The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Geoff Habiger

This week on Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub I’m talking about the connection between table top role playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, and great authors. Today I’m happy to feature some thoughts on the subject from author Geoff Habiger.

When Jodie mentioned she was looking for authors to share their experiences with gaming and writing I jumped at the chance because gaming – especially TTRPG gaming – has been a big part of my life and an influence for my writing since I was in the 5th grade (many, many yahren ago). In that time, I have played innumerable RPG starting with D&D from the days of the Big Red Box up through 4th edition (I’ve not played 5th ed. yet). Other RPGs I have played include: Rolemaster, Pathfinder, Paranoia, Timemaster, GURPs, Traveller, Star Wars (West End Games version), Mutants and Masterminds, and several home brew systems. RPGs allowed me to spend time with my friends, explore new worlds, and helped fuel my imagination and creativity. I’d spend hours (days sometimes) creating dungeons, making characters, and building new worlds to play in. Based on this background it seems only natural that I became a writer.

Though it wasn’t as natural as you’d think. My path to being a writer took a detour through writing for RPGs. Around the time that Wizards released the 3rd edition of D&D and the open gaming license was created, my best friend (and now co-author, Coy Kissee) and I decided to start our own game company and create material for the D&D OGL system. Thus, Tangent Games was born and the creation of our Ados: Land of Strife campaign setting. For several years we created a new world to explore, our own monster manual (Brixbrix’s Field Guide to the Creatures of Ados), rules for a new religion (out of 20+ in the pantheon) (Jute: Faith of Creation), and an adventure module (Temple of the Forgotten God). Not to mention a ton of game supplements. We created alternate rules for using languages in D&D (Ars Lingua) and rules for creating detailed descriptions of gemstones (Gemerator), and we created supplements to get more mileage from alchemy (Better Damage Through Alchemistry) and how to harness magic from gems (Mineral Magic series) plus several others. 

All of this experience in RPG writing gave me a good foundation to move into writing fiction. There are many similarities between the two, and a few differences. The biggest difference being that most RPG writing is instructional – you are writing the rules for playing the game. Your writing must be clear and concise and must convey the rules to the reader so that they can understand and play (and hopefully enjoy) the game. But that sort of writing doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity. The goal is to explain how to play the game and there is less importance on plot and story, and practically no character development (even when you are rolling up your character!). At the same time, RPG writing does allow plenty of chances for worldbuilding, and when writing an adventure, you do need to understand plot and story, though this process is very different from a traditional novel because you will never understand the actual motives of the main characters you are writing for – the players (and their player characters) that are playing the game. It is like writing an open-ended choose your adventure story where you have no idea who the main character is, what they can do, or even if they are motivated to complete the adventure as you envision it. 

In addition to the foundation from RPGs my experiences as a gamer, game master (GM), and designer helped when I began our actual writing career, especially with our fantasy series the Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures. As I developed the basic premise for this series – in a world of magic and monsters, how do the police solve crimes – I wondered where to set the story. I knew we wanted a “classic” fantasy setting, reminiscent of the RPG experience I had loved playing in, and I realized that we already had a great setting in our Ados: Land of Strife campaign world. But I didn’t want to write LitRPG so we couldn’t just drop a story into our RPG world. But Ados gave us the world into which we could play with much of the worldbuilding already done. There is a direct line of influence from our RPG experiences to what goes into our stories from how the world functions to how our characters act and react to any given situation. Our RPG experiences dictate our fight scenes, how magic works in our world, and how to pace our stories. It’s even gotten to the point where we make fun of the RPG experience – especially around adventurers – in our stories. (Note for anybody who’s not yet read our books, Reva *hates* adventurers.)

In the end, I don’t know if I would have become a writer if I hadn’t been a gamer first. The characters we played, the worlds we created, and the stories we got to tell during those caffeine-fueled, all-night game sessions, all became the fodder for me to be the writer I am today. 

