Sunday, April 30, 2017

Last of the Memory Keepers series: The Five Races Q&A and Giveaway!

“Years ago after our world began, we murdered the human race. Now we’re all that’s left.” –Rhona Farlane, “The Diplomat’s Daughter”(LMK series, vol. 1)

I had a lot of fun in brainstorming ideas for the races in Last of the Memory Keepers. Though some of them took me a while to develop. The Diataro, for example, were nameless for several drafts until right before I sent my novelettes off to my editor. But I still put a lot of work into developing their cultures. Unfortunately, not every detail went into the stories, as often the case with characters’ personalities and the world’s history.

I’ve also written a short page on The Five Races, which you can check out, but here’s a quick refresher with a couple facts not mentioned in the stories.

Disclaimer: While I have listed some Earthen influences for the five races, they are not meant to be representations of actual people groups. Any inconsistencies between cultures is because the races in Last of the Memory Keepers are not the races we have in our world today. Similarly, one of the primary themes of the series is that no race is strictly good or evil and that culture and race do not define a person.

Memory Keepers

Gift: The most history-oriented of all the races, the Memory Keepers have the ability to access, alter, and store memories within humans, long-lasting plant life, and some animals.
Four types of memory accessing: Deep Memory, Recent Memory, Memory Communication, and Memory Restoration
Earthen influence: Native Americans and English/Scottish names
Primary religions: Monotheism and animism
Currency: bargaining system
International relations: trade with the Meridians


Gift: Just as their name suggests, the Shape-Shifters have the ability to change their form, from minor alterations such as hiding a scar or changing their hair color to appearing like a member of another race or another species entirely.
Types of shifters: Fact-based (can shift into something they have seen and studied) and Imagination-based (can shift into something based of their imagination)
Earthen influence: Russians and Germans
Primary religions: monotheism and atheism
Currency: gold standard
International relations: poor/nonexistent

Lightning Wielders

Gift: Before the destruction of their capital, the Lightning Wielders were the leading race with the ability to wield lightning not only for defense and attack but also for electricity and technological advancement.
Three types of lightning wielding: Energy gatherer (puts energy into Lightning Stones from outside sources), Energy transferrer (transfers energy between Lightning Stones and outside sources; most common), and Energy consumer (uses energy to sustain themselves; rarest)
Earthen influence: Persians and Arabs
Primary religions: monotheism and polytheism
Currency: gold standard
International relations: extinct


Gift: Although not immortal, the Meridians are the longest-lasting of all the races, with an average life expectancy of 240 years.
Earthen influence: Ethiopians and European monarchy 
Primary religions: polytheism
Currency: gold standard
International relations: trade with the Memory Keepers, border skirmishes with the Diataro


Gift: The strongest of the races, the Diataro have strength three times that of the other races.
Clans: Taro (largest, warrior society), Jiro (second largest, warrior society), Saburo (smallest, intellectual society)
Earthen influence: Japanese
Primary religions: polytheism and animism
Currency: gold standard and bartering
International relations: all three clans are at war with one another, the Taro and the Sabura raid the Meridian borders, tension between the Taro and the Memory Keepers

Now onto the Q&A. A few of you asked, and I’m here to answer!

Who is the “world power” of the five races?

In terms of manpower and technological advancement, the Diataro are the strongest. Not only are they physically stronger than the rest, but they are also the most intellectual. However, before the destruction of their capital, the Lightning Wielders were the most powerful, being the center of world-trade and technology, as they invented their own type of electricity and communication system based on their Gift.

If the Memory Keepers know the memories, why do they not always identify the bad guys?

In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I will say this—the Memory Keepers are not perfect. They cannot “screen” every person they come across, even during a diplomatic meeting. Some races, particularly the Diataro, would find the keepers accessing of their personal memories to be offensive and intrusive.

Do the races intermarry? What would happen if a person had all five Gifts?

Mostly, the races keep to themselves, but occasionally there is intermarriage. The more Gifts a person has, the more diminished their abilities come. Not only is their skill set divided, but their Gifts are diminished. People of four or five races usually show little to no ability of Gifts. Rumor has it that because of their “disability”, they are actually closer to being the ideal human being, as the first humans had no Gifts.

