Tag Archives: Kristie Kiessling

A Drift of Quills

Fictional Holiday Fun

Hello, and happy First Friday! Can you believe the year is already half over? If time flies when you’re having fun, then we must be having a blast! This time last year we chatted about what freedom means to us and how the topic figures (or not!) in our novels. Fun, right? This time A Drift of Quills is talking about fictional holidays and celebrations we use in our novels. It’s good to rule.


quill pen photo
Photo by DarrelBirkett

I love the depth of creation behind world-building: the nitty-gritty, the if-this-then-that, the marriage of reality to imagination, the glimpses into the author’s head. Adding holidays to a setting is a wonderful way to increase the dimension of our worlds, to help readers feel connected to the stories. Holidays (or days of observance) are uniquely human celebrations. In speculative fiction we have the freedom to broaden the baseline with other intelligent species. Elves don’t celebrate the same things humans do, ogres may not celebrate anything traditional at all, and fauns have another party book entirely. Still, the motivations for these observances are rooted in the same things:

  • Changes within the world (seasons and natural cycles)
  • Religious beliefs
  • Important people and events

They help us — and our fictional people — to remember. They give us things to look forward to that are outside of our everyday lives. They help us connect with friends and family and foster important social ties.

In Tales of Tairenth, in Sherakai’s homeland, there is the Festival of the Ancestors.

A six-day period with the summer solstice at its center. On this longest day of the year the wards between the spiritual and physical worlds are thinnest. At this time — usually at dawn or at twilight — one can communicate with the dead. During the days before the festival begins and continuing throughout, families and loved ones tend burial grounds, cleaning and straightening, painting and decorating. Ribbons colored saffron (the color of mourning) flutter from gate posts at the burial grounds as well as from the lintels of homes. Holes are often carved into the woodwork, or ornate hoops attached to hold the fabric. Garlands and bouquets of the gold and red Sunset Cup flower are frequently used in tandem with the ribbons. A tea made from the dried bulbs of the flower increases the ability see the spirits, and if the bulbs are burned the smoke may reveal them. Candles, the flames representative of the flower, are scented and burned during the entire festival.

The holiday is one of fasting or light meals meant only for sustaining the body. Priests and priestesses of Bahenn, the goddess of death, paint their faces gold bisected by black from forehead to chin. In exchange for small “gifts” they will speak to the dead for those unable or unwilling to do so themselves.

How does it affect Sherakai? It is during this time that his “teacher” presents a certain test. Will Sherakai pass or fail? Either way, what will the consequences be?

In the meantime, the story continues to grow and unfold. I am delighted to be taking part in a writing challenge that is helping me get a little speed on this epic tale. I am hoping to be finished with the first draft by the end of next month and pushing for a winter release. I’d keep my fingers crossed, but it makes typing difficult. Cross your fingers for me! Send out those good vibes and feed the muses!

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Author of Oathtaker
Patricia’s website

I so enjoy the use of holidays and celebrations in fantasy tales. The festive environment adds an interesting aspect to the world created. I’ve seen such events used as backdrops when close personal relationships are formed, or as a means for hiding the dastardly deeds in which some parties engage. Having said that, I’ve not used any holidays myself, though I did reference a “spring festival” in Oathtaker: Book One of The Oathtaker Series. To date, the closest I’ve come to a special event was “the feed” in Select: Book Two of The Oathtaker Series (coming soon!) . . . (Read more!)

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Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark
Kristie’s blog

Kristie is on “Hawaii time” while she assembles a shiny new computer. (She’s really excited about that!). “In the islands that means we get to it when we get to it, bro.” She plans to join us again next month!

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Does your fantasy culture have any holidays or special celebrations?
Do you remember any holidays or festivals from books you’ve read?
Share below! 

A Drift of Quills

The Stuff Between the Lines: Fact or Fiction?

Hello, and happy First Friday! A Drift of Quills is digging into our very souls this time, unearthing our philosophical innards. The question of the month is: “Is there any particular code, belief, or faith that inspires our writing? How and why?” Yes, we’re getting all existential on ya… Read on to see how that looks in writing!


