Author Interview — Anne H. Petzer

Today Poseidon’s Scribe introduces a new occasional feature to this blog.  I had the opportunity to interview author Anne H. Petzer.  She’s a South African, now living in Prague.

Anne is the author of several stories in a series about an operative with Feline Intelligence – Czech Republic.  Oh, yeah, the operative is a cat named Zvonek.  Anne has also written Snow Cat based on Czech legend.


Here’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe:  When and why did you begin writing?

Anne H. Petzer:  I started writing way back in Primary school. I can still remember my first poem I wrote; I must have been about 10. It was a poem called ‘Dad’ and it was for my father for Father’s Day. When I was going through his things after his death, I was then 33; I found it and other poems of mine he had kept in among his papers.

As to why, guess I have always felt the need to write as a way for expressing myself.

P.S.:  What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

Anne:  The easiest is the sorting out the story in my head and then I usually write a rough plan of it to follow when I am writing it. Not the details mind, just the main events that I want to happen to create the story as a sort of guide for me to follow. I have to say though the end product of my story often is completely different to when I start.  The Miracle of the Carp is an example of that. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to present it. All I knew was that I wanted to do a story about the carp.

The hardest is choosing the names and descriptions of my characters, feline or human. It may sound silly but I agonise over names of characters for each story. The name of the boss feline in the Zvonek series came about after an evening of debating with friends and a friend of mine actually named her. The names have to feel right.

P.S.: What inspired you to write the Zvonek 08 series?

Anne:  Zvonek is my tom cat of seven years. When he was just over a year old he was knocked down by a car and left the whole night on a pavement a little way from my home. The next morning he was found by a kind person and taken to a cat shelter where he was cared for. He was an outdoor cat at this stage as the area where I lived had gardens and I therefore thought he would be protected. After much searching we found him and I brought him home still very frail. It took him a good three months to recover and it was during that time that series was created. Zvonek is now an indoor cat and goes for walks with me on a lead.

P.S.: Please describe the world of your Zvonek 08 stories.

Anne:  Zvonek works as a spy in Prague connected to Feline Intelligence, which is an organisation that operates throughout the EU. His cover is being a pet to a kindly human known as his Mom. But that is where the human contact stops. His mission is the safety of cats from domestic and international foes. Their domestic arch enemies are the rats who constantly battle for dominion of the streets of Prague 10. His international enemy is a beautiful Siberian queen for whom he a thing until she revealed her true self nearly causing his downfall. The stories include Czech culture and legends as a background to work on.

P.S.:  How did you come to write Snow Cat?

Anne:  Krkonoše is a mountain range in the Czech Republic I have visited often, but only during winter. I wanted to write a book of stories surrounding the iconic areas of the Czech Republic and Snow Cat was originally part of that series. It was inspired by the storm cat in the story The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber.

P.S.: What is the audience you’re trying to reach in your stories?

Anne:  I would say anyone young in age and heart who loves cats and fantasy with a bit of fun.

P.S:  What are your current writing projects?

Anne:  I am working on book four of the current series of Zvonek 08 and collecting ideas to put together a collection of stories surrounding iconic areas of the Czech Republic.

P.S.:  What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?

Anne:  Believe in your work, co-operate with your publisher and never stop writing.

Thanks, Anne.  Inspiring advice, and her books sound fascinating and fun!  You can find out more about author Anne H. Petzer at her website, her blog, the Facebook site for Zvonek 08, or the Twitter site for Zvonek 08.  Her site at Gypsy Shadow Publishing is here.

                                                        Poseidon’s Scribe

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November 30, 2012Permalink

Sorry, New Rule. You Can’t Do That!

In the original Star Trek TV series, there’s an episode where Captain Kirk invents a card game called Fizzbin in which he makes up the rules as he goes along.  The comic strip Calvin and Hobbes featured a game called Calvinball which may never be played by the same rules twice.

If you’re a writer of fiction, you might consider yourself to be playing such a game, too.  According to W. Somerset Maugham, “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”  With apologies to the famous novelist, I’d say the game has too many rules to memorize and they change with time, according to the tastes of readers.  Only by playing the game well can you can make money selling books.

