thanks for opening up some more doors, Paul! 😀

This was a great episode. I don’t have any real additional suggestions as for story stuff, but I’d say don’t go YA unless it really sings to you. This could be really intense and dark if you want it to be.

Hey Guys, I’m back to give some nuggets of literary ore. Hopefully the ore has some veins of gold.

First, thank you for telling me about Convergence. How the heck did I not know about this? Dave, I can walk to Bloomington, MN. Okay, I just looked at their history, and they started the year I moved to Illinois, but I am back in the Twin Cities, so this will be one of my yearly Cons. I hope to be at Balticon this year, but you will definitely see me at Convergence.

I always have so many ideas, while listening to the workshops, but inevitably either Dave, Brion, or the guest host grabs it up. That is just a testament to how awesome you all are.

This episode was no different. I really think that the idea of corporations, instead of schools, is the way to go. Maybe even playing with similar themes of the Masons. Members of the Masonic Temple are very secretive, and they always help out a brother Mason in matters of business, and getting ahead. For the corporation I see a big parent corporation, and then their subsidiaries-one for Dark Magic, and another for Light. There can be some “healthy” competition between the two (note sarcasm), but even some cooperation. Remember, to maintain balance, you can’t have Light without Dark. The Light could be their non-profit side, and Dark…well you get the idea. The parent company board of directors could be made up of both light and dark mages. For the overarching story, maybe the balance is off, and the board is being taken over by dark mages, and this is who Jack reports to.

Just some thoughts, Sara. I can’t wait to read this when it is finished.

Great minds wander the same back alleys, Mike. 😉

I hear what you’re saying about Light and Dark magic (and, of course, it’s all grist for Sara’s creativity mill), but I’d argue that the story is more about the struggle between magic and convention… or mages and non-mages. Something of that nature. Adding an additional “axis of contention” as it were – in the form of Light and Dark mages – might muddy the waters.

This might be just my perceptions leaking in… I think this story in particular has the opportunity to explore some profound and relevant issues that are deeply soaked in shades of grey. I mean, the mages can’t help what they are, and you can’t blame the humans for fighting for their safety and way of life.

Not to make it “real” but look at today’s headlines and replace the word “gun” with “magic” and you can see the contention this could represent. There are no good guys and bad guys, but people are demonizing on both sides of the argument. In Sara’s story world, the stakes are even higher, because magic is something that can’t be “given up” without some kind of physical/spiritual alteration.

Wow, Sara… the more I think about this story, the more I A) can’t wait to see what you come up with and B) don’t envy you the task of sorting it all out.

I hear what you’re saying, Dave. I may have gone completely off the rails. I was thinking of a little beyond the first story. It just seems to me that if we extrapolate the mages to non-mages idea to current themes we have an analogy of the 99% to the 1%, and that whole occupy movement. (obviously, 99% of the population is not magical, but the power they wield is more like the 1%-kind of a class warfare).

Also, you mention taking guns and replace it with magic. A very strong reason that the NRA is so powerful, and the idea of banning guns gets so little traction is because of the profit involved. There is big money in guns. What kind of industry does magic represent? Remember Daigon Alley in Harry Potter.

I know of course that this is viewing everything from 30,000 feet, and may not matter to the main characters. Kind of like the mention of religion from Emma. Heavy background stuff to think about, but may not be actually in the story.

Either way, thanks for considering.

And of course with Avery’s dad, they are trying to give mages a choice. A way to take magic away completely.

Oh man… I didn’t even consider the economic ramifications of a magical “industry”. That’s an excellent point and certainly a consideration for where the political forces would be aligning themselves (oh wait… is my cynicism showing? Let me tuck that away).

Yeah, Emma’s “religion bomb” totally threw all of us for a loop, but is also an extremely relevant question.

Yeah, I think you and I may be taking this waaaaaay off the rails from what Sara intended her story about… but it’s a tribute to a superior premise that it can set off so many discussions. Like I said in the episode, the notion of magic out in the open in contemporary society is so mind-bogglingly awesome.

In my secret heart-of-hearts, I’d LOVE to see this opened up as a shared world project. Throw down some basic ground rules and some fundamental historical set-pieces and shout “Go!” But that’s just me. 🙂

My advice to Sara would be to think about these things to create a richer world, but only touch the surface, and don’t feel that you have to include in the story. So much of world building is just that. When it comes time to put words on the page just focus on the story, and let the rest take a back seat.

And remember The Roundtable Podcast disclaimer…it may all be bullshit.

Oh, so much, where to start…

I’ll start with the comments above about Light and Dark. I hate these ideas. “Good” and “evil” are totally subjective: I can think of bunches of cultures with diametrically opposed ideas of “good,” much less “evil.” These are labels that are applied by a culture and represent ideals which may not be held by an individual. That’s what makes writing about people trying to figure out their own morality so much freaking fun!

