Friday, 23 November 2018

Two Authors Under One Roof

The two authors under one roof I’m writing about today are my husband and I; Bobby and Barbara Underwood.   You might be wondering about the dynamics of two authors married to each other, so I’m about to tell you!  First of all, let me explain how we met:

In this age of internet and email connecting everyone across the globe, it’s easier than ever to find someone who is your perfect match, and that’s how it was with Bobby and me.  Bobby was living in California and actively writing amazon reviews, but what he really wanted to do was pursue a writing career.   Having a full-time job made that dream seem almost impossible, so writing reviews for classic films and books was the next best thing.

And I was living in Sydney, Australia, where I had already written my first novel but didn’t know what to do next.  So I was keeping busy by writing amazon reviews for films and books, too, and that’s how we connected – on  Back then it was easy to find like-minded reviewers and contact them, so that’s when Bobby and I began corresponding by email and the occasional ‘snail-mail’ letters and cards.

That’s how Bobby ended up coming to Australia where we were married, and later moved from Sydney to a country town in NSW.  These changed circumstances allowed us to have much more free time to finally pursue our dreams.   Bobby was finally able to put down on paper a life time of stories he had inside, while I worked on a sequel to my first novel (Rhuna, Keeper of Wisdom).  Bobby was writing about a dozen books to just one of mine!

His books also cover more genres, such as Mystery and Detective, Science Fiction and Dystopian, Romantic Fantasy, Pulp, Noir and Western while my books are part of one large fantasy series.

Although our books are quite different, we still have the many fundamentals of writing in common, such as going with the creative moods or dealing with discouragement and ‘down days’.  We know when to give each other the necessary peace and space to write a while, and then balance the rest of the day’s activities around our writing periods. 

One of those other activities is taking our dog, Cisco, to the park at least twice a day, which is actually a very good break mentally, not to mention keeping us physically fit!  While doing these other things, we often talk about what we are writing at the time, or plan to write next.  Other times we discuss reviews we’ve received for our books, as well as other books we’ve enjoyed reading, discussing the aspects we like best and can learn from.

Bobby and Cisco in the park by the river
Being Independent Authors, we don’t have deadlines to meet, and this is a good thing we feel, because we don’t have any pressure which would make us rush our work.  Quality is definitely more important than speed or quantity of books!  On the other hand, we still give ourselves a realistic goal to meet, as well as a bit of structure to the planning of our books and their marketing.  When a book is finished, we often proofread each other’s work, but after that we go our own ways where publishing and marketing are concerned.  For example, all of Bobby’s books are available exclusively on amazon, at the discount price of 99cents and on Kindle Unlimited.

Bobby and I are not competitive, but I can imagine that other couples in the same profession might be, and in their case it can be a good thing.  In our case, we usually inspire and encourage each other, and Bobby’s success with many sales, particular his Western series, all year so far make me happy rather than envious or jealous.  

So this is our story - of two authors under one roof.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Ancient Mysteries in the South Pacific

Quite a few years ago now, I had the privilege of travelling to a small group of islands in the South Pacific called Tonga.  I was living in Sydney at the time, and trips from the east coast of Australia to the southern Pacific were not too expensive.  Western Samoa, Cook Islands and even Tahiti had also been in my travel plans back then, but Tonga was special.
That’s because I had been reading Thor Heyerdahl’s books about his adventures across the world’s oceans in search of megalithic ruins and other evidence of a technologically advanced civilization that explored the entire world in ancient times.  This subject had fascinated me since childhood, and I began to read up on it more seriously when I was in my twenties. 
Among Heyerdahl’s explorations of the Pacific, including the famous Easter Island, he also discovered similar giant stone statues in the Marquesas Islands, then continued on to Tahiti.  In passing, he mentioned the remains of pyramids on the main island of Tonga, and that’s why this small island was on my radar.
So off I went on a short vacation, making sure I had maps and arrangements to see the stone ruins on Tonga.   In my mind’s eye, I saw the pictures I had seen in many books on the subject of megalithic ruins, such as this one of a wall on Easter Island:

It is often compared to the walls found in Cusco, as well as many other places across Central and South America.  This is just one example Heyerdahl - and now many others - used to support the theory that ancient megalith builders crossed the Pacific and other oceans and established colonies or new settlements using the same building techniques.
So imagine the thrill when I first saw a complex of several different-sized pyramid bases, or truncated pyramids, on the main island of Tonga!  The stone blocks fit closely together like the Easter Island wall, albeit showing some signs of erosion – perhaps due to the tropical climate and occasional flooding.