Which ability or strength unique to the five races would you (Azelyn) want to have? –Faith Boggus @ A Boggus Life 

Ooooh, I would have to say the ability to access memories, not that I’m biased or anything. Although I am not as big of a history-fan as Rhona, I would probably be a Memory Communicator like Ellard. But instead I would use my Gift to tell stories. While the Memory Keepers do not write anything down (no books! *gasp*), they have an ancient oral tradition, and storytellers play a large part in their culture.


The next story, “The Sun Child” (LMK series, vol. 3), comes out May 5, this Friday! And next Sunday, I’ll be posting the companion poem, “Luan and the Star’s Daughter”. In celebration of your visit to my blog, I’ve added a special giveaway! Enter to win three e-books of your choice from the series (vols. 1-3 OR 4-6). Three winners will be selected and contact via e-mail. Enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Let’s chat! Have you read any of the Last of the Memory Keepers series yet? Do you have any questions about the races that weren’t answered here? Which of the five would you want to be? 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Character Types: That Guy Who Just Won't Die

Have you ever gotten to the end of a book or movie, and looking back, you think about one of the characters and ask, “How are you still ALIVE?” Even though you may have watched the film or read the book, some circumstances seem a little over the top.

This post is dedicated to the survivors. To the characters who somehow managed to cheat death. To That Guy Who Just Won’t Die.

Disclaimer: A lot of my vocabulary comes from the American Midwest where the term “guy” is like the singular version of the southern “y’all”. Calling someone a “guy” is not gender specific and can refer to a man or a woman. In informal situations, I often refer a group of women as “you guys”. Also, because of the nature of this post, some spoilers may be present for The Hobbit, Leverage, Sherlock, Batman Returns, and Batman v Superman.

There’s a fine line between unbelievable and believable. Often times, That Guy Who Just Won’t Die crosses that line. After all, if I don’t see the body, I won’t believe he’s dead! And as my friend Faith likes to point out, sometimes not even then…

I’ve decided to rank the survivors on a scale of one to ten, one being the characters in the most intense situations who somehow still live. You’re free to debate the order. I had a hard enough time deciding myself.

10) Thorin Oakenshield and Company (J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit)

Bear with me here. Despite being a huge fan of The Hobbit, I often wonder how many of the characters survived. After all, Thorin managed to survive Smaug’s takeover of Erebor, several encounters with orcs and goblins, not to mention the mountain trolls, a thunder battle, the spiders of Mirkwood, dragon sickness, and ridiculous falls throughout the movies. It’s amazing any of the characters made out of the Shire alive, let alone to the Lonely Mountain.

Yet The Battle of Five Armies, and the last chapters of The Hobbit, reveals that not every hero lives to see victory. Unless, of course, you’re a hobbit.

9) The Red Crosse Knight (Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, book 1 of 6)

How many ways can you almost kill off a character in an epic poem? How about one for every book? Okay, so it’s not quite that many, but it’s a lot! In this classic story, the Red Crosse Knight fights off a giant and a dragon, nearly dying at least four times. But you can’t actually kill off the hero before you get to the final chapter, can you?  

8) Characters from Disney adaptations

Ever heard the phrase: life is not a fairy tale? Well, it’s a good thing it’s not! In a lot of fairy tales, many of the characters die and not everybody gets to live happily ever after. In most of the Disney adaptations, however, a parent or two might be missing, but most of the primary characters make it to the end, from Russell and Mr. Fredrickson in Up to Anna and Sven in Frozen.

7) Select characters from The Illuminae Files 

(by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)

Granted, a lot of people do die in these books. It’s just full of so many intense situations, that I was surprised anybody survived them. I mean, without survival, there wouldn’t be a story, but still. By the time I got to the second book, I no longer expected certain characters to die,  though that wasn’t always the case because of parallel dimensions. As if space travel wasn’t confusing enough…

6) Odysseus (Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey)

I recently watched The Odyssey with my dad, and man, poor Odysseus just couldn’t get a break. Sure, he’s obnoxious in his pride, but he still manages to be the sole survivor of his shipmates on his ten-year voyage back to Ithaca despite Poseidon’s threats.

