Writing Inspiration Destination: Delphi, Greece

All photographs in this blog post were taken by Susan Ruff in June 1992. (My apologies for the poor photo quality; they were scanned from old 35 mm prints in my photo album.)

Greece is a wonderful place to visit and provides a constant source of writing inspiration for me (as you can tell by the number of times my blog posts have included locations from that country). In a land full of amazing things to see, Delphi still stands out as one of the best.

My beloved co-author and I visited Delphi on a beautiful June day in 1992. The weather was perfect, and the archaeological complex was fascinating. After 30 years, my memory of our visit has faded a bit, but I recall that much of the site was situated along a slope and that we climbed up an ancient road as we passed the remains of structures and monuments.

Delphi also hosts a great museum. Based on the photos I saw on line recently while I was writing this blog, I suspect the museum has been improved and modernized since I was there, but even 30 years ago it contained an excellent collection of artifacts, including the famous bronze statue of a charioteer.

My writing inspiration story for today’s blog post comes from that museum. A few months ago, Emerald Cove announced plans for its newest themed anthology. The collection of short stories will focus on mythical creatures in an urban fantasy setting.

While my fellow Emerald Cove authors immediately got to work on some excellent stories, I was, as usual, completely at a loss for what to write. John and I discussed the project, and he came up with a fun plot idea that sent me searching through my photo albums to find the sphinx we had seen in the museum at Delphi.

I don’t want to say too much about a work in progress, but if all goes well, you can expect to see a humorous story involving a sphinx at some point in the future. I’ll provide a further update when I know more.

I’ll talk to you again on the first Friday of May!

-Susan 4/7/2023

p.s. Don’t forget that John and I have an author newsletter now, which goes out by email. Our subscribers can read amusing anecdotes from our lives, learn interesting bits of trivia about our books, and be the first to get updates on our writing projects. The newsletter is free, and you even get a free short story as a thank you gift when you subscribe.

Here is the link: Newsletter signup

Some Irish Castles for the Month of March

If you are a fantasy author, castles are always a wonderful source of writing inspiration. They are fun to visit, great to explore, and marvelously photogenic. I love them all — from the oldest ruins in faraway lands to that delightful edifice in nearby Anaheim. March is the month of St. Patrick’s Day and I have Irish ancestry, so it seems only fitting to write about some of the Irish castles I have visited.

Blarney Castle as seen through the trees. (Photo by S. Ruff 1995).

My beloved co-author and I first traveled to Ireland during our honeymoon in 1995. We had rented a car to drive around the British Isles, so we took a car ferry across from Wales to Ireland. We started our exploration in Dublin, and then drove south, visiting sites mostly in the eastern half of the county, before taking another ferry across to Cardiff.

During the trip, we toured Blarney Castle and I kissed the stone. So I now have the gift of eloquence…or blarney…or both. (This month’s newsletter talks a little bit more about my adventures with that particular rock.)

Looking out from the battlements of Bunratty Castle. (Photo by S. Ruff 2000.)

In the summer of 2000, my brother and I took our mother on a bus tour of Ireland. It started near Shannon, went up the western side of the country, around the top of Northern Ireland, and ended up in Dublin. During the trip we got to drive through the area where my great-grandfather was born.

Our first stop on the trip was at Bunratty Castle and folk park. The castle is impressive — tall and imposing, visible from a long distance, and very well preserved. From the top, there was a great view of the surroundings. Looking out over the lands below, I could almost imagine what the countryside looked like hundreds of years before.

One of my favorite castles in Ireland was not built as an ancient fortification. Instead, Kylemore Abbey was constructed in the 19th century as a private residence. When I first read about it in the tour brochure, I was confused — with so many ancient castles in Ireland, why visit one that was less than 200 years old?

Beautiful Kylemore Abbey. (Photo by S. Ruff 2000.)

Then I found out why. Kylemore Abbey is beautiful. It sits amid greenery beside a lake. Even on the rainy day when we visited, I could catch glimmers of the building’s reflection in the water. My photo included in this blog post does not even begin to capture the full beauty of the building and the lake beside it. It is well worth a visit.

Talk to you in April!

-Susan 3/3/2003

Writing Inspiration Destination: Catalina Island, California

Catalina Island on a cloudy day in February 1992. (Photo by Susan Ruff. Sorry for the poor photo quality. The picture was scanned from an old photo album.)

