Inspiring character development with memes

A couple months ago, a friend shared on social media one of those memes where you search your name and use the first search results to make a fantasy name, etc. This meme caught my interest because you had to search:

  • [Your name] fantasy gown
  • [Your name] fantasy crown
  • [Your name] fantasy weapon

For fun, I started with my given (legal) name and came up with this collage, which I love because I’m obsessed with white lace dresses with low backs and curve-hugging forms. I’m a huge fan (otaku) of Sailor Moon so the crown of moonstones and moon-shaped filigree is just to die for, and that sword is nothing to sniff at!

Then I got curious and searched against my writing name, Belinda Kroll, which was interesting because it feels like a darker personality to me. While the dress is reminiscent of a Victorian interpretation of a medieval dress with ruffles and embroidery, the crown, with its sea shells and obsidian gems, speaks to some sort of dark sea goddess. Throw in the emerald sword hilt and again, you’ve got a persona no one should think about messing with!

And finally, I searched my heroine’s name for my gaslamp fantasy and squealed because it’s just so perfect. I love the gold military-inspired detailing in the bodice, the simple elegance of the gold diadem, and the angular shape of the sword spun up so many ideas!

All of which made me think, I should be using internet memes for inspiration more often! One reason I usually don’t do memes is because sometimes I worry this is a method for internet scammers to get information (especially the ones that ask for your middle name or birthdate). But for a character who only exists in my mind? I mean, why not?

Unrelated, I wanted to share that I’m currently cuddling my second child! Wish me luck with recovery and regaining my writing energy after everything settles into place at home. See y’all soon!

Searching for a book I read as a teen

Have you ever been in the situation where all you can remember about a book is pieces of the plot, parts of what the cover looked like, maybe a word or two of the title? That’s been me a lot recently as I regress to re-reading books I enjoyed during my formative fiction years (ages 12 – 17). Don’t get me wrong, I’m still reading new-to-me books, but there is something comforting about reading books you know you enjoyed so much that they haunt you later in life.

Now, I consider myself a pretty good hunter when it comes to information seeking on the internet, but this one really stumped me. Here is what I could remember about this book:

  • It was young adult fantasy when I read it between 1997 – 2003
  • The cover featured a brunette with a braid, and there was a lot of green
  • Or maybe the title had “Emerald Moon” in it
  • It was about a magical girl who was matched with a male magical partner who was older and of higher socioeconomic status
  • At some point, this man gets turned into a talking dog, and it’s hilarious
  • In this book, all magical pairs are male-female, but romance between them is highly discouraged due to lessons learned in the past
  • The ruling class are all magic users and grouped by jewels like emerald, diamond, ruby

Clearly, the more I wracked my brain, the more details I was able to remember… except the title or the author. I tried searching “emerald moon green cover YA fantasy” and various combinations into Google, Goodreads, Amazon, and eBay to no avail.

But then I found this amazing group on Goodreads called What’s the Name of that Book??? I was careful to follow the rules, and tried searching my combination of words, but again, I couldn’t find the book. So I created my own posting with many of the details I listed above.

Then on a whim, I searched the group with just “emerald” and found the thread below… where it turns out someone was actually looking for a different book, but one of the respondents suggested the book I was seeking!

Screenshot of the unrelated post that gave me the title

So it turns out the book I was looking for is called Emerald House Rising by Peg Kerr. It was published in 1997, and I did in fact remember many of the details correctly. I’m a sucker for nostalgia so I found the edition from my childhood on eBay. But after more internet searching, I also found out Ms. Kerr only ever wrote another book after Emerald before stopping to raise a family.

Screenshot of my original post on Goodreads

I learned through Wikipedia that unfortunately her husband died of cancer in 2018, and that she had a LiveJournal account until 2017 when they switched the servers to Russia. She now blogs on Dreamwidth, and it has been fascinating for me to revisit an author like this. Back in 2000, it never would have occurred to me to seek out an author’s website or journal, I just wandered the library stacks and picked up books based on what the cover looked like.