In all honesty, I don’t think the limited space of this format is up to the task of dealing with the subject. The best we can do is skim the surface of the tender, personal area that is our beliefs, codes, or faith. Do I have faith? Yes, absolutely. Do I have a code? I think that if I have faith, some sort of code (rules or laws) must follow. This morning I was working on a spreadsheet, and I am reminded of functions. “If this, then that…” For example, if I believe in upholding the law, then I believe in going the speed limit. I modify my behavior. If I believe in God, then I believe in the message He teaches. If I believe in the message, I modify my behavior.

Does that faith—and the subsequent code it leads to—inspire me? Yes, how can it not? Like anything else that is part of my every day, it influences my behavior—in this case, my writing. Whether I believe in God, an alkaline diet, or that my husband should take out the trash, I don’t want to preach to anyone. The purpose of my stories is to entertain, to explore, to express myself, to experience adventures outside of my own little space (and comfort zone!).

Several weeks ago I wrote an article called “10 Reasons to Read.” I especially like this one:

8) Reading shows other places and cultures: By learning about others, you can better understand and share their feelings and beliefs.

“It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.” —S.I. Hayakawa

As a writer, it then becomes my place to portray those other places and cultures. I write fantasy, so a culture or place might be utterly fanciful. Or it might be a spin-off of something I’ve seen or read myself. Or it might be a real issue set in a false world. In our society a label of any kind often becomes grounds for unwarranted criticism. Going back to the function analogy, the critic will decide, “IF Josie Author believes all humans should be assimilated, THEN she must be advocating the Borg in her writing.”

That makes me think of something else: When I was in junior high and high school, my English classes naturally included reading. Along with the requisite book report, the students had to define the theme of the book. And to that I say, in stereo with the eloquent Charles Gighna,

“Writers write what they know best,
their passions, fears, and dreams.
Writers never write about
what others call their “themes.””

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Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark
Kristie’s blog

Japan, her people, and her language has fascinated me since grade school The beauty and mystery of such an ancient place takes me to a land I’ve never seen, but long to visit. From this far off isle comes a philosophy that strikes a chord in my soul and meshes with the beliefs that inspire and underscore every aspect of who I am as a writer. (Read more!)

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Author of Oathtaker
Patricia’s website

This is a loaded question—and not one fully answered in a few short paragraphs—but I can share some general thoughts . . .

At the outset, I would say that this topic makes me think of posing the following question to a judge: can you render a decision without letting your ideology play any part? (Read more!)

A Drift of Quills

Dreams, Schemes, or Circus Clowns?

It’s a First Friday again! A Drift of Quills comes together again, this time to air our lofty opinions about dreams in fiction. Are they good or bad? And joining us today we have author Gregory S. Close. You might remember him from the book I recently reviewed over here. Please give him a warm welcome!

Author of In Siege of Daylight, Book 1 of Light, Dark & Shadow
Gregory’s website

A dream sequence can create an ethereal mood of otherworldliness, reveal hidden truths, foreshadow victory or doom, or even represent a second, hidden realm that parallels the waking world. That can all be very cool. It can also go very wrong, very easily.

Three good questions to ask:

Quote-Poe[Dreaming]Does it serve the plot?

What is it about the dream sequence that is necessary for the plot to unfold? Is the dream conveying information to the characters, or revealing an internal fear or truth? Could the characters (and the readers) possibly get this same information in a more mundane way?

Is it internally consistent?

If a character has a prophetic dream, for example, is it just the one prophetic dream? You know, the dream that propels said character into the story by revealing the MacGuffin or warning of the Big Bad Evil? Because once the character has one prophetic dream, you’d better be prepared to explain why more prophetic dreams aren’t coming to warn about the assassin in the woods, the dastardly traitor in their midst or the hot sauce someone snuck into the king’s stew.

Does it develop a character?

It’s possible that dreams are not at all related to the overall plot, but are more centered on illuminating the psyche of a character. Perhaps the villain is tortured by dreams, or a noble hero could be haunted by them. Either way, the dream itself can be a canvas to illustrate traits of the character and drive them to action (or explain inaction).

As an author it’s important to be honest with your reader. You can lie, of course, that’s part of the job, but you should at least lie honestly. In other words, the lie must be true to the story and not simply there for the sake of itself, for shock value alone. You can be tricky, but you can’t betray the reader’s trust.

So lie well, and dream big.

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My Two Cents

Dreams can be such marvelous, intricate, eye-opening, exhilarating, or terrifying occurrences. They can inspire us to do things, be things—or write things. Do they belong in fiction? Are they useful as plot devices? Well… it depends!