Where to find us online:

Website: https://www.habigerkissee.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HabigerKisseeAuthors/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TangentGeoff

Our Books: Wrath of the Fury Blade (book 1) and Joy of the Widow’s Tears (book 2) can be found on our website (https://www.habigerkissee.com/books) where you will find links to buy from indie booksellers or corporate behemoths. Book 3 in our series: Fear the Minister’s Justice, will be out (hopefully) in 2022. 

About the author:

The writing duo of Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee have been life-long friends since high school in Manhattan, Kansas. (Affectionately known as the Little Apple, which was a much better place to grow up than the Big Apple, in our humble opinion.) We love reading, baseball, cats, role-playing games, comics, and board games (not necessarily in that order and sometimes the cats can be very trying). We’ve spent many hours together over the years (and it’s been many years) basically geeking out and talking about our favorite books, authors, and movies, often discussing what we would do differently to fix a story or make a better script. We eventually turned this passion into something more than just talk and now write the stories that we want to read. 
Coy lives with his wife in Lenexa, Kansas. Geoff lives with his wife and son in Tijeras, New Mexico.

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Zack Argyle

I am so excited to be talking Dungeons and Dragons with Zack Argyle, author of the Threadlight series. He’s an incredibly talented writer, as well as a fan of D&D.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! Will you talk a bit about the Threadlight trilogy?

Of course! I wrote this series as something I would enjoy reading. It takes inspiration from some of my favorite authors: Anthony Ryan, Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, and Brian Staveley, but also takes the theme of family, which is important to me, and brings that to the forefront.

The story originated while thinking about the parents of the chosen one. If they knew when the child was a baby that it was key to saving the world, what would they be willing to do to keep that child safe? But also, what if they failed? Chrys Valerian is a father who will burn the world to protect his family.

When did you start playing ttrpgs?

I joined Pinterest as a software engineer in 2015 and shortly after found out that they had a few D&D groups. One of them had two of my teammates, and they invited me to join. None of us work there anymore, but I do still play with those two teammates who invited me, even though we all live in different states! That group is the three of us and our wives, currently running the Ghosts of Saltmarsh 5e campaign.

Has gaming inspired you in any way?

Being a dungeon master is what gave me the confidence to go all-in on this years-long storytelling adventure! There was a particular moment that I’ll never forget.

Each of the players provided me with backstories at the start of the campaign which I used to weave into the greater arc of Storm King’s Thunder. One night, on the streets of Gauntlgrym, the party had just defeated a powerful foe when a high level member of the Zhentarim faction—their greatest enemy throughout the campaign—appeared. The man dropped to a knee in front of one of the players, then bowed and whispered, “First Lord.” The players gasped. Those two words changed everything in the campaign. It changed the player dynamics, the plot focus, and the tone of the story.

Since you weren’t there, it probably seems like nothing. But in that moment, I knew that I could write a compelling story. I knew that I could take complex arcs and weave them together to create moments of awe. Shortly after, I started seriously writing Voice of War.

As someone who has been on the player end of a moment like that, I absolutely get it. My husband once ran a campaign in which he wrote separate visions for each player of how their character would die (if the visions were correct). They ranged from sweet and satisfying to violent or completely unexpected. Mouths dropped open. One player teared up. It was such a cool moment! 


On the opposite side of that, has publishing books made you more confident in your gaming?

It’s actually quite interesting. As a character, I do think it has helped me be more confident in creating and role-playing more complex, interesting characters. On the other hand, there is an added pressure now when I am the dungeon master for the story to be great! Which is a lot of pressure for something that’s supposed to be fun! The same goes for writing. If you publish a book that people love, there is a lot of pressure to make the next book better. If you succeed, the pressure is compounded for the third book. In a way, it’s given me a bit of empathy toward Patrick Rothfuss. With the acclaim of his first two books, I’m sure he’s freaking out about ending the series well. Same goes for popular TTRPG personalities, like Matthew Mercer (Critical Role) or Griffin McElroy (Adventure Zone). The pressure on their shoulders as DMs is insanely high.

