Shark River

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Dindi is kidnapped to be the bride of a shark... To escape she must untangle a terrible curse caused by a love and magic gone wrong.


This stand-alone novella is set in Faearth, the world of The Unfinished Song. Available here ONLY.


The Unfinished Song - This Young Adult Epic Fantasy series has sold over  70,000 copies and has 1,072 Five Star Ratings on Goodreads.

Tara Maya

Author Archives: Tara Maya

June 10, 2015

Tara Maya’s Book Review: The Fire Seer by Amy Raby

Caveat—Reader Beware!

My reviews are written from a writer’s perspective, with an eye to dissecting good novels to find out what makes them work. Although I try to avoid explicitly discussing book endings, I am not as careful about avoiding all spoilers as some reviewers. I find if I employ too much caution about giving away plot twists, I am not able to provide a concrete analysis of the book’s structure. And frankly, I hate vague reviews.

So… there may be spoilers. If that bothers you, read the book first. Then come back and read my analysis and let me know if you agree…or what I missed!

The Fire Seer

Title: The Fire Seer

Author: Amy Raby

Genre: Fantasy Romance

Read: First Time

Style: Third Person Past

Type: Kindle ebook

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The Fire Seer is structured by a murder mystery, which the heroine and hero must solve together, much to the heroine’s dismay, because they have a history—and it’s not a pretty one! Honestly, the hero had done something so unforgivable to the heroine when they were both younger, that I was really on the edge of my seat trying to figure out how Amy would redeem him and make me want the heroine to forgive him, never mind love him. But Amy pulled it off.

Plot Summary:

Taya lives in a society where anyone with magic must belong to a monopolistic organization. The alternative is to drink a potion that eliminates one’s magic. Those who use magic without permission are called “jackals” and treated as criminals. Taya is on her first assignment after graduating her training, and her job is to investigate a murder and hunt down the jackal responsible.

Unfortunately, Mandir, the man assigned to protect and aid her in her mission was the same boy who tormented her in school—and even tried to kill her. Though he should have been executed or at least deprived of his magic for attempted murder, because Mandir is a prince, he was assigned only a year penance.

As Taya and Mandir work together to find the murderer, they discover that situation is rather more complex that it first appeared. Taya comes to question everything she’s been taught to believe, about her organization, her mission and her partner.


TAYA (Heroine): Most magic-users in their society are from the upper two castes, but Taya is from the lowly farmer’s caste. That made her feel self-conscious from the start… and being teased throughout her school years by popular Prince Mandir didn’t help her make friends or fit in. Her background has made her all the more determined to loyal and skilled, however. This makes it all the more difficult for her when she starts to question some aspects of her training and beliefs.

MANDIR (Hero): Mandir’s father might have been royalty, but he was also a malicious, manipulative bastard who taught his son only cruelty. Mandir has struggled to become a better person, but it’s taken harsh experience to change him. How can Mandir convince Taya that he’s not the same boorish boy who hurt her? How can he expect her to trust him? And yet, Mandir’s job is to protect her, whether she wants to believe it or not, and the danger to her is real.


I loved the culture based loosely on the ancient and mysterious Indian archeological find in Harrapa, because I am a total archeology geek. There’s a caste system and an interesting theology of Three Goddesses, which ties into the rules of magic as well as the themes of the book. The setting is well-developed and unique, not at all cookie-cutter, making it an excellent fantasy. However, the setting never overtakes the focus on the relationship between the characters.

Complexity/Series Arc:

The novel juggles the requirements of three genres: Fantasy, Mystery, and Romance. The elements of each are handled with finesse, in perfect proportion. The plot flows well, with no slow spots, and nothing hard to follow. There are enough suspects to give the mystery heft, but the mystery, like the setting, does not steal the focus from the changing relationship between the heroine and hero. There are 43 chapters, most with just one scene; 16 of 43 chapters have more than one scene, for a total of 62 scenes. Only one chapter, close to the midpoint, has 5 scenes. The Actual Midpoint = Scene 31, Chapter 24; the Story Midpoint = Scene 38, Chapter 26. This is the point when Taya’s tentatively growing trust in Mandir is shattered by a seeming betrayal.

As in a Romance novel, there are two PoV characters, Taya and Mandir. Taya’s PoV predominates, while 11 of 62 scenes from Mandir’s PoV. Nonetheless, the scenes from the hero’s PoV are critical, since they demonstrate his desire to be a better man is sincere, and brings the reader over to his side before Taya herself starts to trust him.

In addition, there are also 8 flashback scenes, covering three years (between nine and six years before the story), all brief and from Taya’s point of view. The flashback scenes are all well chosen and well positioned to caste light on the current events. They work well to add depth to the story.

Fire Seer Chapter Analysis

62 scenes

Actual Midpoint = Scene 31, Chapter 24; Story Midpoint = Scene 38, Chapter 26

16 of 43 chapters have more than one scene

1 chapter has 5 scenes

11 of 62 scenes from Hero PoV

8 flashback scenes, covering three years (between nine and six years before the story)

Code: Pink = Heroine; Green = Hero; Aqua = Heroine’s Flashback

Although apparently the first book in a series, The Fire Seer stands alone. The mystery and the romance plots both come to a satisfying conclusion.