Which brings me to Avery being a villain. I’m totally on board with this, as I tried to do something similar in my first novel. The thing is to not give her the blatant choice of “joining the dark side” or “being evil.” Most people can turn away from that pretty easily, if for no other reason than going against the surrounding culture tends to be bad for one’s health. What I did, and what I recommend, is giving your protagonist(s) a big issue to worry about, and meanwhile keep giving them somewhat ambiguous choices to make. Start small, with choices that have few if any real consequences other than setting a pattern of behavior. Use Avery’s biggest flaw, whatever that may be. For my character Amanda, it was pride and selfishness. Over the course of the book you present the character with choices where she makes bad decisions that seem reasonable. Any one of those choices singly would not make people turn their heads. But all together they represent a slide in a direction against the prevailing cultural idea of what is expected of her. At some point she starts making decisions that your average person would balk at, but which are in line with her previous decisions. In fact, she herself might have balked at those decisions back at the beginning of the book, but her mindset has changed enough that they seem reasonable to her. And then you present her with a crisis. Maybe she doesn’t have time to think and makes a snap decision, or maybe she takes the expedient route even though it’s distasteful, or maybe the step she chooses to take doesn’t seem like that big a step away from where she is now. But it crosses the line from morally ambiguous into “evil,” whatever your definition of that is.

I will warn you, this is hard to do. You will loose some readers by doing this. I find that people either love Amanda or hate her, depending on whether they can relate to the choices she makes. So you have to really play up other sympathy-improving factors, like imminent danger and virtues that offset her flaw, and by putting her in situations your average reader can relate to.

Exploring the gray areas of morality tends to be a big theme in YA as well as new adult. Light vs Dark tends to be seen more often in middle grade.

For a great example of journey-descent-redemption, read Dan Wells’s Serial Killer series. Book two gets pretty darn dark, and you’re reading along thinking, “Oh, no, don’t do that. John, this is bad, really, please…crap!” Because you love this character and you totally understand why he’s doing what he’s doing, and you know it’s wrong and you know why he can’t see it. Brilliant.

Ok, all that aside, back to the story…

You mentioned Jack wanting to bring her over to “the dark side.” What do you mean by that? Are all witches “evil?” Can magic only be used to hurt? Does using it exact a cost from the environment or from innocent people? What makes it dark? What does this dark side want? Is it organized? If so, what are its goals?

Are Avery’s parents suppressed witches? This could partly explain why they are so adamantly against her being a witch. By accepting her magic, she is sort of throwing her parents’ decision (and, by extension, values) in their faces.

If a witch kills a suppressed witch, does the murderer still gain the other witch’s powers even though they were suppressed? Fun possibilities there. Also, is there perhaps a tradition among witches that when a witch is old/sick and close to death, he/she is (voluntarily) ritually killed in order to pass on their power? And for the love of the gods, if witches really could gain power this way, why would they let mundanes (or new witches, for that matter) know about it??? Wouldn’t that be the best kept secret on the planet? If you were a powerful witch, people would immediately assume you were a murderer. Of course, this might explain why a) witches aren’t liked much (especially if mundanes think witches can gain power from killing anyone, see also comment above about suppressed witches), and b) why witches haven’t taken over the world or become big in politics. Talk about skeletons in the closet. No one wants to vote for someone who ritually slaughtered their grandparents or something.

Jack (or whoever is encouraging Avery to be bad) needs to be likable. Also, he needs to be a fully fleshed-out character with good, solid reasons for what he wants and what he is doing. He is the hero of his own story, just like Avery is the hero of the story in which she becomes a villain. One thing that worked for me was to put the villain in imminent danger from another source. As long as Avery is allied with Jack, she is also in danger from this other source, as collatoral damage if nothing else. The enemy of my (false) friend is my enemy. The enemy (Jack) of my enemy (the other source) is my friend.

What does Avery want? What does she want to do with her life?

Regarding Avery and her friends: a surprisingly good example of two people taking different paths is the video of Flobots’s “Handlebars.” Maybe that will inspire something.

Ok, enough from me. Hope that was helpful. Can’t wait to read it!

Wow… So many good suggestions. I’m not even sure where to start, both in this comment and with the story. ☺

I did read Dan Wells’s John Cleaver series, specifically because I knew I was going for a vaguely similar idea. The real reason I haven’t even started the rough draft yet is because I’m not sure how to make Avery likeable in the way that John Cleaver and Dexter Morgan are (another good book, though it’s one of the few times I like the TV show better). I know the advice to that is, “Just write!” and I intend to very soon. Like after I post this. I’ve made her a murderer. I’ve made her naïve. I’ve made her snotty. Trust me, Avery has personality. Multiple ones, it would seem. She’s going to be a hard one to wrangle.

I’ve also been fighting with myself over point of view, because there is SO MUCH here and so many people are, for lack of better word, bad, so I want to show them. Normally I write in first person, but my narrator ends up getting in the way by trying to be clever. I call this the Grocery Store Romance problem. You know the ones: the overly witty girl in stilettos who happens to solve a mystery while pouting about her bad hair day. So, there’s that. Again, I know, just write. The rough draft isn’t set in stone.

Also, I have made one real decision. I’m not going to make this a YA. I’ve decided there’s more intrigue if Avery is a little older. What if she chose NOT to become a witch, but then a few years later, something happens, and now her powers are back. But she’s not a Chosen One. Maybe this is something that’s trending, that the magic is growing somehow, and people who decided to bind their magic are now able to use them. What do they do? And did Ralph have something to do with it? Like an experiment gone wrong?

I’m also pretty much in love with the idea that Lorraine and Ralph (her parents) were witches who chose to forgo their powers. And maybe something happened, such as the Big Event I believe Dave alluded to in the podcast. The event that brings someone Jack loves into the program… Hmmmm… This is changing who Jack is to me, but in a good way. I’ve realized that I was trying to force a romance for the sake of having a romance and then trying to fit that into a plot where it’s not necessary, making the whole thing trite.

What a weird idea! A story with no romance!

We’ll have to see what happens. I’m definitely inspired right now. Time to go write something!!

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