Friday, July 22, 2011

World Building With Jennifer Estep

My guest today is Jennifer Estep. She's a USA Today bestselling author of the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series, the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series, and the Bigtime paranormal romance series.

I'd say she might know a bit about successful world building in a story. I had a chance to pick her brain a bit about world building in her Mythos Academy series.

Most of us associate world building to paranormal and Sci-Fi. How important is world building to a story? 

JE: World building is always important in a story, no matter what genre you’re writing in. You always want to transport readers to another place, whether it’s a small town, an alien planet, or a medieval castle. You want to make folks feel like they are right there in the story with your characters, having a burger and fries at the local diner; or exploring a hot, muggy, tropical rainforest; or even feeling their toes go numb as they trudge through a mountain blizzard. You want people to connect with your characters, and bringing your world to life is one way to help do that.

However, I would say that world building is a little more important when you’re writing a fantasy/sci-fi book. Readers who enjoy those genres expect to see a lot of magic, sorcery, science, technology, etc. You have to create a world where those things are possible, and then make readers feel like they are in the middle of your world, whatever and wherever it is.

While you were writing Touch of Frost, did you already have an idea in mind for a setting/location for Mythos Academy or did you have to do some research for it?

JE: The great thing about writing fantasy is that you get to create your own world. I didn’t really do any research about the setting/location. I knew that I wanted Mythos Academy to be a private/boarding type of school with a Southern, mountainous setting, so I came up with Cypress Mountain, my fictional suburb that’s supposedly near Asheville, North Carolina.

After that, it was just a matter of deciding what sort of buildings the academy needed and how I could use the buildings and their descriptions to give the whole campus a dark, creepy, mythological feel.

Is Mythos Academy patterned or inspired by any building/structure you've visited or come across?

JE: No, the academy isn’t really patterned on any specific building. But several years ago, I visited the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, which I thought had some really cool architecture. Visiting the Parthenon reminded me how much I’ve always liked mythology and made me think that it would be fun to write a mythology-based story someday. And now, I have.

How do you decide what to include in your description of Mythos Academy (buildings, etc)? Was it difficult to write Mythos Academy at all?

JE: It wasn’t too hard for me to dream up the academy. Since it’s a school setting, I knew that there needed to be some school-type buildings, so I designed an upper quad where students spend most of their time. The quad features five buildings – the Library of Antiquities, the dining hall, the gym, the math-science building, and the English-history building.

Basically, these buildings tie in with everything that students would normally do, as well as some things that only the Mythos kids do. These buildings give students a place to eat (the dining hall); a place to go to classes (English-history and math-science); a place to train with weapons (the gym); and a place to study and socialize after classes (the library). There are also student dorms on campus, along with some other outbuildings.

I decided to use these buildings because I thought I could stage a lot of different scenes in and around the various buildings – everything from Gwen doing weapons training with the other students in the gym to her wandering through the library to her walking across campus late at night.

Complete this: Mythos Academy would cease to exist if _____ is missing. (Can be a person, place, an object, etc.)

JE: The Library of Antiquities. The library is a seven-story tall building with towers, parapets, and balconies. Gwen says it looks like something out of an old, Gothic horror movie. The library is also covered with statues of mythological creatures like gryphons, gargoyles, dragons, chimeras, and more, which adds to the creepiness factor. Inside, the library features hundreds of thousands of books, along with glass cases that contain artifacts that have been used by various gods, goddesses, heroes, and more – things like armor, weapons, jewelry, etc. There are also marble statues of gods and goddesses on the second floor balcony of the library.

The Library of Antiquities definitely the centerpiece of the academy and where a lot of the action in all the books in the series takes place. It’s also a place where the kids can Hang Out and Be Seen, as Gwen puts it.

Any advice for writers on how to effectively build worlds for their books?

JE: I think you just have to think about your story, your characters, and go with your instincts. What do you want your setting to be? How will it impact your characters and the overall story? Where are the places that your characters are likely to interact? What can you do to make these places special, interesting, unique, and memorable? How can you give a house or restaurant or graveyard a distinct look, feel, and personality of its own and make it almost become another character in your story?

Those are some of the things that folks might think about when it comes to world building. Also, you don’t have to go overboard on the description of a house, restaurant, etc. Small, subtle touches here and there can really add up and give your world/book a lot of atmosphere and personality. 

Jennifer, thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to be here and share your thoughts on the importance of building a believable world regardless of the genre we write.

Touch of Frost Available July 26th
Gwen Frost is an outsider at Mythos Academy, a school of myths, magic and warrior whiz kids, where even the lowliest geek knows how to chop off somebody's head with a sword. Gwen is an outsider both to the students of the Academy and the rest of the world. But when her gift of psychometry - the ability to know an object's history just by touching it reveals dark undercurrents and danger afoot, she has no choice but to get involved. EXCERPT

BUY: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Borders

Available in both print and e-format. You can also read the prequel, First Frost for 99 cents from the above on-line stores in e-format..