Megalithic buildings in Tonga
Not only that, but in another area on this small island of Tonga is a “mini Stonehenge” complete with a “Hele Stone” (a single stone strategically placed to use as a sighting stone in astronomical measurements).   Tonga has a single arch, as if taken out of the famous Stonehenge complex, but the straight lines of the massive stone blocks are identical.

The "Hele Stone" on Tonga
These historic sites in Tonga have a local version given to tourists, such as the story of a Polynesian king who authorized the 'gate' to be built, but other historians and scientists believe the origins of the megaliths are much older and were made by other people.  

Personally, I think it's too much of a coincidence that ancient stone structures are identical or very similar all across the world.  And if a civilization had the technology to make evenly cut and sized stone blocks for building purposes, then one can assume they also had the knowledge and ability to make ocean-crossing vessels.

Apart from Heyerdahl's books, David Hatcher Childress has also written extensively about his explorations of ancient megalithic structures around the world, and one book is just about Tonga:

I have used some of this information, along with my own personal travel experiences around the Pacific, in my Fantasy-Fiction series, RHUNA.   The heroine named Rhuna spent her childhood on Easter Island until she learned about the Atlantis-like civilization beyond the horizon.  She then spends her adolescence on Tonga (called Mediz in my story) before making another long sea voyage to the land of Atlan...
Part Two in Rhuna, Keeper of Wisdom is set in "Mediz" (Tonga), while the short story, The Summer Sojourn is set entirely there, and details Rhuna's adolescent years.

Friday, 3 August 2018

The Writing Process: Some Advice and How to Unwind

My writing process is fairly straight-forward, combining practical common sense with a bit of unbridled creative passion!  First of all, I glean all the information on my next topic (eg Rhuna in Ancient Egypt) from my stash of historical, New Age, spiritual, pseudoscientific books and take notes of the points I like.  From about 50 such points, however, I might only end up using half or less, but that’s fine.  In the beginning, I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m going to use, but if I have a nice long list of ideas/topics/facts/myths to choose from, then it’s easier to grab one as I’m going along.

Before I start writing, I formulate a general plot in my head.  Since this a series, I have a definite starting point (the cliff-hanger from the last book) and end point (the cliff-hanger leading to the next book).   I have some definite ideas what will happen between both points; not just in terms of events but how characters will be affected.  

Once I have a fairly solid base line to follow, I allow myself to develop and add things as I go along, and this often happens almost by itself from Part II onwards.  Often I have Part One clearly defined in my mind before I get started, and this helps me lay the groundwork for the rest of the book, such as setting the scene, raising the new issues or problems Rhuna will be facing, and creating some suspense as to what will happen.
Usually I write to story in sequence, but at times I’ve been overwhelmed by new ideas or a description of feelings or events that happen further along in the story.  That’s when I let the creativity flow freely, and later I connect those scenes with the ones written in chronological order.

Some advice I’d gladly pass on to new and aspiring authors are these:
·        Be yourself.  Don’t try to write in the style of a popular author, or even your favourite author.  You have to find your own inner voice and then let it shine forth.  

·        Every word you write should come from your heart and soul – not your brain dictating how you think it should read.  If you do this, readers will instinctively feel it and have an emotional response to your book.

·        Remember that books are like people: with some you immediately ‘click’; with others you just can’t gel.  This goes for the books you read yourself, but also what to remember when readers don’t like your book.  Not everyone is going to like it, just as not everyone is going to like you personally.  That’s just the way it is.

·        If you are being yourself in your creation, then continue to be true to yourself.  Keep writing and growing while doing the necessary promotion and marketing of your books, and your readership will grow:  slowly but surely.

Being creative can be more mentally exhausting that you realize, so it’s important to make yourself have a break before you feel the brain fog or mental block developing.  In my case, I have another creative outlet, namely art: sketching, oil painting, acrylic, watercolour, still life, portraits or whatever grabs my fancy.  I meet with other artists at the local Art Society’s studio once a week, and this is already a great little break when I’ve been writing or thinking a lot about a book.  Other times, I feel I need a week or two away from writing and just do paintings and sketches around home.

When I’m out of creative gusto, I play games: jigsaw puzzles (on the computer nowadays – much easier!) some hidden object mystery games and Super City on Facebook.  Other times just going to the park with hubby and the dog is enough unwinding for a few hours.  And believe it or not, doing some necessary chores and housework can also help to unwind mentally just by giving you some distance from the work you were focussed on.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Who Were the White Gods of Ancient History?

