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An Exploration of Setting

It amazes me sometimes the amount of time that can be spent thinking about setting before you can even begin writing. I am currently working on a story for a creative writing class that I am taking. The story is supposed to be an homage to “Cities and the Dead” by Italo Calvino, which describes a person’s arrival in a city where everyone is dead including himself. The idea for my project is to explore this setting since Calvino’s story ends with the reveal. This is a city where the people know they are dead, and yet they act like they are alive. My goal is to explore how a person’s life would be in such a city.

When I decided to write this particular story, I did not realize that I would have to spend so much time deciding exactly what the city is like and how it functions. It is hard to write about someone’s life in a city without knowing the city’s layout, the jobs available, housing options, etc. I have now spent quite a while determining how the person came to the city, whether or not he arrived in the same clothes he died in, and how the currency system of the city works. Some of these things that I had to address might seem inconsequential, but without fully fleshing out the setting, it is difficult to get a grasp on how someone would interact with their surroundings.

This is often an issue with fictional settings, something I come across all the time when writing fantasy. World building is an essential part of a story. It determines the backdrop for all of the plot and character interactions. A conversation about lunch would be quite different on a college campus than on a stone bridge over a river of lava. This is why setting has to be well-defined. It creates backstory in itself and can help the narrative to tell a story. Setting is often the foundation for good writing.

Sonnets and Shared Poetry

I apologize for not posting recently. College always seems to get in the way of blogging. I am currently taking a course on the early works of Shakespeare, and that got me interested in sonnets. Shakespeare wrote at least 154 sonnets (not counting those imbedded in his plays), each titled simply with a number. His style of sonnet is different than the prior Italian or Petrarchan sonnets in terms of rhyme scheme. (Learn more about the Petrarchan and Shakespearean styles here).

One interesting thing I learned in this class was that Shakespeare and his contemporaries used to pass around sonnets amongst themselves to share their ideas and see how others reacted to their poetry. In the same spirit, a friend and I each wrote a sonnet and exchanged them. We then critiqued each other’s work for both content and style in an attempt to improve them. My revised sonnet is below.

Cruel Love has made of me an enemy.
She mocks with smiles, delights in causing pain.
She knows I want her, sorrow gives her glee.
I give my heart, and yet she has me slain.
Now Mother Night takes me into her womb;
I hide in there, my face with growing shame
Obscured from light in blessèd Night’s sweet gloom.
I scowl on others, but I am to blame.
I pray that Time will save for me that Love.
I’ll waste away before I’ll have my chance,
And never will I catch my mourning dove
Unless I’m pushed out into life’s warm dance.
     And even though Love forces me away,
     I’ll fight on still ‘cause I am here to stay.

One suggestion that I did not incorporate yet is to tie Time back into the last line. I attempted this by modifying the line to “I’ll fight with Time ‘cause I am here to stay” but the change didn’t seem quite right. What do you think? I am always open to feedback and potential improvements. I have also begun a few other sonnets, but I have not finished any of those yet. Let me know if you would like to read them.

Where Do You Get Your Inspiration?

It’s a question I hear a lot, and I’m sure other authors experience the same thing. Everyone wants to know about your inspiration. They want to know your inspiration for writing a certain novel, inspiration for writing a particular genre, and inspiration for writing in general. Basically, what got you started, and where did your ideas come from? You would think this would be an easy question to answer, but, for me at least, it’s rather complicated. Rarely do I have a single event trigger the writing of a novel. Most of the time, it’s a combination of factors.

I write because I have always loved reading and I enjoy sharing my thoughts with others via the written word. I enjoy writing fantasy because I have always liked to read fantasy, probably because my father is a fan of science fiction and fantasy so I have always had access to a number of fantasy books. Unfortunately, an explanation like this seems too boring for many people. They want to hear a good story. Rather than the truth above, they would prefer something more like this: “There’s actually an interesting story about why I write. There was this one time when I was a child and I was visiting my grandfather’s house for a week. It was raining outside, so I explored the attic. I found this old box with a journal in it that my grandfather had kept during his service in the war. Reading through the entries, I realized that I wanted to write my own stories down to share with future generations.” Now none of that is true, but it sounds a lot better than: “I write because I read, and I have been doing both as long as I can remember.”

Luckily I have a decent story about the inspiration behind the trilogy I am currently working on, which starts with the recently published Discordant Tones. It goes as follows: “I was on a family vacation at Cape May, New Jersey a few years ago. I was sleeping in an RV in the driveway since there was not enough room in the house for everyone who was there, and I had an interesting dream. I dreamt that I was walking through a library, and I happened to see three books on a shelf with my name on the spine. When I woke up, I decided I should write a trilogy.” I told this story to a reporter from my university’s newspaper, and she liked it, including it in an article about me (see the article here). However, she did still ask what my inspiration was behind the content in Discordant Tones. For this I did not have as good an answer.

