Down the Rabbit Hole — The Beauty and Value of Inkarnate Map Creation Software.

Oh my, where do I start?

I stumbled upon Inkarnate one day when I was doing an internet search for mapmaking options. I already had the map for my fantasy land on a plain piece of white paper, but I wanted it to look authentic—with landforms, oceans, forests, roads, and settlements delineated and in color if possible. There is nothing I like more than opening up a fantasy book cover and seeing an interesting MAP.

As you can see, it was horribly boring, and woefully underwhelming.

Initially, when I opened up Inkarnate (free-version), I was thrilled! Here was a design tool where I didn’t feel like a non-artist (as I am). There was a picture in my mind of a coastline present to the northwest of my central land, and I couldn’t draw it correctly at ALL (ugh). Suddenly with Inkarnate, I could make things appear as I wanted; the maps were not pre-generated like other internet sites I had dabbled with.

I bet you can guess what happened next…

Yeah, before I knew it, it was dark outside and the dogs needed feeding… but I had a NEW MAP!

a couple hours later… the first version of Iacewen

I was so pleased with the result that I decided to take the time and attempt to transfer (freehand) my plain map into Inkarnate. But… I wasn’t so confident about my ability drawing with the mouse. On a whim, I emailed the Inkarnate support team and asked if a scanned document could be imported and modified. And I HOPED against hope that it was.

To my great delight, the answer came back YES with details on how to make it happen! On the next opportunity, I uploaded my bland map, and after several sessions, came out with:

Huphaea: first run

The political lines, roads, rivers and water bodies took time to outline, but I was able to follow my faint lines on the uploaded copy, thankfully. It was really the shading built into the ocean and land textures that made it come alive, though. I was pretty pleased. The icons available in the free version were great, but the pro version held many more choices. After a bit of thinking, I opted to pay the modest yearly price and upgraded to the pro version for the greater variety.

A bit before Christmas, Inkarnate introduced a beta HD version of their new pro upgrade, and I signed up immediately. Once I opened my maps again, the difference was HUGE!

current map of Iacewen under Inkarnate Pro beta HD
current map of Huphaea under Inkarnate Pro beta HD

As you can see in the Iacewen map, the icons are FAR more advanced in design, color, and features (volcanoes, snow on the mountains, etc.) The trees are grouped into species, and there are several forms of each to choose from or rotate through to create realistic forests. Every feature can be resized on a 1-100 gradient depending on the scale of your map. These here are in the 25 and less range because my map is large on distance.

The addition of a shadow feature creates depth in any place you enable it, and I have seen some incredibly detailed shorelines other users have made. Along with that, the amount of different stamps in common fantasy categories (elves, orcs, human, goblin, etc) make it possible to create incredibly detailed cities on a very visible scale. Role players have produced some amazing creations, check out the Inkarnate reddit if you are interested in the possibilities.

Two of the better features, I think, are the SAVE reminder and the Path tool. I was happily editing along, and this box popped up in the lower left corner, telling me I had made over 60 edits and it was time to save — wa-wa-wwhhaaatt? Where is that feature in everything else? And you can bet I saved immediately!

The Path tool came a bit too late for me initially, but I was delighted to be able to go back and apply it to my solid road lines. It changed them to a dotted string, and the map came to life! The roads suddenly looked like thoroughfares even without a key. The map started to look like something I would see covering the inside cover of a novel. There are even beautiful scroll-work edges and parchment-like borders you can add to your creation so that it resembles a weather-beaten map.

The differences aren’t as visible on the second Huphaea map, but I notice it in the depth of the land textures. I have quite a bit more to do; undoubtedly I will continue to amend as I go.

If you are an author (especially of fantasy) enmeshed in worldbuilding, or an RPGer, hop on over to Inkarnate and play around for a few minutes, then tell me you aren’t hooked. I highly recommend Inkarnate for anything you need to map out, even if it’s only to keep it straight in your head while you write. Sorry about the rabbit hole, though…

sorry, not sorry…

On second thought, nope, I’m not. Happy mapping!~

What have you used to map your world? Have you made a physical copy, or prefer to keep it in your head? Leave a comment below, I’d love to know your thoughts about maps and creating them!~

Book Review: Land of Perpetual Night

written by Miri C. Golden

0.5 of The Blood Forest series

*I was given an ARC by the author. I am happy to post this review.