Granted, I haven’t actually read the books yet. (*gasp* I know, I’m a bad bookworm. But they’re next on my classics list.) Yet a lot of characters tend to survive outrageous situations in mythology. I’m surprised more of them didn’t die sooner…

5) Sage (Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The Ascendance Trilogy)  

This was perhaps the first book I read where I started questioning how certain characters made it to the end alive. At one point Sage literally jumps off a cliff, and the chapter ends there. If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is. Sure, Sage’s narrating style is brilliantly humorous, but he’s also insane.

4) Eliot Spencer (Leverage)

Of his con-artist team, Eliot is known as the hitter. In nearly every episode, he’s knocking out somebody in hand-to-hand combat. But let’s face it, he’s had a lot of training. And he doesn’t always come away from every episode unscathed. But if he gets shot, he just walks it off. Or limps it off.

Parker: You’re shot. You should go to the hospital.
Eliot: I don’t do hospitals.
Hardison: I told you. He takes getting shot very lightly.
(Season 5: “The Rundown Job”)

3) Sherlock Holmes 

(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and BBC’s Sherlock)

Despite all attempts to kill off this famous and outrageously annoying detective, he’s still solving crimes. Forget Moriarty, not even the author, Doyle, could kill him off for long without the fans demanding his return.

Sherlock's survival is another reason I simultaneously like/dislike the BBC adaptation. They won’t explain why, but Sherlock is most definitely alive.

John: I’m definitely going to kill you.
Sherlock: Oh, please. Killing me, that’s so two years ago.
(Season 3: “The Empty Hearse”)

Petition to rename Season 4: Three Different Ways to Try (And Fail) to Asphyxiate a High-Functioning Sociopath. Or maybe we could just stick with Sherlock

2) DC superheroes

Me: Why are you still alive?
Batman: Because I’m Batman.
Need I say more?

I’m still confused about Superman, though. Supposedly he’s invincible with the exception of kryptonite, but in the last couple of movies he died. Or did he? Is DC trying to be vague?

1) Basically any Marvel character EVER

Forget surviving impossible situations—most Marvel characters just come back if they happen to die. Thor dies and comes back. Loki fakes his death at least twice. Captain America gets frozen and comes back. Bucky falls off a cliff but somehow manages to survive. I don’t even know how many times Wolverine regenerates. I could go on. Whether coming back disqualifies them from That Guy Who Just Won’t Die status, I’ll leave up to you.  

Now, before you think that characters are basically invincible (if only), remember that they’re not. Go watch a Shakespeare play (pick a play, any play) or read Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings” (hint: it’s not terribly happy). Death is a common occurrence in literature, just like life, which just makes the survivors that much more peculiar or fantastic, depending on your perspective.

Personally, I find this character trope to be a little annoying and really overused. Sure, to have a good story, you need good suspense. But not too much, or it’s unbelievable.


Film references: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Desolation of Smaug, and Battle of Five Armies; The Odyssey; Leverage; Sherlock; Superman Returns; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; Thor and Thor: The Dark World; and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Literary references: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit; Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, book 1; Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s The Illuminae Files; Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey; Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The Ascendance Trilogy; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes collection; and Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”.

Let’s chat! On a scale of Macbeth to Wolverine, how likely is your favorite character to survive to the end of the story? Which characters are you surprised made it out alive? What is your take on the Guy Who Just Won’t Die? Yea or nay?  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Writing Book Reviews: Some Tips

I recently started a two-part series on Writing Book Reviews. Last month I talked about the Why and today I’m going to talk about the How.

Let’s face it, writing is hard, for readers and writers alike.

If you’ve never approached a writing a book review before, you may not know where to start. Even if you have written book reviews before, you may struggle from time to time. (Or all the time. Who am I to know? We’re all different.) Whether you’re new or experienced at writing book reviews, this post is for you!

Ask yourself: what do you look for in reading book reviews? 

Then write that.

For me, I like reading good and bad reviews. What did readers like? What didn’t they like? If the review said that the book was too long, I was actually more likely to pick up the book. After all, if the main complaint was length, how bad could it be? In my own reviews, I made sure to include something good and bad about each book, unless it received five stars and I had nothing bad to say.

Emphasize what you liked.