On Valentine’s Day weekend in 1992, John and I went on our very first cruise together. It was a little 3-day jaunt. It sailed from Long Beach, California, to Catalina Island, to Ensenada, Mexico, and back to Long Beach.

At the time, I considered it a test. Neither of us had cruised before, and I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy it. Would I get seasick? Would I be bored during all those hours on the water?

It turned out to be a wonderful experience. We’ve gone cruisng many times since then to all kinds of interesting places in the world. But there’s something about your very first port-of-call that makes it special forever.

In our case, it was particularly memorable, because we almost didn’t get on shore. January and February tend to be California’s rainy season, and that year was no exception. Our cruise ship anchored near the harbor at Avalon, and the ship’s tender boats were supposed to carry us on shore. Because of the rain, the water was so rough that the captain decided not to lower the tender boats.

I was very disappointed! Our first port on our first cruise, and we couldn’t go ashore. We went up to get breakfast and stared out the window. We were on one of those huge cruise ships with multiple levels, so looking down from the dining room to the water was probably like looking down from a ten-story building.

From up there, the sea looked a little active, but nothing too bad. About an hour later, when the captain decided that the weather had eased enough to allow safe passage on the tender boats, John and I ruished downstairs to get aboard one.

Suddenly the words “rough seas” had new meaning for me. Waves crashed around and rocked our little tender boat back and forth as we made our way to land. It was definitely a roller-coaster ride. (At the time, we called it an “E-ticket” ride. How many of you out there still remember that reference?) When we looked back at the cruise ship, it was as solid as a skyscraper — those big ships are amazingly stable.

Once we got on land, rain continued to pour down and water filled the sides of the streets, but we didn’t mind. We were on vacation and having fun and it was a grand adventure. The rains kept the crowds away, and we felt like we had the whole town of Avalon to ourselves. We avoided the downpour by ducking into shops, and we toured the Casino, a beautiful dance hall that was famous during my mother’s generation. In all, it was an extraordinary day and a great place to visit.

Inside the Casino, Catalina’s historic dance hall and museum. (Photo by Susan Ruff 1992.)

So what is the writing inspiration in Catalina? Obviously, for a fantasy author, there is something mythic about going west over the water to a place called Avalon. But since John and I don’t write Arthurian fantasy, that was not a direct inspiration for our novels. Instead, I think the whole atmosphere of the day was the real inspiration — the rain, the rocking boat ride, the beautiful seaside community, and the grand adventure of it all.

And, by the way, if you are a fan of fantasy novels, the ebook version of our novel The Keyhole Wizard, is on sale today and throughout this weekend (February 3 – 5, 2023) for 99 cents on Amazon.com. Click here to find out more: The Keyhole Wizard.

If you like clean fantasy, there is also a group promotion going on right now for Noblebright and Clean Fantasy stories:

One of our short stories Reflections of Disdain is included in the promo.

Have a wonderful February! Talk to you in March!

-Susan 2/3/2023

Writing Inspiration Destination: Bergen, Norway

Looking across the water toward the Bryggen area of the city. (Photo by S. Ruff, 2022. All other photos in this blog taken by S. Ruff in 2013.)

Bergen, Norway is a wonderful city. A beautiful waterfront, fascinating historical sites, and so many other things make it a great destination. John and I had the privilege of exploring the city during two different trips, the first time in 2013, and more recently during a cruise last summer.

As an author of medieval-type fantasy, I particularly enjoyed visiting the old harbor district, known as Bryggen. Narrow alleys lead between wooden buildings, with rooftops so close together that they almost seem to touch. Some of the structures lean at interesting angles, and one shop even had a staircase with treads that slanted to the side.

We also had fun exploring Rosenkrantz Tower, a centuries-old stone structure, complete with narrow doorways, winding stairs, arched alcoves, a rooftop overlook, a museum, and even a 16th-century dungeon room.

The writing inspirations in Bergen are almost too numerous to mention. For example, the narrow alleys in Bryggen undoubtedly influenced some of the scenes in the city of Cravanse in The Keyhole Wizard.

I highly recommend that all would-be fantasy authors take some time to travel. It’s fine to read about a darkened walkway with tall buildings close together and overhanging roofs above, but it’s a far differerent experience to walk through that alley in real life. Those real-life experiences have made a huge difference in my writing.