In Land of Perpetual Night we are introduced to Troa Travay, a young, very successful, Ranger squad leader in the highly-Casted land of Sideer. Immediately I was thrown into the unrelenting pressure of the world Troa and her friends live in. The society, the laws the citizens live by, and the parched land itself create a feeling of almost despair. But with her position, I began to think that perhaps Troa had risen above the harshness of the society; I soon learned I was wrong.

The province of Shinador has long been looked down upon as the basest, most wild province in the Sideerian Empire, yet it inspires a vow of deep reverence in Troa, which she has vowed to fight for endlessly. But when that same vow is seemingly thrown away by her role model, her mother Shekyva, Troa’s world fractures in an instant. We follow Troa on a runaway train of hard lessons that hammer home standing firm for what you believe in is not as easy as it seems, nor are circumstances always what they appear to be.

This book is a prequel (hence the 0.5 designation) to the forthcoming Blood Forest series. It provides a solid indoctrination into Sideer, Troa and her friends Omi and Benn as the main characters, and the evils lurking beneath the Caste system of the realm. Magic is present but held in the hands of the most privileged, adding to the brainwashing of the lowest classes. It appears later in this book, clearly setting the stage for the next installment. The “gift” forces Troa to wrestle with what she knows and what she now sees, opening her eyes to more of the injustices of her beloved statutes.

How I imagined much of the province of Shinador

The author, Miri C. Golden, skillfully creates tension throughout the novel, using well-crafted scenes, loads of action, and opposing character motivations, all of which will keep you turning pages for large blocks of time. An author’s job is to make us care about the characters in order to draw us along on their journey, experiencing their highs and lows with them; Ms. Golden makes us care about Troa because Troa CARES. Add in the confidence and energy of late teenage youth, casual romantic rendezvous, and fierce devotion to each other, and the events fly fast and furious. Oh! and there is even a new phraseology that still has me calling things “rotting” and using “shrike” as a ubiquitous verb.

 This book was a departure for me from my favored fantasy subgenres; it is more on the darker spectrum than I usually read. However, the author’s style drew me in and kept me coming back time and again. Branching out into new reading territory is always beneficial, and I am happy that I did. Land of Perpetual Night is an excellent darker fantasy adventure to embark upon, as long as you bring your crossbow and your courage. Come along for the ride!~

A must-have in Shinador…

A Review of The Circle

The Circle by Cindy Cipriano

*I was given an ARC by the author, and I happily leave this review.*

shows the cover of the book reviewed

That was fantastic! Is the next book already out?

Those were my exact thoughts when I turned the last page of The Circle. From the first page, I was ensnared. I sat in my round chair all afternoon, with rampant FOMO on what happens next in the small North Carolina town the Sidhe call home in our world. I was reluctant to put the iPad down and make dinner, and couldn’t wait to settle in later that night to finish the tale—it was truly a fun read.

Having spent time in Ireland studying folklore and history, I was already familiar with the Sidhe of legend, and Ms. Cipriano’s modern twist is a wonderful adaptation.

The story begins with the disappearance of one of three boy cousins as they play among the Sidhe and human worlds. We learn quickly that distance is not measured linearly, and passing between the realms is instantaneous. Some Sidhe have opted for leaving their mounds in favor of life in the human world, making a small North Carolina town their home instead. Calum’s family is one of these, along with his cousin Hagen’s family. They travel back and forth as they wish, and must, to keep their faerie powers strong.

The protagonists in this story are 6th graders, (it has been classified as both Middle Grade Children’s and Fantasy), but that does not restrict the story to a younger audience. Calum, Hagen, and their duine daonna (non-Sidhe) friend Laurel struggle through the school year, facing the usual trials of bullies, schoolwork, and emerging emotions, even as they discover they are all linked by the disappearances of their loved ones. Family bonds and trust are themes the trio must navigate as their respective pains bring them closer together, and to their goals.

One aspect of the story I enjoyed was Kenzie’s Siopa Leabhar, the bookstore and cafe she runs in town. For some reason, I am always drawn to stories and book covers that feature bookstores. Most likely this is because a bookstore is one of my favorite places to be, but they are often places of stability, grounding, and constant for the characters in the stories. This one is no different. Kenzie’s store is a fixture in the community; a place to stop in the morning for coffee, where the protagonists study, research, and plan, and where the Sidhe realm leaves its mark on our world in the verses encoded on its shelves. A bookstore that guides a patron to the answer to their questions? I’m in! Where do I enter?

