Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Seers in Storytelling

Seers, psychics, oracles, mediums, prophets, diviners, astrologers, tarot readers, or even those with a smoking hot intuition, can play a powerful roles in speculative fiction. Our genre is rich with it, and has been for thousands of years.

From Homer's Pythia, priestess of Apollo, to Tolkien's Galadriel and her mirror, the Oracle in the Matrix to Whedon's River Tam in Firefly, the seer can move the story forward in tantalising ways. But writing a prognostic character has it's problems. All that foresight may just as easily ruin a plot as empower it.

If your protagonist can see into the future, the surprise is gone. 

The easy way to remedy this is to place limits, making the seer unreliable. They might be a novice, out of control, or their skill could require a ritual, tools or equipment they don't always have time for. Like the Greek sphinx, they might speak in riddles so ambiguous that no one can understand, save in hindsight

With the Oracle of Delphi, often the  urge to avoid the fate was exactly what fulfilled it. When King Laius and Queen Epicaste of Thebes had a baby boy, they asked Pythia his future. When the Priestess replied that the boy, Oedipus, would  kill his father and marry his mother, they abandoned the baby, but we know how that went...

In LOTR, Galadriel's mirror shows past, present and future events, from near or far, but is never clear on which is which. Both Sam and Frodo are invited to look, Sam seeing the destruction of the Shire and Frodo nearly touching the water with the ring (which would reveal his whereabouts to Sauron). In these cases, interpretation of what is foretold is critical to what comes next. Sam choses to stay with Frodo, even though he longs to rush back to the Shire. Frodo, on the brink of losing heart, soldiers on. Regardless of 'fate,' they make a choice, one of the key ingredients to plot propulsion.

From the Matrix, the Oracle's ability to "predict" the future is based on recognising choices before they are made. Yet telling Neo he is NOT the one is precisely what makes him begin to believe he is. In this way, the writers have created a character who can see the future but in doing so, creates a third choice that changes everything. 

In Cassandra Clare's City of Bones, if the tarot reader was on the ball, Clary's mother wouldn't have been kidnapped and the Mortal Cup never lost. Story over in chapter one. But instead, we get glimpses, hints and more mystery. Dorthea's seeing ability moves the story forward , without giving away the plot.

In Helen Lowe's The Wall of Night Series, the Derai prophecy says "If Night falls, all fall", which instead of foreshadowing future events, becomes a rally cry, or goad, to both sides, those who want Night to fall and those who don't. It's also a touchstone for Malian and Tarathan who have seer qualities of there own.

In the Quantum Enchantment and Quantum Encryption series, Jarrod's ability to extrapolate a likely outcome is based on infinite possibilities calculated outside of matter, and Kreshkali's understanding of astrology and synchronicity all play a part. But, like the Oracle of Delphi, Derai, and the Matrix, all seers perhaps, it is the free will of the characters that tips the scale. And we need it that way.

Otherwise, what would have us on the edge of the seat, wondering what will happen next? 

We'd love to hear about your favourite prophesies and diviners in books, film and TV. Drop a comment, and we'll see you there.


Kim Falconer's latest release is out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel.

Learn more about Kim on Facebook and chat with her on Twitter. Check out her pen name, @a.k.wilder on Instagram, or visitAKWilder on FB and website.

Kim also runs where she teaches the law of attraction and astrology. 

Kim posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month, hosts Save the Day Writer's Community on FB and posts a daily astrology weather report on Facebook. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Not your mother's Meat Loaf

The Things I Carry: Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell & Back into Hell

My first exposure to Meat Loaf was in 1993 when "I'd Do Anything for Love" hit the radios. I was 13 and painfully weird and my father was dying of cancer. It was a rough year.

I was immediately in love. So I did what any fan girl did and bought everything I could find at the local Half Price Books (because I was poor). I had all his cassette tapes (because I wasn't cool enough for a CD player) and I ran them ragged. My mom remembers when he was touring college towns in the seventies and my parents didn't understand why I would want to listen to it at all. It only added to the appeal.

Just like Melissa Etheridge had reached into me and sang my painful outsider heartstrings, so too did Meat Loaf's voice and Jim Steinman's songs reflect an escapism that I desperately.