You’ve probably come across them and didn’t know it; either at school, in books or even TV documentaries. Even pop culture pays tribute to them in shows such as “Ancient Aliens” and the Ancient Astronaut concept.  Who or what were the White Gods?  They are the people that history, legends and folk stories all over the world honoured, feared or worshipped throughout time.

South American cultures such as the Mayans and Aztecs gave the White Gods names such as Quetzalcoatl, Viracocha and Kukulkan, and they were described as having white skin, blue eyes and a red beard.  In Peru, mummies with red hair have been found, and in many other countries there are stories of white-skinned, red or fair-haired people with blue eyes.   The stories say that these tall, fair people brought technology, laws and the arts.

When the Spanish conquistadors first arrived in South America, they were greeted as the returning White Gods, and even Captain James Cook who explored the Pacific, including Hawaii and Easter Island, was greeted as the returning “white god” of their legends.   

The famous statues on Easter Island feature a red stone on their heads which seems to indicate that the statues represent red-haired people.  The statues also have Caucasian features.

 Folk tales and legends usually have a firm base in reality, and it is believed by many that a Caucasian race (predominantly with reddish hair and blue eyes) brought advanced culture and technology to the Americas, the Pacific Islands and other lands, which led to them being venerated as gods or superhuman, superior beings.
This theory fits the legend of Atlantis: a highly advanced civilization that existed in "pre-history", found in writings by Plato when discussing Ancient Egypt.  Historians have been puzzled by the technology and art of Ancient Egypt because it seemed to appear abruptly on the world scene, not develop gradually.  Maybe the Atlanteans or White Gods brought their knowledge to Egypt?

I have used these ideas about legendary "White Gods" and Atlanteans in my Fantasy Fiction series, RHUNA: A Quest for Ancient Wisdom..  While Rhuna is only part Caucasian, she nevertheless inherits the Atlantean culture, and her adventures take her across the ancient world to Ancient Egypt, then Ancient India and beyond.

Monday, 9 April 2018

What inspired me to write the RHUNA series

You might be surprised to learn that I was only 10 years old when the first foundations were laid for my RHUNA series.   It was a distinct turning point in my life, and I remember it very vividly, even now.  No, nothing strange or other-worldly happened.  It was just a normal day, and my father took me to the movies, just like normal.  Only the movie we saw that day was Chariots of the Gods – an early docu movie based on Erich von Däniken’s book by the same title.   It was the first theory about “Ancient Astronauts” ever put out there back in the early 1970s, but it wasn’t the idea that our technology came from aliens that grabbed me.  It was simply seeing ancient wonders like the pyramids in Egypt, strange statues on Easter Island, and many other mysterious megalithic structures that we today can’t truly explain or understand.  

 When we left the movies that day, I asked my father all about them, and was simply gobsmacked that they were “mysteries” – and above all, why hadn’t I heard about all this before?! (in all my 10 long years of life!?)   Needless to say, I dragged my father to go see it again…and again.  And as life went on, I was always drawn to subjects like Ancient Egypt, Stonehenge, and ancient mysteries of all kinds, picking up books about them along the way.
Then, nearly 20 years after first seeing Chariots of the Gods, and a few years after my father had passed away, I was going through my father’s old books and came across Thor Heyerdahl’s Aku-Aku: The Mystery of Easter Island.  Perfect!  But I knew it was there because my father had told me several times over the years that I should read it, yet I was never in the right frame of mind before.  This time I was, and it was a revelation like Chariots of the Gods all over again, only ten times more poignant.  I knew there and then that I had to read, not just every book by Heyerdahl, but any other book that was remotely similar.

And so I devoured all these books about ancient mysteries all over the world – and they truly are all over the world.  Thanks to Heyerdahl, I learned that there are even pyramid ruins on Tonga – a small South Pacific island group many people have never even heard of.  I went there on my next vacation to see them for myself, and continued to develop a ‘theory’ about it all as I went.  By this time, my choice of books on the subject had veered into the New Age/Esoteric area, which thrilled me even more because I was reading about Atlantis and how legends tell of its advanced technology spreading across the globe, leaving mysterious megalithic structures everywhere. 

At this point in my life, I came to a junction of sorts because my writing had become more than a hobby, and I had begun to consider writing a novel of some sort.  But about what?  The answer was obvious:  the subject that had fascinated me the most since I was 10 years old.   It was meant to be!  There was no turning back or looking aside after that.  From then on, it was a simple matter of creating characters in the world I had already mapped in my head from reading all those New Age-Esoteric-Ancient Mysteries books.  Four books and several short stories on, I’m nowhere near running out of material for RHUNA, so expect to be seeing more of her around in coming years!