If you tend to read a lot, you know that feeling when you reach the end of a good book, and you eventually have to close the book. You have to say goodbye to old friends. Even so, book reviews are a good excuse to revisit your favorite moments. Time to go wild with all those thoughts and feelings you had while you read. Enjoyed a particular quote? Bonus! Throw it in there! I like to include a bit of the style every time to let readers know what kind of story they’re getting into.

Include what you didn’t like.

Remember, authors are people too, just like you and me. While an entire review may consist of why you didn’t like the book, try not to bash the writer. Remember, writers are not their stories. They don’t even always agree with all their characters and their actions, politics, or morals. I know I don’t.

If you’re going to criticize a book or an aspect, please make sure you’re polite. People are actually more willing to listen to a thought-out argument that they disagree with than a rant they do. At least, I know I am.

Comment on the characters.

This is perhaps the most-emphasized point I see in book reviews. After all, most people don’t remember the story, they remember the characters. Sherlock Holmes is a great detective. Lucy Pevensie is a queen of Narnia. If a character is memorable, write about it.

Comment on the writing style.

This is actually something I don’t see a lot of. Often, book reviews will write, it was too long or too short. Sometimes I’ll even see a review saying the book was so well written! But how was it written, I’d like to know? Was it lyrical or narrative? Was it descriptive or vague? Was the technique experimental or grammatically correct? Was it clear or complex? You don’t have to have a degree in literature to say what you liked or didn’t like.

Use a well-known rating or make up your own, 

but stay consistent.

While I use the standard five-star system you’ll find on Goodreads, I don’t exactly go by their guidelines. Some books I gave three stars, I thought were just okay, and some two star books, I disliked. The reason I never give anything one star is because those are for books I hated so much that I couldn’t finish them. Although these books are rare, they exist and only get removed from my Goodreads page instead of added.

As for making up your own system, I’m not opposed to books with ratings like, “On the scale of Dumb and Dumber to Lord of the Rings, how good was the book?” Whatever you choose, stay consistent so readers can get to know how you judge a book’s worth by your scale. If they find they like the books you did, they may come back looking for more recommendations!

If you find yourself stuck on writing the review, 

try describing the book to a friend.

Although book reviews are easier for me to write now, they haven’t always been that way. Whenever I got stuck, I chatted with a friend and just talked about the book. It didn’t feel like a review. Personally, I like to stay spoiler free, so it was easy to take that excitement from the conversation and use it to fuel my review.

While you don’t have to incorporate every aspect into your review, it should serve as a basis of inspiration.


Previously in Writing Book Reviews: Why I Enjoy It

Let’s chat! How much experience do you have writing book reviews? What are some of your favorite tips? How do you show your support for your favorite authors?  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

7 Reasons I Enjoy Sci-Fi

I’m changing things up a bit this month for several reasons. 1) I haven’t actually written a new poem. Sorry. 2) Easter is coming up, so I’ll be taking the day off from blogging. 3) I’m in the middle of a writing series (Writing Blog Posts!), so I’m not about to skip over that post. As a result, I’m skipping poetry and diving right into books! The rest of my schedule will proceed as normal, with a bonus post on April 30 featuring the five races in Last of the Memory Keepers. Without further ado, today’s post is centered on one of my new favorite genres—science fiction!

I tend to be really picky about my books, even more so when it comes to sci-fi. During my time in Nottingham, when I was studying for my M.A. in English Literature, I took a class on speculative fictions. It was supposed to cover fantasy through sci-fi and ended up being all sci-fi, and all books picked out by one professor. Turns out, the class made me avoid sci-fi stories for nearly a year. Not fun.

But I eventually found a sci-fi book or two that I actually enjoyed. Here are just a few of the reasons I like sci-fi as a genre. (When I say sci-fi, I will mainly be focusing on space opera.)

1) They’re unconventional.

You know those books with neat little paragraphs and chapter-by-chapter structure? Forget it. While a lot of books still have conventional format, you might end up with a book that’s set up like a record of chat room conversations and video surveillance records.

You prefer all your characters to be human? Too bad. Sci-fi is peppered with talking raccoons, time travel, and tribbles. I’m still waiting for a story with space dragons. Come on! (Anybody have any recommendations?) After all, why not? As a writer, that’s one of my favorite questions to ask.
Why not? What if?