The author’s writing style is engaging and descriptive; her merging of the human and Sidhe worlds is seamless. The magic draws on ancient lore, yet is injected with imaginative details that I truly marveled at. Several times I paused in my reading to appreciate the uniqueness of Ms. Cipriano’s magic system. Such new idiosyncrasies give the book a fresh feeling and leave me wanting to know what’s next.

The Circle is not a 300+ page novel like I usually read, so I had the pleasure of finishing it in a day—which was perfect because I had a difficult time putting it down. The story moved at a lively pace, pulling the reader forward into the events with clear, modern dialogue that revealed plenty of details about the characters and their lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting each of the members of Calum’s extended family, and keeping their lineages straight is part of the fun in a clan-based story such as this. Each character’s persona is well-crafted and consistently reinforced by their actions. Some of the main story threads are resolved in this installment, but others are left open for the next, putting the second book, The Choice (out soon!) high on my TBR list.

If you are a lover of Irish folklore-based fiction, I highly recommend The Circle. Sit down with a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon and you will hardly notice the time pass as The Circle carries you between this world and the mounds of the Sidhe. But beware! an hour you can only remain, in a mound not of your own clan. Happy reading!~

Are they fairy mounds? Humans will never know.

Books on My Desk

Good Monday morning All! I can honestly say that it is a good Monday morning so far — looking out my office window into bright sunshine on new snow, I am happy to be sitting at my desk enjoying 15°F on this side of the wall. I still have to walk the dogs, but they are happier if it is closer to 20° too.

This past week proved to be productive in the reading department, so I thought I would share a couple of craft books that ensnared me.

Three of the many in my TBR or already read piles…

The first one I read was Verbalize, and if you notice all the mini Post-Its sticking out of it, you can conclude that I found it helpful. IMMENSELY helpful! I had heard interviews with author Damon Suede on several podcasts and everything he said about writing from verbs made complete sense, so I had to check it out. I have been in the process of outlining my fantasy novel for a bit now, but it never felt quite right. I just kept thinking that I wasn’t ready for that step yet, that I was still missing something as related to characters and events. So when I started reading Verbalize, I realized, YEAH I sure am missing something — the reasons why my characters are taking this journey and the actions that motivate them. Don’t get me wrong, I had some idea, but nothing I could sustain for very long when trying to plot. After a reading the book and then completing a few of the exercises, I now feel much better about what actually moves and shakes these individuals.

The other two books in the photo were both highly recommended in Verbalize, so I decided to borrow them from my library system first (yes, I am one of those people who still LOVES to use my library), to see if I should/needed to/wanted to purchase them for permanent reference. I’m over halfway through Wired for Story, and I can say that yes, I do believe I will be purchasing it; it is most worthy of mini Post-its and highlighter treatment. Lisa Cron’s book uses many of the same principles as Suede’s, but approaches it from a ‘how-the-brain-works’ perspective. So far it has been entertaining reading, and very instructive in defining the theme characters take action on, whether they know it or not.

I haven’t actually gotten to Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch yet, but if it is anywhere in the same vein as the other two, it will also be a solid read. I will post an update as I get into this book, which should be soon (cause it isn’t mine either… yet). Praise to the renewable library loan!

If you hadn’t surmised as such, I am a consummate planner when it comes to writing, and that goes back to the first research paper I wrote in sixth grade — I can still see all my note cards and how they corresponded to my outline, with each piece of information, so that all I had to do was connect them all together with the right words and it was done. That lack of confidence I had every time I sat down to outline was what spurred me to to delve into what I was missing. After a book and a half, I already have a much better handle on the foundation elements of my story. How to work with and refine them to draw the tale, length by length, from the tangled ball of yarn that it is in my imagination. I am so very glad that I read (am reading) these books before lots of words hit the page, but honestly, being a planner, the words wouldn’t have come anyway. Cause now I know there was nowhere for them to come from. HA ha!! <evil villain laugh, with finger in the air> Now the outline begins! ~

What craft books have you read that helped you as a writer? Any that changed your whole outlook or approach? Leave a comment below on writing books that you love to recommend. Til next time, happy writing!~

PS. If you haven’t heard about it yet, there is an extension for Google’s Chrome web browser that checks your local library system for a book whenever you query one online. It’s an EXCELLENT tool, I highly recommend it! Then if you like a book, you can always support the author and buy it for yourself. Win-win!