Jennifer Estep is a Southern gal through and through. Sassy, sarcastic, and just a tad crazy.  She happens to think the greatest thing ever created was a library. Indoor plumbing is a close second, though. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism, and a master’s degree in professional communications. Currently, I’m an award-winning features page designer for a daily newspaper.

Jennifer has worked as a features writer and page designer for a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper and has more than 10 years of journalism experience. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and other writing groups.
Jennifer’s books have been featured in Cosmopolitan, Entertainment Weekly, Southern Living, and a variety of other publications. You can follow her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Teapots, Chicken Bog and PJs

My guest today is USA Bestselling author,Catherine Mann. She shares some thoughts that aren't new to any of us in today's world. Seems like we all have too much to do and not enough time to do it all. Catherine also shares an excerpt of her newest series on Elite Forces.

Raise your hand if you’re overworked, stressed, maxed out and need a vacation?

Okay, I’m confident hands are shooting up fast. Mine sure has been raised especially high this week. Already exhausted and irritable, I raced through chores tonight while desperately searching for an idea for this blog that’s supposed to promote my new pararescue (PJ) series.

One of my kids walked by with a question – and I shushed her as I changed over laundry loads, needing to get back to the meal cooking on the stove. She did hush (probably because of the steam blasting from my ears as hot as the pan threatening to boil over!) As she walked away with her head down, my gaze gravitated to my teapot with four angel faces.

The laundry fell out of my hands and my eyes filled with tears.

To backtrack, I have over a dozen teapots, each with a story about how it came into my life. But the angel teapot… well, it’s special.

On the surface, it means a lot to me because my husband bought it for Mother’s Day, the four angel faces representing our four children.

However, the teapot has an even deeper significance. If you’ll notice in the photo, the teapot doesn’t have a lid. And it never will again.

Years ago, a dear friend of mine – Jeri - was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Determined to stay active as long as possible, once she became wheelchair bound, she took pottery classes. Jeri asked a mutual pal of ours to sneak the lid from the angel teapot out of my house so she could make matching teacups. Jeri wanted to thank me for the chicken bog (a Southern recipe) that I often made for her, the one food she could stomach after chemo and radiation.

Jeri’s health faded faster than expected. She wasn’t able to make the cups.
As I went to see her in the hospital for the last time, on my way I mailed a manuscript to my agent. Usually when I sent off a manuscript, I would anxiously wait to hear back, wishing away the weeks, craving that sale call. But when I mailed the manuscript that day, I vowed to myself I would never again wish away time when Jeri would give anything for one more day with her husband and children.

Later, our friend who’d snuck the teapot lid from my house called to arrange to return the lid. I told her to please keep it. And I would keep the teapot open as a reminder of Jeri and the importance of cherishing each moment.

Tonight, the pot on my stove is full of chicken bog again for another family friend with cancer, the wife of my kids’ coach. My angel teapot is open. The laundry still isn’t finished. But I hugged my teenage daughter and listened to the song she wanted to share with me.

Then, I came downstairs to write this blog. And as I thought about Jeri, I also recalled the book I dedicated to her years ago, one of my early Wingmen Warriors books – FULLY ENGAGED. It features a breast cancer survivor heroine/pilot who falls for… a PJ. A pararescueman/parajumper. ( )

Life came full circle for me in that moment as I thought about that PJ hero and how I’m now in the middle of launching an entire series about PJs. There it was. My blog topic – I needed to write about angel baby teapots, chicken bog for friends, PJ stories that celebrate heroes. How life weaves itself together if we take the time to celebrate each thread, each moment.

So right now, I’m celebrating the chance to blog (I do love to write!) I’m also grateful to have teenagers who do want to talk to me – most of the time. And I’m grateful for each of you who came over to read what I had to share today. Thank you. Truly.

  • What is something or someone you’re grateful for this week?


It should have been a simple mission…

Pararescuman Wade Rocha fast ropes from the back of a helicopter into a blizzard to save a climber stranded on an Aleutian Island, but Sunny Foster insists she can take care of herself just fine…

But when it comes to passion, nothing is ever simple…

With the snowstorm kicking into overdrive, Sunny and Wade hunker down in a cave and barely resist the urge to keep each other warm… until they discover the frozen remains of a horrific crime…

Unable to trust the local police force, Sunny and Wade investigate, while their irresistible passion for each other gets them more and more dangerously entangled… Excerpt (bottom of website page) Book Trailer
BUY: In stores or online and print or e-book.  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million


USA Today bestseller Catherine Mann has over two million books in print in more than twenty-five countries.  A RITA Award winner, she resides in the Florida panhandle with her military flyboy husband, their four children, and an ever-growing menagerie of pets.  Find Catherine on Facebook at Catherine Mann (Author) and Twitter @CatherineMann1.  Or check out her website at:

Monday, July 18, 2011

BASKETS, BOOKS, AND BAKING...A Writer’s Collection Of Hats.