You might try to emulate great writers of the past and imitate their writing styles, in an effort to achieve success.  Bad idea.  The rules were different in their time.  Let’s cover some of those former rules.

1.  Take all the time you need to create a vivid description, to ‘paint’  with words.  Writers of the 19th Century and earlier used extensive portrayals to convey the appearance of a scene or character, multi-paragraph descriptions abounding in adjectives.  That worked well in an era without movies or TV, but readers won’t wade through such long-winded descriptions today.

2.  Adverbs exist for a reason; use them.  Authors once used adverbs with abandon. Adverbs modify adjectives or verbs and often end in ‘ly’ like ‘crazily.’  These days it’s considered lazy to use too many adverbs, a sign you didn’t take time to select a powerful enough verb.

3.  Demonstrate your skill as an author in your narrative paragraphs; dialogue only interferes with that.  At one time, fiction was mostly narration, with occasional dialogue.  We’re now in an age of character-driven stories, and readers want characters to talk more.  No long, boring narrative paragraphs, and less narration overall.

4.  Incorporate a rather dull character who needs everything explained to him (even things he already knows); that’s a clever way to explain things to the reader. There was an era when authors could use this technique even if it strained the conversation a bit.  These days, that’s no longer tolerated and there’s even a term for it–As You Know, Bob or AYKB.  AYKB’s are tempting, an easy trap to fall into even if you make every effort to avoid them.

5.  Bring the narrator in as an entity the reader can trust, as one who helps foreshadow future events.  In a bygone past, writers could have the narrator speak directly to the reader.  And now, Gentle Reader, let us discover what Annabel must be thinking about this latest development.  That voice could be used to foreshadow future events in an ominous tone.  Little did Frank know, but his secure life would soon be altered forever.  Understand, it’s still okay to use foreshadowing, but do it with subtlety, and not with the narrator speaking to the reader.  Today that’s referred to as narrative intrusion.

6.  Find clever new ways to express your ideas.  As centuries of writers did this, many of the word combinations they used were so good the first time, they got used again, and re-used many times over.  And became clichés.  Now you don’t get to use those clichés, unless you add some twist on them.  Go think of your own clever word combo that might become a future cliché.  This rule didn’t change, but sorry, you can’t use the same tired clichés.

7.  Ease into your story by introducing the reader to the setting, time period, and major characters before any action occurs.  Readers in those times had nothing to compete with books for entertainment, and had the time to curl up near the fire and read a cozy story by its light.  Times are different.  You must grab your reader by the throat with a first sentence or paragraph that demands attention.  It’s called a hook, and stories without a good one stay un-bought.

So, are you up for a game like Fizzbin or Calvinball?  May the best writer win!  Unfortunately, the game’s rules aren’t known by you or—

                                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe


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November 25, 2012Permalink

Two New Stories!

I’m pretty excited!  Gypsy Shadow Publishing has just put out two of my steampunk stories at the same time.

Let’s start with “A Steampunk Carol.”  That stuffy Victorian inventor, Stanton Wardgrave, is back again, eight years after inventing holograms and meeting the American Josephine Boulton…Within Victorian Mists.  Married now, with a son and daughter, he’s dealing with rather too much balderdash and poppycock this Christmas Eve.  Conversing with his dead father?  Expecting three visitors?  It all seems so very Dickensian.  But he knows he’s not at all like that Ebenezer Scrooge fellow…is he?  What, this story asks, would Christmas be without a bit of steampunk in it?  This story (published in time for the holidays…hint!) is available here.

The other story is “The Six Hundred Dollar Man.”  Wait, is that a smokestack over his right shoulder?  What’s with his left hand?  Sonny Houston, cowpoke.  A man barely alive.  “I can rebuild him, make him the first steam-powered man.  A darn sight better than before. Better, faster, and a heap stronger, too. I’ve got the know-how.”  A century before any bionic man, a doctor in the Wyoming Territory attached steam powered legs and an arm to a man trampled in a stampede.  Get ready, Pardner, for a rip-roarin’ steampunk adventure!  This story is available here.

