What the Heck Is “Witch Lit”? Meet Wendy Steele

Today, I am thrilled to share one of my favorite people and authors with you all—the fab Wendy Steele. Wendy’s latest is The Naked Witch, and I’ve asked her to tell us a little about herself, her writing and this genre known as Witch Lit.

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Hart: So what is Witch Lit?
Wendy: Borrowing the basis from the genre Chick Lit, heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists within a modern world, coping with work and home life and with a soupçon of humour, substitute ‘witch’ for ‘chick’.

H: Why Witch Lit?
W: Women read more fiction than men, so why not? Who wouldn’t want to read about a female protagonist who can destroy three coconuts on a shy…on a bad day? The basis for the genre may be borrowed from Chick Lit but you won’t find witches pining for love, though they’re not averse to a shapely buttock and a chiseled jaw line. For the past decade, magical realism has showcased vampires, werewolves and a popular school for witches. Now it’s time for real magic and real people.

H: Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
W: I’ve always come home from days out and holidays and written about my experiences. I dabbled with children’s stories and poetry in my twenties, was inspired by a writing workshop in my thirties and spent three years writing my first novel. My first published novel, Destiny of Angels—first book in The Lilith Trilogy, was in 2012. Since then, I’ve published a further novel, three novellas, had short stories published online and in anthologies and read my stories on my YouTube channel, Phoenix and the Dragon. My first Witch Lit novel, The Naked Witch, is available to pre-order.
I live in mid Wales with my partner and cats and am a member of the Cwrtnewydd Scribblers.
I teach tribal style belly dance and perform with Tribal Unity Wales.

H: You describe yourself as author, wise woman and goddess. What does that mean?
W: Though the three labels overlap, these words sum me up as a person. Author is writer, story teller, inspirer and teacher. Wise woman is dance teacher and witch, treading her own magical path. Goddess is woman, mother, writer, dancer and healer.

H: I spent several weeks in Wales many years ago, and I found it to be a rather magical place. What influence do the mysteries of Wales have on your writing—both of Witch lit and your other magical books?
W: Where I live has had a huge impact on my writing. I live on a hillside in mid Wales. Above me is a Bronze Age settlement site and below me, the River Grannell circuits my land. We have our own riverbank, a perfect place to sit and soak up the beauty of the Welsh landscape. I often sit on my ‘beach’ by the water, thinking or writing, allowing the river to bring me down ideas from the mountains. The idea for The Standing Stone book series came directly from my new home.


Welsh myths and legends have also played a part in my writing. The Mabinogion contains the stories of the past, the beginnings of the Taliesin traditions and stories. Some of the stories I knew, but many I read with fresh eyes. Storytelling traditions are important in Welsh culture, as are poetry and singing, and I love to include them in my work.
In Destiny of Angels and Wrath of Angels, the first two books in The Lilith Trilogy, Angel Parsons lives in the south of England but has a holiday home in Wales, big enough to invite her friends to join her for the Equinoxes and Solstices.
In my Witch Lit novels, Lizzie Martin in The Naked Witch (UK link) lives in Essex, but she discovers that the family she misses so much are living in Wales. In the second book, The Orphan Witch, Lizzie and her best friend, Louise set off on a road trip, travelling along the coast and through the mountains below Snowdonia.

H: Yummy. I’d love to hear more details about The Naked Witch (US link).

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W: Lizzie Martin lives in Romford with her fourteen-year-old daughter, Rowan. She enjoys her job as a receptionist and typist at an old established, family-run company. She clothes herself from charity shops in vibrant, joyful colours with matching headbands she makes herself. Colour is Lizzie’s armour, and she uses it to hold at bay the emotional angst caused by her ex-husband, Josh, whose girlfriend is barely out of her teens, her mother who has the sensitivity of a crocodile, and the big bad world from which she tries to protect her daughter. But today Edward Brown—her new boss—has asked Lizzie to ‘bare all’, and become more corporate. For Lizzie, swapping paisley for pin stripe is like asking a parrot to wear pea hen. Meanwhile, as Edward Brown retakes his position as head of the law firm, Lizzie has to choose between her job and her integrity, cope with an unexpected stay in hospital, continue seeking the truth about her father’s death and juggle two new men in her life. There is hope though. At the bottom of the garden is a little wooden shed that Lizzie calls Sanctuary. Within its warm and welcoming walls, Lizzie surrounds herself with magic.