Much of the storyline of Discordant Tones was inspired by the world I described in my first book, A Broken World. The situation is similar, but the characters are different and it is set many years later. I did not have some grand inspirational moment that caused me to write A Broken World either. It was a combination of factors. I was definitely influenced by books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, and events in my life, but I cannot point to a singular interesting occurrence as the inspiration. That means I don’t have a good story to tell when people ask.

Have you ever been asked about your inspiration? How do you respond? Do you have a story about the origin of your story?

Calling All Book Reviewers

Having recently published my second novel, Discordant Tones, I am now in need of reviewers. I have sent e-mails to a number of book review bloggers, but there is a rather long wait time since they receive review requests quite frequently. For this reason, I now turn to anyone interested. If you would like to receive a free e-book copy in exchange for writing an honest review, either click here or go to the tab at the top of the screen labeled Review Copy Request Form. There is a short and easy form to fill out to indicate interest so that I can get in contact with you in order to send you your free copy.

Front CoverDiscordant Tones is a young adult fantasy of 358 pages in paperback form. This is the synopsis: After growing up in an ever-expanding refugee settlement due to a never-ending war, Trent, Dreth, and Alyssa are tasked with covertly exploring the warring kingdoms to find out new information concerning the conflict. Armed only with magic they use through music and Dreth’s shape-shifting abilities, these companions face powerful threats and uncover deeper secrets than they could ever imagine. Coming of age in a war-torn land is not easy, and they quickly find themselves at the center of the conflict. It is up to them to end the war, but do they have what it takes?

Nothing Is Random

Recently I have been working on a short, informal, philosophical book entitled Nothing Is Random, which tackles the concepts of randomness, determinism, and free will. The following is the first page and introduction to the general ideas explored in the book.

Nothing is random. Everything that has ever happened was guaranteed to happen. Free will is just a necessary illusion.

My friend introduced me to this idea several months ago, and it is still messing with my mind to this day. At first I was skeptical, like most people. As a science major, randomness seems incredibly important. The basis of evolution is random mutations. How can we understand the world without randomness? Is everything preplanned? Do we even have any control over our own futures? I will delve into these issues later. For now, I have to convince you that I am not completely crazy.

I go on to explain how random seeming events are not in actuality random, starting simple with coin flips and dice rolls and working up to parts of peoples’ lives. For those curious about the explanations, think of life as a series of causes and effects. After laying out my ideas and supporting them with examples, I move on to the implications. This is the part I am currently working on.

What are your thoughts on randomness, determinism, and free will?

Cover Reveal: Shadows and Embers by Lindsey Sablowski

Coming soon: the new book Shadows and Embers by Lindsey Sablowski (expected publication date July 26). This is the second book of the Magicians series. The first book was Cursed with Power.

Summary: It’s 1569 in Transylvania; Léal Irvine has committed to a powerful man all for the sake of revenge. Handsome, young Irvine is a high-ranking magician working for Esmour’s organization, Destin, which is composed of Dark magicians from around the local areas. However, one by one magicians vanish or die, and suddenly the world of magic is not as safe as it once was. One of the members and Léal’s best friend, Nicia, betrays the organization before the downfall. Unfortunately no one realizes the act of treason might have saved her life. A year later Destin has fallen, and Léal sees the world through icy blue eyes. With only five Dark magicians alive his survival is constantly threatened, and he has no great leader or trusted allies to turn to. After infiltrating Belsgar and killing a member of the Magic Council, the war between darkness and light is no longer something anyone can walk away from. A new villain rises with a secret that could be deadly; meanwhile Nicia works to prove her loyalty to Léal while trying to revive their friendship. Sides will be chosen, relationships will be at stake, and in the end the balance of the magical world will depend on the outcome of the war. When you’re walking on a thin line between revenge and forgiveness how do you choose the right path without stepping too far over the crack?

Lindsey’s blog:

Full book jacket:

Discordant Tones Is Now Published!

Front Cover

I have just published Discordant Tones, the first book in the War Songs Trilogy. A Broken World is the prequel to this trilogy, but it is not necessary to read it beforehand. Discordant Tones is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions. Buy your copy today!