Dreaming is a natural thing in our world, so it makes sense that the characters we read about have dreams. Sometimes. Many tales have been based in completely in a dream world: Alice in Wonderland; The Wizard of Oz; The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever… Others incorporate dream worlds as another plane or alternate reality (The Black Company, Otherland). And others still use dreams “inline.” They can be very powerful plot devices.

You know what a plot device is, right? No? Wikipedia has a good answer: “A plot device is a means of advancing the plot in a story, often used to motivate characters, create urgency, or resolve a difficulty.”

So, powerful — or completely and utterly clichéd.

“The greatest mistake in using dreams in your fiction is to make the plot require the dream.” (Nancy Kress, Dynamic Characters)

What are some of the essential rules guidelines?

  • Don’t use a dream to reveal a piece of critical information. While our subconscious might trap important information we might not have access to in real life, fiction is not real life. Credibility is strained when our heroic wizard just so happens to dream the exact location of the Top Secret Book of Magic Spells that’s been missing for millennia.
  • Do use a short dream (1–2 paragraphs) as a detail that contributes to characterization. If the character is under a lot of stress, it’s completely logical for her to dream—and the dream can serve beautifully to underscore the trauma she is going through and give valuable character insight. One short sentence is usually best: “Deryk woke from a panic-inducing dream of eyes glowing in the dark and leathery wings rustling.”
  • Don’t pretend you’re Sigmund Freud. Dreams in fiction are commonly symbolic, but be sparing and not so clever that no one else sees the connection. We are not all trained at psychoanalysis. Our eyes may glaze over.
  • Do use remembered or recurring dreams to make circumstances more graphic. The comparison of the dream to the current situation can add color and emotion. If our wizard used to dream about crows sitting on a wall watching him intently, we can better imagine the scene in which he’s being interrogated by the black-robed Board of Wizard Behavior. 

Me? I like dreams in fiction, but they must be used well. And sparingly.

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Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark
Kristie’s blog

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub: For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause…

— Shakespeare, Hamlet

Are dreams used as plot devices good or bad? I think I can give a resounding “Yes!” for they are… (READ MORE!)

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Author of Oathtaker
Patricia’s website

(Patricia has been taken hostage by “real life.” Hopefully, she will recover soon!)

A Drift of Quills

Women, Violence, and Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Welcome to the First Friday Feature of our Fantasy writers group, A Drift of Quills! The Quills come together this month to tackle a controversial question: Does violence by or against women add authenticity to fantasy/sci-fi tales?
Does violence by or against women add authenticity to fantasy/sci-fi tales? 
(Woman With a Bow, unknown artist)
Fantasy and sci-fi—No, fiction authors (at least those I know) write to entertain. We write about people. People, both men and women, are often violent, cruel, abusive, and criminally selfish. Our world has a long history of them, from Cain to Bashar-al Assad, from Jezebel to Griselda Blanco. Fictional worlds are rife with them as well, and the genre seems to lend itself to fights, wars, and all kinds of imaginative abuse.
Interestingly, men dominate the lists of “most violent/evil/cruel.” A study published in American Society of Criminology shows that “men account for nearly 80% of all violent offenders reported in crime surveys.” And yet it’s been discovered that women are often the instigators in domestic violence. “Two major studies using a different methodology—the 2000 National Violence Against Women Survey by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published last February—have also found that some 40% of those reporting serious partner violence in the past year are men.” (Time.com, The Surprising Truth About Women and Violence, 25 Jun 2014)
It seems that violence + women in fantasy/sci-fi reflects a slice of reality.
And yet…
I believe that those of us who wield the pen need to be cautious about whether we’re being realistic, whether we’re feeding a pattern, and whether we’re actually promoting continued aggression. Media today (television shows, movies, video games, music, and books) has an increasingly longer reach and a strong ability to desensitize its audience. We’re a society that encourages peace on one hand and actively teaches brutality on the other. Perhaps, rather than eliminating violence entirely from our “entertainment,” we need to be careful about how we’re portraying it…
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Author of Oathtaker
The world has changed dramatically, even since I was a child, with regard to the place of women in our society and the options open to them. I’ve experienced the changes and benefitted from them. Still, I recognize that these changes occurred largely in the “western” world, that portion historically influenced by a Judeo-Christian ethic. Women in many other places have not been as fortunate as have I. In some cases, they live in what might be called “medieval” times. This is an important issue, as many fantasies are played out in medieval-type worlds. Accordingly, I expect that the manner in which women are treated in those stories might well differ from the world in which I live today. Even so, fantasy stories are set in make-believe worlds. Those worlds can be whatever the authors want them to be . . .