Personal Remarks:

I have enjoyed the other Fantasy Romance series by Amy Raby, and I wasn’t disappointed by this one set in a new fantasy world. It was just what I was in the mood for. This is the first book in a new series. As of writing this review, I haven’t read the second book, The Fire Seer and Her Quradum by Amy Raby.

My reading time: 6 hrs.

Buy The Fire Seer by Amy Raby.

Buy The Fire Seer and Her Quradum by Amy Raby.

Read this month’s other Book Reviews:

Tara Maya’s Book Review: Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

June 9, 2015

Novel Excerpt: The Fire Seer by Amy Raby

The Fire SeerAbout The Fire Seer:


Taya has risen from humble roots to become a fire seer in the Coalition of Mages. Eager to prove herself, she arrives in the town of Hrappa to locate a “jackal”—a mage operating outside the Coalition’s authority—who has murdered three people.

But in Hrappa, she discovers that the man assigned to be her bodyguard is Mandir, her nemesis from years ago. When she and Mandir were students, he bullied her so severely he was sentenced to a year of penance and moved to another temple.

When Mandir sees that he’s been partnered with Taya, all his old torment comes rushing back. He’s had a crush on Taya since the day they began their training, but he pushed her away, ashamed of his attraction to someone so far beneath his social class. He regrets that now and intends to make an honest attempt to win her heart—if she can forgive him for his past sins.

But first they must find the murderous jackal, before the jackal finds them.



Chapter 1: Hrappa

Taya trotted her black mare past the flat, unwelcoming stares of the Hrappan townsfolk. She faced forward, reminding herself not to take it personally. It wasn’t who she was that bothered them. It was what she represented.

The sunlight was fading as she rode up to the Hall of Judgment. A haughty-looking servant in belted indigo awaited her on the steps. Taya dropped lightly from the mare’s back and brushed the travel dust from her clothes. She’d come in Coalition regalia, as per instructions. Over her short riding pants, she wore a green robe of soft cotton. A belt of worked silver with a fire agate mounted on the buckle encircled her waist. Her hair was pulled up into a fan-shaped headdress, and her arms jangled with bracelets—silver, since her people did not wear gold.

The servant’s gaze raked her. “You must be the drain-cleaner we sent for.”

Taya blinked in surprise. “No, I’m Coalition.”

“Ah,” said the servant, taking the mare’s reins. “I never would have guessed.”

Taya’s cheeks warmed. Sometimes she didn’t notice right away when a person was being insincere.

The servant straightened. “What am I supposed to do with that?”

Lumbering up the stairs was Piru, her pack elephant. He was a dwarf variety, no larger than her mare, but tame and loyal and incredibly strong. “Put him in a stall next to the mare. Has my partner arrived?”

“He arrived yesterday.”

He. So her partner was a man. Taya didn’t care one way or another, so long as he was competent, but she’d been curious.

The servant circled the elephant dubiously. “Where’s the lead rope?”

“You don’t need one. Just take the mare and he’ll follow her. His name is Piru. Give him a good feed of hay and scratch him behind the ears.”

The servant gave her a look that said, I’d sooner rub a sand viper’s belly.

Poor Piru. Maybe Taya would be able to visit him in the stable herself. “Is my partner available for me to confer with before I see the magistrate?”

“The magistrate wants to see you immediately. Your partner is with him.” The servant pointed. “Straight inside, first hallway on the right, second door on the left.” He whistled, and a boy padded up the steps. The two of them spoke briefly, and the boy took the mare’s reins and led her away. Piru started to follow but hesitated, turning his gray head to Taya in confusion.

“Go on,” she urged, and Piru trotted off, ears flapping. Taya smiled.

She straightened her headdress, noting with exasperation that several locks of her hair had come loose. She tried shoving them back in, but other pieces fell out, and she decided just to leave it be. She wouldn’t make a perfect impression, but how could she be expected to after traveling all day?

Aside from its huge size and arched entryway, the Hall of Judgment was like most Hrappan buildings, a flat rectangle of baked brick. The building was stuffy inside, but now that the sun had dropped below the horizon, it would cool off. Taya turned into the first hallway on the right and looked for the second door on the left. It was guarded by a lightly armored man with a bronze mace at his belt. She caught the guard’s eye and he nodded, granting her permission to enter.

The room was unexpectedly large. A gentle breeze threaded through two windows overlooking a leafy courtyard. A high seat rested upon a raised dais, undoubtedly the chair from which the magistrate handed down his decisions, but it was empty. Three men sat around a table in the center of the room.

One of the men was old and sick—disturbingly so. His stomach was bloated and misshapen, his hair lank, and his face sweaty, as if sitting in a chair was a great effort for him. Taya suspected he was near death.