I never would have thought of it that way, but that makes perfect sense. Although, when it comes to the next book in your series, I really don’t think you need to worry. 🙂

Are there any parts in your books that are a direct result of a D&D campaign?

I’ve reused a lot of names between campaigns and the Threadlight series. My first D&D character was Sir Atticus Endin, which led to the Great Lord Malachus Endin. There were also characters named Alverax and Corian. But none of the plot points have yet to be taken from a campaign.

I’ve noticed that many great fantasy authors play D&D. Do you think there is a connection between gaming and writing?

If you enjoy being a dungeon master, which requires a ton of hard work, worldbuilding, juggling of complex scenarios, as well as a wild degree of creativity, then you almost certainly enjoy writing. It doesn’t surprise me at all that so many fantasy authors love TTRPGs!

What are some similarities and differences?

Extensive worldbuilding, characterization, magic-filled fights, and mysteries are all quintessential building blocks of both.

Does gaming help with writing creativity or vice versa?

True role-playing—I believe—does help your writing, because it forces you to learn how to think and make decisions based on the perspective of another person. If you can learn to put yourself into the mind of a character that does not think or act like you, then you will be that much better of a writer.

What do you love about gaming?

For me, it’s the camaraderie. I love being in a situation where people can let down their defenses, where they can be silly, creative, dorky, anything. Mix that in with moments of unpredictable, collectively-inspired storytelling, and it’s just wonderful fun.

I totally agree! I love that you mention the storytelling being collectively-inspired, because it is such a group event. You could take the exact same campaign and play it with two separate groups and the stories would end up being two completely different stories. Do you have a favorite character class, or do you like to mix it up?

Definitely love variety! I’ve played a Gnome Barbarian (Corian), Changeling Sorcerer (Alucard), Tabaxi Rogue (Boots), Human Paladin (Atticus), and Vedalken Druid (Keltrovac). My two current characters are a Firbolg Wizard (Marsh) and an Eladrin Rogue (Rael). I have no shame, so I’ve also done different character voices for each one.

Oh, kudos for the firbolg! I actually had to look that one up. I have yet to do the voices for my character myself (I’m working up to it). The amount of creativity that can be put into making a character is one of my favorite things about D&D. The sky (and the DM’s final word) is the limit! 

What first drew you to writing?

I’ve always loved storytelling. Despite having a degree in electrical engineering, I actually started out my college career in Journalism. Fifteen years later, the itch to write never left me. Mix that in with my love of learning and trying new things, as well as an unhealthy dose of stubborn tenacity, and here I am with a full-time hobby job.

Is there a particular gaming memory that always makes you laugh or smile?

There was a moment in one of our campaigns where the party really grew attached to one of their traveling companions, a hill giant named Moog. One session, Moog had been captured and was going to be killed, mostly as a way for me to simplify the campaign. The sorcerer in the group said “No!” and rushed to save her. I only allowed it because he said he had a spell called Tree Stride that allowed him to move one mile per minute through the forest. He got to the hideout, blasted the captors, and then quickly fell to the floor dead. While rolling for death saves, he rolled a nat 20, got up, and killed the captors, saving their friend. It was already an epic moment that became even better when we realized that he’d mistaken the spell, and he did not actually have Tree Stride—he couldn’t, it was too high level. The sorcerer and Moog became best friends after that, and we still laugh about the wonderful mistake.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before but is curious about it?

Do it! Find a group you can feel comfortable with, and just have fun. Play a character that acts just like you would if it helps, then, when you’re ready, try a new character that is wildly different. The friendships you make and the fun you’ll have outweigh any of the fear of getting started. Make it happen!

About the author:

Author Interview: Charles K. Jordan

Ta’Lin’s undead legions threatened to unravel everything until the combined might of Five Kingdoms adjusted to the nature of their foe and rallied to a tenuous stalemate.