I’m happy to share that Ms. Kerr has the rights for both her books now, and is republishing them for eBook and print. I’m interested to follow her work, much like M. Louisa Locke, I think Ms. Kerr has an opportunity for a second career creating the fiction she loves.

Have you hunted for a childhood favorite book? To what lengths did you search, and what did you discover?

Check out Annette Oppenlander’s “Escape from the Past” YA Historical

Escape-from-the-pastToday we’re spotlighting a newly released young adult historical from Annette Oppenlander. She writes historical fiction for teens, like me! When she isn’t in front of her computer, she loves indulging her dog, Mocha, and traveling around the U.S. and Europe to discover amazing histories. Website | Facebook | Twitter

Read to the end to enter her blog tour giveaway!

Escape From the Past: The Duke’s Wrath (YA Historical) 


Some medieval swear words, mild romance, i.e. a few stolen kisses, mild violence


When fifteen-year-old nerd and gamer Max Anderson thinks he’s sneaking a preview of an unpublished video game, he doesn’t realize that

1) He’s been chosen as a beta, an experimental test player.
2) He’s playing the ultimate history game, transporting him into the actual past: anywhere and anytime. And
3) Survival is optional: to return home he must decipher the game’s rules and complete its missions—if he lives long enough. To fail means to stay in the past—forever.

Now Max is trapped in medieval Germany, unprepared and clueless. It is 1471 and he quickly learns that being an outcast may cost him his head. Especially after rescuing a beautiful peasant girl from a deadly infection and thus provoking sinister wannabe Duke Ott. Overnight he is dragged into a hornets’ nest of feuding lords who will stop at nothing to bring down the conjuring stranger in their midst.

Praise for the Book

“Fast-paced compelling YA debut.”
Giselle Green, #1 bestselling author of A Sister’s Gift”

“A wonderfully crafted romp to the time of lords, ladies, and knights.”
Lee Ann Ward, author and former Senior Editor of Champagne Books

“Escape from the Past is chock-full of the tiny details that make a story feel realistic and immersive, from the leather ribbons used to fasten shoes to the slimy gruel that formed the bulk of the peasants’ diet….those who love historical fiction or medieval fantasy will certainly enjoy Escape from the Past.”
Mike Mullin, author of the Ashfall trilogy

$25 Blog Tour Giveaway
$25 Amazon eGift Card or Paypal Cash (Ends 9/25/2015)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an eGift Card or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

Disclaimer: I have my Amazon Associates ID included with the direct purchase links I’ve provided in this spotlight, which means if you purchase this book, I will earn a couple cents for helping you find it.

Fairy-tale Inspired Books

Frog Princes all in a row by Shawn Zlea at Flickr
Happy holidays! I thought I’d throw out a fun Tuesday Thirteen list today, this one having a theme of fairy-tale inspired books.

I haven’t read some of these books in ten years, but for some reason they still haunt me. Here are my favorite fairy-tale inspired books (in no particular order)! I had to cap it at thirteen otherwise the list might never end. Though, there is a shortage of good fairy tale re-tellings, for some reason… I wonder why that is? Are there any really good ones I should know about that aren’t on this list?

  1. Spindle’s End – Robin McKinley
  2. Enchantment – Orson Scott Card
  3. Spellbound – Ru Emerson
  4. Golden – Cameron Dokey
  5. Seven Daughters and Seven Sons – Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy
  6. The Book of Atrix Wolfe – Patricia McKillip
  7. Deerskin – Robin McKinley
  8. Briar Rose – Jane Yolen
  9. The Door in the Hedge – Robin McKinley
  10. Phoenix and Ashes – Mercedes Lackey
  11. The Lark and the Wren – Mercedes Lackey
  12. The Pearl of the Soul of the World – Meredith Ann Pierce
  13. Sabriel – Garth Nix

Actually, there is this one retelling of the frog prince and I can’t remember the title of it.

