Sci-fi, physics as inspiration for YA Fantasy stories.

Book Beginnings, Then and Now

Okay, housekeeping first.

Lou Hoffmann's smiling face(1) I’ve been gone. Life in the 2020s is sometimes a challenge, but it’s better than the alternative, right? (2) Also, my site broke, so when I was ready to post, I couldn’t. (3) And also, I had a number of ideas for great posts, but I didn’t write them down, I’m not a spring chicken and because of (1) and (2) above, I’ve forgotten them. Here’s hoping they’ll come back.

But here’s what’s on my mind today, and yes it really is about my journey on the road to rewriting and re-releasing my books. Most of my time—what little I’ve had for writing—has been spent on “the beginning.” I’m constantly checking my thinking—it’s important to me to get this right. (Soon, I’ll be setting alpha readers loose on the first fifty to eighty pages. I’m excited about that step. It kind of makes things real.)

Conventional wisdom on opening your YA book has changed…or has it?

Prefacing this with a short, simple, direct sentence. I’m no expert. Still, join me for a look at a subject that has me, I’ll confess, a little sore.

Go back fifty, a hundred, a hundred fifty years, and you can find books that open with lots of description. Examples include: Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, both published in the 19th century. I admit I have believed that book openings have vastly changed over the last centuries, even decades, but after a little research, admittedly just skimming the top, I’m not so sure.

All that flowery language

Jenny Phillips, a blogger and entrepreneur, whom I won’t call a zealot though the tag crosses my mind, has argued in a video ( that not only have books for young people changed, they have stopped helping young people learn, and in fact harm their brains—stunting their academic development, encouraging—to paraphrase—lazy thinking, instant gratification, and an inability to think analytically. Later, she gets into equating the absence of “God and faith” from current middle grade books with lack of benefit—and harm done—from reading. I dismissed the latter instantly, as I don’t share her religious beliefs and later in the video it appears that fostering religious training—some would say brainwashing—may be her real aim.

But I looked into the first point, which is about books and writers and readers—my world.

Her examples of “good” books written over a century ago include the two I named under the last heading. I’m not putting those books or others like them down. They’re beautiful, and when I was a child I thought Black Beauty was the most wonderful story in the world. But after praising these earlier books for their complex sentence structure and descriptive openings, Phillips goes on to decry books written today. She gives some examples of best-selling books that have spare writing, direct language, shorter sentences such as we might use in daily speech, and a lack of flowery ornamentation. (She doesn’t ever name these books or the authors in the video, simply calling them “best-selling” books on Amazon in 2019.”)

A dearth of literary devices?

She proposes that these 2019 books are inferior. Why? Because they don’t utilize complex sentences, challenging vocabulary, sensory language, or poetic devices.

While it is true that the opening sentences she used as examples are straightforward, I argue that they do indeed use poetic devices, such as “beats,” parallel structure, and more. And she offers no indication as to whether the rest of the books’ content might wander into more complex sentence structure and utilize vocabulary that challenges children. And who said short sentences can’t be evocative?

No mental challenge?

As to complexity, what makes blogger Philips think there’s no complexity of thought in a paragraph that uses a number of short sentences? A reader must organize the thoughts expressed in their minds, relate the sentences one to the other, analyze conflict and and agreement, and form impressions of the situation, the environment, and the character(s). It may be a more challenging process at times to do that mental work given less, rather than more, to chew on.

Is it even true?

Even a superficial survey of literature from the 19th and earlier 20th centuries (which is frankly all I’ve done) shows that plenty of well-read books from those eras, including those written for young readers, opened with personal, direct language, sometimes even first person. Moby Dick (Melville), Treasure Island (Stevenson), Island of the Blue Dolphins (O’Dell), Ramona (Hunt), Where the Red Fern Grows (Rawls), even Little Women by that same Louisa May Alcott who wrote the (lovely) florid opening of Under the Lilacs.

Were there books with ornate, descriptive openings in the 19th and early 20th centuries? Absolutely. Are there books with more ornate, poetic, vocabulary-rich openings today? Yes. For just one example, read the gorgeous opening of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. Were such book beginnings more common in that time? Probably. As I’ve said, my research is superficial. Even though I started down this road because of my desire to make the best possible opening to the revised Key of Behliseth (Book 1 of The Sun Child Chronicles), I have no desire to delve deeper into the subject. There is no need.

Because I think Phillips and those who think the way she does about the written word miss the most important points: 1) readers, and 2) truth.

What do the figures show?

I’d argue the most important question about current middle grade and YA offerings is, “Do they get read?” This post ( says YA books published more than doubled from 2002 to 2012. The trend has continued, say a number of sources. The pandemic has pushed it along, with juvenile fiction overall leading the pack in increased print book sales ( Adults read YA books and even middle grade, but young people are reading too, and they become those adults looking for a good YA read. Just search on Facebook for groups focused on YA fiction and you’ll see what I mean.

What has “truly” changed?

I’ll argue that the real difference between the way earlier novels for young people were written and current trends is the world they reflect, the world young people live in. For most folks living in the 2020s, life doesn’t proceed at a slow, predictable pace with a few high points and low points over the course of months or years. Young people have to learn about the world fast—too fast, perhaps, but that’s the reality. In a world where information is cheap and plentiful and not always trustworthy, young readers need to relate. The characters in their books are of prime concern, and that’s where most book intros begin, these days—right smack dab in the middle of the character’s world, and usually their problems. Meeting these characters, diving straight off into their fictional lives, gives a young reader a chance at learning empathy as well as new truths about themselves, others, and the world they must live in. Flowery language at the beginning is less likely to engage today’s young reader who, let’s face it, lives in a fast world. They can’t reap the real benefit of reading fiction if they don’t read it.

Truth in fiction

The number one prime concern—and benefit—of fiction, in my opinion, is the reader’s recognition of truth. Apparently it’s not my opinion alone…


“Fiction is fact distilled into truth.” —Edward Albee

“The aim of fiction is absolute and honest truth.” —Anton Chekov

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” —Stephen King

And finally, since this blog is supposed to be about Lou Hoffmann books, some words on truth from Key of Behliseth“Truth is truth no matter what world you’re in.”