Against the backdrop of a deadlocked war, life continues while the embers of well-laid schemes kindle into an inferno that will raze the continent so that it can be reborn.

Gaiaus, a well-connected Maximus of the highly-respected Oliverus family, is offered everything he could have hoped for but can’t help but wonder if promises made will be delivered. Never one to sit back and hope for the best, he bides his time, waiting for more palatable opportunities to present themselves.

Arcanus, the spoiled scion of the waning Dragonsbane family, disagrees with his father’s decision to send him far away to apprentice under a ruthless mentor from an infamous family after the details of his murder came to light.

Kir’Lor’s lavish lifestyle on the Consul of Five comes to an abrupt end when his father strips him of his political duties and reassigns him to the frontlines. Skeptical and unsatisfied with his new role, his options are expanded when a dangerous opportunity arises from an unlikely source.

A continent in crisis holds its collective breath as the threads of fate are woven into a new future.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Charles K. Jordan, author of Scourge of the Five Kingdoms.

Thank you for chatting with me!

First, will you tell me a little about Scourge of the Five Kingdoms?

To answer this question, I think it would be best to explain what exactly Scourge of the Five Kingdoms is and isn’t. The backdrop of the story is a decade-long war, but it is not a war story. There is a clear threat to the continent from the war, but there is no predestined hero to stop it. There is a lot of political intrigue and maneuvering, but it is not strictly a political thriller. The characters are developed already, so it is not a progression story. These characters have their goals, and many are at the zenith of their prowess. I almost hate to use the term, but it is, in a way, a throwback fantasy in the sense that the story does not focus on a hero, a journey, or an ancient artifact or prophecy. Several sapient races live on the continent in a tenuous peace despite their differences. Because of that, Scourge of the Five Kingdoms has a diverse, large ensemble cast. Also, magic is a common occurrence among the denizens and is treated like any other commodity. 

Scourge of the Five Kingdoms is part one of a six-book series with novellas and further works in the same world coming later. It is a mature series because it does contain content such as violence, alcohol, recreational vices, and non-graphic sexual encounters. If I were to suggest an appropriate age, I would feel comfortable saying 16 years and up would be apt.

What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?

I enjoyed fantasy as a kid. It started first with RPG games, but what made me a fantasy fan for life was the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The series got me through some difficult times in my life. As I got older, I realized that getting to know those characters as well as I did, was just as influential for me as the actual story was.

Scourge of the Five Kingdoms seems rife with political maneuvering and backstabbing. What were some challenges to writing these complexities?

Making sure that characters behaved the way they would act and are not just taking actions for the sake of moving the plot. There were many times when I would stop writing and think to myself that this character wouldn’t do what I had plotted, and I would have to work out what moves that character would make. It broke lots of initial plot points while writing, but it made the story feel so much more organic, so it was well worth the trouble.

When working on your book, what came first for you: the plot or the characters?

Definitely the characters because their personal goals and quirks are what drive the plot. I wanted to create a story that was moved by the characters instead of the other way around. Even though, as I said before, they ruined my plans more times than I wish to remember.


What was the hardest part or character to write?

The hardest part of writing this series, especially the first book, was that I wanted a large cast. Keeping track of what characters knew, who they met, what they promised, what they were planning long and short-term was challenging at first. It took a lot of notes to make sure I kept it all on target.

Do you have a favorite character in your novel?

Ah, that is a difficult question. I am going to cheat and pick three characters. One, I enjoy the antics of Arcanus Dragonsbane. He is a tough character to like because he is a scumbag, but he is a great character to watch. He is a man of noble blood who has no understanding of how the world outside of his pampered bubble works and expects to be above the law. He is the mold of how I think nobles of a fantasy world would be. Two, Kir’Lor because his story deals a lot with his relationship with his father, Ang’Lor. I think it is a relatable tale for many. The last is Ta’Lin, the story’s main antagonist, who ties most of the characters together. He has some witty interactions with some characters. He is also the driving force behind the conspiracy threatening the Five Kingdoms. 

