The Wendy is a delight—beautifully written and funny. Loosely based on characters created by J.M. Barrie, I sensed a bit of Dickens in the troubled upbringing of a modern girl named Wendy Darling who was just not at home in the eighteenth century. It seems men were not kind to women back then, the majority seeing them as suited for nothing more than matrimony and motherhood—if they had to be put up with at all. Then, this headstrong girl with grand ideas of captaining a ship enters the stage, and not only are the Neanderthals incensed at her boldness but astonished that she has skills.
Wendy is smart and accomplished and can hold her own against anyone—even the eternally pompous and mean-spirited Captain Hook. And she’s wise, considering she is only sixteen. Though I found her irresistible—especially her eyebrows—my favorite aspect of the novel is the voice of the narrator. I mean, it’s just so wonderfully witty. In fact, some parts made me laugh out loud. Good thing I was alone at the time.
For those who enjoy fantasy with their historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. It’s perfect for kids and highly entertaining for adults. A real gem.
“Girls can’t be in the navy! Girls take care of babies! You’re so stupid, you don’t know anything!”
London. 1783. Wendy Darling is an orphan, living in an overcrowded almshouse, ridiculed for believing in a future she can never have. More than anything in the world, she wants to be the captain of a ship. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?
By 1789, she’s sixteen, old enough to be sold into service as a dressmaker or a servant. When she learns the Home Office is accepting a handful of women into its ranks, she jumps at the chance, joining the fight against the most formidable threat England has ever faced. Magic.
But the secret service isn’t exactly what she had hoped. Accompanied by a reimagined cast of the original Peter Pan, Wendy soon discovers that her dreams are as far away as ever, that choosing sides isn’t as simple as she thought, and that the only man who isn’t blinded by her gender… might be her nation’s greatest enemy.
I grew up in the 80s. It was a magical time when bug-eyed, glowing-fingered aliens crashed in suburban back yards, when heroes rode luckdragons, when David Bowie danced with goblin puppets, when nightmare creatures battled for the fate of a flawed purple gemstone … well, you get the idea.
For me, the creatures of science fiction and fantasy are just as compelling as the main characters in the story. Anybody writing in the genre knows how important world-building is. Part of good world-building is creating believable creatures for your distant planet or magical realm.
Here are some things to consider when designing your monsters from the claws up:
Magical or Cryptozoological?
Is your creature born or conjured? Did it hatch from an egg, or did a rabbi scoop some mud together and slap a sign on its head? The way a creature comes into being tells a lot about what its habits will be like, where it lives, what it subsists on, etc. Magical creatures don’t have to be as convincing from a biological standpoint—or stand up to close scrutiny at all, for that matter:
Don’t feed a mogwai after midnight. Um, isn’t it technically always “after midnight”?
How the hell does a Pegasus fly? Does it have hollow bones like a bird?
What about Beholders? How do they—ahhh, you know what? Never mind.
As magical creatures, it’s part of their charm. But if we’re talking about an animal that is born or hatched, this takes a little more thought.
What Is Your World Like?
What is your world’s climate like, its ecosystem, its culture? Animals adapt to their environment to survive. Consider how the animal might have evolved in relation to where it lives. Is the animal native to the area you’re writing about or did they come from someplace else? If they’re not native, how did they get there? How do they interact with other species?
Some of my favorite fantasy beings are the elephant-like Mulefa from Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass. Now, it helps that he was writing them from the point of view of a scientist who made keen observations regarding their anatomy, habitat, social behavior, etc. But Pullman obviously put a lot of thought into their ecology. A species of pod-bearing tree combined with some solidified lava beds gives the Mulefa the means to move—and I don’t mean that in the sense that they use pods for transportation. I mean they have evolved in such a way that they now require the pods to peregrinate, attaching them to spurs on their legs and zooming around on them like Tony Hawk.
I was blown away by the level of detail, planning, imagination and originality the Mulefa required. How in the world did someone dream something like that up?
Real Creatures, Alive or Extinct
Start with real critters. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but coming up with good, convincing and memorable creatures for your book has to be more than a Horse of a Different Color (enchanting though that rainbow-hued equine was, he was still just a horse with a dye-job).