Now granted, I didn't ride motorcycles and I was far from experiencing "paradise by the dashboard light," there was a grand, fantastical element, an angsty hormonally driven truth, that resonated with the future storyteller within me. There was an S.E. Hinton vibe (also a personal favorite) about the true nature of being oppressed and teen-aged. Of being able to smash things or just fly away. It was my audible equivalent to Piers Anthony and Dean Koontz, and Orson Scott Card. Only with death and motorcycles and sex (gasp).

And there should be no surprise there is even a werewolf element.

Bat Out of Hell just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Its my age. Even after all these years,  on my really bad days when I just need to shove the world away for a while, you will find me blasting it as I drive my mild-mannered, four-door, charcoal gray sedan around town. You'll see me nodding my head to it as I roam around the grocery store to pick up a gallon of chocolate milk.  From the first chords overlaid with a revving motorcycle, I am on a highway and free.

As with most things that I carry with me, the meaning has changed over the years. Sometime it was about rebellion. Sometimes it was all about sex. And sometimes it was just about owning the demon that you carry around with you.

I have never been ashamed to say that I Love Meat Loaf.

And maybe some day I"ll get around to actually riding a motorcycle.

As always, Carry on,

Amanda Arista

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Magic & Wonder of Trees in Fantasy

"Enter these enchanted woods, you who dare..." 
- George Meredith, 1828-1909

Today I'm taking a look at the part trees play in Fantasy literature and whether authors in the genre have taken the Victorian poet's advice to heart. :)

Overall, it appears we have.

Ents, of course, are probably the most famous “trees”, or in their case, treelike beings, in Fantasy literature. They feature in the second and third books of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and played a major part in The Two Towers film, with the attack on, and destruction of Isengard:

“Pippin looked behind. The number of Ents had grown — or what was happening? Where the dim bare slopes that they had crossed should lie, he thought he saw groves of trees. But they were moving! Could it be that the trees of Fangorn were awake, and the forest was rising, marching over the hills to war? He rubbed his eyes wondering if sleep and shadow had deceived him; but the great grey shapes moved steadily onward.”

Sentient trees also feature in CS Lewis’s Narnia series and I’ve always loved the scene in Prince Caspian where Aslan reawakens the trees that have slept as a result of the Telmarine invasion:

“What Lucy and Susan saw was a dark something coming to them from almost every direction across the hills. It looked first like a black mist creeping on the ground, then like the stormy waves of a black sea rising higher and higher as it came on, and then, at last, like what it was — woods on the move. All the trees of the world appeared to be rushing towards Aslan.”

Sometimes, however, it is not a forest but a single tree that features — like the world tree in Mary Victoria’s Chronicles of the Tree series, which is first encountered in Tymon’s Flight:

“To starboard of the vessel…stretched a vast and furrowed mountain of bark, so wide that it’s curvature was almost invisible and so high that both its summit and its base were lost to view. The immensity of the wall was broken by a profusion of spoke-like limbs, the largest many miles in length. Several hundred feet above the dirigible the trunk culminated in the gently rising plateau of branches and twigs that made up the Central Canopy’s crown.”

Werewolves and other were-beasts have become very popular in recent years, but Fantasy contains at least one instance of tree-shifting: Danan Isig in Patricia McKillip’s The Riddlemaster of Hed, who teaches the skill to the protagonist, Morgon:

“Was I a tree? Sometimes I stand so long in the snow watching the trees wrapped in their private thoughts that I forget myself, become one of them. They are as old as I am, as old as Isig. . .”

When discussing trees in Fantasy I really can't go past the weirwood that stands at the heart of Winterfell, in George RR Martin’s A Game Of Thrones:

“At the center of the grove an ancient weirwood brooded over a small pool where the waters were black and cold. “The heart tree,” Ned called it. The weirwood’s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful.”

And yep, trees do play a significant part in my own books, too.

Because Thornspell is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty — from the perspective of the prince who breaks the spell — the story needs must dives straight into George Meredith's "enchanted wood" territory:

“The road did not go far, petering out into a bridle path within a few hundred yards of the castle wall, and fading away altogether beneath the forest eave. It was very dark and quiet beneath the canopy, a heavy, listening silence. There was no call of bird or insect, no whisper of falling leaf—not even the wind stirred.”