The man sitting next to him was young and healthy. Both bore the facial tattoos of the ruling caste and were well dressed. The third man, who had his back to her, wore Coalition green and silver and was obviously her partner. Seeing him, her anxiety about the mission eased a little. He looked like the sort of man one could depend on—tall and strong, with a confident manner. He was a quradum, one of the Coalition’s magic-using warriors, and his role was to protect and advise her. Given the hostility of the townsfolk here, she might need protection. As for advice, she welcomed any guidance on her inaugural mission. She hoped her partner was as seasoned as he looked.

The younger man stood to welcome her but the sick man only gave her an apologetic look. Taya gathered he was not capable of standing. Her partner rose, too, with leonine grace. As he turned, she moved toward him eagerly and froze in shock.

She knew that face.

Even if she had been uncertain in her recollection, the facial tattoos were unmistakable. The sunburst on his forehead and the lines just beneath his eyelids, all in dark red, marked him as a member of the royal house. She was looking at Mandir isu Sarrum. Taya felt sick.

Recognition dawned in Mandir’s eyes as well, and he went as still as an onager jack who catches the scent of a lion in the grass.

Buy The Fire Seer by Amy Raby.

June 8, 2015

Differences Between Genre Fiction Before and After the Millennium (Guest Post by Jack P.)

By and large, 90s was about wondrous adventures and hilarious hijinks along the way. Since the early 00s, it took a turn toward the night along with society at large. Here are some of the main differences that happened beyond the Post-Millennial Shift, due in no small part to the events of 9/11/01. Which is better? That’s for the ages to decide.

5) Light vs Dark

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June 2015 Blog - pic 2

The 90s gave us Discworld, Jumanji, and Early Harry Potter. These were light stories, about character facing troubles, and dealing with issues, but of a relatively narrow scope and tied to their lives almost personally, allowing them to learn and grow

After 2000, we got the Da Vinci Code, the Kite Runner, and Later HP, where we learned our faith may be misplaced, the horrors humans are capable of, and the need to save the world from evil.

4) Fantastic Escapism vs Gritty Realism

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Instead of the journey and adventures of Hercules, 3 Star Treks, and the 5th Element, we have the harsh tones, bleak outlooks, and moral ambiguity of The Dark Knight, Watchmen, and zombie-everything.


3) Sense of Wonder vs Sense of Woe

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We once had a sense of wonder and comedy in Jurassic Park, Gattaca, and Men in Black. Now we have the tragedy and tumult of Twilight, Hunger Games, and Game of Thrones.


2) The Televolution of TV

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 Television has experienced an evolution since 2000. Instead of formulaic shows with a weekly story, the advent of DVDs, time shifting, and now streaming has led to television delving deeper into itself, with richer characters, season-long or even series-long plots with more layers than a Kardashian wedding cake, and some of the best writing and acting talent migrating to TV away from movies.

1) more More MORE

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With the internet, we have more of everything. Webisodes, eBooks, Webcomics, YouTube clips, hash tags, community tags, reality TV, refined reality TV, and the constant need for content from 500 channels of cable and 20+ screen theaters. Think about that – in less than 100 years, we’ve gone from 1 movie every month or so, to over 200 movies produced every year. I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep up, and neither can anyone!

June 7, 2015

Tara Maya’s Quickie Check In

Nice Dragons Finish Last

This week I’ve been working on Mirror, Book 8 in The Unfinished Song, and also on a section of Sworn, Book 10. (There’s a reason; technically the events of the storyline from Sworn antedate the events in Mirror. That’s one of the odd things that happens when the Story Order of events differs from the Chronological Order of events.)

Meanwhile, relevant to this month’s theme about Fantasy Romance, check out this fun interview on fantasy in romance, romance in fantasy, blending genres, Beta heroes, pricing of ebooks and much more!

Here’s a snippet where Rachel discusses her appearance on a panel at the Romantic Times convention:

Rachel:  Exactly, and, and it’s so funny, ‘cause, like, I was sitting, I’d be sitting on a panel, and it’d be, like, you know, really badass-looking chick in tight leather and, like, a dude with abs, and, like, a clinch cover, and then there’s me with powered armor.  You know, I, I was, it was very kind of a strange situation, but I really, really loved it, because romance readers are, are some of my favorite readers, because the romance community is so welcoming of other genres, and, like, ‘cause I, when I put kissing in my military sci-fi, I got a lot of are you sure you want to do this?

Sarah:  Oh, no, kissing cooties, man!

Rachel:  ‘Cause there’s going to be cooties in your powered armor.

Sarah:  You cannot have kissing cooties.

Rachel:  And, and, but you know what, ‘cause my readership is about 50/50 male/female, and I had very few complaints about the actual romance.  I had a couple of complaints from people who either didn’t think it went far enough or thought there was too much, so it was like the amount of romance was in question, but the fact that there was a legitimate romance was just kind of accepted.  Like, I didn’t, I didn’t get nearly – ‘cause I was, I was girding my loins for, like, the true science fiction author brigade, but no, everyone, everyone was real happy with it.

Sarah:  No, it’s, it’s a total, it’s a tonal difference, I think, between science fiction and fantasy communities –

Rachel:  Mm-hmm.