I co-author a series called The Order of the Four Sons with Coyote Kishpaugh. It takes place across multiple dimensions. In the second book, the heroes find themselves marooned in an inhospitable, desert world called Carcosa. Keeping the Mulefa firmly in mind as we began to design the world, we gave a great deal of thought to what sort of flora and fauna could thrive under its harsh conditions. We researched animals and plants that live in the Australian and Saharan deserts, as well as Death Valley. To give the animals an otherworldly bent, we turned mainly to creatures that have gone extinct like the Tasmanian tiger for inspiration.
We also took into consideration the symbolism of the place. We have stranded the heroes in a world where everything is either aggressive or toxic. We looked at some of the fiercest-looking desert dwellers we could find, like the Solifugae, an order of desert spiders that can get quite large and look like an ungodly mixture of arachnid and scorpion, with pale, segmented bodies and pincer-like mandibles. They’re not terribly threatening to humans, but the point is, they look scary.
Another type of creature we looked at was some sort of animal to transport people around our deadly fantasy desert. Ultimately, we found our way to tapirs, an endangered South American animal with a prehensile snout (maybe Pullman influenced me even more than I realized!). Related to horses and rhinos, tapirs are decent runners, so with some alteration, we thought they would make fine pack animals. In the course of researching them, we found out that tapirs appear in Asian folklore. In Korean, their name is maek, so we named the creatures “meks.”
Finally, there are the real, live animals that share space with you. I can’t tell you how many creatures in my oeuvre have been influenced by an ugly, runty, squinty-eyed, foul-tempered little cat I found by the side of the road one day and decided to bring home. She has way more attitude than a five-pound bundle of dirty-looking orange-brown fur ought to have, but she’s my little beast, and I love her. Without her, I wouldn’t have stories full of dragons, mermaids, ehlems and man-eating blobs. At least once a day, I pay homage to my little feline muse with offerings of tasty treats. She seems as pleased with this arrangement as I am.
So all those hilarious pet stories you love to tell at parties? Yeah, turn those into fantastical adventures.
Barring that …
Tap into Some Folklore
There’s an entire world of myths, legends, fairy tales and folklore from which to draw inspiration. From kitsunes to skin walkers, from djinn to Baba Yaga—there’s always some creature or entity begging to be remade into a new story.
Obviously, you have the perennial favorites: vampires, werewolves and zombies. Personally, I find those to be a bit tired, but even they can have new life breathed into them—reanimated, if you will. (I know, I know. Feel free to throw things.)
To use another example from our books, in The Order of the Four Sons, we have an Eastern European sorceress who practices necromancy. Eastern European folklore is rich with blood-suckers and the undead. We came up with creatures called eretics, a sort of zombie en flambé. The amount and type of magic it takes to raise and sustain them burns their flesh, so they’re blackened, red and quite disgusting as they lumber about, flaking off patches of skin and doing their mistress’ bidding.
Another resource is the good ol’ D&D monster manual. I’m not saying to blatantly rip something wholesale from the Eberron or Forgotten Realms playbooks or whatever. What I am encouraging you to do is a monster mashup—create composites. Synthesize. It’s amazing what sort of literary Frankenstein might emerge. A fang here, a bit of drool there, some galvanic action and voila! Your creature will be up, wreaking havoc on a poor, unsuspecting populace in no time.
I hope you find my thoughts on monster-making helpful. Thanks for reading, and best of luck dreaming up your own ghoulies, ghosties and three-legged beasties!
For centuries, two ancient, magical sects, the Order of the Four Sons of Horus and Starry Wisdom, have battled for possession of the sacred, powerful Staff of Solomon. Whoever possesses the staff can open doors to other dimensions—or rip open the very fabric of existence.
The staff was broken into pieces and scattered across the cosmos.
Now, a member of the Order, Fernando Rios, has disappeared in a small Missouri town.
When a team is sent to investigate, they discover that Rios was close to finding one of the lost segments.
The problem is, he wasn’t the only one.
The Order of the Four Sons by Coyote Kishpaugh and Lauren Scharhag is a classic tale of good versus evil. An epic, magical journey of fantasy and adventure.
Join members of the team, Colonel JD Garnett, novice mage Kate West, Detective Ryan Murphy, scholar Doug Grigori, and field techs Bill Welsh and Cecil Morgan, as they race to stop evil from destroying not just Earth, but a myriad of worlds.