For Your Interest (and Information)…

image source: newsletter, 1.17.20

The Write Life has released a comprehensive list of 100 websites for writers — covering many topics in a writer’s daily life.

I discovered this list this morning in a newsletter and took a few minutes to explore it. It could easily have turned into hours, of course, but I was a good business person and extracted myself from the quicksand of website-hopping before I sank too deep. Just in that brief foray, however, I saw several sites/podcasts that I already subscribe to or visit regularly, and many more that I want to visit. If you are looking for information on writerly topics, this list would be an excellent place to start your search. Happy writing! ~

The Power in a Name

When I pick up a book to read the inner jacket or back cover hook, or if I’m scanning Amazon, Goodreads, Book Sirens, Book Barbarians, any of the myriad places I get my reading material, one of the first things I notice is the name of the protagonist.

What IS in a name?

If I like that particular combination of letters, it ticks a mental box and I am more likely to read on. It doesn’t mean if I don’t like what I see that I won’t investigate further, but I am more likely to continue if I do.

Is that a shallow initial evaluation? Perhaps, but to me it is not. Names have always been a very important and fascinating topic I have explored. It may be some carryover from having a longer, complicated Polish birth surname that was challenging for a four-year-old to learn how to spell. And then add in that my not-unusual first name has an unusual spelling, I have been correcting people from day one. Ugh, <eye rolls>. So maybe then it is all my parents’ fault, but I’m honestly not looking to place blame for something I find fascinating.

My three dogs ( l-r) Dash, Nyssa, and Tristan

So much so, that after I chose Dash for my most recent Aussie boy, and he absorbed the energy of the word 100%, I have kept Zen in the forefront of my mind for the next one… one can hope, right?

Once I was aware enough to make the connection between our mother cows and calves, I made myself responsible for remembering who-went-with-who and their names. Names were chosen for any number of reasons, but never just arbitrarily. There was always a meaning, time period, or reference that inspired the choice. We even had twins born one winter on the day of the Super Bowl that gave us Raider and Redskin. My dogs are no different, it is a part of welcoming a new family member that I take very seriously.

I could fill this room with names…

It should come as no surprise then if I say that one of the reasons I want to write a fantasy novel is that I want to NAME characters, countries, cities, castles, forests, lakes—all of it! And through the naming, each person, creature, and location becomes real to me; in my mind and on paper (or screen) they now have an existence and can be interacted with. One of the most fulfilling blocks of time I spent two weeks ago was naming all 54 of the cities/towns and their House Seats of the family scion that resides there.

Yeah, I said that—54 scion residences and 54 cities or towns. 108 names, and I loved every single minute of it over the three days it took me. Is that excessive? Possibly, but its part of my world building and though I don’t know when I will write any of them in, they are in existence waiting to be deployed. These locations give some structure to my world; physical destinations I can make things happen in, talk about in dialogue, and use as landmarks.

The power in a name, I believe, comes from the interaction of the energy of the word with our own energy. At our most fundamental state, we are beings of energy, and energy flows in waves like sound, or light, or as depicted by the ripples in this pond. A word is a series of sounds (energy waves) made by our vocal cords. The waves interact with those comprising ourselves each time they are spoken (and perhaps even on a really infinitesimal level, thought) enhancing, nullifying, and interfering according to their amplitude, wavelength, and frequency. That energy becomes part of us, at least it makes sense to me that it does.

Take my dog Dash as an example. I chose that word, that verb actually, for his name thinking I would return to training dog agility and compete with him, and for the boy in The Incredibles, one of my favorite movies. I wanted something short, catchy, distinctive in sound that embodied quickness and speed. We never got to the agility due to an injury, but he still spends his days zipping around the yard, under his Akita sister, bouncing off her as they play, careening after squirrels at the very end of his leash, and making himself disappear under the trundle when I go out for an evening. He dashes everywhere, his legs take him distances in negative amounts of time it seems. Every time I call his name a blur of red fur appears, wiggles, smiles, but never stops moving. He is Dash- the energy of the word, the meaning, the embodiment of the sound. Now I’m sure somewhere there is a Dash who lazes around on the couch, but my experience has been the opposite. So I dare you, name something Trek and see if you spend your days eating bon-bons in front of the TV together. My money’s on NO…