Thanks for joining me on this slightly intellectual (I won’t say “stuffy) comparison of writing then and writing now. I hope you enjoyed it at least a little. Next time, something completely different. 🙂 I’d love to hear your thoughts! Comment here or find me online.

Find my Lou Hoffmann Books page on Facebook

On Twitter, I’m @Lou_Hoffmann

kharrigan continent map c. Loretta Sylvestre/Joe Bone

Everyone Wants to Talk Worldbuilding

Lou Hoffmann's smiling faceEverybody wants to talk about worldbuilding.

Well, okay, not everybody. People who aren’t authors may not have even heard the term—possible exception, avid readers or watchers of sci-fi and fantasy. I imagine most authors of fiction know the word, but if they’re writing anything set in our contemporary and mundane world, they may not care much about it.

So, when I say “everybody” wants to talk about it, I really mean a lot of fantasy and sci-fi writers. More specifically, me. I want to talk about it, right here, right now, in this blog post. 😊

Why would anyone do it?

If a book is going to be about magic or elves, time travel or interdimensional portals, spaceships or planetary aliens, they need a world to exist in. (You can put them downtown Chicago, but then it’s not Chicago anymore, and you’ve got to rebuild it for the misfits to fit.)

 How the heck is it done?

This, in fact, is the question “everybody” (not just me) wants to talk about. An author can choose from an array of methods, mix and match, or take an imaginary overworld flight and write it down. Certain things are needed, no matter how you organize the “finding” of them:

  • Physical world—geography and perhaps geology, buildings, roads, etc.
  • Language and culture(s)
  • Magic system or technology (or both)
  • Religion or mythology—some type of belief system framework
  • Political system(s)
  • Economic system(s)

There’s a lot more that could be listed, but most things will fall into those categories. Unless I forgot something, which is possible. Let me know if you see that I did. 😊

For the method-building author.

If an author wants to go with a method—not a bad choice; why reinvent the wheel?—the choices abound. I searched “worldbuilding” on Amazon. Just click the link and scan the listed books. You’ll see what I mean. Some of them are actual books, some of them workbooks, some fantasy oriented, others looking more toward sci-fi, and still others are about role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinders—help for the jaded DM, perhaps. Incidentally RPG “novels” are ever more popular, so those last could certainly work for authors as well.

My point is, if an author wants a method, there is one out there that should work. I haven’t read any of the listed books, though years ago, I read some others that were more popular then. I didn’t use them as methods, but I’m sure I was influenced by fore-authors experience and ideas.

What do authors say?

I’m assuming here that you’d like to hear from some authors on the subject—I mean authors other than the writers of books and workbooks. And also, other than me. 😊 Here’s a link to a blog post on Not strictly about worldbuilding, these are fantasy authors and their thoughts do touch on the subject. Another blog post, this one on Bookish, has four discrete interviews with fantasy authors. One of the question addresses specifically what they find the most difficult about the process of worldbuilding. All good stuff.

A favorite author quote, short and to the point.Woman with saddle shoes.

 “The muse in charge of fantasy wears good, sensible shoes.”

                                                                                    —Lloyd Alexander

Personally, I just went for it.

That’s right. As is my way with just about everything I’m learning to do, I read up, studied a bit, made some false starts, and then made the world—or rather worlds—of The Sun Child Chronicles. And though I didn’t plan it this way, I actually started by building characters, and then building worlds around them. I needed worlds in which these particular characters would work, could exist as I saw them—as I had come to know them. And yes, though I’d never heard the above quote back then, indeed an awful lot about the worlds was clearly guided by a muse in sensible shoes. No matter how magical, how renowned a warrior, how terrible or beautiful or fear-inspiring, there is at least some element of “just common sense” about each and every characters. So the same is true of the worlds I build to house them

But it wasn’t a one-off.

As I’ve mentioned, there are various schools of thought about worldbuilding (as there are about every writerly pursuit from grammar to dialogue tags to genres). Some authors, before they ever write a word, spend a long time inventing a world. We’re talking years—even decades. I could never do that because of something I call…

The just-write imperative.

I needed to put some words on paper, or rather mostly in pixels. When I got too antsy with working out world particulars, I started to write. But I was new on the job. Things didn’t quite gel, more often than not. When I realized I was spinning my wheels, I looked around for help and just happened to find a book, a how-to-write, that actually worked. It’s still out there, available, and I’ll link the author here: The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. It broke down drafting a book start to finish in 52 “weeks,” or sections. (I’m going to add here that I had the 1994 edition. I’ve seen later versions. They seem substantially changed, though I haven’t investigated how different they are.)

Inclines and storyboards

The book bases the book structure on Aristotle’s incline—an age-old concept that literally can be applied to the vast majority of novels old or new. Although it wasn’t the first time I’d heard of it, it did help me to back up and plot my story along the incline. It was fun, too, done with a long roll of craft paper, a yardstick, markers, and sticky notes. I put it up on the wall. Man did I ever feel like a writer then!

But the most useful idea in Ray’s book, for me, was the way he’d adapted the TV scriptwriters “storyboard” to novel writing. I’m not going to go into how it’s done—as I said the book is still available and there may be other sources. But I’ll tell you how it helped.

Create the scene.

For each scene in my novel, I needed to back (mentally) away from the writing, slow down and create the scene in my mind. I had to be in the world to know how that particular place at that particular moment looked, sounded, felt, smelled, etc. Thinking about what was present made me also think about why it was there—and though that didn’t likely end up in my storyboard, it did end up in the world of my story. Though I rarely formally use this method now, it still frames the way I approach developing a scene. And because of that, about every scene develops either one or more characters or their worlds or both. The world gets richer and richer, and the complexity is in the details.

Don’t show, and don’t tell.

Whether they do it all in advance or all on the fly, or a combination of the two (like me), often much of what an author creates when worldbuilding is never told, and neither is it shown. Instead, it’s implied. That way, the reader creates the world. How cool is that?

If I have a thousand readers, I’ve spawned a thousand worlds.

