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

New for 2022 at Emerald Cove Press

Here is a copy of the ad for our shared world anthology, with artwork and design by Sue Dawe. The image above is just a photo, so the links to the books depicted in it are not live, but you can find live links on the website: emeraldcovepress.com. Of course, you can also find the links at susanandjohnruff.com.

Here is my first blog post for 2022 and my 89th post since I began blogging on May 1, 2020. It’s time for an update on the Emerald Cove projects.

Before I get to the exciting news, however, I have an announcement about this blog. Instead of writing a post every Friday, as I’ve been doing for more than a year, I’m switching to the first Friday of every month.

Why change from once-a-week to once-a-month? There are two main reasons. First, my beloved co-author and I are nearing completion of the sequel to Prophecy’s Malignant Son, so I need the extra writing and editing time. It takes a long time for me to produce these posts each week — particularly the ones with the travel pictures. At present, I really need to focus that time on the new fantasy novel.

Second, a weekly commitment can be rather stressful, particularly on those weeks when I am unable to think of a good topic for the blog. Coming up with 12 topics a year will be far easier than 52. If I switch to the first Friday of the month, it will take off a lot of pressure and ensure that this blog continues to be a fun activity that I look forward to completing.

When I first started writing the blog in May 2020, I was in a writing slump. John and I had published 60th Hour, but we didn’t know where to go from there. The pandemic shutdown had been going on for two months, and I still felt lost and insecure. I was trying to rewrite an older manuscript to use as our second published novel, but it just wasn’t working. The project did not excite me, and I was dragging my feet.

Producing this blog every week, got me enthused about being an author again. Apparently, writing about writing is a great way to get excited about writing. The blog helped “jump-start” our fiction and got the two of us talking about new story ideas. By September 2020, John and I came up with the plot for Prophecy’s Malignant Son, and we finished writing it in less than a year from start to publication. We began writing the sequel in June 2021.

Will this blog ever go back to a weekly format? Perhaps. We’ll see.

Well, so much for that. Now, on to the real news!

Emerald Cove Press has finally announced the title of its upcoming anthology. Exiles of Eeria will soon join the Cove’s line-up of short-story collections. Unlike the two previous anthologies, which included unrelated stories on a particular theme, the new book is a shared-world anthology. Although each short story is separately written, they all take place in the same fantasy universe with many of the same characters. In this case, the fantasy setting is our own beloved San Diego, a truly magical place if there ever was one.

It’s Emerald Cove’s most ambitious project to date, and we’re very excited about it. In addition to two short stories by yours truly, it includes great fiction by Danny Atwood, Sue Dawe, Stephanie Golightly, and Jefferson Swycaffer. It also features amazing artwork by Sue Dawe. You can see her great book cover featured in the picture at the start of today’s post.

Emerald Cove has not yet announced the official publication date for Exiles of Eeria, but I’ll keep you posted as soon as that occurs. In the meantime, have a great month!

I’ll talk to you on Friday, February 4, 2022.

-Susan 1/7/2022

What’s New at Emerald Cove in Fall 2021?

St. George and the Dragon on display in the dining room of the Hotel Ritter in Heidelberg, Germany. (Photo by Susan Ruff 1991.)

It’s been a while since I provided an update about our Emerald Cove Press projects, so this seems like a good time.

The Emerald Cove writer’s group met at our favorite Denny’s last Friday. It’s great to be back to live meetings again. We had a long discussion about the upcoming shared-world anthology. The cover art is finished and looks great. (Thank you, Sue Dawe!) We considered possible type fonts for the lettering on the cover and talked about the order of the short stories within the anthology. I distributed review copies of the new short story that John and I had written. (So far, we’ve contributed two stories for the upcoming book, both very short and humorous.) While Emerald Cove doesn’t have a specific publication date for the anthology yet, I am anticipating it will be out by the end of the year.

In other news, the second edition of the paperback version of 60th Hour is live and available on Amazon. It corrects a lot of the formatting glitches of the original paperback version and has a new cover. So far, the ebook version has not changed (though I may update it to add the new cover).