I do know that the prince was turned into a frog as part of a magical conspiracy, and that the princess/girl fell in love with him when he was a frog, and that his own brother/uncle/relative throws him across the room so he hits the wall with a sickening crack. The girl, distraught, thinks the frog died, but he actually just broke the spell by angering his relative into chucking him across the room.

Anyone know the book I’m talking about? It was really good. Anyone have any books to add to the list?

Book: Neverwhere

Author:Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fiction
Length:370 pgs.

Summary: Stuck in a relationship and job where he is a whipping boy, Richard Mayhew breaks free of his daily not-caring ritual when a bloodied girl dressed in rags literally drops at his feet. By helping her, he loses track of his entire existence (literally), and must embark on a journey through “this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London he knew.”

pg 7 – There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar apart: first, Mr Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr Croup; second, Mr Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr Vandemar’s eyes are brown; third, while Mr Vendemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr Croup has no obvious jewelry; fourth, Mr Croup likes words, while Mr Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing at all alike.

pg 49 – To say that Richard Mayhew was not very good at heights would be perfectly accurate, but it would fail to give the full picture. Richard hated clifftops, and high buildings: somewhere not far inside him was the fear–the stark, utter, silently screaming terror–that if he got too close to the edge, then something would take over and he would find himself walking to the edge of a clifftop and stepping off into space. It was as if he could not entirely trust himself, and that scared Richard more than the simple fear of falling ever could. So he called it vertigo, and hated it and himself, and kept away from high places.

pg 93 – Varney looked like a bull might look, if the bull were to be shaved, dehorned, covered in tattoos, and suffered from complete dental breakdown. Also, he snored.

Why should you read this book?
I love Neil Gaiman. This is the second book I’ve read by him (Stardust was the other). I saw the movie MirrorMask and loved it. Gaiman’s tone is clever and funny; when you read his books you feel like he is sitting there telling you a story, rather than you reading a book (especially so with Stardust, where the characters are more archetypal). His descriptions are precise, accurate, and oftentimes hilarious because he doesn’t give any of his characters a break; see my excerpts above for an example.

If you like Doctor Who or Monty Python, this is a book for you. If you write fiction that takes any hint whatsoever from fairy tales, mythology, or legends, Gaiman is an excellent example to read to get a feel for what other writers are doing. (Another good example would be Marquez, but I’ll save that for when I review Of Love and Other Demons.) Gaiman, to me, is what I imagine the Grimm Brothers were to their contemporaries. All three men take inspiration from life, make the most mundane or horrible facts fantastical, and demand in the nicest way possible that you get something out of the story by the end. I highly suggest reading the author note at the end to really drive this point home.

Guest Post: An Introduction to Fantasy Novels

Another guest post this week, this time by my friend Word Nerd. She’s going to introduce us to science fiction and fantasy, genres I do read, but not as much as historical fiction. For my fellow historical fiction readers, this should help you dip into a new genre. Enjoy! Next week, my post on helping a fellow writer love writing itself, rather than the idea of being a Writer.

When Word Nerd was younger, there was really only one section of the library she frequented: Fantasy. And sci-fi as an after thought.

Then, with the coming of oodles of college reading, her interest in massive fantasy series started to wane some. It was too hard to remember all the rules of magic for every last world and the Elven dialects and gosh, weren’t mysteries fun to read too?

Since then, Word Nerd still likes to hit the fantasy section of libraries and bookstores, but she’s developed tough standards for what to pick up from those shelves. Here are some tested tips.

First, the conventions and the masters. No, not the conventions like Gencon where people dress up like wookies. The conventions of the genres.

The world of fantasy fiction is full of conventions. Take for example the following: Elves are not short, in fact they are tall and lithe and graceful; the use of apostrophes in names is considered acceptable; the book will likely contain a 1) map, 2) glossary and 3) cast of characters; the protagonist is often the recipient or subject of a prophecy, or an orphan, or a misplaced member of the royal family and if they are really lucky, all three.