But they all share this map. 😊 This world is the home of Lucky (the Sun Child), Thurlock, and Han, and is where most of the story takes place beginning in book 2 of the series. I have a map of the fictional city in California in which most of book 1 happens, but it’s chicken scratch and you wouldn’t want to see it. Maybe I’ll fix that problem before rereleasing the revised books. But this map, of the Kharrighan Continent in the world called Ethra, is to me a treasure. I made a rough version of the map using GIMP, an open-source software for creating and manipulating art, but the finished product is a beauty created by artist Joe Bone, who has my gratitude forever.

kharrigan continent map c. Loretta Sylvestre/Joe Bone

Thanks for reading!

That’s my bit about worldbuilding, at least for now. I don’t claim to be expert, just a practitioner of the fantasy-writing arts. If you found something interesting, questionable, confounding, or debatable, I hope you’ll comment below. Or visit me online.

Find my Lou Hoffmann Books page on Facebook

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Sci-fi, physics as inspiration for YA Fantasy stories.

My Writer Brain and YA Fantasy

Lou Hoffmann's smiling faceThis week, I’m back to blogging…

…on Monday. I’m trying to take the schedule/time bull by the horns, and I hope I’ll be able to post some words on Wednesday too. For today’s post, I’m flashing back to a blog post I posted in 2016 on Drops of Ink, a wonderful blog owned by author and reviewer Anne Barwell. I’ve revised that post to fit what I want to blog about today…

Me! Or rather, my writing brain.

As you may know, I’m focusing on shaping up and rereleasing (one way or another), my series, The Sun Child Chronicles. First published in 2016, the stories this time around will be updated and told a little tighter. It will have a few new scenes and the emphasis will shift here and there. But the characters and the story—which has some elements of sci-fi as well as fantasy—won’t change much at all.

Read the series blurb (the story in a nutshell), here.

I admit, it’s a bit of a crazy plot.

Sci-fi, physics as inspiration for YA Fantasy stories.Which makes it fun and interesting to write, but also might make a person wonder how it came to me. The truth is, I was thinking about quantum and particle physics. About what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance,” about string theory with its possible numerous dimensions and world’s splitting off in time, and about the idea that either time is not constant, or we are not constant within it, or both. And then, I admit, I’m always thinking sword-wielding warrior-protectors, and old wizard curmudgeons.

And why write for young people?

I guess partly because most of the young people I know also like warrior-protectors and old wizard curmudgeons. 🙂 But mostly because when I was young, a love of books is what saw me through some very difficult times.

Fiction was one of my very truest teachers…

…when it came to learning how to live in the world, what it means to be a human among millions of humans all the same yet vastly different. The love of reading gave me an academic edge. And that was responsible for my ability to pick myself up out of a very low place—low economically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Saved my life,” is the shorthand version of all that, and it is certainly true.

I write for young people because I want young people to read. I write diverse characters in my fiction because I want every young person to find themselves in the pages—the person they are; the hero, brother, sister, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend, citizen, human they are becoming.

Here’s what Scottish YA author Theresa Breslin said, making the point much more succinctly than I.

“In addition to exploring imaginative worlds, I believe that young people should have access to reading material that validates their life, that gives them a sense of identity—to be able to read texts that chimes with their own world, corrals thoughts, and connects with the emotional conflicts of growing up.”

Back in 2016, a 13-year-old boy reviewed book 1, Key of Behliseth on Litpick. He gave the book a five-star rating and called it a “buffet of words… such a fun book to read.” He said “I loved every word of this work of art.” Yes, of course, as does every author I like to see praise of my book. But what I love most is that the existence of the review means this young boy is a reader and a thinker. The process of making the review involved him analyzing and defining what he liked (and didn’t like) between the book’s covers.

Reading YA Fantasy is for young people from 12 to 99.
Elderly woman is reading a book to her beloved granddaughter. Black and white photo.

That is the very best kind of learning, and my book got to play a little part in it. Awesome.

But “young” can be any age!

Although I write YA fantasy, I’m pretty sure young people from about 12 to 99 or so will find plenty to love in the book, and that makes me happy, too.

So now you know…

…a little bit about what gets my brain writing. Thank you for reading! Comments so very welcome. Also, I’d love to see you elsewhere on the web.

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On Twitter, I’m @Lou_Hoffmann

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Wednesday Words on Friday—Snow!

lou hoffmann books square iconOh my! it has been way too long since I’ve posted anything here. For those who’ve been following my progress on the re-publishing road, I’m sorry. The non-writing part of my life has been a busy sort of thing lately. Not bad, but crowded days that lead to tired—possibly lazy nights. Soooo….

I thought I’d play catch up. How about some Wednesday Words on Friday?

It also happens to be the 24th of December, just a few days after winter solstice, here in the northern hemisphere. Although people are celebrating all sorts of things around this time of year—and all the holidays and feasts are wonderful—nothing is quite as splendorous for the young as snow! One of my favorite songs ever, from the old movie, White Christmas—”Snow.”

It just so happens I have a suitable excerpt!

If you’ve seen previous excerpts or read the blurbs, you might know that The Sun Child Chronicles main character, 15-year-old Lucky, or Luccan, doesn’t remember his childhood. The last three years, which is what he does remember, has been spent in a dimension called Earth, in central California, where snow just doesn’t really happen. Well, in book 2 of the series, Wraith Queen’s Veil, he’s home. Not everything is going well for him, but one day he has a delightful reprieve from trouble.

Here are the “words.”

A few weeks after he arrived in Ethra, autumn treated the whole countryside to a ten-day sneak preview of winter. Like communities everywhere, the Sisterhold, with its outlying farms and villages, withdrew into itself. Short travel routes—from village to village, and to and from the Hold itself—were laboriously kept open, but few people would risk long-distance overland journeys, and the Portals of Naught had limited capacity, and anyway not everyone could use them.