Monday, 26 March 2018

Good vs Bad - Too One-dimensional?

Most of us know that every good story must have an outstanding villain or two – how else can the characters be challenged and drawn out accomplish, overcome and attain happiness for the readers?   And if not a person, then certain circumstances act as the obstacle, problem and challenge for characters to overcome, otherwise there would be no story to tell.  But I believe readers have moved on from the fairy-tale basics of plain good versus plain old evil, and villains (or problematic circumstances) can no longer be one-dimensional to satisfy today’s readers.

This is good, because real life is anything but one-dimensional, and people are hardly ever completely good or totally evil, so unless you want to escape into a fairy-tale world for a while, characters and/or circumstances should also have various layers and dimensions.  The classic definitions of protagonist vs antagonist have become blurred, but rather than confuse readers by undermining what is “good” and what is “bad”, a good story nowadays leads the reader to come to his or her own conclusions, and this is a much more rewarding and satisfying result.

I’ve been reminded of these points again just recently after watching a couple of my favourite TV series again, namely Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Haven.   In Buffy, for example, the traditionally evil vampire called Spike goes through many ordeals and transitions until he comes out as the hero and saviour of the world in the final episode.   Haven has the winning formula of three characters which each brings something different into the mix according to their own perspective.  One of them is Duke, a petty criminal but actually not such a bad guy when you get to know him better.   Like Spike, he, too, sacrifices his life to save everyone else in the second-last episode of the show.

Without directly thinking about such shows or books with similar storylines, I found myself also creating a “bad guy” who ends up saving all the “good guys”.   His name is Goram, and he first appears as Beacon of the Night, his formal Atlan name, in the first book, Rhuna, Keeper of Wisdom.  He’s already showing signs of rebelling against the Atlan way of life by trying to grope and seduce Rhuna, but some 20 years later she meets him again in Ancient Egypt where he has switched sides completely and is the leader of the Black Magic followers of the Dark Master.  But by the end of book 3, Rhuna, The Star Child, however, Goram has actually saved the Atlan people who had to flee Egypt, and at the end of book 4, Rhuna: new Horizons, he does something even more extraordinary to rid the ancient world of the Dark Master’s influence.  Needless to say, just like Spike in Buffy and Duke in Haven, their actions didn’t come about on the spur of the moment, but rather developed subtly over time with a series of challenging events. 

So, we are seeing deeper dimensions and layers of the antagonist who, in many cases, turns out to do a particularly good or heroic deed.   Maybe it’s much more rewarding to see the ‘bad guy’ do good in the end out of love or some other deeper motivations, than seeing the good guy do the predictable heroic stuff!

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Names for Characters - Why so important?

What’s in a name?  A common question with answers that run surprisingly deep.  Names are like brands or images, and a name that’s easy to remember, stands out or has a nice ring to it immediately have a positive effect on those who hear or read the name.  Why else do many celebrities (and authors!) change their names if their real ones are hard to pronounce, sound strange or even funny? 

My own experience with a different surname really drove this point home to me quite dramatically, and here's the story:  I grew up with a Russian-sounding surname which no one could pronounce, so I spent the first 25 years of my life spelling it over and over and over again.  But then, when I was married to my first husband whose surname was Taylor - hey, presto!  I was suddenly very popular and well-liked, and even received compliments such as "nice name!" from a complete stranger when I introduced myself on the phone while at work! 

Nowadays, I'm happy with my second husband and his name, Underwood, which I gladly use because it's much easier to spell and pronounce than my maiden name!

With this in mind, I always consider the names of my characters very carefully, and it was an extra challenge because the setting is fantasy – or alternate history at best, so a common name like Bob or Jane just wouldn’t do.  We all have a mental image of what a Bob or Jane would look like, just as we connect an image to most other words and names.  A name determines our identity, so it's a big deal to create a character and a name to make a whole new identity with whom the reader can identify.

Although there are some great websites that generate character names of all sorts, I found that they didn’t help me at all, and so I come up with my character’s names the old-fashioned way:  just thinking, jotting them down and tossing them around in my head.  Sometimes I change a letter or two to see if the name sounds better, and then just thought about the “feel” of the name – what kind of personality the sound of the name conjures up in the mind.    When I feel reasonably happy with a new name, I google it to make sure it isn’t already “taken” by some other author or film-maker, and if it’s reasonably uncommon or even has no google search results, I’ll take it!