Unconventional is just another word for possibility. Sci-fi may not exactly be the easiest to read, but part of it is because…

2) Sci-fi stories are full of potential.

There’s something about the opening speech in Star Trek that makes me excited.

“Space: the final frontier…”

Sci-fi just goes to show that there’s so much that we don’t know about, so much left to explore in the universe through…

3) Space travel!

One of my favorite things to do is go for bike rides, and each time, I like to see new places, pushing the boundaries of where I went last. Sci-fi offers that kind of travel. But through many, many different varieties. Whether it be faster than light travel, worm holes, or teleportation, there are plenty of ways to get to other planets or even solar systems.

4) Sci-fi shares some characteristics with fantasy.

Science fiction is not a completely new genre. In fact, it stems from a long tradition of fantastical elements, which gradually morphed into stories that we know today, thanks to authors like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Like fantasy, sci-fi has foreign aspects from non-human races, strange plants, and animals, and of course travel.

Sci-fi even includes a little bit—okay a lot—of social critique. While fantasy often critiques the past, sci-fi critiques our expectations of the future because of the decisions we make in the present. Though I may not be a fan of the plot, I really like the world building in Avatar, especially with Hometree and the Hallelujah Mountains. I also really like the concept for a character living a dual-life in their sleeping vs. waking life. There should be a word for that.

Then there are those confusing stories that you don’t know if they’re fantasy or sci-fi like Star Wars or Thor. This only results in the ever-confusing shelving issue I have. I go to look for a fantasy novel and wind up with sci-fi. There may be some overlap, but they are not the same.

5) Science!

Half the time, I don’t know what some scientists or mechanics are talking about in sci-fi, but it sure is fascinating. I like that a lot of the technology is built on fact, so there’s all this potential.

The only thing is, with science developing so rapidly, some of the technology either becomes real, or the principles become obsolete. Other times, the facts are faulty. I’ve always wondered how people could travel faster than light, and still end up in the same time. After all, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, faster-than-light travel would result in a jump into the future.

Then again the Earth did turn out to be round when, for thousands of years, it was believed to be flat.

6) Sci-fi is packed full with culture.

I don’t actually like the way alien races tend to be portrayed. Please, enough with The War of the Worlds and Independence Day. While these stories may have been groundbreaking during their time, it’s getting tiresome. “All aliens want to kill us.” Oh, please.

Rather, give me the cultural aspects that come with different races. Sure, there are definitely misunderstandings and even hostile meetings, but there are discoveries too. There are languages barriers to overcome, customs to learn, foods and new atmospheres to experience. In fact, I’d like to see more sci-fi with cultural aspects, including culture shock. The only ones I’ve read with it thus far has been The Left Hand of Darkness and A Princess of Mars.

7) Space is awesome.

I’ve always been fascinated with astronomy. When I was a kid, my dad would drive my brother and me out to the middle of nowhere, and we’d sit on the hood of his car to watch a meteor shower. When I was a teenager, he’d set up the telescope, and we’d admire the rings around Saturn and see if we could spot Jupiter’s moons. And one day, I may even find Andromeda, the only galaxy visible to the naked eye, with our telescope.

Sure, space is also really creepy. Bone’s sums it up pretty well when he says, “Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” And while I’m pretty terrified of the idea of endless nothingness, it’s still fascinating. There are countless galaxies, nebulas, and black holes out there. Is it bad that I find black holes fascinating?

8) Bonus! (And because I’m not good with math.) 

Sci-fi can reference literature and made up stories.

Spock (Star Trek) is a Sherlock-esque character and even quotes him. Star Trek: First Contact references Moby-Dick. Illuminae references “O Captain! My Captain!” (Leaves of Grass) and other books yet to be written in that fictional universe.

Whoever said sci-fi couldn’t be literary?


Film references: Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek, Avatar, Independence Day, Star Wars, and Thor.

Literary references: H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes collection, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, and Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” (Leaves of Grass).

Let’s chat! What is one of your favorite genres? What are some of your favorite characteristics of sci-fi? Did I leave any out?