My beloved co-author and I are currently on chapter eight of our new novel, a sequel to Prophecy’s Malignant Son. We had originally anticipated publication some time next fall. However, that time table may move up because of my other news:

I think we are going to try the NaNoWriMo challenge in November this year. (National Novel Writing Month.) The idea, as I understand it, is to produce 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, which comes out to roughly 1,667 words per day. As some of you know, in our husband-and-wife writing team, John helps with plotting and ideas, while I do the actual typing and word composition. I know I can write at least 500 words per day, and when I am really inspired, I can sometimes produce up to 2,000 words with no problem. To do that consistently, every day, for an entire month, however, is both a daunting and exciting prospect. If we succeed in reaching 50,000 words in November, it probably won’t be enough to finish the new novel, but it will definitely move up our publication date.

John and I have also started advertising our books Amazon. I took a basic class to learn about AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) a few weeks ago, and I will taking a more advanced class starting about two weeks from now. If it works out well, I’ll let you know.

That’s about all for now. Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 10/1/2021

p.s. You may be asking why there a picture of St. George and the Dragon at the start of today’s blog post? Stay tuned for Emerald Cove’s upcoming shared-world anthology to find out!

Five Fantasy Authors Who Influenced My Early Writing

Roger Zelazny speaking at Westercon in 1980. (Photo by Susan Ruff)

Back in the 1970’s and 80’s when I was in high school and college, fantasy was still a fairly new genre. Authors such as Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs had been writing speculative fiction for years, but the genre really seemed to find itself in the second half of the 20th Century.

There were many excellent fantasy authors at the time, far too many for me to list here, but I thought it would be fun to spend a few minutes to discuss five who had a strong influence on my fantasy writing.

JRR Tolkien: Author of the Lord of the Rings

Tolkien started it all for me. I first read his books when I was about 13. I immediately fell in love with both the novels and the fantasy genre. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy so many times, that I remember my mother once commented, “You’re reading those books again?” The Lord of the Rings is still among my favorite works of literature of all time. One of the hardest things for me as a fantasy author is to make my books different from Tolkien. It’s far too easy to have Middle Earth themes creep into my stories.

Lately, I’ve spoken to people who have seen the Lord of the Rings movies, but have never read the books. If you are one of those folks, I strongly suggest you try the books. There is so much depth in them that the movies could not capture. They are definitely worth the read.

Patricia McKillip: Author of the Riddle-Master of Hed and the Book of Atrix Wolfe

It is difficult for me to know just how much influence Patricia McKillip had on my writing, but I suspect it is considerable. I absolutely adored her books (and still do). I can’t even remember how many times I read the first two books of the Riddle-Master trilogy while my friends and I were all waiting for Harpist in the Wind to be published. As I’ve grown older, I have learned to appreciate the gentle quality of her fantasy and the sense of wonder that she can evoke with her words.

Atanielle Noel: Author of Speaker to Heaven and The Duchess of Kneedeep

Of all the authors in today’s list, Atanielle Noel had the most direct influence on my writing, because she reviewed and commented on my early manuscripts. I learned how to express myself in school, but Atanielle taught me how to write. I will always be very grateful to her. And her books are lots of fun to read!

Katherine Kurtz: Author of the Deryni books

I had the privilege of meeting Katherine Kurtz at Starcon ’77. At that time, I was already a fan of her novels, and a couple of friends and I happened to run into her in the art show. She took a few minutes to tell us about her latest novel she was writing. What impressed me at the time was not just what she said, but the way she said it — she was clearly having fun writing and enjoyed talking about the characters. She joked that one of the characters ended up doing something in the story that even she, as the author, did not expect. Her enthusiasm for writing was infectious. I found myself wanting to write stories just as she did, with characters so vivid that they took on a life of their own.

