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

June 2022 at Emerald Cove

It’s been a few months since the last Emerald Cove Update, so it seems like high time for one.

Emerald Cove’s intrepid authors are currently in the process of assembling, proofreading, and formatting the short stories in our shared-world anthology Exiles of Eeria. Our hope is to release the book this summer, perhaps even in time for San Diego Comic-Con in July. All the stories in the anthology are set in San Diego County, so Comic-Con would be a great place to debut the book — if we can get it ready in time!

And speaking of Comic-Con, Sue Dawe, an amazing artist and one of our Emerald Cove authors, can often be found at her table in Artist’s Alley during the convention. If you’re at the con, stop by and ask her about the “Grysaille” (pronounced Griz – ALE). She might even be able to show you some of her great artwork for the upcoming book.

John and I have also been busy. The second draft of our latest manuscript is now finished and out for review. We’re planning to publish it by the end of summer. Now we just need to think of a good title. Can we get it out in time for Comic-Con? We shall see!

We’re also trying something a little different with one of our current books Prophecy’s Malignant Son. We’ve hired marketing professionals (Bryan Cohen’s Best Page Forward) to help us with a marketing makeover of the book, including a new cover and even a new title. Stay tuned for more details in future blog posts.

Talk to you again in July!

-Susan 6/3/2022

When Real World Places Remind You of Fantasy Novels

The Tower of the Winds in the old Roman Agora in Athens, Greece.

On a Sunday afternoon in 1992, I set out on foot from our hotel in Athens with only a paper map for my guide. I wandered through the winding lanes of the Plaka neighborhood around the base of the Acropolis and eventually reached the ruins of the Roman Agora. Those ruins were closed on Sunday, but I went there anyway to glimpse a structure that I had read about in a guidebook — the Tower of the Winds.

Why did I go to all that trouble to find it? Because there was a Wind Tower in a fantasy novel written by Patricia McKillip, one of my favorite authors. I have no idea whether that Roman structure actually influenced her writing in any way, but that wasn’t the point of my trek. The building caught my imagination because it reminded me of a story that I loved. It was worth a long walk from my hotel to view it.

In my mind, the Rivendell Valley has always looked like Yosemite. Yes, I admit that I am a California girl, and I love that particular national park. But even beyond any home-state biases, Yosemite is truly a beautiful place and worthy of an Elven refuge.

That was not the first time a real-world location reminded me of a fantasy novel. I visited sites in Wales because I loved Mary Stewart’s Merlin books. When I saw the statue of Lord Byron in Athens, I immediately thought of a Tim Powers story.

I can’t even count the number of times that real world locations have reminded me of places and scenes in the Lord of The Rings. When I was in college, I assembled an entire photo album of pictures from our family trip to Europe, with appropriate quotes from Tolkien’s writing beside each of them.

These days, my mental images of the Lord of the Rings have been influenced by both movies and video games. (Some day, I hope to see all those filming sites in New Zealand!) But locations will still remind me of Tolkien’s books even if they have nothing to do with visual media.

At times, the places don’t even need to look like what was portrayed in the novel to remind me of the story. When I stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in New Hampshire, the owner invited me down to the common room for tea and snacks with the other guests. The pretty parlor looked nothing like the common room in the Prancing Pony, but I made the connection nonetheless. In case you are wondering, I did NOT dance on the table or meet a mysterious stranger sitting in the corner. But I did have an enjoyable conversation with some folks visiting from Europe.

Because Robert Jordan’s books have been so popular lately, it seems only fair to end this post with a picture of Whitebridge, Scotland. While I admit that the old stone bridge may not be the wondrous span described in Jordan’s story, it was still fun to visit.

Talk to you on the first Friday of June!

-Susan 5/6/2022

Sale This Weekend: $0.99 for our Ebook

This will be an exciting weekend for us! John and I are in the midst of our first-ever Amazon price promotion. Right now, the ebook version of Prophecy’s Malignant Son is on sale at Amazon.com in the U.S. for 99 cents. The sale will continue through Monday. If you like fantasy ebooks and were thinking about buying ours, this is a great time to try it. Right now, the ebook is cheaper than a fancy fast-food burger! (John is a big fan of burgers, so I can say that on good authority.)

My other exciting news — I will be attending San Diego Comic Fest tomorrow (Saturday) at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel on Aero Drive. It’s the first time I have been to a convention since the pandemic started, and I can’t wait to be there. If you plan to attend the convention, you can find me at the S.T.A.R. San Diego table. Feel free to stop by and chat about books or any other fandom-related topics. I’ve been starved for in-person fannish conversation for two years, and I would love to talk with you all! (Ok, maybe I haven’t actually been starving — we’ve had a few friends over for rpgs and anime-watching — but I’ve definitely been on a diet.)

Anyway, enough news for today. I’ll be back with my regular blog post on the first Friday of May. Talk to you then!

-Susan 4/22/2022