Sarah:  – and the romance community, especially at RT.  I remember when John Scalzi was a guest because he was receiving an award, he came to RT – I want to say it was Kansas City, two years ago – and wrote a post on his blog about how he realized at some strange moment that he was the only dude in, like, a room of several thousand women.  No one asked him for his credentials, no one wanted to quiz him on how much he knew about something.  It was like, you’re here, there’s a bar, let’s hang.  It’s a completely different kind of interaction from what I know of the two different communities.

Rachel:  That, that is absolutely true, and, like, ‘cause I’ve done a lot of sci-fi and fantasy cons, and they are lovely, don’t get me wrong.  They’re really fun, they’re really nerdy, and it’s very exciting, ‘cause I’m also a big sci-fi/fantasy fan and reader so, again, as a fan, it was very exciting, but there is definitely sort of a geekier-than-thou thing going on, where you’ve got to constantly kind of one-up your geek cred –

Sarah:  Yep.

Rachel:  – whereas at RT it was like, oh, my God, you’re a writer?  I’m a writer!  What do you write?  That’s amazing!  Oh, you read romance?  I love Regencies!  Let’s talk about our favorite Regencies!  It was just this really, really warm, welcoming atmosphere, and every, and every interaction I’ve had with the romance community has been like that.

Sarah:  Yep.

Rachel:  It’s, it’s just been fantastic, and I, I hang out on romance blogs just ‘cause they’re freaking fun places to be.  I, that’s how I found you!  I was a giant reader of Smart Bitches.  Back when I had my day job, y’all were, like, my favorite thing to read at work –

Sarah:  [Laughs]

Rachel:  – and, and I got a bunch of book recommendations from you when I was first getting into romance, ‘cause I didn’t even read romance until I was out of college.  I’d never even –

Sarah:  Oh, no kidding!

Rachel:  Yeah, well, I’d never, I’d – my parents were big sci-fi/fantasy nerds, and they didn’t read a lot of romance, and I’d read, like, some Anne McCaffrey, which kind of blurs the line, ‘cause she’s got a lot of romance in her sci-fi, but I’d never read, like, a Regency, and then one day, I’m like, that sounds really cool, and I picked up, I can’t even remember what the first one was now, but it was, like, a free book, and I just kind of picked it up, and oh, that was the rabbit hole –

Sarah:  Yep.

Rachel:  – let me tell you.  Like, couple hundred books later, and, and I love it.  I do.

One Good Dragon Deserves Another

And don’t forget to check out Rachel Aaron’s latest books, Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another, which are Urban Fantasy:

Sarah:  Cool!  So you mentioned earlier that you were working on dragons –

Rachel:  Mm-hmm.

Sarah:  – which of course is the thing that I like most.

Rachel:  Yay!

Sarah:  What are, what are you working on, book two?

Rachel:  I’m working on, I just, I finished the, the second book about a month ago, which is called One Good Dragon Deserves Another, and – ‘cause we got a theme here –

Sarah:  Mm-hmm.

Rachel:  Nice Dragons Finish LastOne Good Dragon Deserves Another –

Sarah:  Of course.

Rachel:  Dragon theme, and this book is really fun.  It was kind of a bear for me to write because I, I would just, I just had a, I just had a wrong-headed idea about the series and I kept trying to make it work, and it didn’t work, and I can be very stubborn.  I kept trying to make it work, and eventually I just had to say, okay, this plot is clearly not working.  Let’s back it up and try something totally different –

Sarah:  Mm-hmm.

Rachel:   – and that’s when I fixed it, but it took me a lot longer than it should have because of that.  But we’re on, we’re on track now, and I’m very excited about the book.  It’s all about sort of – you know, in the first book, it was all about Julius gets kicked out – Julius is my nice dragon – gets kicked out in the middle of Detroit, in the DFZ, which is the Detroit Free Zone, which is ruled by a, by a spirit who has ordered all dragons kill on sight, and his dragon form has been sealed, so he’s stuck as a human without all his powers, and he’s really just –he spends the whole book just desperately trying to survive and keep his head above water –

Sarah:  Right.

Rachel:  – and in the second book, he’s really got his feet under him more, and you really start seeing him kind of come into his own, and it’s, the books are, you know, Julius is twenty-four, so he’s, he’s definitely an adult in these books, but they’re really almost a coming-of-age story, ‘cause Julius was this big slacker.  He was, you know, he lived in his, he lived in his mom’s basement of her mountain, basically, and hiding from all of his more powerful siblings, and it’s the story of how this dragon whose motto used to be keep your head down, don’t draw attention, shut up, and hope they go away, started, becomes, starts really coming into his own and standing up for what he believes in, and he is a very nice, nice dragon.  He’s a very good person in a world where niceness and goodness are seen as unforgivable weaknesses to be exploited, and so he has to kind of be almost, almost aggressively nice, if that makes sense, and I have a lot of fun with that, ‘cause I really love, I really love the idea of compassion as a, compassion as a strength, because it gets shown as a weakness so much.