(Read more!)

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Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark

Kristie’s Blog 

My colleagues have made an important distinction that readers used to know without being told. Has that changed? Maybe. In a world where people often have a hard time distinguishing between fantasy and reality, we may need a “DISCLAIMER: …
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What do you think? We’d love to know!

Picture This!

Welcome to the Friday Feature of the Fantasy writers group, A Drift of Quills! We Quills get together once a month to chat up aspects of reading and writing. This month we’re choosing a picture we think best represents some person, place or thing in one of our works. I don’t know about you, but I love seeing the pictures that have inspired my fellow authors in their writing. Sometimes their choices are surprising, and at others I nod my head madly and say yes, yes! So—wanna see what we’re envisioning? Read on!

The character Crow, from my novel As the Crow Flies, is the obvious choice for this endeavor, so I’m going with him. When I wrote the book, I didn’t have a picture sitting by my computer to prompt or inspire me, but I had a very strong sense of him. In fact, I didn’t have a picture to represent Crow until after I started a Pinterest board for the novel. Crazy, right?
I found one fine-looking fellow, then another, then… my daughter came to me one day and said, “MOM! I know the perfect guy to play Crow! Colin O’Donoghue!” 
It turns out she was right:
(image courtesy of FanPop.com
from the television show “Once Upon a Time”)

“An alley appeared below me, but it was not so wide that I couldn’t make the jump, and I took it with a quivering thrill in my heart. No wings, no strings, an unmeasured height—and the certain knowledge of the cobbled street below. That dizzying leap on the run was one of the few ways I could ever get close to flying.” (excerpt from “As the Crow Flies“)

Crow’s companion, Tanris, began life as an image in my head too. And oh, what a chore it was to search through gazillions of pictures of men to find just the right one! Alas, someone had to do it. Alan Van Sprang didn’t have any trouble at all filling out the requirements of “tough, weathered, capable.” And look, a shaven head, too!
(image source unknown, from the film “The Immortals”)

“That was the Tanris I had come to know and appreciate over the years of our association, a man like myself, quick-witted and not confined to the obvious. He had come up with the perfect answer to our utterly impossible question, and at that moment I cheerfully hated him.” (excerpt from “As the Crow Flies”)

And here we have the Kerdann Moors that our heroes had to cross in search of the dragon’s egg:
(“Eerie Irish Countryside” from imgur.com)

“We’d come down out of the mountains without any incident and traveled east across the Kerdann Moors for days and days, shrouded in constant fog and mist. I had begun to doubt these parts guarded any kind of civilization at all. Even Kem had disappeared completely. Our supplies were so reduced that Girl rode one of the pack horses, silent as a sack but wonderfully obedient, doing whatever Tanris required of her, wrapped in an air of quiet, hopeless misery.” (excerpt from “As the Crow Flies”)

Last, but not least, I want to leave you with a teaser for my current work in progress, which is laboring under the working title of “The Sharpness of the Knife.” This is the fortress, Heaven’s Gate, where our young protagonist, Sherakai, unwillingly spends some formative years:
(image of Brunella fortress courtesy of Bed & Breakfast Lunigiana)
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Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark

I have always loved deep forests and mountains. It seems natural, then, that when I began to write stories I would set them in such green and mystical old places of the world. Some of the most inspiring images in my head are things I have seen in this world: the ancient woods of Wales, the deep canyons and caves in Pennsylvania and Arizona. There are wonders to behold in our very backyards that strike me as otherworldly. 

. . .  (Read more!)

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Author of Oathtaker

A reader recently asked me, if Oathtaker was a movie, who did I see playing the characters? For me, the real difficulty in this question is knowing that whatever celebrity names and faces I choose, someone will not like them. It is amazing what strong feelings we have about celebrities, either because of their past work, or possibly as a result of the bits and pieces we hear about their private lives . . . But I will give this a shot, nonetheless.

I thought I would start with my main character, Mara . . .  (Read more!)

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Do you like seeing the author’s idea of who fits as models for the characters in their stories?
If you could choose someone to represent the mage Ammeluanakar (Melly), who would it be?