I feel the character relationships are so vital that interactions and chemistry between certain characters are characters themselves.

That’s an excellent point regarding character relationships! I often feel like a good interaction between characters can say a lot more about who each character really is than pages of explanation can. How do you go about developing that dialogue and the interactions between your characters?

As the characters feel each other out, you start to see bits of their personalities that you couldn’t plot before those interactions began. Again, I try to let my characters shine. That means not allowing myself to make characters interact in a way they ordinarily wouldn’t for the sake of advancing the plot or making things easier on myself as the writer. I also believe that some people click and some don’t, and trust often needs to be earned, and I try to bring that to life through my characters’ interactions. 

To answer your question more directly when characters meet for the first time, I ask myself several questions. Would these characters click? Why or why not? How comfortable are they around each other? What are their goals at the moment? Do they think the other characters can help their goals? And do they have any other issues such as prejudices, stereotypes, bad experiences with the characters’ backgrounds? And whatever else I feel would make a critical impact on their first impression. It seems like a lot, maybe it is a lot, but I think it produces terrific, natural-feeling interactions between the cast.

Is it easier for you to write a hero or a villainous character? Which is more fun?

One of the main ideas of the series is that almost everyone is a shade of gray. Most of the characters are horrible to some degree, so I would say it is probably easier for me to write a villainous or near-villainous character. There is one character that is the closest to an absolute “hero.” His name is Fortexxt Bynder. He was a challenge to write because he was such a change from the other characters in the world. However, with that being said, writing him was fun to write because of his moral compass.

I’m always curious: what is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own)?

I would have to say The Great Hunt, again, by Robert Jordan. To me, it is a near-perfect fantasy novel. It has an incredible balance of action and world-building, and even though you know the main heroes are not going to perish, it feels dangerous for them.

But my real hope is that someday, some author will say Scourge of the Five Kingdoms or some other book in the series is their favorite and inspired them to create as other authors inspired me.

Where to purchase Scourge of the Five Kingdoms:
Amazon

About the author:

Charles K. Jordan Bio
Charles K. Jordan was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. He attended
university in his home state, as well, where he studied Information Technology. After
graduating, he decided to move abroad to experience more than what he had seen in
the United States. He found his way to Japan in 2003, and since then, he has called
Japan home.
Charles K. Jordan was always drawn to fantasy, sci-fi, and adventure. When he was a
young child, the first novel he read was Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by
Deborah and James Howe, and from that point, he was hooked. Since then, he has
found inspiration and heroes from various writers in all forms of media. Some of his
heroes include Robert Jordan, J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Quentin Tarantino,
Terence Winter, Garth Ennis, and Glen Cook, just to name a few. Ever since that
fateful day that led him to pick up Bunnicula, he knew his calling in life would be to
create and hopefully contribute to someone’s growth and dreams.
Charles K. Jordan vowed to himself that no matter what happened in his life. He
would never stop dreaming, writing, and creating.

Judging a Book by its Cover: an interview with artist Natasha Overttun

Adobe_Post_20200503_1301090.9358514676214506
Lately I’ve been thinking about judging books by their covers. We all do it a little bit. A good cover catches the eye and makes us curious about the book. I thought it might be time to feature some great book artists, starting with the excellent Natasha Overttun. You can find her work on the covers of the Terra Nova books by D. Ellis Overttun. If you’d like to contact either of them for interviews, you can find them on Twitter @neoverttun. In a fun twist, author D. Ellis Overttun interviews Natasha Overttun (a husband-wife duo: how cool is that!). The author’s questions are in bold.

@WS_BOOKCLUB, a while back, you floated the idea of doing a Q&A with Natasha. What a great concept! We thought an interesting twist might be if I did the Q. This Q&A will focus on the evolution of Natasha’s work and skills. It was a lot of fun. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.