Lucky found the wintry world refreshing, a vast weight removed from his newly burdened shoulders. Valley City, in Earth, rarely had snow at all, so winter outdoor pastimes were new endeavors for him and kept him happily occupied, allowing him to feel the joy of being young more than he had at any time since Hank George’s death over a year earlier. And everyone around him—even the most important people—seemed to let the limitations of inclement weather lighten their hearts a bit. The one real exception was Liliana, whom Lucky doggedly called Mom, as if that would somehow bring them closer. Lucky rarely saw Han, but the most wonderful afternoon of the snowy interlude came when Han came in to the Sisterhold’s kitchen while Lucky and Shehrice, the manor’s head housekeeper, sat at the hearth playing a game called skippers, which was almost exactly the same as the game Earthborns call checkers, and snacking on fresh bread pilfered from Cook’s cooling loaves.

“Luccan,” Han said. “I’m glad I found you.”

“You were looking for me, Uncle?”

“Yes. I have something for you, and I thought that with the new snowfall last night, today would be a good time to try it out.”

Shehrice grinned. “Go on, Luccan. You were going to lose again anyway.”

Lucky laughed and followed Han into the hall, where they donned boots and warm coats. Han finished lacing his high boots while Lucky was still trying to sort out the laces, and as he walked out the kitchen’s back door, he said, “Meet me at the hill behind the stables.”

When Lucky got there, Han was waiting with an artfully crafted toboggan in his hands. Unpainted except for the red steering bar and a twelve-rayed sun emblem on the centerboard, the wood had been oiled and polished to a high, slick sheen.

Lucky felt a bit tongue-tied, amazed that Han had been thinking of him—he hadn’t known.

“For me?” he asked, voice breaking annoyingly.

“Yes. Want to try it out?”

Of course he did. They walked to the top of the hill, and Han told him how to position himself and how to steer, and then gave him a push to get started. That first run was smooth sailing, and Lucky coaxed Han into taking a run next.

Han’s extra weight really got the thing going. He shouted “Whoo-hooo!” and when he crashed at the bottom, he laughed like a happy kid.

Lucky laughed with Han, and hugged him when he got back to the top, still smiling. “Thanks, Uncle,” he said. “I love it. I love you!” Instantly after saying that, Lucky thought, Oh my God! What did I just say!

Han’s smile fell a few degrees toward the serious, but he met Lucky’s worried gaze with calm. “I know you do, Luccan, and I love you. I’m glad you like the toboggan. It… it was mine. My brother… your father made it for me when I was ten.” He paused, getting a faraway look. Then he met Lucky’s eyes again. “Most of the things I had as a child were destroyed in a fire. This survived because I’d never put it away the last time I used it. I’ve cleaned it up a bit for you, slapped a little paint on. So”—he grinned—“your turn,”

I hope you enjoyed that!

(I confess, I remember loving the writing of it.) Thanks for reading, and whatever your season holds this time of year, I hope it’s full of joy and wonder.

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On Twitter, I’m @Lou_Hoffmann

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Hooded figures, abstract

Readers Wanted, Must Love YA Fantasy

Lou Hoffmann's smiling faceThe end goal of authoring and publishing a work of fiction is to connect with readers. But readers are important before  publishing too. Just like game or tech developers test their product by engaging beta testers, so authors use beta readers when they have a solid draft. Usually, a writer has written and self-edited at least a second draft of the novel before it’s ready for beta. Earlier “testers” might read parts of a novel, or the whole thing while the first draft is in the making. Those first readers are called, as you might guess, alpha readers.

Want to know more about alpha and beta readers?

Here are links to a couple of articles that provide a good overview on the topic. While the target readers for these posts are writers, the information works for everyone.

This article, written by author Aigner Loren Wilson, is aimed at writers. But the information is valuable for people on both sides of the author/beta table. Among other things it gives the following list of what qualities make a good beta reader.

  • Supportive readers
  • Honest and fair critics
  • Responsive
  • Tactful
  • Readers within story’s genre

cartoon cat reading a bookI’m betting you’re that kind of reader. If so, and you read YA Fantasy, read on—I’m looking to find betas like you for The Sun Child Chronicles.

This blog post, on a book formatter’s site called Word2Kindle, gives an overview of how to get into beta reading if you haven’t already done it, and has some great information on resources for beta readers and would-be beta readers.

Are you the reader I’m looking for?

Of course, each author has specific needs when it comes to what they’d like early readers to do for them. For the Sun Child Chronicles, I will ask beta readers to read each revised or book in the series when I’ve got a solid draft ready. I’m interested in hearing from readers who’d like to be on board for that process—I’m not there yet, but it won’t be long before I have book ready.

More immediately—

I’d like to gather alpha readers for a special project. Book 1 is being more extensively revised than any of the rest of the series. In fact, though the story hasn’t changed, the first chapters in book 1 will be almost entirely rewritten. I’d like a small team of readers willing to read the old chapters and the new and answer vital questions that will help me get it right for publication.

If you’re interested, please contact me!

You can comment here on the blog, or try a message on Messenger, but possibly the best way to reach me would be a Direct Message via Twitter.  Once we’re in touch, we can discuss the project. I will appreciate all feedback from alpha and beta readers, and I’ll do my best to make it a rewarding experience.

Find my Lou Hoffmann Books page on Facebook

On Twitter, I’m @Lou_Hoffmann

That’s all I’ve got on early readers today, but here’s a tiny snippet from that rewrite of Key of Behliseth’s first chapters (rough, unedited, but hopefully tantalizing).

A long snippet, or a short excerpt

To set the scene, Lucky has fled the place he’s called home for the last year and gone to an abandoned, decaying “housing projects” where he’d stayed before, a place used by many homeless people. Sammy, the teen he runs into, was once a friend.

He picked up his stride—it didn’t pay to look too lost or aimless in a place like this—and kept his eyes moving, scanning the street the covered porches, the shadows between desiccated shrubs. At first everything seemed ordinary enough. But then, oddly as if conjured out of his thoughts, he saw the boy who’d given him that kiss a year ago coming toward him along the dinged-up pavement.

“Hey, Sammy.”

“Lucky! What are you doing here, man? Haven’t seen you for ages.”

“I been staying out… on the edge of town, an old house.” Lucky’s shack and what he was doing for money these days weren’t exactly secrets, but something stopped him from being more specific. Though he was no stranger to these sudden intuitions, he still wished he knew what that something was, where the silent warning came from.