I’m proud of these two stories and pleased to bring them to you, thanks to the great folks at Gypsy Shadow.  Today’s indeed a great day for—

                                                            Poseidon’s Scribe

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November 22, 2012Permalink

Conveying a Sense of Wonder

One of the things that drew me into fiction as a child was the sense of wonder I experienced when reading certain fiction, notably that of Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke and later science fiction writers.  The question is, how does a writer evoke that in readers?

First, let’s try to define it.  The book Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction defines it this way:  “a feeling of awakening or awe triggered by an expansion of one’s awareness of what is possible or by confrontation with the vastness of space and time, as brought on by reading science fiction.”

Although often associated with science fiction, that emotion needn’t be.  Rachel Carson’s book The Sense of Wonder was about sharing a love of nature with a child.

I like the associate with childhood.  To children the natural world is new, and they experience that sense of wonder more often.  Then it fades as we age and it takes more than mere nature to astonish us.  Here’s an example of that fading-with-adulthood phenomenon.  How many times have you heard the finale of the William Tell Overture (the Lone Ranger theme) by Gioachino Rossini?  Ho hum, right?  But do you remember the thrill of that first time you heard it?  Can you image what audiences of 1829 felt the first time that finale ever played, anywhere?

Up until Jules Verne and authors who followed him, adults most often experienced the sense of wonder in religious contexts, or in fantasy literature.  Through his writing Verne showed the world what engineers and scientists of the time were bringing about—a better understanding of the natural world, and the amazing things man might do to achieve his ends.  Verne showed readers something new and vast, and it had nothing to do with God or dragons, but with people.

Arthur C. Clarke was another science fiction author who captured the sense of wonder better than most.  He carried the science far beyond Verne did, and showed a future humanity achieving, through engineering, the capabilities of gods or wizards.  It was Clarke who said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

For writers seeking to induce the sense of wonder in their readers, then, how do you do it?  I think there are four elements involved:

  • A “thing” that is new in some way, or an old thing in a new context
  • A powerful description of that thing, emphasizing its newness
  • One or more characters confronting the thing
  • A depiction of the awe felt by one or more of the characters.  How does the thing make the character feel?  Again, you’re striving to recreate in words the amazement a child feels for something new.

If you do this well, if your characters are compelling, if the thing is truly worthy of awe and you’ve described it and your characters’ impressions well, then your readers will feel the wonder of it right along with the characters.

In my fiction, I strive to create this sense of wonder, most often in association with technology.  Many of my stories are historical, so the characters see something outside their experience, but not necessarily beyond that of modern readers.  I confront my characters with such things as a flying trireme, a clockwork lion, a giant mechanical elephant, a steam-powered oared galley in the 1st Century, and steam-powered human limbs (coming soon).

Is there anything to this “sense of wonder” stuff, in your opinion?  Have you experienced that feeling from reading fiction?  Have you tried writing it into your fiction?  Leave a comment and let me know.  Wondering about the answer to these and other questions, I’m—

                                                           Poseidon’s Scribe

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November 18, 2012Permalink

Romancing the Short Story

Bet you didn’t expect me to write a blog entry on writing romance short stories, did you?  Well, for one thing, if you desire to become an author, you should learn to write about anything, even topics or genres you know little about or have little interest in.  You never know what you’ll end up being good at.

Second, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the romance genre has a vast and insatiable readership.  Perhaps not so much in the short story length as in the novel length, but again, what if you’ve got a potentially great romance writer inside you, but you never try the genre to find out?

And, it turns out I have written a couple of short story romances.  “Within Victorian Mists” is a steampunk romance, and “Against All Gods” is a romance story set in Ancient Greece.  So I am nominally qualified to discuss the topic.

To figure out what’s special or different about romance short stories, let’s start with basics.  Any fictional story must have certain elements, including character, plot, conflict, setting, style, and perhaps theme.  We’ll dispense with the last three by saying that romance stories can take place in just about any setting, be written in any style, and can explore just about any theme.