Talk to you next month!

-Susan 1/6/2023

P.S. Don’t forget that John and I have a monthly email newsletter now! In addition to updates and trivia about our writing, articles can include amusing anecdotes from our lives and stories about our travels. For example, in today’s issue, I admit to one of my guilty little travel pleasures. Anyone who signs up gets a free copy of a fantasy short story that my beloved co-author and I wrote exclusively for the newsletter. Click this link to sign up and get your free short story.

View from the top of Rosenkrantz Tower. (Photo by S. Ruff, 2013.)

Announcing Our Free Newsletter and Short Story!

It’s official! John and I now have our own author newsletter/email list. Anyone who signs up will receive a free copy of our short story Reflections of Disdain, a fun little prequel to our full-length fantasy novel The Keyhole Wizard.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while and wondered what our writing is like, here is your chance to get a free sample. To sign up and receive your copy of the short story, click this link.

Story description:

Does she know the secret to lure the hymarinx, a rare and dangerous magical creature?

Nineteen-year-old Daraline Graciel lives with the sting of failure, ever since a foolish mistake forever robbed her of magic. When a hymarinx appears on her family lands, she sees a chance to redeem herself. If she can capture the prized animal before anyone else, she can finally prove her worth to her mother and the world.

But the hymarinx is an elusive, magical beast with sharp claws and teeth. If Daraline fails, it could cost more than her reputation.

(This prequel short story takes place about two years before the opening of The Keyhole Wizard.)

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season! I’ll talk to you in January 2023.

-Susan 12/2/2022

Writing Inspiration Destination: Iceland

With the world opening up once more, John and I finally got a chance to do some foreign travel this past summer. We took a cruise which included several stops in Iceland. We had never visited Iceland before, so I was excited to go there.

The ruggedly beautiful countryside impressed me right away. Iceland contains fascinating geological features — boiling mudpots, steamvents between the rocks, and unusual, lunar-like landscapes. No volcanoes were erupting while we were there, but I got to climb up the side of an old volcanic crater. I also went underground to explore a lava tube.

Shopping in Reykjavik was a lot of fun. We enjoyed both the regular stores and the little market stalls that lined pedestrian shopping streets.

My attempt at baking Viking bread. I guess I am not giving up my day job to become a baker. (But it tasted good!)

John was impressed by the close connection between modern Iceland and the country’s Viking roots. The language, governmental structure, and culture all reflect its early settlers. During one of the cruise’s shore excursions, we went to a place where we learned about the Vikings and got a chance to bake bread according to the old traditions. We also visited some of Iceland’s excellent museums.

In addition to Viking bread, we also ate some of the Icelandic rye bread that gets baked underground. It was…well…an acquired taste, but I’m glad we got a chance to try it.

This hole in the ground led to a lava tube that ran beneath the surface.

Often, it can take years before a place we visited works its way into one of our books or short stories. In the case of Iceland, however, the inspiration was both direct and immediate. John and I needed a setting for a short story we were about to write. The underground lava tube, with its low, sloping passage, narrow places to climb through, and water dripping from the roof, provided just the location we sought.

Our soon-to-be-published short story, Reflections of Disdain, opens in a series of caverns. While they are not exactly the same as the lava tube in Iceland, my experience exploring the underground passage unquestionably helped to inspire the story.

I had hoped that Reflections of Disdain would be completed in time for today’s blog post, but we are still waiting for the book cover. John and I plan to give away an ebook version of the story for free as a thank you to people who sign up for our email newsletter.

What newsletter, you may ask? The brand new one that we hope to start within the next few weeks. I’ll send out a special blog post with an announcement once it is ready.

In the meantime, take care, everyone, and good luck to those of you participating in NaNoWriMo. (I’m not doing NaNo this year — I’ve already got too much on my plate trying to get the newsletter started.)

Talk to you on December 2 (or sooner, if we announce the newsletter)!

-Susan 11/4/2022

Writing Inspiration While Walking

Along a walking trail in Ohio.

When you’re a writer, ideas can come to you at odd times.

Some authors get story ideas when they’re in the shower. In fact, you can buy a waterproof notepad to keep in the shower, so you don’t lose any precious words. Other writers get ideas at night. No doubt, they keep a paper and pen (or an electronic device) by their bedside to jot down any literary gems.