Probably the most significant way in which trees shape the landscape in The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night, Book One) is through their absence. The Wall of Night is a bleak, wind-blasted and lifeless environment and the contrast to more clement terrain only occurs in the last part of the book, when the protagonists cross into the hills of Jaransor:

“Eventually, Malian began to see the green shimmer of trees growing along small precipitous creeks, and they stopped at last in a narrow ravine where the trees formed a green roof and a stream ran clear over brown pebbles.”

In The Gathering of the Lost (The Wall Of Night, Book Two), trees and woods are a far more significant part of the worldscape:

“Mostly, Malian let the others talk as the miles fell behind them and Maraval forest rose up ahead like a green cloud … as the road took them deeper into the wood … the cavalcade fell silent, and the only sound was the clip of their horses’ hooves, the song of birds, and the deep susurration of the myriad leaves overhead.”

And still have their place in Daughter Of Blood (The Wall Of Night, Book Three):

“Malian let her mind follow the secondary route, leaping over huddled villages with their sheep pens and rocky fields, to settle on a pine grove near the crest of the road’s first long ascent into the foothills. She had camped a night in the dry earthy hollow beneath the trees, which grew so close together that only the very heaviest rain fell between the branches. Now, it was the best shelter she could recall along the route’s wild terrain.”

So the arrows of evidence do seem to be pointing in the same direction: which is that trees play a significant part in Fantasy world-building, including my own work.

Mary Victoria's world tree - art (c) by Frank Victoria
I am pretty sure, too, that readers will encounter them again in The Chaos Gate (The Wall Of Night, Book Four), which is currently in progress.

How about you? Got any favorite trees in Fantasy literature to add to my list? All types of Fantasy welcome, from magic realism, through paranormal urban, to epic. :)


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is her most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we

Monday, October 30, 2017

Something borrowed, Something blue, Something scary, Something new...




[Original Post]
Okay, that sounds like a twisted wedding ceremony, but it's kind of my theme today. I have something SCARY AND NEW to tell you about. Plus something BORROWED (look at the other Halloween themed-books below) and something BLUE—okay, kind of stretching it but maybe some covers are blue? Haha, sorry, I laugh at my own silly jokes all the time.

(Be sure you read all the way to end of this post!)


Oh, my yikes, I love this cover and the story--whoa. Faeries, fighting, shape shifters, betrayal, true love and did I mention faery vampires? And yes, Christmas. This is a tale about the REAL Fair Folk and their exile from Ireland, told by none other than Eire, the Queen of the Faeries herself. The ebook is on pre-order, the print book is available now and ... wait for it ... the Audible version will be ready soon too. The narrator is incredible and has a wonderful, natural Irish accent.


"This story is filled with magic and love which are the hallmarks of the holiday season. The writing reads like a dream."--Kimberly, Amazon review

"Such a great story with a Celtic legends background. Love, action, adventure and magic. I devoured this book..."--Maria, Amazon review

"I absolutely loved this story!"--Shyra, Amazon review



FATHOM is now available on Kindle Unlimited, so that means it's a free read for KU members! LINK HERE.

AND I have 2 new short stories, perfect to read on HALLOWEEN. Each one is only .99. You can purchase them HERE.


One person will win all 5 books. To enter, post a comment below about your favorite Halloween candy (treat) or your favorite Halloween prank (trick.) Also, you must share this blog online, either on Twitter or FB or Instagram. The winner will be chosen on November 6 and will be posted at the top of this blog post. Thank you for reading all the way to the bottom of the post!!

Monday, October 23, 2017

In Conversation with Zena Shapter

Hi Everyone,

Today we have a special treat - an interview with Zena Shapter, author of Towards White.

Scientists in Iceland think they’ve figured out one of our greatest mysteries – where the electrical energy in the brain goes after we die. . . but when ex-lawyer Becky Dales travels to Iceland to track down her missing brother, the government blocks her at every turn. Becky must piece together the answers fast… before she becomes a victim herself.

Zena is an award winning Australian Speculative Fiction writer, editor, tutor and self proclaimed, 'all round story nerd.'

The Supernatural Underground is happy to share some of her insights and reflection here.



SU I’m so looking forward to seeing Towards White in bookstores. Can you tell us when it will be out, to start, and what genre we can find it in? 

