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

Writing Inspiration Destination: Deserts of the Southwest

Monument Valley at sunrise. (Photo by Susan Ruff 2016.)

In honor of April Fool’s Day, I had considered writing a humorous post about the ten places least likely to inspire writing. When I mentioned the idea to my beloved co-author, however, he quickly and correctly pointed out that any place can be an inspiration for writing, even the local landfill.

So, when in doubt, fall back on a serious topic. In this case, I chose a topic near and dear to my heart — the deserts of the southwestern United States.

The southwest has some spectacular deserts, from iconic locations such as Death Valley and Monument Valley to one-of-a-kind gems like Joshua Tree National Park and the Valley of Fire State Park. When I was a child, my family spent many weekends and school holidays camping in the various deserts in and around California, Arizona, and Nevada. I have some wonderful memories of hiking early in the morning when the world was quiet or sitting around a campfire in the evening. I’ll never forget the night long ago when we stopped by the roadside to watch the Milky Way high in the sky. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life.

My parents were both born and raised in Rhode Island, so the desert was an exotic and unfamiliar place for them. I remember a day when my family was driving through Arizona while my mom read a travel guidebook aloud to us. The book talked about the abundant plant and animal life of the surrounding area and pointed out that many people mistakenly thought of the desert as a barren, lifeless place. My parents admitted that they had always believed deserts contained little more than rocks and sand dunes. There were both surprised when they saw the variety of flora and fauna that flourished within the arid environment.

This brings me to the point in the blog where I would normally describe scenes in our fantasy novels that have been inspired by all those wonderful desert landscapes. That is, after all, why this post contains the title “writing inspiration.”

Unfortunately, when I sat down to type this blog post, I could not recall a single scene in any of our books that takes place in a desert. Certainly, small parts of our desert trips have inspired scenes, such as sitting around a campfire or watching the rising sun peek over the distant mountaintops.

Maybe the desert is too familiar for me. It doesn’t seem exotic enough to put into a fantasy novel. Forests, swamps, and medieval villages are the strange, larger-than-life places that inspire fantasy for me. Deserts, on other hand, carry the comfortable familiarity of home.

San Diego County is considered “chaparral” country, not desert. So technically, the desert is not “home,” but it is definitely part of the neighborhood. I will always love the desert, and some day John and I really should include a desert scene in one of our fantasy novels.

Susan 4/1/2022

p.s. By the way, I have some exciting news: John and I may be trying our first book promotion with a special price this month, probably around April 23 and 24. I’ll send out a special blog post to discuss the details once I know more. In the meantime, I wish you all a fun-filled April Fool’s Day!

Book Marketing Makeover Time!

The new cover for 60th Hour. (Cover art by Getcovers.com.)

Almost two years ago, on March 16, 2020, John and I published our first fantasy novel 60th Hour. That was also the day California officially shut down due to the pandemic.

No, it was not a coincidence that the book came out that day. Long before the pandemic, I had been weighing the benefits of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, but I was nervous about trying things on our own. Then, in mid-March 2020, I watched the world turn upside-down within the space of a week. Even before the official state shutdown, events were being cancelled left and right. With an uncertain future looming, a sudden increase in free time, and with my beloved co-author’s encouragement, I decided to take the chance and make us Indy authors.

There was just one problem — I had no clue what I was doing.

I should explain. My cluelessness had nothing to do with the physical process of publishing. Amazon’s KDP had plenty of excellent videos to explain how to upload a manuscript, so that part was easy. KDP even had a simple process for creating book covers. I picked out one of my old photos, played with color and special effects, plugged it into the KDP cover-maker, hit the publish button, and hooray we had a book!

But just because you can publish a book does not mean you have any idea how to market a book. My initial cover for 60th Hour came out looking like this nearby picture.

Yeah, it was not exactly an exciting, eye-catching cover, but I didn’t know any better. I also didn’t know how to advertise a book, particularly after all the science-fiction conventions were cancelled due to the pandemic. John and I sold a few copies of the book to our family and friends, but that was about it.

As the pandemic wore on, we started working on new writing projects, and 60th Hour languished. (I corrected some formatting glitches in the paperback version, but never made any revisions to the ebook.)

Now, fast-forward to 2022. I recently paid for Bryan Cohen’s Author Ad School and started taking classes. After learning a ton of stuff about marketing in a very short time, I’m ready to put some of that new knowledge to use.

It seems fitting to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the publication of 60th Hour with a complete makeover of the book – a new cover, a new blurb on the Amazon page, and brand-new Amazon ads. The interior content of the book is the same, with one small exception — I changed chapter 1 to a prologue and renumbered the other chapters. I’ve been warned that some fantasy readers do not read prologues (see my blog post of August 7, 2020), but the opening chapter of the book takes place twenty years before everything else, so it really works better as a prologue.

For those of you who haven’t read 60th Hour yet and are interested in checking it out, here is the Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085Z5YWN4

Now onto the next task — the marketing makeover for Prophecy’s Malignant Son!

Talk to you on the first Friday of April!

-Susan 3/4/2022

Fiction Writing for Stress Relief

Serpent Mound in Ohio, a scenic and peaceful place to visit.

What do travel and fiction writing have in common? Anyone who has followed this blog for more than a few posts can already guess how I will answer that question. They are both activities that I love and that I enjoy blogging about. They also share another important function for me — they are great ways to relieve stress.

Along the magnificent California coastline.

In the past, travel was usually my preferred method of stress relief. Heading to a distant (or even a not-so-distant) place with new sights to explore, things to learn, and cuisine to sample always helped to lift me out of whatever bothered me at the time, whether it was stress at work, health issues, or family troubles.

Unfortunately, for the past two years, the pandemic has pretty much grounded my beloved co-author and me. So, I’ve turned a lot more to an alternate means of stress relief — fiction writing.

As I sat down to compose today’s blog post, I considered the reasons why writing novels provides such a good means of therapy for me. I’m not a psychologist and I can’t speak for others, but these are some of the benefits that I have found from the activity:

  1. Fiction writing gives a sense of order and control in a chaotic world. I can seldom control what happens in the world around me. At times, I can’t even predict what will occur in my own home. When I write a novel, however, John and I decide what happens to the characters and their world.
  2. Writing provides a means to work through the past. It’s very easy for me to dwell on mistakes I’ve made, even long after the events are over. I’ve found that, when I write about similar things happening to the characters in a story, I can see them from a different perspective, and I become a lot less obsessed with them.
  3. Writing gives a focus for stray thoughts. If I don’t have something interesting to occupy my mind, I will invariably start to worry about things. For me, worry quickly escalates into obsession and anxiety. I’ve found that focusing my thoughts on the plot, characterization, and events of our current novel can provide a nice safe place for my mind to wander, particularly when I am trying to sleep at night.
Hiking in Washington.

And finally, the fantasy novels that John and I create take place in worlds very different from our hometown. I can write about mountains, caves, cities, rivers, and all the other places that I miss visiting. In a way, being an author provides a vicarious means for me to travel even when physical vacations are not possible. So, in the end, my two favorite topics to blog about really do have a lot in common.

Talk to you on the first Friday of March!

-Susan 2/4/2022

p.s. I hope this new, once-a-month format for my blog is working out for everyone. It has really helped to free up a lot more of my time so I can concentrate on the second draft of the new novel. I’m also taking an in-depth class on Amazon book advertising.