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

Our Venture into Writing for Radio

Every so often as a writer, you get to try something entirely new and fun. Recently, John and I had an opportunity to submit a script for a radio series. The series is called “Radio Story Hour” and our contribution is a one-hour fantasy episode called “Prince Kenneth in the Ill-Fated Forest.”

It’s been fascinating to watch the process of creating a radio drama. John has a theater background from school and knows a bit about the technical side of things, but this has been a new experience for me. (I was in a few plays in high school, but that was many years ago and our school drama department had no fancy theater or equipment at the time.)

Our first job as writers was to cut down our rough script so it would fit into an hour-long episode. John turned out to be an excellent editor in that process, figuring out what to cut and ways to combine dialogue to shorten the script without losing the story.

Next came the auditions for the voice actors. They were done through video conference. As the episode writers, John and I were permitted to attend. I was surprised to find I was nervous at first, even though I was not auditioning, but the sessions went very smoothly. The co-directors for the episode have been very patient with my questions and have really made me feel welcome during the process.

This week, the actors began recording the dialogue. Through the wonders of modern technology, everyone involved can be in different locations physcially, but still come together to create the production.

It is an amazing privilege for an author to hear written words brought to life by talented artists. At times during the recording this past week, I just sat in wonder as I heard the characters we had created “speak.” I am really looking forward to the finished version with all the sound effects and music.

The episode is set to be aired some time next year on KNVC 95.1 FM, Carson City’s community radio station. It should also be available for streaming at some point. I’ll keep you posted with details as the time for broadcast nears.

Talk to you on November 4!

-Susan 10/7/2022

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

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

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