This is the approach I used for ‘personal’ names like Rhuna.  But in world of the Atlan Empire (Atlantean Empire) people had a more complicated formal name by which they were known (I made that bit up – but how knows what it was really like in Atlantis?!) such as Keeper of Wisdom.  This idea just came to me one day when I was thinking of how to make Atlan names stand apart from every other name, and it seemed to fit perfectly.  Atlans are given a formal name or title when they have shown a certain trait or quality.  Hence names like Guardian of Harmony, Resolver of Disputes and Wanderer of Plains.  But some names are less precise such as Softness of the Clouds, Peace of the Valley and Melody of the Dawn.

Once the characters are created and named, they have a tendency to take over their own destiny as the story is written.  This is because the characters are given certain basic traits (which often match their names) and as events unfold, I have to consider how each character would react to this event depending on their personality.  I think it’s important to keep the characters true to themselves and let them grow and change as the story unfolds, just as it would be for real-life people who are constantly growing and changing as they go through life.

Sometimes, certain characters have actually determined the outcome of a sub-plot due to their own individual view of a matter, and many times, when I’ve had to consider the next steps in a story and how each character would be affected, would they feel and react, I’ve been shown several alternate paths the story could take.   So I really must give some of the credit to the characters who have come alive on the pages of RHUNA!

Monday, 22 January 2018

Hydromancy, Water Scrying, Crystal Balls and The Gazing of the Waters

Some years ago, when I was doing research for my first Paranormal Urban Fantasy novel, I read something about using a still body of water like a crystal ball to see things clairvoyantly.   This is perfect, I thought: a way of supernatural or psychic remote viewing without using the common crystal ball.   In my books, the method is described as using a bowl or basin in a dimly-lit room, sprinkle in some coloured powder while speaking words of incantation, then watch the surface of the water swirl with colours until it reveals a vision of a person or place far away.   I called it the Gazing of the Waters – a standard form of communication and remote viewing among the highly advanced, intellectual Atlans who live in an idyllic, utopian society (based on Atlantis).

Back then, I had no idea that what I created for my novels is actually a reasonably well-known method of divination called either water scrying or Hydromancy.  According to several websites specializing in the general subject of Metaphysics, the practice of seeking supernatural communication or knowledge using a surface of water goes back thousands of years.   There are very few written records that go back that far, but Esoteric Wisdom, like all things occult (meaning ‘hidden’ or ‘knowledge kept secret among only a certain few’) has retained this knowledge for our New Age.

Medieval texts often refer to different methods of water divination, but by this time (several centuries ago) the special knowledge of the Ancients had gone underground, and only an empty shell of the original practice remained.  The medieval texts in question list a variety of methods for gaining psychic insight, such as counting ripples in the water - like reading tea leaves, I imagine!
However, Hydromancy’s ‘cousin’, the crystal ball, has come down to us through the centuries, preserving the ancient technique of ‘gazing’ into a smooth, reflective surface with the intention of seeing something.  For this reason, the ability to see visions in water or a crystal ball is often called The Second Sight, and the act of looking into a crystal ball is often referred to as crystal gazing.
Nostradamus, the famous medieval apothecary and psychic, apparently used this method of water scrying to receive his vision of the future which he wrote down and published in the mid-1500s.  He preferred to use a bowl of clean water rather than a crystal ball.  
A very interesting blog article by psychic Richard Lee Van Der Voort, describes his own experience gazing into a crystal ball, and I was particularly struck by the process, namely that the ball becomes ‘cloudy’ before clearing and revealing a vision.  This is exactly how I describe the process of summoning visions by means of The Gazing of the Waters in my Rhuna novels and short stories!
Another aspect of scrying - be it with water, pendulums, tea leaves or what have you – is the required trance-like mental state the one must first have in order for any scrying to be successful.   I’ve also emphasized this in my books, and have called the deep meditation to calm the mind and reach a trance-like state ‘Inside Focussing’.   
Here is an excellent website that describes the techniques you and I can apply to learn the ancient art of Hydromancy or ‘scrying’ in general.  
When we meditate or focus all our senses on our inner mind (Inside Focussing), we access our subconscious minds, which can already reveal a great deal of information. Forgotten memories may surface, or we may gain better understanding of ourselves in general. 

Where visions are concerned, a common theory is that our subconscious minds in a deep meditative or trance state can access the Hall of Records also known as the Akashic Records.  This is an intangible ‘database’ of everything that has ever happened (and perhaps could and will happen?), which I have also used in my novels, starting from book 3 in the series (Rhuna, The Star Child) and which I have named The Infinite.

Another theory is that a vision or message received in a trance can come from a sentient being of some sort: gods, angels, perhaps another person projecting strong mental energy…  Decide for yourself!