ZS It came out 29th September 2017 and you should be able to find it in your favourite bookstore under: science fiction, thriller or crime/mystery (it’s a cross-genre book). It’s also written in a very realistic style, so will appeal to a variety of readers. One of the first editors to read it was a fan of literary fiction only. Towards White converted her and now she reads science fiction all the time!

SU Becky is an intriguing character. Can you tell us how much of yourself went into her creation?

ZS  I try to put a little of myself into every story, not only because it helps make characters more authentic, but because I read to connect with others, their stories and challenges, and assume others do too. So when I’m writing, I like to offer readers the opportunity to spend time in another person’s shoes, and to do that I have to search through my own closet of shoes and find the right pair to offer up (BTW I don’t actually have a closet for shoes, my shoes are bundled up on wardrobe shelves!). Once I’ve found an experience I might be able to share, I imagine what it would be like to intensify that experience and go through it in extreme conditions, and once I know what those conditions might be, I build my character. During character development, I also think of friends and family who resemble my character in some way, and borrow bits of them to add into the mix. So there’s a bit of me in Becky Dales, there are bits from a few lawyer friends I know, but Becky’s also herself because none of us have ever been in her situation in Towards White – I’m sure we wouldn’t want to be either! We all fall apart sometimes, face the darkest of dark hours, question the essence of our being, then seek a way back to ‘normal’ life. Unfortunately for Becky, she faces having to do this during a crisis. Sometimes when it rains, it pours!

SU I love the world building in Towards White. It is almost like and alien world. You must have lived in Iceland, am I right?

ZS He he, no, I’ve never lived in Iceland, but I’ve been there. I love travelling. I love exploring new places, seeking out unusual stories and uncommon sights, then taking copious notes on them. I have a heap of travel notebooks, and they allow me to travel back in time to when I was last in a place, then write scenes that really show readers what it was like to be there. I visited Iceland in 2001, and when I re-read my notes it’s like being there again. Hopefully when readers read Towards White, they’ll travel there with me too.

SU You know I’m very curious about the science and the philosophy woven into Towards White. Are these questions you’ve wrestled with for years, or did it come to you in a flash?

ZS Both! I grew up around elderly people, for whom death was never far away, and loved studying science at school, so knew all about the energy and nitrogen life cycles. As a teenager, I also enjoyed philosophical contemplations – wherever I could get them! So when I was about eighteen – home from University where I was reading English – I was up late one night philosophising with friends about life after death and I found myself layering our discussion with my scientific background... The conservation of energy theory states that one form of energy must always become another form of energy, energy cannot simply disappear. Our brains are powered by electricity, so I simply made the leap to wondering what happened to it after death. Our bodies go to the worms, what about our electricity? It can’t simply disappear, and it’s far too efficient an energy to simply dissipate, or entropy, as heat. I dwelled on the idea, pondered it, and extended it as far as I could. What if…what if that was the answer to one of man’s greatest mysteries: life after death.

Over the years I played with the idea but it wasn’t until I went to Iceland in 2001 that the story that would become Towards White started to take shape. I fell in love with the country’s austere beauty and inspiration simply poured into my brain from there. There were some delays along the way – moving to Australia, marriage, two children, a new career and finding the right publisher – but the story evolved so much it demanded to be told, and finally it’s here!

SU How much research went into the story? Can we hear a bit about your process?

ZS Well, once I knew I wanted to write a story based on my scientific ideas set in Iceland, I started thoroughly researching those ideas. For the scientific side of things, I went to libraries in the UK and over here in Sydney, read online and asked scientist friends, putting together a folder of research and ideas about energy. I researched all kinds of other relevant things too like gravity and electromagnetism, how colour works, magnetic field therapy, Reiki, astronomy, genes, artic phenomena, the auroras, the constitution and history of Iceland, and of course the brain and nervous system, including brain death and methods of execution. I also bought an Icelandic dictionary and got to know the language as best as I could, including famous cultural quotes and swearing. Many of these ideas have been ingrained in the story from the very first draft back in 2002, but I cut out a lot of the language as my writing technique developed because it didn’t bring anything to the story but ambiguity. Some of the research I cut too because it was too lengthy – but I still have it all somewhere!