Consequently then, when I read the blurb of a book and encounter the character’s name, I am interacting with the energy of the word. If it is an energy that resonates positively, if it rolls off the tongue easily (I actually do read aloud quite a lot), if the squiggles of the letters look good on the page, I will continue my perusal. I am investing my time as a reader, after all, so I want to be able to pay attention and not be distracted by a name I can’t pronounce for however-many-hundred pages. That said, if it is included in the book, you can bet I will use the glossary and/or pronunciation guide. I am a BIG fan of those add-ins (can you tell I read A LOT of fantasy?) Give me some energy to work with from the outset and I’m all in. Names DO have power. ~

Do you experience names in a similar manner? What energy do the names your characters, or some of your favorite characters, contain? How do you come up with names in your works? I’d love to hear your thoughts, drop me a comment below. Until next time, write on! ~

The Path

Artist credit to: Art by Kathryn Beals @
Meme credit to Lunasea Tarot & Magick on Facebook

This meme came across my personal Facebook feed on the morning of December 1st. It summed up so much of what I was thinking about at that moment, both through the words and the concept of the art.  I was reading a book written by a friend and had just encountered the story’s plot twist; we were expecting the first snowstorm of the season to start later that afternoon; not only is it December, the last month of 2019, but the last month of the decade (yes, I know, it really is!); I have been working on the outline of my own fantasy novel, and am wondering if I need some sort of twist to deepen the reader engagement. The quote seemed written specifically for me.

The meandering path fading off into the distance of the scene drew me in and offered comfort, and also curiosity. I absorbed this resonance and turned to Numerology – one of my avid interests – for a bit of research on the potential waiting in my December 2019. Without going into detail, I came away with the recurring themes of i) having the courage to face changes, ii) being flexible and accepting of events as they occur, and iii) reflecting on the quiet and patience 2019 has taught.

 I took the third theme and applied it during my quieter moments over the first two weeks. 2019 has been a relatively quiet year for me. I have worked diligently on reacting appropriately to situations, not adding drama where it doesn’t belong. That balance has given me confidence to assess my goals and plan the steps of what I need to do to achieve them. I have made headway in important areas and recognize where I need to be more focused in others. One of the hardest lessons has certainly been patience, but with the help of an amazing, supportive Facebook group (13 Steps to Evil – Villain Masters), I have embraced weekly accountability and breaking tasks into small, even “baby” steps. This way the rewards compound continually until the item is finally done, which inspires more action, and the check marks keep coming. Thanks guys, I couldn’t do it without you, truly.  #13STE 💜     

So far the most notable change December has offered has been the weather, and the schedule re-arrangements I have begun to make. The last several years snowfall hasn’t begun in earnest until well into January, but this year we have already had over 24”on my little hill. And it’s been cooooollldd already (< 20F most mornings), too cold to walk my dogs before 6 am as I prefer to do. Sleeping in a little and walking after the sun is well up is quite difficult for an early morning person like me, but if nature intended the winter months to be a time of rest and renewal, perhaps  I should be more flexible and embrace that sentiment too. It is going well to this point, I can say, and I plan to continue amending as the New England weather allows.

The first theme, though, is a defining thread of 2019 for me, and beyond; it applies no matter the month. I’ve been cognizant of building toward a major life shift for a while now, so I am very conscious about making decisions that bring me closer to my goals. I now recognize opportunities as I encounter them, keeping my mind and energy open to all of the choices along my path, instead of reacting in the moment and missing something potentially valuable. I think ‘having courage’ is another way to say ‘face your fear of the unknown.’ Knowing that I am in the process of changing careers and building a business is absolutely terrifying, but not facing that fear means not giving myself the opportunity to succeed. And to succeed in this endeavor is what I most desire at this point on my journey.

There it is again, the truth I absorbed about a year ago after reading The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness —

Fear and desire, the two greatest motivators of action (or inaction) in our lives.

I LOVE that idea with all that I am.  

Back to the opening meme, I see that my goals lie further down the road in the distance, while the foundations of change lie patiently under the blanket of white snow. And I’m okay with that. It’s winter, so I will continue laying the brickwork and doing the quiet work during the restful time. And when the time for action comes, I will be ready because I’ve remained open to it and recognized it for what it is. Here’s to the journey down the snowy path, with all the plot twists along the way. Welcome 2020, let’s get this party started. ~

photo credit to The All Souls Podcast, Facebook 2019