Sarah:  Yep.

Rachel:  And so I loved, I love working with that.  And also in this book, the secondary character, Marci, who’s the love interest, ‘cause there’s a little romance between Julius and Marci, and she’s a mage, she really comes into her own in this book.  Marci is just amazing, and she is so too short for this ride, but makes it work.  Oh, it was so fun.  Her stuff is so fun to write, but this, I mean, it just goes crazy, and, yeah.  I don’t believe in, like, small stories.  All my stories always get enormous, and, like, not in terms of word count, but in, just in terms of the scale and the scope.  I like to go big or go home, and that definitely happened in this novel, Sarah.  It’s going to be really fun.

You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript.

Buy Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another by Rachel Aaron.

June 5, 2015

What’s the Difference Between Romantic Fantasy and Fantasy Romance?

There are few stories that aren’t improved by a strong romance; but this does not make every story a Romance in the sense of belonging to the Romance Genre, i.e. a book that would be shelf-mates with Bodice Rippers and Regencies.

The same distinction coheres to the difference between a Fantasy novel with a strong romance (what we might call a romantic Fantasy) and a Fantasy Romance. The former may be High Fantasy or Urban Fantasy or Epic Fantasy, albeit with a satisfying romantic subplot. The latter is a Bodice Ripper with dragons.

By the way, I intend no condescension by the term Bodice Ripper. My purpose is not pour forth contempt upon the Romance Genre, as a cheap way of making some other kind of book look more sophisticated by implication. I enjoy Fantasy and I enjoy Romance, and I like most ways of combining the two. The distinction is not terribly important to me as a reader. As a writer, however, it is very important, since the genres target overlapping but different readerships.

Genre Romance will have the Romance front and center to the plot. It will usually be the first element introduced and the last element resolved, but even if a subplot appears on stage first, or a battle with the Baddie adds the finishing touch to the climax, the Heroine and Hero realizing their love for one another will be the most important and highly developed storyline in the novel.

This means—by necessity—all other storylines will be less developed. In a Fantasy or Science Fiction or Historical novel, that means that if the book is Genre Romance, the worldbuilding, scientific exploration, or historical events will be less complex than in a straight Fantasy, Science Fiction or Historical novel. This is isn’t because Romance writers are idiots who can’t research history, science or mythology, it’s part of the Genre requirements. It meets the needs and expectations of Romance Genre readers.

However, a Fantasy novel, like Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, can still contain a storyline that qualifies as “Romance” with a capital “R.” Enchantment, in my opinion, has too complex and rich a presentation of mythology, history, and characterization to quality as Genre Romance; many readers who prefer more Romance to Fantasy won’t have the patience for details about when the Cyrillic alphabet evolved. And Card eschews traditional roles for his Hero, such as “Alpha Male,” and his characters don’t spend nearly enough stage time pinning over one another (or lusting for one another) to make Enchantment even close to a Dragon Bodice Ripper.

Yet a Romance is still at the heart of the story in a way that will reward the more fantasy-tolerant Romance fan. Even more importantly, Card obeys all the Rules of Big R Romance.

So what are they?

Romance with a capital “R” must go above and beyond a story with a male and a female character who fall in love, a couple in love adventuring together, or a couple in love separated by an external force.

The first set of rules have to do with Conflict During Courtship:

  • The Heroine and Hero must spend most of the novel interacting—not apart
  • The novel must spend time demonstrating how the Heroine and Hero are strongly drawn to one another
  • The Heroine and Hero must have internal needs or fears that cause conflict between them which keep them apart emotionally despite being physically together and being strongly attracted to each other

This may seem counterintuitive. Hero and Heroine fall in love at first sight—wicked Wizard captures Heroine—Hero defeats minions of Wizard and finally the Wizard to save her—they live happily ever after. Isn’t that a love story? Sure. Isn’t that a Romance? Not in the sense of Genre Romance, no.

Romance in the capital “R” sense must be driven by conflict between the Heroine and the Hero. Most Romances will also have an external force trying to pry the couple apart—whether it be a rival suitor, a jealous jade, an evil wizard or a nasty mother-in-law. But a good Romance must have an internal conflict that keeps the couple apart as well. At least one or both lovers must have some secret need or fear that keeps each from trusting the other. Falling in love isn’t easy—it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

The second set of rules have to do with the Resolution of the Relationship:

  • The Heroine and Hero must attain a emotional and physical union
  • The Heroine and Hero must choose to be together exclusively
  • The Heroine and Hero must live Happily Ever After (HEA)

In a Sweet Romance, the physical consummation of the relationship may be kept behind a closed door. In a Hot Romance, the legal niceties of marriage may less relevant or explicit. And in a Young Adult Romance, both sex and marriage may be more implied as a future possibility rather than explicitly explored. But exclusivity, monogamy, and happiness are all absolutely necessary. This is called the HEA.