Romance stories are character-driven.  The characters must be intriguing and complex.  The point-of-view character should have aspects with which readers can identify and empathize.

The plot is the emerging love between the characters.  Choose your events such that they enable the characters’ love to either develop, or be tested, or both.

The conflict is the protagonist’s struggle to attain love itself, not the sexual act or the fleeting emotions of love, but the deep and shared realization that the two major characters cannot live without each other.

In a short story, you’re going to have to be choosy.  It’s very difficult, in just 1000 to 10,000 words, to encompass the typical progression of a love story in its entirety, from the first meeting, through the burgeoning attraction, through the testing or challenge, to the final realization of love.  There’s a natural pace to the process of falling in love, and the short story length doesn’t fit that pace as well as the novel length does.

Consider selecting one vignette, one emotion-charged event of a larger love story, and leave the earlier parts as backstory, and just hint at the later events.  To explain what I mean, let’s consider what Christie Craig and Faye Hughes describe as the plot points of a romance story, the events that sum up to the plot arc:

  • Introduction/meeting
  • First acknowledgement of attraction
  • First acknowledgement of emotional commitment
  • Dark moment (what I’d call a test of love’s strength)
  • Resolution

Your short story could consist of just one of those events, and hint at the rest.  Charge your story with emotion, and ensure the protagonist experiences an internal change in the direction of love, and that could be sufficient.  It might be all you can manage within a short story format.

Have you written a romance short story?  Submitted it for publication?  Leave a comment and let me know what happened.  When you began writing did you ever think you’d write a romance? No?  Neither did—

                                                                Poseidon’s Scribe


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November 11, 2012Permalink

Better Writing through Chemistry?

If you consume alcohol or mind-altering drugs, will that improve your writing?  Many people think so.  Supposing it’s true, it’s nice to have that short-cut to greatness available, isn’t it?  Why struggle to choose the right words while sober or clean when you can snort, inject, or imbibe your way to literary greatness?

The connection persists because so many of the top writers, it seems, had a reputation for using drugs or alcohol.  The two that spring to my mind are Edgar Allan Poe’s use of opium and absinthe, and Ernest Hemingway’s consumption of wine, mojitos, and daiquiris.  The list of famous authors who wrote under the influence also includes Anthony Burgess, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Jean Cocteau, Phillip K. Dick, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Stephen King, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, and Tennessee Williams.

The effects of alcohol that might benefit a writer include a loss of inhibitions, which might stimulate creativity.  However, other effects would be less helpful: blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory, blackouts, shaking, lack of muscle coordination and balance.

Drugs vary in their effects, but some of the reactions that might aid an author include euphoric pleasure, confidence, and extended wakefulness.  I suppose hallucinations could be of use to a writer, so let’s include those.  However, the known downsides of drugs can include delusions, aggression, paranoia, drowsiness, respiratory depression, nausea, blurred vision, headaches, disorientation, impaired memory, slowed reaction time, diminished judgment, mood swings, and addiction.

On balance, it seems to me there would be more harm than good in drinking or using drugs to improve your writing.  Some of the things said about the writers I listed above may not even be true.  The Edgar Allan Poe Society has debunked the myths about the writer of “Annabel Lee” and “The Bells.”  It’s not entirely clear if some of the other writers took drugs or alcohol to improve their writing or to cope with their troubled lives.

I remain skeptical about using drugs or alcohol as a path to quality writing.  Joanna Penn, whose blog I follow, has written a very thoughtful piece on the subject.  I have to commend author Eric Kuentz for actually conducting an experiment and being willing to share his experience.  His results seem rather mixed and it appears he’s disinclined to recommend the practice to others.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on, or experiences with, this subject.  Please leave a comment.  As for my own experiences, well, my scribing job occasionally takes me to Olympus where I’m sometimes allowed to partake of ambrosia and nectar.  Those are the substances most recommended by—

                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe

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November 4, 2012Permalink