First of all, could you please give us some opening comments?

(singing) I’m so exited! And I just can’t hide it! I’m about to lose control…

Something that’s not a shower song…

I’m so exited. And I just can’t hide it. I’m about to lose control…

Something that’s not a Pointer Sisters’ song…

Apart from being thrilled, I’m so proud that a blogger like Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub would want to hear what I have to say. At first, I was a little surprised and scared…`

As I recall, I had to talk you into it.

Yes, I’m not used to being out there. But, as time passed, I got more comfortable with it. You know its just like Bob Wiley says: “Baby steps, baby steps.”

I think it was Dr. Leo Marvin.

No, I’m sure it was Bob.

We’ll Wiki after the Q&A. Anyway, how did you first get involved with visual arts?

When I was a little girl, I loved coloring books…

Let’s skip a head a bit…

Oh…well, more than a little while ago, I took an introductory art course at the local community college. One of the projects we did involved collages. Each of us brought in a magazine and were told to cut out pictures or shapes we found interesting. We put them all together on some of the desks in the front row. The exercise was to assemble a cut and paste collage.

I had absolutely no idea what to do. So, I hung back and watched the feeding frenzy. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were going to do. My first attempt was a fireplace surrounded by flames, lights and candles suspended in the air. I was so proud of myself! The teacher came by. She gave it a look that was more than just a glance. So, I thought, “Yesss! She likes it!” But it was really one of those howcanIputit looks. “It’s hanging,” she said. “That’s right,” I replied. Then, I realized she meant that something was missing. A few people had gathered around for her critique. “Where is a rock to crawl under when you need one?” I thought.

 

That was the best idea I had, and I now looked through the cutouts on the front desks that had been picked clean. This is what I came up with…

Lips

I was a little more than embarrassed when it came to present at the front of the class. What I put together didn’t look like anything. Oh, where’s that rock?

To my surprise, it drew rave reviews. Who knew?

That course gave me an appreciation for things like balance, composition and perspective. More than that though, my fellow classmates encouraged my small successes. That gave me confidence.

How did you become involved with the Terra Nova series?

You finished the first version of Universe: Awakening in May 2017. I remember you were on the kdp site rushing to publish. Then, it asked you for a cover. I’ll never forget the look on your face. It was: I need a cover? AHHH! Neither of us had any idea what to do. An anxious read of the help notes said we could use a jpeg. Great! But a jpeg of what?

Then, you came up with the idea that we would take a picture of something. So, I got my iPhone, and we frantically scoured our suite for something suitable. You finally decided on one of the patterns from a pot. A few clicks and a couple of emails later, and it was uploaded. It was too small. At the time, we had no idea how to resize an image. My niece is a graphic artist. So, she did it. Uploaded! Publish? No, we had to deal with text: Which font? What size? What color? I gained a real appreciation for your wordsmithing that day. Your string of invectives was colorful and creative. But not “Like wiping your ass with silk” to quote the Merovingian. That said, you finally slapped something together.

Lorna from On the Shelf Reviews (@ljwrites85) gave you some very constructive feedback. It went something like (and I paraphrase) “…perhaps, you could do something with the cover”. You have many faults but not being able to take a hint is not one of them.

Yes, I remember. So, I casually hinted…

Implored…

Asked if you had any suggestions.

Yes, and the result was the second cover.

Before (You) After (Me)

20170829 Universe eBook Cover (120 x 192) 20190330 Universe (2nd ed) - Cover (120 x 192 72 DPI)

How have you gone from collages to covers?

It’s been an evolution. To promote the book, you started a blogsite called “Author’s Cut” where you would write posts about Universe. I read somewhere that it’s good to break up text with visuals, to prevent reader fatigue. When I made the suggestion, I got the job.