By the way, this is often a distinguishing feature that divides Women’s Fiction from Genre Romance. In Women’s Fiction, the Heroine might fall in love with a married man. The Heroine and Hero might not end up together. One or the other or both might die tragically. Or the story might extend far beyond their realization of physical and emotional closeness to a period of time when they are again riven apart, by changing emotions, by time, by death or by fate.

Some examples of extremely romantic stories are therefore not Romance in the sense I mean: Titanic, The Notebook, The Time Traveler’s Wife…. These are fabulous love stories but they violate the Resolution of the Relationship by either denying their lovers a Happy Ending, or going past the Happy Ending into a bittersweet addendum.

It’s fine to have a romantic relationship in a story that doesn’t hit all the “rules.” But if you do intend to put in a Romance that will increase the cross-genre appeal of your novel, it’s important to understand what notes to hit to make that romance sing.

June 4, 2015

Recommended for Writers: Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Character and Viewpoint-coverSince month we’ll be celebrating Fantasy Romance… and characters are at the heart of Romance, I wanted to recommend a good primer on creating believable and likable (or loathsome) characters.

Orson Scott Card’s book, Characters & Viewpoint, is, in my opinion, the absolute best book on Character and Viewpoint out there. An experienced writer might read it and think, “Gosh, I know all this…”; it is a writing primer, meaning it covers the basics. Nonetheless, even for experienced writers, it’s a worthwhile read.

You may know the difference between First Person and Third Person, but do you know the difference between Close Third and Distant Third? You may know how the difference between a hero and a villain, but do you know how to ensure that your hero is likable (but not boring) and your villain is enthralling (but doesn’t steal the show from you hero)? What is the difference between a Superman and an Everyman? Should you ever employ flat characters–spear holders?

In fact, characters are at the heart of any good novel. Even if you don’t write “Character Focused” fiction, you’ll need characters, though they will serve a different role in your story than in a Romance or Literary novel.


And do read this book.

Buy Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.

June 3, 2015

Tara Maya’s Book Review: Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

Caveat—Reader Beware!

My reviews are written from a writer’s perspective, with an eye to dissecting good novels to find out what makes them work. Although I try to avoid explicitly discussing book endings, I am not as careful about avoiding all spoilers as some reviewers. I find if I employ too much caution about giving away plot twists, I am not able to provide a concrete analysis of the book’s structure. And frankly, I hate vague reviews.

So… there may be spoilers. If that bothers you, read the book first. Then come back and read my analysis and let me know if you agree…or what I missed!

Enchantment-Card-book cover

Title: Enchantment

Author: Orson Scott Card

Genre: Historical Fantasy / Urban Fantasy / Time Travel

Read: First Time

Style: Third Person Past

Type: Kindle ebook

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At heart, Enchantment is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty and several Russian fairytales, and yet also so much more. It’s hard to pin down the genre. Fantasy? Absolutely. It’s well-researched enough to be Historical Fantasy (magic that takes place in our own history); involves Time Travel Romance; and also involves magic back in our own time—Urban/Contemporary Fantasy? Orson Scott Card is an excellent seer of the human heart. His romance is not a Genre type, with your usual Alpha Hero, but a realistic (yet fantastic) portrayal of love building a bridge between people from two vastly different cultures.


Plot Summary:

Ivan is a Russian Jew, whose family is forced to leave the Soviet Union in the last decade of its existence. But before Ivan leaves Russia, he encounters a mystery that haunts him the rest of his life: a beauty asleep in the forest. As an immigrant and later graduate student in America, he dismisses the encounter as the overactive hallucination of a child. He even becomes engaged to a local girl. But fate draws him back to Russia when he returns (post-USSR) to work on his thesis. He visits the same forest … and finds that not only is the sleeping woman there, but she is guarded by a vicious Bear and a magic bridge.

His kisses her awake, but that’s not enough to escape the danger; he must pledge marriage.

She’s been asleep not just a century but a millennia. This is where the story has the first unique twist. How does it happen that Sleeping Beauty has slept both a thousand years and yet not long at all? The answer is that the pedestal where she slept existed outside of time. When Ivan follows her across a bridge, he finds himself back in the dark ages, in a lost kingdom of Slavic Russia. His bride is a princess, and now his role is to help her defend her kingdom against the quintessential witch of all Russian lore—Baba Yaga.

And that’s just the first twist in the story. For the bridge across time works both ways….


Hero /MC: Ivan or “Vanya” a Russian American Jewish graduate student

Heroine: Katerina, princess of Taina

Villainess: Baba Yaba, powerful witch

Bear: A pagan god enslaved by Baba Yaba


Every setting in the book is detailed and alive and convincing, from the late Soviet Union, to suburban America and, especially vivid, the medieval Slavic kingdom of Taina. Card did his research, and it pays off. There’s nothing more aggravating to me (I confess to being a historian) than Time Travel or Historical fiction that is poorly researched. In Card’s hands, I can relax and enjoy the tour of the past, confident that if time travel were possible, this is exactly what I’d see.

Complexity/Series Arc:

The book is quite long, the characters are deep and the setting is rich. This is a stand-alone book that feels lusher and more complex than many trilogies.