The only way to really learn the conventions is to read the books and just begin to accept them. The way to learn the conventions is to start with the masters. Tolkien. Donaldson. McCaffery. Brooks. Weis and Hickman. Zelazny. Why these folks? Well, guys like Tolkien pioneered the genre, guys like Brooks borrowed from it, Donaldson gave it a new spin and McCaffery and Weis/Hickman made an empire of it. Also, many of these books have survived from the explosion of fantasy books in the 1970s and early 1980s (and earlier for some of them.) Many of these are the authors Word Nerd cut her bibliophile teeth on during her middle and high school years.

Second, find the books that break the conventions.

The “rules” get old. Every fantasy world does not need humans, elves, dwarves and dragons. Or glossaries.

Word Nerd hit this realization some time likely in college, getting fed up with how many fantasy books all seemed the same. After this, she became a much more selective reader. If a book starts with a character on a journey at the beginning, that’s a good caution sign. So is the glossary in the back, because it tends to mean that the world in the book/series is complicated and very different from earth as we know it.

Good fantasy is often like good, classic sci-fi. It doesn’t have to be a huge stretch to get from what we know of earth to get to the society in the fantasy world. Maybe it’s just a take on feudalism. Maybe it’s only a step further to believe that some people can telepathically communicate with animals; just look at the Dog Whisperer and go from there.

Third, be ready to commit for the long haul.

Much fantasy is written as a series. Rule of thumb, three to six books is an excellent number for a series. Some people (Steven Brust, Jim Butcher and Terry Pratchett for example) can keep a series going longer than that. At some point, most long series suffer a severe drop in quality. Nevertheless, be ready for the long haul because the books are often 600+ pages for just one book in a series. With this commitment, Word Nerd has also developed a strategy of waiting until all books in a series have been released before starting to read it. This way, once invested in the world, she doesn’t have to wait for years before the next one comes out, forgetting in the mean time, all the set-up for that land.

Many fantasy books have good emotional pay-offs in the end, with just as much impact as any “literary” fiction novel.

Read any that are sure-fire winners? Want to know some worthwhile titles? Post a comment.

Book: Stardust

Title: Stardust
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 235 pgs

Summary: In the town of Wall there is a young man named Tristran Thorn, and he is in love with a young woman named Victoria Forester. Victoria, young, beautiful, and completely aware of the fact, sends Tristran on a fool’s errand: to fetch the fallen star on the horizon. And so, Tristran steps across the border from the everyday to the mystical.

pg 23 – He entertained these thoughts awkwardly, as a man entertains unexpected guests. Then, as he reached his objective, he pushed these thoughts away, as a man apologizes to his guests, and leaves them, muttering something abuot a prior engagement.

pg 36 – “Anyway,” said Cecilia Hempstock, Louisa’s cousin, “he has already been married. I would not wish to marry someone who has already been married. It would be,” she opined, “like having someone else break in one’s own pony.”
“Personally, I would imagine that to be the
sole advantage of marrying a widdower,” said Amelia Robinson. “That someone else would have removed the rough edges; broken him in, if you will. Also, I would imagine that by that age his lusts would long since have been sated, and abated, which would free one from a number of indignities.”

pg 131 – “A nymph. I was a wood-nymph. But I got pursued by a prince, not a nice prince, the other kind, and, well, you’d think a prince, even the wrong kind, would understand about boundaries, wouldn’t you?”
“You would?”
“Exactly what I think. But he didn’t, so I did a bit of invoking while I was running, and–ba-boom!–tree. What do you think?”
“Well,” said Tristran. “I do not know what you were like as a wood-nymph, madam, but you are a magnificent tree.
“I was pretty cute as a nymph, too.”

pg 224 – He wondered how it could have taken him so long to realize how much he cared for her, and he told her so, and she called him an idiot, and he decalred that it was the finest thing that ever a man had been called.