About the Author
Lauren Scharhag is a writer of fiction and poetry. With Coyote Kishpaugh, she is the co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. She lives in Kansas City, MO with her husband, two cats and a squinty-eyed beastling. You can find Lauren on Twitter, on Facebook and on her blog, www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com.
Simon Oneill is one of my favorite authors. I’ve been trying for years to figure out how his brain works. Forget it! His books are always fresh, funny and full of surprises.
So, I’m thrilled to let you know about his latest novel, Flip Side, which will be published later this month. Here’s the scoop …
Dead gangster returns to living world to correct his mistakes only to cause more problems for the ones he loves.
Johnny Knight is on top of his game as kingpin drug lord. His enemies are either dead or licking their wounds. Now tired of all the killing, he wants to live his dream in the Caribbean with his family.
Johnny’s dream turns to a nightmare when the ghost of his father appears, causing chaos and mayhem. His Old Man must correct a mistake he made and this means Johnny’s dream will never be fulfilled.
The ghost shows his son the error of his ways, making Johnny weak in the eyes of his enemies. Johnny’s empire crumbles around him. All he has is his dream.
This is ‘The Sopranos’ meets Scrooge meets ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ full of sex and violence and Jimmy the wise ghost who must do his best to set things right or return time and time again until his family’s problems are resolved. Only then can he be happy on the Flip Side.
Tough gangster Jimmy Knight is a ghost sent back to the living world to sort out his family problems that he left behind. These problems have festered in his soul making him unsuitable for the Flip Side where peaceful spirits can live out their dreams. The biggest soul crusher for Jimmy is getting revenge on the hitman that snuffed him out and to do this he must reveal himself to his youngest son, mob boss – Johnny. But there are certain rules to adhere to in the Flip Side. A ghost can enter a family member’s mind and use memories and words of wisdom to alter the course of their life or imminent death. But the closer that person gets to death the more visible the ghost becomes and when they can touch their beloved dead family member they are ready to flip.
Ten years ago, Jimmy is on his deathbed, a bloody bullet hole in his chest. Standing over him are his two sons, Johnny and Chalky. With his dying breath, Jimmy chooses his younger son, Johnny, the more stable, the man with the savvy. The look on Chalky’s face says it all – the drugs business was his to have as he is the oldest. Jimmy flipped, but his baggage was heavy not knowing who killed him, it gnawed at him not knowing. Now he has to return to his chosen offspring and fix the mess he has left behind.
Ten tough years later Johnny has stayed on top of his drugs empire. His enemies are either dead or licking their wounds and in no fit state to harm him. But of late, Johnny has been having strange dreams, annoying flashbacks to the days when Jimmy ruled the roost and even worse he has heard that haunting music more and more often – LA BAMBA – music played at his wedding! Chalky has been inside since their father’s wake, since he beat to death some geezer for not paying his respects to the old man’s remains. Chalky loves to use his hands, he’s a real genuine hands on kind of guy. Johnny accepts the Old Man’s intrusion in his head and shows signs of weakness when talking to himself. Jimmy uses La Bamba to warn Johnny of imminent death.
Chalky’s hatred of his brother sets in motion traumatic events as he does a Clint Eastwood on Johnny’s cool rat-pack gang and his most ruthless enemy – Rosa, Queen of the Ganja boss of The Yardies. The gangs go to war each side manipulated by Chalky’s devious tactics.
There are plenty of situations where Jimmy uses his music of chance and wise words to alter the inevitable course of Johnny’s life. He shows Johnny what might have been and also what could possibly be in the near future with swift acts of ghostly magic to prevent that bullet with Johnny’s name on it finding the target. But with each attack on Johnny’s life, Johnny gets closer to his father, seeing him, having a joke with him until finally touching him. Johnny learns what it is to be a loving father even when his love falls on hatred and vengeful family members.
Families are ripped apart by death and betrayal, plans within plans, greed and avarice fueling a war that can only end one way for Johnny, unless his old man’s magic can save him.
About the Author
Simon Oneill resides in South Wales UK with his wife Shirley Anne. He is a writer of all things paranormal fantasy in both the YA and Adult categories. He loves to collect fossils when not writing, and will often be found combing the local beach for fossils and shells. Or he can sometimes be found in a local pub enjoying a pint of real ale. You can find Simon on Twitter, on Facebook and at his Amazon author page.