My guest is the award winning romance author, Holly Jacobs. She shares her thoughts on her daily *water cooler* chat breaks and the various hats we tend to wear.

Like all women, I wear a lot of hats. I’m a wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, friend, sister-in-law, aunt... I’m also a splitter of wood, a dogwalker, and a basketweaver. I’m a writer, an off-key kitchen singer, and speaking of kitchen’s, I’m a baker and a cook. I’m a sci fi geek. I’m a... Okay, you get the point, I’m a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

Available September 2011
Until Facebook and Twitter, most people knew me by a handful of titles, but certainly not by all. Most of my readers might have realized I had kids since kids are so prominent in many of my books, but they might not have known I bake bread. Some people might have known that I have a slight (stop laughing, slight is accurate, I mean, the water in a swimming pool seems slight when measured against an ocean) coffee addiction, but might not have realized how much I enjoy home improvement projects.

Here’s the thing, writing is a solitary occupation, and Facebook/Twitter have become my daily water cooler. I love to go hang out with friends there. And while I love talking about my books and do tweet about new releases (tweet...tweet...A Father’s Name is out in September!!), and awards (A One-of-a-Kind Family just won RomCon’s Readers’ Crown, a Golden Quill Award and Write Touch Readers’ Award) even I can’t manage to talk about my books daily. And really, even if someone enjoys my books (and I hope many do) I can’t imagine they’d want to read tweets on them daily. So I do a lot of water cooler talk. Some are simple talk, travel talk. Some is even more’s tweetable insight? I had homemade granola for breakfast. Not the most scintillating thing! LOL But it’s oh-so good. I’ve been making granola the last few months, and love that I can make it to taste. Not exactly a book related tweet, is it? But I do enjoy talking about things I enjoy. I bought a new artisan bread book and until summer’s heat dissuaded me, was making bread daily. And when I bought Beverly Lewis’s cookbook and fell in love with the Golden Angel food cake in it (yes, you can use egg yolks in an angel food cake!), I had fun talking to friends about the recipes.

And then there’s the basketmaking. I started taking classes a year ago, and I make a few baskets a month. I love the creativity of it. If you get good enough at it, it’s an artform. I’m still a novice, and my baskets are the fingerpainting of basketweaving, but I really enjoy the process. And so far, my Facebook/Twitter friends don’t seem to mind when I tweet my basket joy.

I have a lot of fun sharing glimpses of all the hats I wear with friends. And I love learning about them as well. I love getting glimpses of other people’s lives. I enjoy looking at pics of grandkids and sunsets. And I enjoy hearing who baked what, and who loves Mondays as much as I do. (My Monday Glee isn’t shared with everyone...I know, who knew?? LOL) And I love hearing about other people’s pets. I have two dogs, Ethel Merman and Ella Fitzgerald, and frequently puppysit my daughter’s two dogs, Boogers and Cosmo. I love dogs. And without FB, I might not have realized how many other people adore their pets, and I might not have read about how committed Catherine Mann is to fostering dogs. And I’d always loved Cathy’s books, and Cathy herself, but getting introduced to this particular “hat” she wears made me respect her even more!

That’s the things, watercoolers and Facebook/Twitter–they are places where you can learn more about people than just their work. I think they’re a great way to discover the many hats writers wear. My many and varied interests are reflected in my books. In the series I just sold, I have a character that works at/owns a coffeeshop, one who is a partner in a café, and one who owns a vineyard and is starting a winery. Yes, my love of coffee, food and wine is showing! And my Facebook and Twitter friends aren’t shocked! LOL

I’m sure as that September release date for A Father’s Name draws closer, I’ll talk about the book. I might reveal that because of my husband’s affinity for the Teutul’s motorcycle show, American Choppers I was inspired to make my heroine, Tucker, a graphic artist who does specialty painting on motorcycles and other vehicles. (And speaking of the Teutul’s, I’d really love to sit down with Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. wearing my Mom-hat and tell them both to get over it and make up!)

Now, everyone reading this blog wears multiple hats. Most you wear without really thinking about them.

But come on over the watercooler and share a “hat” that your friends might not know you wear.

Holly is a happily married mother of four. She and her family live in Erie County Pennsylvania. She writes for Harlequin, Silhouette and Avalon Books and has sold over 2 million copies of her books worldwide. You can visit Holly at, at Facebook or on Twitter