Roger Zelazny: Author of the Amber books

I have always enjoyed the slightly sarcastic tone of Roger Zelazny’s novels. The worldbuilding in his books is exceptional and his characters are memorable. He had an amazing ability to tell a serious story, but still include humor in it. I suspect his novels had a great influence on the humorous short stories John and I have been writing for the recent Emerald Cove anthologies.

In addition to the five authors discussed above, there are probably dozens of others I could name. The hardest part of writing today’s blog was narrowing the list to only five!

-Susan 11/13/2020

The Importance of Critics

At our Emerald Cove writer’s group meeting last week, I was reminded once again of how important it is for authors, particularly Indy authors, to have trusted people critique their writing. Reviewers see the mistakes a writer misses. All writers, of course, understand the need for a skilled editor to catch typographical errors and to help tighten manuscripts. However, we also need those critics who are willing to dig deeper, to catch plot holes and tell us when our precious ideas (that we just spent weeks carefully crafting into words) really don’t make sense.

I suspect that many of us are familiar with the phenomenon of reading what you think you wrote, not what is actually on the page. For example, if you accidentally leave a word out of a sentence, your brain can fill in that missing word when you proofread the sentence later. (And, if you’re like me, your brain will always fill in that missing word, no matter how many times you proofread the page. *sigh*) A good writing critique by someone other than the author can catch those mistakes.

The same phenomenon can apply to a plotline. As a writer, you can grow so enamored of that wonderful plot twist you developed that you miss how implausible it might seem to a reader. A good, honest critic will not be afraid to point out that implausibility and explain why it is a problem.

Unfortunately, that also can be the hardest kind of criticism to hear as a writer. Typos are easily fixed. Poor sentence construction can be remedied with a little work. But tearing apart a plotline is a stab through an author’s heart. We want our stories to be clever and interesting, and we usually don’t let others read them unless we already think our words are worth reading. We want our critics to boost our egos, not bruise them.

In addition, correcting those plot inconsistencies can often require a lot of work. If you’ve written what you think is a great story, having to rework the plot can be a daunting task. However, rewriting is always necessary in any work of fiction and is often as important as writing the initial draft of the story.

Case in point: My short story for the upcoming Haunted! anthology takes place, in part, in some pipelines under a construction area. At a certain point in the story, I was stumped for how to proceed and my beloved co-author suggested that the pipes start flooding with water. I loved the idea — it sounded perfect to advance that section of the plot. When I submitted the completed story to my fellow authors at Emerald Cove for review, however, they pointed out many problems with the way I had incorporated that particular plot element into the story.

I accepted their criticism with my usual calm, adult reaction (which involves panic and me thinking, “Blargh!! What do I do now?”). After talking with John and giving the matter a lot of thought, I concluded that the best way to fix the problem was to remove the flood. (That’s why I don’t mind mentioning it in this blog — no need for spoiler warnings, because it’s not going to be in the story.)

But as tough as it was to hear their criticisms and as tough as it will be to revise the plot of the short story, I am very grateful to my fellow authors for their comments. The published version of the short story will be better because of their willingness to read it and give me their honest opinions.

-Susan 10/16/20

What About that Pilfered Fish?

Sometimes, as an author, you know exactly when and where a story idea hit you. In this case, it was late August 2017, and I was sitting in the Legal Sea Foods restaurant by T.F.Green Airport in Rhode Island. (See photo above.) Emerald Cove had decided on the theme for its second anthology (Stolen!). As usual, I was at a complete loss for a plot. (When Emerald Cove chooses an anthology topic, my typical calm, adult reaction is: “Blargh!??!! What am I going to write???”)

So there I was, waiting for my dinner, desperately trying to think of story ideas. Decorating the walls of the restaurant were — you guessed it — fishing trophies. Lots of them. Probably wooden copies of trophies rather than the real thing, but they were still pretty impressive. I started thinking about a story involving a stolen fish trophy and ultimately came up with the idea of the stolen fish.

Thus Lord Larrin’s Trophy was begun.

And, in case you are wondering, the food was great! I love Legal Sea Foods!

Susan – 5/22/2020