H: Tell me, are there certain things a witch should carry about her person?
W: I can’t speak for every witch, of course, but a bottle of good lavender essential oil, safety pins, a notebook and pencil, a ginger sweet and a stone or shell from the beach are always in my handbag.

H: Do you have to be a witch or a pagan to enjoy Witch Lit?
W: Not at all! It’s always the story first for me, and Lizzie’s battle with her head and heart is a compelling one.

H: Where can we find out more about you and your stories?
W: My website is a great place to start www.wendysteele.com.

Further links to Wendy include:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WendyWooauthor
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/destinyofangelsnovel/?fref=ts https://www.facebook.com/WendyWooBooks https://www.facebook.com/TheStandingStone
Amazon author:
http://www.amazon.com/Wendy-Steele/e/B007VZ1P06/ref http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wendy-Steele/e/B007VZ1P06/ref
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=216391838&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile
Goodreads author:http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6548666.Wendy_Steele
YouTube channel: The Phoenix and the Dragon https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCw3ee9CuNdek9ZC1Im8I_iA

The Shadows That Guide Me

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I am a seat-of-the-pants kind of author. I used to outline, then put all my scenes on individual cards, and only after that would I allow myself to start putting words to paper. It worked fine. It also stole a great deal of time from actually writing. To be fair, it did speed up the process of getting the words down, but there were always those scenes that ended up being something completely different from the original plan, necessitating changes in the subsequent outline/cards.

With my most recent book, Protector of Thristas, however, I had a few pages of notes and a minimal amount of 4×6″ cards when I began writing, and as I wrote, the notes grew and the cards stacked up until the entire story had unfolded on the page. I found this highly stimulating intellectually and creatively and decided that with the next book—my current work in progress—I would simply start writing, filling in the cards and the notes as the story evolved in my mind.

My muse has encouraged this behavior. She manipulates the characters and story like puppet shadows, allowing them to become real as they and their plot lines take full form on the page. These shadows swim around and through me while the story gains momentum, and I follow them, picking up their bits of ghostly threads to weave into the tale. The only downside to this method is that I spend half the story asking “How the heck does it end?” (Endings, after all, require setting up, and how can one set up what one doesn’t know yet?)

But here’s one thing I have learned about myself after writing four books—I always figure it out. Whatever “it” may be, the answer comes when it’s meant to come. And if the answer I get doesn’t fit the previously completed narrative, then I have to regroup, rewrite and run a little faster to catch up with the shadows who have moved on without me.

I love those shadow creatures, and I love hosting them as I tell the story as they’ve told it to me. Now, I’m not advising every writer to use this method. It’s chaotic as a box filled with kittens and twice as bloody if you let down your guard. But if you, like me, revel in the magic of that chaos, then you’ll understand how the shadows guide me.

One Book or Two?

I have found myself recently running a back-and-forth in my head surrounding the efficacy of splitting the final book in the Lisen of Solsta series into two separate volumes. I’ve just passed the point where I would break it, and I certainly do not have enough “story” apparent in my remaining notecards.

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But here’s the thing. The number of notecards left to be brought to life in the text has little relation to the amount of writing left to be done. My notecard system (previously described) continues on in an abstract configuration until I begin to narrow in on the sequence of events noted in a single card. Then that card, like a living cell, splits into two, into four, into eight—you get the picture.

So, do I have two books in this story? Or, will I end up with but one, slightly longer than the last but not long enough to split up? Stay tuned. Only time will tell.

Dancing with the Denouement

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The best piece of writing I’ve ever experienced was not a book or a short story. It was a movie—The Terminator. I found myself thinking about this movie and its brilliant screenplay by James Cameron last night as I was considering how to approach an explanation to a writing friend of what I call the punch-line denouement[1].