Description: After growing up in an ever-expanding refugee settlement due to a never-ending war, Trent, Dreth, and Alyssa are tasked with covertly exploring the warring kingdoms to find out new information concerning the conflict. Armed only with magic they use through music and Dreth’s shape-shifting abilities, these companions face powerful threats and uncover deeper secrets than they could ever imagine. Coming of age in a war-torn land is not easy, and they quickly find themselves at the center of the conflict. It is up to them to end the war, but do they have what it takes?


Print – currently on sale for a reduced price of $14.24 (regularly $14.99).

Kindle – $4.95 or free to borrow for Amazon Prime members.

Poetry and Photo Travel Guide: Italy

Italy Guide CoverToday I released the Poetry and Photo Travel Guide: Italy. It includes 16 poems and 40 photographs not counting the cover and author picture. It is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Description: This collection of original poems and photographs describes many desirable tourist sights in Italy, including Venice, Verona, Florence, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and Rome among others.

The paperback version is on sale for $9.49.

The Kindle version costs only $3.99.

Coming soon: the young adult epic fantasy Discordant Tones. The formatting is being finalized, and then the cover artwork will be the last part necessary before publication.

My Experience at MystiCon 2013

I attended MystiCon in Roanoke, VA about a month ago, and now that I have some time, I thought I would write about the experience. MystiCon is an annual science fiction, horror, and fantasy convention. The author guest of honor this year was Orson Scott Card. There were over a hundred guests, and the attendee passes sold out. I had a great time and met some wonderful people. The panels I was on and a brief description of what was talked about in each follows.

– Rated “R”

This was my first panel, and it was held at midnight. I was unsure of what to expect, but the other guests on the panel helped me feel at ease. We discussed the meaning of “Rated R” in today’s culture, comparing film and books, and we decided that individual maturity, rather than age, dictates what a person can handle on the screen or on the page. As the only author of young adult literature on the panel, a number of questions were directed to me regarding how authors of young adult fiction decide what is appropriate in their writings. We agreed that in both writing and film it is important to understand the desired audience and to know what they want and can handle.

– There and Back Again: “The Hobbit” in Review

The objective of this panel was to discuss “The Hobbit” movie. The panel contained a number of dedicated Tolkien fans who could find little at fault with the movie since it displays a world they love on the screen for them to enjoy. Since I have not read all the works that Tolkien wrote, I felt less prepared to discuss every minute detail than the other panelists. However, we did agree that there were some issues with timing and over the top action sequences.

– Teen Titans of Publishing

This was a panel of young adult authors and the scholarship winner. The two other authors on the panel were both sophomores in high school. We discussed how we were published and what we hope to do in the future. We also talked about the writing and editing processes.

– Young Adults – What Are They Really Thinking?

This panel consisted of the same panelists as the previous one but with a different moderator. Here we discussed our daily lives, how we fit writing into our schedules, and what our friends and family think of our writing.


From left to right: JM Lee (author), Cassidy Cornblatt (author), Ysabelle Hulet (author), Angela Pritchett (moderator), Maura Lydon (scholarship winner). Photo credit to J. Thomas Ross.

Random Creative Exercise #2

Since I finished up my goals for the break, I had some spare time and wrote the following. This is a poem consisting of rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter. Enjoy!

The Mark

     One morning I beheld a scary sight.

While passing through the woods, I saw a light.

Across the glade there was a brilliant spark.

A creature flew from this perturbing mark,

And fast beneath the underbrush it fled.

The fear held me in place like boots of lead.

So quick it went that hardly did I see

The form of that strange creature passing me.

Perhaps my addled brain my wits had dimmed,

But winged I thought it was and many limbed.

Before it disappeared, I heard it shriek.

The sound rose steadily and hit a peak.

The incident this moment reached its end.

     I traveled quickly forth around the bend.

My head was spinning with what I had seen,

And so I noticed not the shining sheen

On which my foot did tread without a thought.

I tumbled hard and my harsh falling wrought

A hole in ice that covered up a creek.

I landed in cold water with a squeak.

I lifted up myself with trembling hand,

And then I saw the creature on the land.

     Now clearly in my sight the creature stood.

I stared in fright and froze as still I could.

The beast was like a long-necked insect bat

Or maybe dragon small and not a rat.

It looked at me with eyes of brightest red,

And briefly I thought that I’d soon be dead.

While I stood still, it slowly came to me.

As it drew closer, I tried not to flee.

Before I knew it, it was at my side.

My jaw was clenched shut as my arm it eyed.

Then smoke escaped its mouth of hue red dark,

And where it touched my skin, it left a mark.

So that is how I strangely got this sign,

And my opinion’s that it’s rather fine.