I had no idea how to go about actually creating visuals. I was lucky to bump into a site called “Pixabay”. It’s a very popular site that has millions of images available without running into copywrite issues. I started out with find, cut, paste. It was primitive, but it was something. Then, I found some freeware called “Photoscape”, and I was able to do things like add text, crop, superimpose, stuff like that. When it came time for the Universe cover makeover, I was ready.

What’s happened since then?

You found that maintaining a social media presence, writing and publishing were too timeconsuming. So, you vacated SM, and I took over. I started on Twitter last year.

How has that gone?

Very well. I think it has increased SM awareness for your writing in a way you never could. If I say, “Hey! My hubby’s great. Read his stuff”, people say, “What a supportive wife.” If you echo the same sentiment, you’re a braggart.

True, very true. How did you start doing visuals on Twitter?

It started with the header, and it took me to another level. I found that, while Photoscape is great, you can’t edit after you’ve saved and exited the program. I found that Word gave that to me. People trained in graphic arts would probably snub their noses at it, but it was a quick fix that was easy to learn. My first headers were the covers of your first two books plus some Pixabay jpegs.

20190309 TWTR Header (750 x 250)

That looks like the first version of the Genesis cover.

That’s right. When I did it, I thought that it was ok, but something was missing. It kept bugging me, so, finally, I did a makeover. Tada!

20200108 Genesis - Cover (120 x 192)

Yes, it has a certain pop to it.

After that, I noticed that a lot of people have a pinned tweet. I suggested to approach bloggers to do guest posts that I could then pin. I had found that there is a heavy emphasis on visuals on Twitter, so I suggested that I do something to accompany the post that I could attach to the tweet to catch people’s attention. As each post came online, I swapped the pic for the one from Pixabay in my header. Here’s what it eventually looked like.

20191114 TWTR Header (700 x 250)

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Yes, but it’s mostly due to the blogging community who has been very receptive and supportive of our creative efforts.

Have there been any recent developments in your bag of tricks?

Yes, I recently came across a program called GIMP. It’s a real graphic arts program. I’ve only been using it selectively for certain effects because it’s quite involved. For example, in the visual below…

Exodus Final

The breaking apart of the sphere and the beam of light were done in GIMP.

I also started using the gif feature in Photoscape. Most notably, in the recent Prophecy cover reveal. Thank you from the both of us, once again, to Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub for giving it a spot on your blog.

Well, I think we have gone on long enough, any final comments?

More of a question really. I know that one of the characters in the series is named after me. However, she is a blonde with a bob cut. I am not a blonde and have never worn my hair that way. Where did she come from?

Uh…this is your interview, not mine. We should discuss this later.

Yes, we will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mental Health in Literature: A Conversation with Author Fiona West

Finishing up my weekly series on mental health and literature is author Fiona West. Thank you so much for contributing!

First, can you tell me a bit about your book?

The Semi-Royal is about a woman who’s under immense pressure, being both a princess third in line to the throne and a widely-renowned doctor. She’s in denial about a lot of things, her attraction to her brother’s best friend being one, and it’s the story of her slowly coming to accept and make peace with herself and her body.

One of things I wanted to explore in this book is the relationship between a woman’s mind and her body. One of the things that frustrates Rhodie is that her body isn’t really under her control…as a doctor, she knows a lot about the body in general, but an event in her past has caused her to lose faith in her body. And I think that’s a connection we don’t talk about enough: a lot of mental suffering is caused by worrying about our bodies and what they look like. I know as someone with a chronic illness, it’s really impacted my relationship with my body. I hated it. I hated that it didn’t do what I wanted it to, I hated that it didn’t do what other people’s bodies did. And over time, I had to learn to see it differently: that a flare wasn’t my body failing me, it was just part of a complicated situation. My body is still keeping me alive, my heart’s still pumping, my lungs are still taking in air. And when I shifted my focus from what my body couldn’t do to what it could, my mental health improved tremendously. I had to learn to re-interpret symptom flares as communication from my body instead of a betrayal. In a word, I had to learn compassion for my own body. I still fail at it plenty, but it’s something I’m working toward, and it’s something I wanted to write about. Mental health is a journey. And even though it’s fiction, Rhodie’s story reflects that. It was a really difficult balance to give her enough progress that we felt her story was resolved and still portray that it was an ongoing struggle for her.