“Got you a sugar daddy or somethin’?”

“Hell, no!”

“Hm. Too good for that, too, huh?”

Lucky was hit hard enough by that remark that he took a step back. “You know it ain’t like that, Isamu.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“It’s your name.”

Sam stepped closer—too close—and breathed right in Lucky’s face. “Shut up about it, okay. But listen, can you help a brother out? I hear you got yourself a little business. You must be doing all right. You’ll share with me won’t you, sweet thing?”

“Sweet thing?”

“Aw, you know how I feel about you. And speaking of names you ain’t never told me yours. Tell me that, and I’ll call you by it proper.”

Hooded figures, abstractLucky wanted to say, all I’m going to tell you is to take your alcohol breath and needle tracks and get out of my face. Instead, his name—his real name—started to bubble up on his tongue. “Luc—”

He choked it off, and was about to flee—something he was good at, since being able to run fast kept him out of jail and who knows where else. He had no parents, no papers, no past, no identity. If a cop or even a social worker pinned him down and started asking questions, he’d probably end up in an institution.

But speed didn’t matter at the moment, because everything changed. The darkness hovering in shadows seemed to flow out to cover the already strangled light on the streets of the old projects. By the time Lucky’s vision adjusted Sammy had turned his back and walked ten feet away, and then he vanished.

Shapes came toward Lucky—human shapes, more than likely, covered in black robes with hoods pulled up to shadow their faces. They took mechanical steps and chanted. Lucky blinked, trying to clear his mind of what must be hallucinations. But when he looked again, not only were the black-cloaked people still shuffling toward him, but the world had slipped away.

He glanced to the sides and behind him—yes, he was still standing in the projects, but out there… in front of him lay a rocky field of ice.

Thanks for reading!

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K'ormahk, winged stallion in The Sun Child Chronicles

Beasts, Dragons, and Fantasy Folks

Hello readers! This post isn’t about what I’m changing and new things I’m doing. Switching things up, today I’m going to tell you about something that won’t change.

Fantasy world populations: huge and strange

The Sun Child Chronicles develops a huge cast of characters and creatures by the time it gets into the fifth book. The variety of experience for readers (and authors) is one of the things I love best about the genre. Fantasy plots are thick and enticing. Well-written fantasy usually often includes delightfully balanced prose—lyrical, but not overdone. But I love the vast potential for variety in the beings that inhabit a fantasy world. To complicate things even more deliciously, some fantasies also venture into sci-fi. In The Sun Child Creatures, the Terrathians and their strange apparatus definitely fall into that category, along with some plot and world-structure elements.

Lists and pictures and things, oh my!

Below you’ll find a glossary-type list of some of the characters, beasts, and creatures introduced by book 3 in The Sun Child Chronicles. I hope you enjoy it, but if you want to go looking for other strange creatures, here are a few references I found.

  1. A list with some images of creatures from mythology, on
  2. Here’s a Pinterest (Shelby Peterson) with hundreds of images of “humanoid” fantasy beings. View with caution. Some images may be dark or disturbing.
  3. And—no surprise—there’s a Wikipedia! The Fantasy Creatures Category has a list with many subcategories. One could get lost down this rabbit hole!

Characters and Creatures

(A List of some important players introduced in Key of Behliseth, Wraith Queen’s Veil, and Ciarrah’s Light)

The Main Characters

Others, in Alphabetical Order

A-BImage and text: I am Baneshieldh, the wolf who keeps these woods.

  • Aedanh: Liliana’s renowned stallion
  • Ahrion: a legendary white winged horse
  • Alahn Kahrry: an elder of the Sisterhold
  • Artko Mak: A bear shifter from Earth
  • Baneshieldh: wolf who rules his forest, where magic doesn’t work
  • Black Dragon: a rare wingless dragon native to the Ehls
  • Blue Drakes: a magically mutated creature made from green dragon eggs


  • Cairnwights: thin humanoid residents of Ethra’s far north, glacier wolf handlers
  • Caveblight: an Ethran animal, single eye, hunts by heat, teeth like a beaver but pointed
  • Ciarrah: an ancient dragon-kin girl, Niamh’s sister, now an obsidian magical dagger
  • Dawn cats: large wild felines who hunt at dawn, also called venom cats or death kittens
  • Gerania: second in command of Behlishan’s Guard, Zhevi’s mother’s cousin
  • Ghriffon: King of the flame eagles
  • Glacier wolves: a pack-oriented Ethran canine; large, shaggy, with double rows of teeth
  • Guriohl: Morrow’s seventh son, Lucky’s boyfriend, also known as Rio

K'ormahk, winged stallion in The Sun Child ChroniclesH-K

  • Hank George: older Earthborn man of the Kotah’neh people, took Lucky in when he was banished to Earth at age 12
  • Henry George: nephew of Hank George, last bearer of the Mark of the Others, Sacramento firefighter, California Condor Shifter
  • Isa, the Witch-Mortaine: a witch thoroughly possessed by evil
  • Jehnseth: an official at the Sisterhold, a witch
  • Khoralie: a wizard of Ethra
  • Koehl: sergeant in Behlishan’s Guard
  • K’ormahk: a mighty, winged black stallion


  • L’Aria Tira: young girl tied to Lucky by prophecy, only child of Tiro L’Rieve, possessor of River Song magic
  • Lemon Martinez: a grumpy grey cat Thurlock and Han found under the Martinez Bridge
  • Liliana, The Lady Grace: Lucky’s mother, member of the Sunlands council, chief of the elite cavalry known as Shanha’s Rangers, renowned and infamous witch
  • Mahros: ill-tempered, resentful, powerful wizard related to Thurlock;
  • Maizie: a yellow mongrel dog Lucky raised during his time as a homeless teen
  • Morrow, the Stable Master: an immortal who, with his seven sons, raises horses