For those who’ve never seen it, The Terminator tells the story of Sarah Connor, a 1980s college student working as a waitress. Sarah’s life is irreparably changed when two travelers arrive from the future. One—a cyborg—has come to kill her to keep her from conceiving the savior of humankind. The other—Kyle Reese—intends to stop the cyborg and keep Sarah alive.

From a feminist standpoint, this movie is perhaps the first I ever saw with a female hero at the helm of an action film. Yes, Sarah is the hero. It is she who must change in order to make the future possible.  She begins as a fun-loving young woman who by the end has gathered together all the strength she possesses in order to face that future straight on.

Back to my point. Storytelling. The amazing screenplay by James Cameron blows me away every time I watch the movie or even think about it. I recommend it to anyone who wants to taste the joy of how to tell a very complicated story in a couple of hours. Cameron hands us each piece of information required at the very moment we require it.

Two men are after Sarah. Who are they? Are they both bad guys? Or, if one of them is good, which one is it? Boom. It’s Kyle Reese, the young man who looks totally out-gunned by Arnold and who came back in time because he’d fallen in love with Sarah from a Polaroid picture. Why is Arnold after her? What does he intend to do with or to her? Boom. She’s the future mother of the man who sent Kyle back in time to save her. How can you tell these cyborgs from humans? Dogs can sniff them out. And it goes on.

If you haven’t seen The Terminator and you’re a writer of any kind of fiction, I highly recommend it as the next movie you stream. Don’t accept watching it on commercial television; they cut out the stupidest stuff, including any time a blow from Arnold connects, even when he punches through a windshield. Brilliantly concocted and shot on a budget that apparently precluded getting permits from the city of Los Angeles for all those street racing night scenes (they filmed them on the sly then slipped away into the night without getting caught), it is, in many ways, an indie film.

But, the most important aspect of this film is the way Cameron sets up his final scene. The movie reaches its climactic ending right after Sarah and Kyle have consummated their blooming love for one another. The terminator kills Kyle and then Sarah terminates the terminator. Glorious.

Cut to the final scene. Sarah in a Jeep driving through the desert, dictating into a tape recorder saying, “Do I tell you about your father?” Then, she rubs her very pregnant belly and continues on briefly about Kyle.  A dog sits with her in the Jeep.

terminator-1984-sarah-connor

She pulls up to a little gas station out in the middle of nowhere. A boy runs up to the Jeep and exchanges a couple of lines with Sarah. He has a Spanish accent. He takes her picture with his Polaroid and then asks for payment which she gives him. It’s the picture Kyle had fallen in love with. The boy’s grandfather says something in Spanish, and Sarah asks the boy what he said. “A storm is coming.” Sarah looks off in the direction she’s headed and agrees when she sees the cloud. Then she drives off, and the credits begin with the Jeep heading away from the camera. Fade to black.

Now that all took far more time to describe than it takes on the screen. It’s a simple little scene, and every single aspect of it requires no explanation to the viewer because Cameron set it all up earlier in the movie. And that, my friends, is how to deliver the punch line to a story. Set-up is everything. You shouldn’t have to rely on explanations in the denouement. It should stand on its own.

[1] The denouement is the final outcome of the story, generally occurring after the climax of the plot. Often it’s where all the secrets (if there are any) are revealed and loose ends are tied up. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/what-is-a-denouement

Not One Word

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SSRIs, the wonder drugs of this and the previous century. They can make all your troubles go away. But what they don’t tell you is what the cost is upon withdrawal.

Part of my anxiety approaches OCD proportions, and when it comes to medications, I wander the internet for hours to find everything I can. And in all my searches over the last several years as I’ve toyed on and off with these things, I never found THIS. (Who would’ve thought I’d have to put in “SSRI withdrawal” specifically?)

Officially, they call it SSRI antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (because it has to be addictive to cause withdrawal), and it can manifest in all sorts of ways. For me I started having problems even before I “withdrew.” My body could no longer regulate its internal temperature. Which means I run fevers. All the time.