SU Becky’s relationships with men are complicated. Did you know she would have such an intense history/backstory from the start, or did that evolve as you wrote her?

ZS It evolved. In earlier drafts of the novel, Becky was a self-assured confident young legal editor who had simply had enough of men. But beta readers found her too assertive, so her confidence had to take a knock. At one point she was lactose intolerant! At another point she was called Kate. But as the drafts went by (there were about ten!), she became more and more complicated, she internalised more, and the more I based her on real friends and family, the more I came to understand her. Hopefully by the end of the novel, readers will understand her too.

SU  What is a typical writing day like for you?

ZS My typical writing day has changed so much over the past few months. It used to look like: admin and emails while the kids get ready for school, exercise until about 9.30am, sit down to write until the kids arrive home around 3pm, ensure I’ve written a minimum of 10,000 words a week, then the rest of the afternoon on client work and free stuff for other authors.

But my creative support business has taken off dramatically this year, and it’s become a struggle to get to any writing at all! I still exercise three days a week, but then have about five hours of client work each day, an hour of face-to-face mentoring other authors, and an hour of teaching (as an average across the week). It’s no wonder I’ve only written a few short stories this year. I have a plan though, to instigate some better balance into my writing life – wish me luck! I will write more again, I will write more again!

SU  Finally, what’s next for you?

ZS Once I’m writing again, I’d like to re-edit a fantasy novel I’ve been working on for a few years, following on from a Writing Inclusive Fiction course I studied earlier this year. It’s so important to write with sensitivity and respect, I want to ensure I’m doing what I can to address imbalances in society, as well as in my own life. I’m also working with agents in the US and England to get more of my writing to readers. Watch this space! Or rather this space over here: ;)

Thanks, Zena!

You can find out more about Zena on her Website, Facebook and Twitter.

Towards White can be purchased on in Kindle or Print.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Five Reasons Why YA

Mermaid's Secret by Michael Parkes
Show of hands, how many of you adult readers enjoy YA (Young Adult) books?


It surprised me to learn that over 55% of YA readers are over eighteen. Of that 55%, most are actually over thirty. There are good reasons for this, which I'll get to in a moment, but to start, you might like to watch a brief history of how the YA genre got started.

Epic Reads - A Brief History of Young Adult Books

Why Adults Love YA

#1 Rapid Pace

YA books are page turners. The genre is know for high readability, the unputdownable quality that keeps readers engaged, pages flying.

#2 Quality Control

YA books tend to have rigorous editing. Most published are immersive stories with powerful characters and plots. The personal, and global stakes are high, themes deep and complex.

#3 Addressing  Issues

No matter if the YA is contemporary, fiction, Dystopia, SF, Fantasy or Romance, you can bet the author won't shy away from issues of life, death, sex, drugs, gender, bullying, self-worth, suicide, rape, physical and mental health. For the most part, these topics are handled honestly, without judgment or ulterior motives (preaching).

#4 Emotions switched on

Most YA have some elements of romance, or awareness of feelings. The language tends to be visceral, allowing readers to feel what the characters are experiencing. Less "He felt scared," and more, "His heart pounded ..." Frequently, YA is written in the first person making the connection to the main character more intimate.

#5 Pushing the Edge

YA books can bend the rules of genre, formatting and POV (point of view). We see them embracing genre-crossovers like contemporary fantasy, SF thrillers, SF Fantasy, LGBT Historical, you name it. There are also YA books coming out in verse, diaries, social media instant messaging. I'm reading a YA series right now with multiple point of view characters. The main protagonist is in the first person: "I woke up with a knife to my throat." All other POVs are in the third person: "He waited for the right moment to speak."

There are other perks to YA, including the price. Most YA books are priced below their Adult fiction cousins.

How about you? Are you reading YA for any of the above reasons, or perhaps ones outside the box.

Is it something you feel a little awkward about in public, or is that stigma finally dead? With the number of adults reading YA, I certainly hope so!


Kim Falconer's latest release is out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel.

Learn more about Kim on Facebook and chat with her on Twitter. Check out her pen name, @a.k.wilder on Instagram, or visit AKWilder on FB and website.

Kim also runs where she teaches the law of attraction and astrology. 

Kim posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month, hosts Save the Day Writer's Community on FB and posts a daily astrology weather report on Facebook.