  • Nahk’tesh: Naht’kah’s eternal consort and her magical opposite, also known as the taker
  • Naht’kah: ancestor of all dragons and the Drakha and Droghona, also known as the giver
  • Nat’Kori: ancient Drakha stone wright who shaped Ciarrah and Niamh
  • Niamh: an ancient dragon-kin boy, Ciarrah’s brother, now an amber magical dagger
  • Olana: respected Droghona elder, gifted light-worker
  • Olmar: lieutenant (later captain) in Behlishan’s Guard
  • Pahlanus: powerful Terrathian Prime


  • Rosishan: Lucky’s aunt, Liliana’s half sister, council member, renowned witch
  • Sherah: Thurlock’s renowned mare
  • Simarrohn: Han’s well-trained mare
  • Tahlina: healer at the Sisterhold
  • Talon Bastien: speaker of the eagle-shifter clan from Earth
  • Tennehk: Good friend of Han, spy, nurse
  • Tiro L’Rieve: oldest living being in Ethra, only native Ethran shifter, origin of River Song magic, L’Aria’s father

Windrunner image—He wasn't always called Windy.W-Z

  • Windrunner: An old white horse now known as Windy
  • Wraith Queen: the wraith of a once living queen; helps the Ethran dead move on
  • Zefrehl: Lucky’s horse, a descendant of Windrunner
  • Zhevi: young soldier, Lucky’s good friend, L’Aria’s boyfriend


Thanks for reading!

I hope these brief descriptions set your imagination spinning. 🙂 And please feel free to ask questions or comment—tell me your favorite creature or whatever. You can comment here or find me on Facebook or Twitter.


Find my Lou Hoffmann Books page on Facebook

On Twitter, I’m @Lou_Hoffmann



Sun Child Chronicles banner

About “comps,” as if you asked

Last week, I blogged about possible strategies for re-releasing The Sun Child Chronicles. This week I’m blogging short and sweet (or down and dirty) about a specific marketing issue. No matter how TSCC is published in the end, I will need “comps” to market it. And they’re not that easy to find! (If by some chance you want to know more, try this excellent article by literary agent and author Paula Munier.

Comps explained

If you’re part of the book-industry world, you probably already know about comps, but for those who aren’t let me Lou-splain. (See what I did there—like mansplain but with Lou instead… Not that funny. Okay.) I’ll keep it short. These days, when an author tells an agent, editor, or potential reader about their book, their expect it to name books that are like it. But you don’t stop there, generally. It’s best if you can say the book is like some kind of mashup—though of course it is still supposed to be a wholly original take on a similar theme.

Comp examples

Here’s an oversimplified example. Someone might have a book that’s about an orphan boy whose parents left him magic beans. But unlike the old tale, he climbs the bean vine up to a secret wizarding school. Comp: Jack in the Bean Stalk meets Harry Potter.

Or, by author. Like say, a murder at a horse race takes place in Victorian England, and a private enquiry agent competes with police to solve the crime first. Comp: Dick Francis meets Anne Perry.

Or maybe the multiple comp mash-up: An organization of masked swordsmen in a future earth run by buffoon aliens are tasked with culling a certain number of people each year to avoid overpopulation. Comp: Scythe meets The Mask of Zorro, with a touch of Men in Black.

The Challenge for The Sun Child Chronicles

I’m starting to try to figure out the best comps for this series, but it’s going to take some research. I mean, for best results, comp books should have several of the following elements:

  • A male, teenage protagonist
  • Important characters of all ages and genders
  • Racial diversity
  • At least some LGBTQ+ characters
  • Parallel worlds
  • Interdimensional boundary lands
  • Some real-world feel contemporary scenes with fantasy elements
  • A “sword and sorcery” world
  • Magic
  • Future-feel tech
  • Fantasy creatures
  • aliens
  • Warrior characters and epic battles
  • Romantic subplots
  • Fated destiny
  • Coming of age
  • Humor or wit

I will find them!

But you can help me. If you know a book that you might think fits the bill, let me know and if I’m not actually familiar with it, I’ll add it to my reading list. Leave a comment here, or direct message me on Twitter or via my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you.

The list so far

So far, I’ve had these suggestions:

  • Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles book 1) by Tamora Pearce
  • Dark Rise (Dark Rise book 1) by C.S. Pacat
  • The Wheel of Time series (Robert Jordan completed by Brandon Sanderson)
  • The Ranger’s Apprentice series (John Flanagan)
  • Works by author Anne McCaffery and author Amy Lane

I haven’t decided if any of them are “the right comps.” Opinions welcome. 🙂

Before you go, here’s a few words from the revised (but still not set in stone) 1st chapter of book 1, Key of Behliseth

The closer he got to his shed, the blacker the night seemed. Mist rose up from the gorge, swirling and twisting before it settled ghostlike over the small structure. But an owl called and flew over the pines, drawing Lucky’s eye eastward. To his surprise, the sky there still held a violet memory of the sun. The round moon hung blood-red between the twin rock spires known as Death of the Gods.

Like an omen.

Shit. I hate omens.

That’s all, folks

Thanks for stopping by. If you enjoy the blog, please feel free to leave comments, hit the like or share buttons, or subscribe! I hope to get a newsletter going soon.

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Green dragon





Isa's worktable potions

Fork—Road! And excerpt: the evil one

A multi-book series like The Sun Child Chronicles is a big project, with a lot of content to complete and coordinate, and a lot of tasks outside of writing. I’ve of course been working on content right along. But this week I also turned my desk lamp toward one of those outside tasks—answering the big question: How will I publish this?


A four-tine fork in the road Literally, the cliché fork in the road

The options are limited, of course. I can tick them off on the fingers of one hand, not even using my thumb. (And yes, that image is cliché. But I couldn’t resist.)

  • Get an agent and let them handle selling my book to a big, traditional publishing house, brokering a deal worth thousands.
  • Flag down a busy acquiring editor from one of those publishers and hook them on my book.
  • Find interested mid-sized or small publishers. These are called “indie” (for independent), but it’s still considered “traditional” publishing.
  • Publish the series myself. This gives me all the control over when and how, aesthetic and content. And it carries with it a whole new set of choices I won’t go into here.