I’m taking Tylenol and/or ibuprofen on a very regular basis to control it, but it means I’m breaking a fever every 5 or 6 hours. Sweating and all. Every place flesh meets flesh. And I smell. I’m hoping that once the weather goes into full autumn, I’ll be doing better, but my research when I finally did look for SSRI withdrawal tells me this could go on for months.

Why didn’t my psychiatrist tell me about this? Why didn’t my previous psychiatrist tell me about this? Why doesn’t the information sheet you get with every prescription include this? They say talk to your doctor before you stop taking it, but I’ve stopped multiple times (I have a high sensitivity to SSRIs to begin with), and I’ve heard nothing of this. Not a word.

NOT.

ONE.

FUCKING.

WORD.

Mine is cautionary tale. Now that I’m pissed as shit and not going to take it anymore (it’s my body, damn it), I feel much better, thank you. And if you find anything I’ve said here offensive, please understand that I’m feeling raped by the complexity that calls itself the pharmaceutical industry. They lied by omission, along with my doctors and my own pharmacy. Be aware. Be afraid. I know they’re a godsend for some people, but be prepared for the new horrors that may enter your life. (And sweating isn’t the only one; it just happens to be my personal cross to bear.)

The Build–Writing a Worthy Ending

I am not a Led Zeppelin fan. In the 70s and 80s, whenever a radio station would present the top 300 or 500 of the entire history of rock-and-roll on Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend, I’d cringe as they approached #1. It was always, inexorably, inexplicably, inevitably “Stairway to Heaven.” I hate “Stairway to Heaven.” I do, however, have a Led Zeppelin guilty pleasure. “Kashmir.” I crank it up on my car radio when it comes on. I’ve even downloaded it from iTunes and am listening to it right now as loud as my Walkman will allow me.

What, you may ask, intrigues me about this song? The build. The slow build of drums  and bass into brass and other orchestral wonders. And that relentless beat. My body moves with no conscious participation on my part.  And then the lyrical pauses with the taste of Eastern  delights.

As writers, we can learn from “Kashmir.” At the moment, I am in the middle of what could be a powerful ending to my latest novel, but that power, I realized last night, lies in the build. Don’t go too fast. I’m tempted to just rush in and then leave myself with nowhere to go because I’ve already crescendoed to the peak. I know where we’re going, and I want so badly to get there because it’s going to blow the reader’s mind. But I must slow down, allow fate to tickle at the reader’s heart but leave as little trace as possible until the fullness is revealed. This is a delicate balance which must be respected. Nuance is everything. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

73 words

I’m not the first to write on this topic, and I certainly won’t be the last. But I’m going to be short but sweet.

“Strong female hero”

Seriously?

“Hero,” definition #1a in Merriam-Webster:  A mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability (emphasis mine).

Have you ever once read or heard someone say “strong male hero”?  Or, even, “strong hero”?

Point made. Thank you for your time.

The Tales of Eowyn’s Bard

eowyn

Eowyn of Rohan opened my eyes to a new kind of hero. It was the summer of 1966 when I first read The Lord of the Rings, and I would be graduating from high school the following year. Eowyn epitomized “hero” for me—confident, courageous, willing to run into the fray, filled with empathy for Merry (another favorite character) and, most importantly, female. The fact that she had the hots for the cutest guy on the block was a bit of a hindrance, and her exclusion from the final face-off after being scuttled off the battlefield in dire need of healing almost made me stop reading. But, in the end, Eowyn rocked, and her determination and tenacity gave me hope that a woman might one day be able to stand at the front of the story as the character propelling it forward.

By the 70s, female heroes had begun to emerge. And I sought them out. But they were almost always one of two types—buxom beauties with their “accomplishments” prominently displayed on the book’s cover or tomboy girls whose elders sought (and usually managed) to reduce to a medieval Stepford prototype once she’d completed her quest. Neither of these was the hero I was looking for.