Why should you read this book?
Because it’s Neil Gaiman, and everyone should read one Gaiman book at some point. This book begged to be read aloud, and I almost wish (now this is a shocker) that I had the audio version. The narration is simple yet intriguing and complex; I want to read it again just to figure out how he was able to convey so much with so little. Which is exactly why you should read this book. Long sentences and over-the-top vocabulary are gimicks easily pointed out…they hide bad plots and expose worse execution. Gaiman’s simple narration is a quick read, yet, there are important themes discussed.

Plus, the movie comes out on my birthday. So, read the book before you watch the movie, as the movie is almost never as good as the original.

Book: Poison Study

Title: Posion Study
Author: Maria V Snyder
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 361 pgs

Summary: Yelena has murdered a man. And the punishment for death, for any unnatural death, even accidental, is execution. Luckily, the Commander’s food-taster has just died, and Yelena, being the next up for execution, is offered the job by the Commander’s right-hand man, Valek. As her tasting and smelling skills improve, Yelena’s survival instinct (a droning sound emitting from her mouth) turns out to be a sort of raw magic. And in a land where magic is outlawed, punishable by death, Yelena finds herself facing death from all angles.

pg 104 – “You remind me of a pretty bird, willing to sit on the windowsill as long as nobody comes too close, but prepared to fly away if somebody does.”

Why should you read this book?
It’s an entertaining read. I was most intrigued by Valek, who surprises Yelena with the facets of his personality, and therefore the reader. The political intrigue wasn’t the most groundbreaking, but then, the story was more a fantasy coming-of-age than anything else, so I can forgive that. I liked it enough to look for the next book, Magic Study, but I have to admit that Yelena’s horrible past just didn’t really come across with fervency. But once again, that may not have been the point.

Book: A Mankind Witch

Title: A Mankind Witch
Author: Dave Freer
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 352 pgs

Summary: Cair Aiden, one of the Redbeard Raider brothers, a pair of corsair seacaptains, has washed ashore in Norseland and made a thrall (slave) of the Telemark kingdom. This is a new phenomenon for him–Cair has always been master of his own fate, and just because he is now a thrall doesn’t make him believe differently. Studying his surroundings and the internal politics of this little kingdom of Telemark, set in the 16th Century, Cair manipulates his way into being the personal thrall of the Princess Signy, who is unknowingly at the center of an immense plot to throw the Christian oath-bearers out of the country and allow dark magics to reign supreme.

pg 216 – Cair swept aimlessly. His mind was a ferment. First, relief that she was, it appeared, both alive and unhurt. Secondly, at her reaction. Seeing her, smiling down at him, it had been a holiday with his wits. Cair was finally prepared to admit to himself that he–he of all people–was hopelessly in love with the girl-child*. And to her he was a loyal thrall, to be trusted enough to carry steel. Not even quite human. To be cherished, yes, as she did her horse. And yet, when he made her laugh in that dark place–it was all right. He would be her thrall, if he could make her happy.

pg 232 – Head bowed, trying to look even smaller and more unimportant than she felt, Signy walked out of the troll queen’s throne chamber and down into the troll hill. Here she was–“Signy you can’t do anything right,” “Signy you are so clumsy you can’t be trusted with anything”–with a skeleton key. His only key. A map which she couldn’t read. Intructions she was terrified of having to follow. And it wasn’t “Signy you can’t succeed at anything.” The thrall simply assumed that she would. It was a frightening and somehow uplifting belief. The little hard core of her honor that was the essence of Signy Siglunddottir was determined to do it. She kept a wary watch while he set the trap rope. At his gesture she moved past the door toward noisome cells, and waited, willing herself to be invisible.

*Worderella note: Signy the girl-child is 24 yrs old.