Let me break that down, as they say

Honestly, I’d love to go with choice one—a great agent who loves my book who sells it to a publisher who loves my book… But it’s not that easy. I think I’d have a good chance if I were touting a brand-new book, standalone with the potential to become a series. After all, I have credentials as a traditionally published author, experience in the process, and so forth. But a little research has yet to yield any agent who’s likely to look at a the previously published, revised four books of a series, even though it brings along plenty of new writing including book five now and more to come.

Option two is similar. Dream-come-true potential, but also difficult to find. And working directly with such an editor puts negotiation on my plate, and I can’t say I’ve got great skill in that arena. The only time I ever proved to be great at bargaining was one summer long ago when I sold fireworks on the rez. A book deal is slightly more complex.

Option three… Been there, done that. It ended with me having to reclaim my rights because of that publisher’s behavior. Still, I won’t rule a small to mid-size publisher out, but it would have to be really attractive terms with a solid future. I’m not sure that animal still exists in the wild.


Which way is the wind blowing?

So, bottom line: even though my mind is not made up and I’m staying open to all the great maybes, the wind is blowing my land yacht steadily toward self-publishing.


Why could that be a good thing for readers?

Because I can focus on getting content ready to publish and then release on my own timeline, self-publishing could mean more book availability, sooner. And I’d be free to set discounts and giveaways, and maybe even a perma-free book. Generally, publishers don’t like that sort of thing, and they keep it under their control.

If I self-publish, I will continue to finish up book 5, but focus also on getting book one ready and released sooner rather than later. It’s a bit of work—I’m revising, polishing, updating it to make it an irresistible read. (Yes, you’re right, I should add “I hope” to that. But really, I’m certain it will be a fun read that will draw you right into Lucky’s life, and the troubles of the strange twin worlds he inhabits. Because there are “bad guys.”)


Speaking of the bad guys

So far I’ve introduced you to wizards, a warrior, and of course The Sun Child. But some of the people you’ll meet in the series are not the sort you’d want to invite over for brunch. Let me introduce you to Isa, the Witch-Mortaine, and Mordred Brede. He’s: evil, arrogant, and altogether unpleasant, and I’ve yet to decide if he has any redeeming qualities. On the other hand, Isa—the true twisted one in Key of Behliseth—has a tragic backstory.


Isa's worktable potionsIsa sat at the glass worktable in her chamber, surrounded by potions and powders and horrid things pickled in brine. Pale blue fire lit the room beyond, sending tints and shadows to dance over her pallid hands. Exhausted, she raised a steel chalice to her cracked lips with shaking hands.

She had delivered Mordred to Mahl, as she had promised. Time had been short, so rather than drag him along the usual twisting path to sorcery, she’d sustained him with her own tainted blood and drilled him nonstop. When he’d learned enough Dark Chant, when he’d gained the skills necessary to stifle and bend the mind of a preconditioned mob, then she judged him ready to meet his Master.

She’d nurtured Mordred’s cold heart, fed his quest for dark knowledge, bequeathed to him the core of her morbid sorceries. All that remained was to give him power. That he would get from the Ice-Lord, just as she had long ago.

For the last hour, she’d watched him writhe while the Master possessed him, infected him with the power of the void, the essence of Naught. As it ended, his tortured body arched painfully and collapsed, falling hard on the stone floor. A long, smoky breath escaped his lungs. Then, for a moment, nothing… until a gasp started him breathing again.

His eyes had been as deep and richly black as raven stones. Now, he looked back at her from discs of blue ice, shallow, pale eyes that mirrored her own.

“Mordred,” she called.

Mahl had forced him, she knew, to the very brink of death. When she beckoned, he struggled to stand, but couldn’t. In the end he crawled, a show of obedience she was pleased to see. If he had not obeyed, if he had thought to challenge her, she would have had to destroy him, and then all the energy she’d spent on him would have bought her nothing but Mahl’s wrath.


Lucky and his allies face a new round of opponents and problems with each book, but never fear. There is also love. Maybe next week we’ll talk about romance.

Thanks for reading! Comments always welcome.

Visit my page at And I tweet: @Lou Hoffmann.





Red Dragon

Wednesday Words—Sun Child series WIP

First, from Han’s Story

I’m thinking of this as a potential Kindle Vella story, so I won’t be posting many lines from it here or elsewhere. Still here’s a glimpse. I started out trying to tell the story of this character from The Sun Child Chronicles from the wizard Thurlock’s perspective. But Han’s voice is clearer, brighter, better for the purpose. In the series, he’s a man of few words, though when he does have something to say, it’s meaningful. He plays an important role in every book in the series, and the reader gets to know him fairly well over the course of the story, but taking this dive into Han Shieth’s mind and heart has proven enlightening even for me.


Red DragonI’ve been afraid of the dragon all my life. I know it’s difficult to believe, but I remember dreaming the dragon, dreaming of flying, before I could walk. As a boy, I learned to play with it, keeping it in a safe place in my mind that way. If it was a companion—pretend, I tried to convince myself—it wouldn’t, couldn’t hurt me.

Truly, my fear was more for others around me than it was for myself.

Because the dragon breathes fire. And I’d always known that.

Now, from The Sun Child Chronicles #5, Kaynenh’s Triad

I’ve chosen a couple of paragraphs from the never-before-published next installment in the series. As you can see from this glimpse of a morning on the road, Lucky’s collected quite a collection of friends over time. Including a young green dragon and a boyfriend. While the series is not romance, the characters’ take us into a couple of romantic sub-plots. After all, The Sun Child Chronicles delves into lives, and love stories are part of life.

WordsGreen dragon

Commotion woke Lucky well after dawn. A lot seemed to be going on around the camp, but flapping, green, leathery wings and a squawky voice that his brain readily translated for him was the first thing he truly saw.

“Sahsha! You’ve gotten so big,” Lucky said.

“Sahsha child, be big someday.”

Judging from the other dragons he knew—in particular Han Shieth—Lucky supposed that was true, but he realized with some sadness that Sahsha had already grown too big for her habit of riding on his shoulder. He hugged his loyal hatchling, though, and was delighted when Sahsha wrapped wings around him to hug back. He ignored Sahsha’s awful dragon breath and got up to take care of his own ablutions. As he crossed the camp, he saw more new arrivals. Recognizing most, he was happy to see all of them.