Yet the structure of the book is classic and simple. There are 20 chapters exactly, with the first and last chapters acting almost like a Prologue and Epilogue. The first climax occurs in Chapter 4, revealingly labeled, “Kiss.” (And since this is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, we understand from that alone that it is the Kiss, the kiss of true love which awakens the princess.)

Instead of the Kiss ending the story, however, it ends only the First Act. The real story begins at that point, when the Hero enters the Heroine’s world and discovers that he must prove himself without any of the assets that she and her people expect of a man, never mind a knight.

Exactly at the novel’s midpoint, Chapter 10, a huge reversal occurs. The Heroine must now enter the Hero’s world—and finds herself at as much disadvantage as he was in hers. At Chapter 15, the Third Act begins and reaches the climax in Chapter 19.

Personal Remarks:

I’ve been meaning to read this for a long time, and it was well worth it. This re-telling of the fairytale of the Sleeping Beauty is a historical fantasy, urban fantasy, and time travel book rolled into one. It takes place in the Soviet Union, America and the Ukraine after the fall of Communism…and also in Slavic Russia, in the interesting centuries before the Golden Horde or absolute despotisms of the Tsar. This book reminds (or teaches) us that across Europe, democratic traditions actually had deeper roots than feudalism, which came later. The earliest kings were elected by popular acclaim…and the earliest princesses, such as the heroine here, Katerina, were no blushing nincompoops, but strong women who were much a part of the life of their people.

A lot of time travel Romance features a feisty modern heroine with a brawny, hyper-masculine warrior from the past. As Enchantment shows, when the time traveler is a modern man, especially if he’s a graduate student, he looks scrawny, weak, and womanly by ninth-century standards. Yet the hero, Ivan, doesn’t come across to the reader as weak…and one of the delights of the book is seeing the heroine’s initial scorn for him gradually grow into respect and real love.

I learned many Russian fairytales as a child, so I was also quite tickled to see Baba Yaga and other legendary figures from Russian legends featured in the story. The origin of Baba Yaga’s famous chicken-footed house is given a marvelously novel explanation.



[Katerina discusses Ivan with her father:]

But he does have the heart of a king. When he sees someone in need, he does not hesitate to act. He does not measure the cost, he does not fear criticism—”

“But if there’s anything you’ve taught me, Father, it’s that a king must measure the cost! And he must act in a way that is above criticism.”

“I did not say that this Ivan has the mind of a king. Only that he has the heart.”

“What good is the heart without the mind?”

“Better than the mind without the heart,” said Father.


Kindle Locations: 8180

Reading Time: 6 hrs (Standard: 8 hrs)

Buy Enchantment

Other books by Orson Scott Card that I recommend:

Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint: Proven advice and timeless techniques for creating compelling characters

June 2, 2015

June Theme: Fantasy Romance

Loving Fairy Couple In A Bed Of GrassUpcoming Blog Candy

Over the next year, I plan to kick up the voltage at the blog. I’ll be cooking up lots of candy posts for readers and writers. Whether you’re just browsing for your next fave read or whether you’re struggling to write someone’s fave read, I hope you’ll find some gems here in the upcoming months. To keep it fun, every month will explore a new theme and subgenre of speculative fiction. Most of the posts will relate to the theme, and the books featured will be related to the featured subgenre.

First, I’ll be posting once a week, on Friday, about whatever’s on my mind. Generally, I’ll blog about Writing Craft. I have read the advice, probably sound, that writers shouldn’t blog about writing, because most readers aren’t interested in writing, only in reading. Fair enough. But since I’m a writer, writing techniques are mainly what I think about when I’m not writing fiction. I mean, sure, I could write a housekeeping blog, but the advice would amount to: “Ignore that mess. Keep writing.”

So… I’ll just stick to writing, and your kitchen will thank me for it.

On Wednesdays, I’m going to be sharing some of my own Book Reviews. I won’t review every book I read, but only those I think are both (a) excellent, and (b) relevant to the theme & genre I’ve chosen to feature that month.

On Mondays, a Guest Blogger will either share some advice on writing craft in general or contribute some thoughts on the month’s theme or genre. Regular guest bloggers will be Rayne Hall, Mattie Adams, and Jack P.

Since I can’t review as many books as I like, I’ll continue to post Excerpt from great speculative novels whenever I have a chance. I’ll also periodically share books on writing craft, “Recommended for Writers.”


Themes for the Summer Months

June: Fantasy Romance

July: Villains & Anti-Heroes / Urban Fantasy

August: Military Fantasy


June Theme: Fantasy Romance

In June, a month long associated with Hera (Juno), the goddess of marriage, our theme will be Fantasy Romance. I’ll be asking, “What’s the difference between a romantic Fantasy and a Fantasy Romance?” Then I’ll look at two different approaches to writing a novel, one beloved by Outliners and one useful even for Pantsers—and finally ask how these might both help come up with a helpful structure for writing a Romance.