Part of the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk in Australia.

For me, some of my best ideas come when I am walking. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I love to walk. The more exotic the locale, the more I enjoy the hike. But when it comes to writing inspiration, even the four mile walk around my neighborhood can help me break through a writing wall. The notepad app on my phone gets a lot of use.

Walking along the city walls of Derry.

For example, when John and I first started writing the book that eventually became The Keyhole Wizard, I wanted to create a new magic system for the story, different from anything else we had written. I knew I wanted magic to be a little dangerous for the caster, but I struggled to come up with an idea.

Then I went out for a walk. By the time I had completed four miles and arrived home, I had thought of a system in which a mage opened a door to draw out magical energy, but that door could slam with dangerous consequences.

About a year later, when the marketing specialists suggested that our book Prophecy’s Malignant Son might sell better with a different title, I was out walking when the title The Keyhole Wizard came to me.

Now that John and I have published the second book in the Doorway to Magic series, we are starting to talk about ideas for the third book. I guess I’m going to do a lot of walking over the next couple of months.

And yes, in case you are wondering, I got the idea for today’s blog post topic while I was out walking.

Talk to you on the first Friday of October!

-Susan 9/2/2022

They’re Here! They’re There! They’re in Balboa Park?

It has been an exciting couple of weeks! Two of Emerald Cove’s long-awaited books are finally live on Amazon.

The fantasy anthology Exiles of Eeria is now available as an ebook. Exiles of Eeria is Emerald Cove’s most ambitious project to date. The collection of urban-fantasy short stories tells the adventures of the Grysaille, San Diego’s secret, non-human residents. The book features Sue Dawe’s magnificent artwork on the cover and offers some of her original drawings inside. The stories were separately written by the various Emerald Cove authors, but many of the characters appear across the stories, tying the book together.

As you can imagine, working in a shared universe is not easy, particularly when the authors are as eclectic and opinionated as the band at Emerald Cove. However, those differences in writing style and voice add interest and charm to the anthology. All of us at Emerald Cove hope you will find it an enjoyable read!

The second announcement is even more exciting for me. John and I have finally completed The Door Ajar, the sequel to The Keyhole Wizard (formerly Prophecy’s Malignant Son). The novel opens about two months after the end of The Keyhole Wizard and follows the ongoing adventures of the three main characters from the first book. Both the ebook and paperback versions are live on Amazon.

John and I plan to make the formal announcement of the book’s launch next week (after I finish updating our website, Amazon author page, and Facebook page), but for all my loyal blog readers, I am including a link to the book below. If you have read all the way to this point in the blog post, you are awesome! I mean that seriously — back in the dark days of the early pandemic, when it seemed like my world had dwindled to a small box around my house, all the people that followed this blog and “liked” the posts were the ones who kept me writing. I will always be grateful to all of you!

Here is the link to the ebook version of The Door Ajar: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B8C38ZC1

Talk to you next week when we make the formal announcement!

-Susan 8/5/2022

Recharge Your Writing with Travel

Wizard Island in the middle of Crater Lake, Oregon. There was snow by the lake in the middle of June. That’s a real treat for a Southern California girl.

Our recent driving trip to Oregon to see Crater Lake National Park reminded me of the many ways that travel benefits an author. Visiting new locations can inspire scenes in books or even the plot for an entire novel. A chance encounter on the road or an unexpected sight may spark the imagination. Different types of food, plants, architecture, and weather provide a writer with a fresh perspective on the world.

Every town, no matter how small, has a unique story of its own. I’m an introvert, so I don’t mingle with strangers very well, but I love listening to tales told by the curator of a tiny, local museum. The historical events become far more interesting when described by a person who knows and loves the area.

Each region also has its own scenic beauty to share, from the magnificence of national parks to the charm of a city picnic area by the water.

In addition to inspiration, travel can also provide another important benefit for a writer. It helps you take a break from the routines of your life. Visiting a distant place, even for a few days, relieves the stresses and tension of everyday work. You return home with renewed energy and eagerness to write.

Our recent vacation really brought home that second type of benefit to me. After enduring the travel restrictions of the past two years, it was wonderful to be on the road again. As I watched the reflections of the mountains on the lake, I could feel myself relaxing. When we returned home, I felt invigorated, refreshed, and enthusiastic about writing.

-Susan 7/1/2022