Eventually I gave in and decided to create a female hero worthy of the title. It took over 30 years to fully realize my quest, but I did in Lisen of Solsta, a young woman who steps on the stage without the usual baggage young female characters too often carry into the fight. (It helps that she lives in a world where sexism and division of labor and duties by gender have never existed, but that’s a story I’ve explored several times previously and will not further explore it now.)

One shero (thank you, Maya Angelou) from the 80s comes to mind. Sarah Connor in the original Terminator. She was the hero of the movie. Her hero’s journey begins with her as a frivolous college student/waitress and ends (for that moment, of course) as a warrior on the run from future terminators like the one she (not Kyle) destroyed.

And in the past few years, I’ve had the joy of discovering several female heroes who bash the stereotypes bloody and stand tall amidst the muck. It seems our day has come. Finally.

So, in the hopes of opening discussion of and promoting books and other media featuring female heroes, I have created a page on Facebook. I look forward to learning about more strong women in fantasy, sci-fi and paranormal settings. I also want to encourage discussion of what makes a healthy and realistic female hero as well as discover who’s slamming stereotypes up against the wall. If you’re interested, feel free to check my new page out. That’s The Tales of Eowyn’s Bard.

Wild Ride: All the Pretty Bones by Camela Thompson

All the Pretty Bones by Camela Thompson is a fun ride for the paranormal reader. Check it out. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Details: Things can’t get much worse for Olivia Kardos. Stalked for the greater part of 10 years by a psychopath, Olivia learns that she is dying of cancer. So where can a storyteller take the reader from there? Sounds closer to the end than the beginning. Au contraire!

Olivia decides that before her life is over she is going to free herself from the crazy man forever watching her; she’s going to kill him. Does she succeed? I’m not telling. But the head-spinning twists and turns this amusement park ride of a tale inflicts on the reader are significantly more than satisfying.

What I particularly enjoyed about this story was the way in which none of the characters is truly all bad or all good. Nobody gets away with phoning in their performance. Even the psychopath, though unsympathetic, occasionally comes off as sad as he is horrific.

I highly recommend All the Pretty Bones. It’s a smart book. Ms. Thompson posits a world where vampires and demons exist just below the surface of what humans are aware of, and she weaves them in and out, taking her time revealing them. I love the way she ties the knot tighter and tighter as we approach what the reader knows is going to be a complicated ending, then brings everyone on stage to play their parts exactly as she has planned.

Sometimes Winning IS Everything

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I am proud to announce that Blooded (Book 3) has won this year’s IRDA YA category!

I’ve said it before, and here I’m saying it again. I suck at the marketing thing. The truth is even if you put everything on the line and promote like you’ve got the cure for the common cold, all that work can’t and doesn’t guarantee book sales, even in traditional publishing, much less in self-publishing.  Beyond that, as an author who follows (on Twitter) and likes (on Facebook) a great many other authors, I find nothing more irritating than someone who has nothing to say except “buy my book” ad nauseum. (This isn’t news to those who have read my blog before.)

So marketing—the promoting of self and self’s books—leaves me on the limited edge of what little sanity I still possess. Because here’s the truth; promoting your book mainly to other authors is a relatively futile endeavor. You need to find readers, and readers aren’t following unknown authors on social media; they’re out there reading authors they’ve heard of before. Sigh.

I knew early on that standing on a street corner with a sign pointing to where my books were on sale wasn’t for me. Instead I entered a few contests, most of which I flamed out on, but the one that has provided me consistent excellent reviews and a win last year for Tainted (Book 2 of the Lisen of Solsta trilogy) in the Young Adult category was IndieReader.com with their Indie Reader Discovery Awards (IRDA). I was thrilled beyond on thrilled when I got word of that because that I could promote.  Welcome to déjà vu all over again.

To celebrate this event, books 1 and 2 (Fractured and Tainted) are being offered free from today, May 29, 2015 through Tuesday, June 2, 2015, and Blooded, this year’s winning concoction, is on sale for the first time EVER for $0.99.

And here’s the best part.  The trilogy is complete, so you can binge on all three books and not have to wait for a sequel. Now that’s worth something.