Among the books I’ll be reviewing is The Fire Seer, so I was thrilled when the author, Amy Raby, agreed to write a guest post for us, giving her take on, “What is Fantasy Romance?” …and why it’s so rewarding to write and read. Mattie Adams, author of the mystery series The Hot Dog Detective, will write about the special challenges that come with writing romance into a long series of related but stand-alone novels. Rayne Hall will contribute to the blog this month with her usual helpful tips about writing craft and book marketing.

Novels I’ll be reviewing:


Writing craft books I’ll be recommending:


June 1, 2015

How to Write Riveting Captivity Scenes (Guest Post by Rayne Hall)


If you’re writing a novel, is there a scene where the heroine is imprisoned or locked up against her will?

Here are some techniques to make this scene powerful.

  1. If possible, make the room dark or semi-dark. Perhaps she’s locked up in a lightless cellar, in a dungeon where only the flames of the torches flicker in the gloom, or in a chamber where the villain has cut off the power supply. Maybe there’s a single window is so high up and narrow that it lets in scarce light.
  2. Solitary confinement is scariest. If your heroine is alone in that room, with nobody to talk to, the reader worries for her. She may shout “Is anyone out there? Can you hear me?” and get no reply. Alternatively, she may have a companion in her captivity – until that person gets led away for execution.
  3. Let it be cold. The place is unheated, the protagonist is not wearing many clothes, the air is chilly, the concrete floor is cold, and if a blanket is provided at all it is much too thin.
  4. Use sounds. Sounds create unease and fear in the reader’s subconscious – perfect for this type of scene. Here are some ideas:
  • Rodents’ feet
  • Shuffling straw
  • Fellow captive’s sobs and snores
  • Agonised screams from another cell
  • Clanking door
  • Rattling keys
  • Screeching lock
  • Guard’s boots thudding outside
  1. Mention an unpleasant smell or two:
  • Sour stench of urine
  • Excrement from previous prisoners
  • Old sweat
  • Blood
  • Rodent excrement
  • Rotten straw
  • Mould
  • Food
  1. Mention how something feels to the touch. This works especially well if the place is dark.

The fetters/handcuffs/bonds chafing at the wrists/ankles

  • Pain from bruises
  • The texture of the wall
  • Texture of the door
  • Cold hard floor
  • Rough blanket
  • Cobwebs
  • Sodden straw
  • Chilly air

Perhaps you can involve the sense of taste as well. However, this may not be appropriate for all captivity scenes.

If the villain has gagged her, you can describe how that gag tastes. If she’s in a dungeon or prison, describe the flavour of the food. The food quality is probably appalling, but if she’s hungry, it won’t taste too bad.

  1. While she’s imprisoned, she can’t do much beyond explore her surroundings in search of a way out. She will probably think more than she does during fast-paced action scenes. When sharing her thoughts and feelings, make sure she doesn’t wallow in despair. Although she may feel dejected, she keeps searching a way out. Create a tiny hope, let her plan. Later, this plan will fail, but it’s important to show some hope in order to create suspense.


If you’re planning or revising a captivity scene for your novel and have questions, leave a comment. I’ll be around for a week and will reply. I love answering questions.

May 29, 2015

Tara Maya’s Writing Update

tara maya headshot
About a third of the work on a novel takes place before a single chapter is written. Another third happens after the draft is complete. At any one time, I usually have more than one novel (and more than one series) in progress at the same time, but in different stages of development.

I have a Checklist I use to keep track of the progress of each novel and series. Not all projects are “live” at the same time. Many are on the “back burner” for long periods of time. My main series, The Unfinished Song, is a front burner series, but I may toy with other projects for a while, and then either pursue them or push them aside again.

Right now, I have two “live” series projects. The Unfinished Song–of course–and my new Urban Fantasy series, The Daughters of Little Red Riding Hood. Within each series, I also work on more than one book at a time. Here’s my Checklist to show how each one is coming along:

2015-05-29 Writing Update - TUS and Hood

The shaded books are complete, so you can see I’m half-way through the 12 Books of The Unfinished Song. It’s probably also clear that the draft of Maze is complete, but there are several layers of revision yet to be done. Less obvious, perhaps, is how much work has already been done on the other five books remaining. Mirror and Maze, in particular, are already complete up to the Scene by Scene Outline. Now, it’s true, many changes might still occur during the Writing itself. Sometimes what worked, even up to a Scene Summary Outline, turns out to be too tangled or vague in the final execution. In the worst case scenario, I might finish an entire written draft and decide during revisions that I have to go back to the drawing board. That did slow down the writing of Mask. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often!

Hood & Wolf, the first full novel of the Roxy Hood series, is also in pretty good shape. I have a solid Chapter Outline, but still need to work out the details of each scene. When I run into Writer’s Block on Unfinished Song, I spend a day working on Hood & Wolf, add a bit more here and there, and then usually feel creatively refreshed enough to go back to writing.

That, by the way, is the only real way I’ve ever found to overcome Writer’s Block. Don’t force it, but don’t stop working either. Turn to a different genre of novel and a different stage of writing. Your subconscious works out the tangle that tripped you up in the background, and BAM! suddenly you see the way forward.