Why should you read this book?
It reads very much like Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. The beginning is slow, full of slight backstory so we are acquainted with the characters even while watching their present actions. There is a lot of political intrigue. Apparently, it’s also part of a three-part story, where two of the main characters are the only main characters in the other two books, or so the narrative in this book leads me to believe. I probably won’t be reading those, because I like how this one felt like a stand-alone. So, for you writers, read this book for an authentic feel for setting and history; especially in terms of all these Norse words that the characters use like it’s no big deal. It’s a big deal to me, I almost put the book down because I felt like I had to learn some other language to understand the story. Luckily, Freer told me what the words meant just as I was getting frustrated, and I read on.

Read this book for a well-planned romance that isn’t the main point of the story. Instead, I would say this story is about self-empowerment. For both men and women, really, because all the characters at one point completely believe they will fail. By the end of the book, Freer utilizes the same trick Maguire does, which is to make his chapters shorter, so you feel like you’re flying with the characters through this intense action. Overall, a good read. The characters are tangible and funny. The setting is believable and integral to the plot. The plot itself feels original to me, but that might be because I only have a moderate understanding of Norse mythology. I did recognize the villains from what I do know about Norse mythology, and yet, I was still interested. I still don’t quite know their motivation behind their actions, except that as dark creatures they want more power, but I suppose that’s just another reason to read this book and learn from Freer’s mistakes and successes. Give it a try, I’ve decided I liked this book.

Book: Once Upon a Marigold

Title: Once Upon a Marigold
Author: Jean Ferris
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 272 pgs

Summary: The hook on the front cover of this book reads Part comedy, part love story, part everything-but-the-kitchen-sink. This book is actually a young adult fantasy, and I didn’t realize that until I found the book in that section of my local library, but hey. I have loved Ferris ever since I read her Rosie & Raider trilogy (Into the Wind, Song of the Sea, and Weather the Storm). …I can’t believe I remembered the characters and titles without looking them up. Seriously, I read these books when I was thirteen. Anyway, Once Upon a Marigold is about Christian, a little boy who runs away to live with a forest troll, and spends his developmental years roaming the forest and reading every book he can “borrow.” All the while, Christian uses his foster father’s telescope to watch the goings-on in the royal castle across the river, and subsequently, falls in love with the “ugly duckling” Princess Marigold. This is a time when p-mail (aka pidgeon-mail) is modern, when Queen Mab of toothfairy fame is losing control of her business, and when a curse may not be a curse after all.

pg 48 – And that was how their long p-mail correspondence began.

April 19. I’m 17. I’m an Aries. Why did you decide to write to me? – Marigold

You seemed so absorbed in your book. I wanted to know what you were reading. – C

For some reason, he was reluctant to tell her his name. The more anonymous he stayed, the bolder he felt–as if he were someone else, an alternate version of himself, a version who casually corresponded with a princess. A version who couldn’t tell her his own birthday because he didn’t know it.

You can see me? – Marigold
P.S. What does the C stand for?

He thought her first question sounded a bit alarmed, as most people would be if they found out they were being watched. But the fact that she’d added a P.S. meant she was curious about him, which he took as a good sign. He debated a long time about how to answer.

Sometimes I can see you. The C stands for my name.

Why should you read this book?
Because it’s actually pretty funny, and funny is hard to do in books. It starts a little slow, but the characters are vivid, and interesting, and are people I wouldn’t mind knowing in real life. And let me tell you, writing young adult fiction is hard. You have to get the exact amount of detail in there so the reader understands just what you want them to understand, without losing their interest. The plot runs really quickly as soon as Christopher starts to interact with Marigold, and you’ll find yourself skimming just to know what happens next. But don’t do it. Read it thoroughly and enjoy the pacing and narrative voice, and learn something from it. Once Upon a Marigold is great for anyone wanting to learn how to speed up their story, and to make their characters seem vivid (if a little stereotyped for some of the secondary roles).