Do your characters go to counseling?

For Rhodie, counseling was necessary. Several members of her family and her boyfriend all try to talk to her about her disordered eating, but she’s so deep in denial that she really can’t believe it until she talks to a professional. She valued his authority. And more than that, I think what she really needed was an outside voice. Someone who wasn’t going to remind her of her royal responsibilities and how this might look to the press. Just someone to come at an issue from another angle, one we can’t get to on our own. In the book, Rhodie likens the experience to one of those paintings that looks like an old woman to some people and a young woman at a mirror to others. That’s what counseling has been to me: just a different perspective on my own life. And it did help her. It gave her a way to move forward in repairing her relationship with her body. It was slow, of course, but so many good things in life are.

Have you had any experience with counseling? How has it affected you?
I still remember when I was about fourteen, I was going through my mother’s planner looking for a phone number (remember when people had paper planners? Good times.). On her calendar, she’d written ‘counseling’ on the month’s agenda. Being helplessly curious, I paged back: she’d been going for months. When I asked her about it, she gently told me that the counselor was helping her and my dad work through some things in their marriage and that it was nothing to worry about. That it was, in fact, proof that they were going to make it. (Spoiler alert: they’re celebrating 45 years in May.)
That’s the shift we need to make as a culture: throwing away the idea that counseling is a busted bucket for a sinking ship and instead see it as the personal flotation device that we keep with us, just in case. When I went on a cruise, we all stood around in the bar, doing the drill about what to do if there’s an emergency. But we didn’t throw our life vests overboard after that. Those devices are good for all kinds of things: kids who can’t swim, snorkeling trips, a cushion for your butt on a hard bench. We kept them in their designated spot in our cabins, close at hand. That’s how I want us to think about counseling: a tool for the right situation. I’ve met with a counselor once: sometimes, once was enough. It got me through that storm, helped me get my boat rightside up again. I’ve met with other counselors for several months: those issues were deeper. Sometimes, a hug from a friend or a listening ear was enough. Sometimes, just a good jungle yell and a cry was enough. But it’s silly that we still talk about counseling in hushed tones instead of getting on the roof and letting everyone know how much it helped. Let me start: it helped me, and while I can’t speak for others, I think it’s something worth trying, even before it’s an “emergency.” Do a drill: try it on and see how it feels.

As a writer, how do you feel about mental health portrayal in literature?

What’s saddest to me in literature is when poor mental health is depicted as some kind of moral failing by a degenerate soul. There are so many factors that go into our mental health, but one of the most poignant ones is the story of leaded gas. In his article, “How Lead Caused America’s Violent Crime Epidemic,” Alex Knapp writes that “every country studied has shown [a] strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates. Within the United States, you can see the data at the state level. Where lead concentrations declined quickly, crime declined quickly. Where it declined slowly, crime declined slowly. The data even holds true at the neighborhood level – high lead concentrations correlate so well that you can overlay maps of crime rates over maps of lead concentrations and get an almost perfect fit….decades of research has shown that lead poisoning causes significant and probably irreversible damage to the brain. Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person’s ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for ‘emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility.’” If we’re demonizing people for needing help or writing them off as “crazy,” we may never help them identify the other underlying causes, such as environmental toxins, that might be affecting their health. This is just one example, but it indisputably shows why we need to think more deeply about it as a culture, which is why I’m grateful to Jodie for starting the conversation here. (You rock, Jodie.)

Fiona West is the author of The Semi-Royal, among other books. Look for her work on Amazon.

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