Henry stood with Han near Simarrohn, smiling at each other and conversing. Lucky loved seeing the two of them—his uncle and his friend—so clearly happy together, but it made him miss Rio harder. Thinking about his boyfriend, a chill crept up his spine with no obvious cause. He shivered and concentrated, trying to decide what had sent dread coursing through him. Rio. Something was wrong. Was Rio in danger? How could I know? But the truth was he knew something was happening. No, not danger, he answered himself, not now. But something is happening in Rio’s world—in Morrow’s land, and it’s… it’s going to change everything.


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Curves, Caution Signs, and No GPS

Jumping into writing after pulling back on the reins for several months has been an exciting endeavor. But I’d be lying if I said the road was all downhill and free of hindrances.

Slow: Curves Ahead

Picking up after a hiatus has not been as easy as I’d thought. I’ve kept on writing, but progress is much slower than I’m used to. I find myself second guessing, back-tracking, and even undoing.

Merging Traffic Next 10,000 Words

The book I’m working on, Kaynenh’s Triad, #5 in The Sun Child Chronicles, is more than half written. I’m building on old prose and four previous books, all one continuous story. Of course, it deals with new situations, but the connections with the “past” have to be solid. As I write new scenes and continue old scenes, I find repeatedly I have to go back and check. What did that character do the last time this happened? What were those particular magical words? Some things, like eye color and character relationships are recorded in The Sun Child Chronicles “bible.” At least those are easier to look up.

Dead End

Yes, indeed I have even written myself into a corner and found I couldn’t go forward. The worst example involves the new wizard, Vahrenn. I wrote a few thousand words of his Important Journey (capitalized for effect) before I realized I’d forgotten he was deaf. Partly it was a setback, but also a wake-up call about how much I take hearing for granted. My apologies to the D/deaf.


I’ve a confession. I have only so much patience for outlines, synopses, etc. I tend to lay out the first part of a story in a fairly detailed manner. But after that it sort of peters out, until at the end I’m using a word or two—or else the outline never gets there. And even if it does, by that point in the story I’ve taken a few left turns and am nowhere near the expected route.

I’m still heading for the same destination, though! Along the way, each time I change my path, I usually know exactly how to get back on track. It’s like taking a different route to the office or the gym or whatever. You’re still only a few miles from home, and you know you can get there.

Having stepped away from the book for a time, I’m finding the map in my mind is pretty hazy at times. To cope, I do reread earlier stuff, but sometimes I just keep writing because, hey—

It’s only a first draft!


Traffic Revision Ahead

Step away from the publishing world for longer than a blink these days, and you’ll find a lot changed when you dip a toe in again. I know some of these are not as new to others as they are to me: Dreame, Radish, NovelCat, and Webfic are some examples of things I either never thought to look, or never heard of, or they didn’t exist. I’m not seriously considering any of those right now, but I am looking at Vella, the new Amazon Kindle platform for serialized stories.

I definitely won’t be publishing Kaynenh’s Triad (The Sun Child Chronicles #5) in serialized form. But I am in the early stages of developing a related, shorter story that would be ideal, I think, for Vella.

Han’s Story

Han Rha-Behl Ah’Shieth is a very important character in the series. He’s an adult at the start of the series, and a helper character to the younger protagonist. Yet his own character arc runs alongside his, and it carries a lot of weight. Reading the books give you some important information about his life, but it’s in bits in pieces. And incomplete. So… I want to tell his story. And as of now, I think the best way to tell it is narrated by Thurlock, the oldest wizard. He’s been there all along the line, from Han’s early childhood. And his relationship as mentor, teacher, employer, and friend gives him all the perspective.

An excerpt

Here’s a very brief part of Han’s story. This version is found in Key of Behliseth, book 1 of the series, and it’s told in third person, from his brother Lohen’s point of view.

The Fire

Lohen smelled smoke as he was striding down the hill toward home. He’d visited Nedhra City, fifty miles from the family’s stead. In addition to news and letters for his parents, he carried a gift for his brother’s twelfth birthday—a sling that could be wound tight to toss stones an incredible distance. Perfect for a boy who liked both weapons and mechanical things. Lohen looked forward to seeing Han smile when he put it in his hands.

The smoke disturbed his happy thoughts. It didn’t have the flavor of a cooking fire or the pungency of the smokes used for curing meat or fish. It was the wrong time of year for the fields to be burned off, and the smell seemed wrong anyway—dirty—or contaminated. He stopped when he rounded the bend and had a clear view of his parents’ stead.

And then he started running.

When he got there, remnants still burned, but only the low ridges where the walls of the house had stood, huddled pieces of resistant furniture, and in one place a blazing doorframe leading on both sides to nothing.

The first corpse he saw, as he stood with the heat of flames and coals on his face, was his uncle, an old man whose skill with horses had taken to work in the far north long ago, and whose devotion to an orphaned girl had reaped him no reward of love. Abandoned in old age, he’d come to stay with his sister’s family, bringing a kind face, a sad smile, and grand stories of winged horses and starry northern skies.

He’d not simply been killed, nor had Lohen’s mother and father. Everywhere he looked, Lohen saw evidence of torture. He couldn’t bear seeing it, but he couldn’t look away. He stood, not moving or thinking until night crept in and the flames around him hissed into silence.

Mindless, Lohen turned and took a step back toward the road. That was when he heard a faint sound. He followed the breathy cry and found Han hidden in a holly thicket, hugging his knees and sobbing. At first Lohen was only glad, relieved to see him alive. Then the truth dawned, and he fell to his knees, the wind knocked from his lungs by a horrifying new thought.

Han Shieth had seen his family murdered.

Your thoughts?

By the time the first book in The Sun Child Chronicles opens, Han is over two centuries old. And there’s nothing usual about his life. The wizard has seen it all unfold.

Let me know what you think about Han’s story, and what you think about Vella. (Ever tried it?) And any thoughts in general on this post—comments are always welcome, and I’ll respond. (I have to approve your first comment before it will appear, so give me a little time. 😊 )

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On Twitter, I’m @Lou_Hoffmann

Graphic with text: Han Shieth