Monday, April 27, 2015

Guest Post by WiDo Author Scott Keen: Building the Fantasy World of Your Story

I'm joined today by Scott Keen, currently on a WOW blog tour for his novel SCAR OF THE DOWNERS, a YA fantasy which I can't wait to read!  Below, Scott shares how he created his fantasy world. Make sure you check out his sketches!

About Scar of the Downers:
Branded on the slaves in the Northern Reaches beyond Ungstah, the scar marks each one as a Downer. It is who they are. There is no escaping this world. Still, strange things are stirring.

Two foreigners ride through the Northern Reaches on a secret mission. An unknown cloaked figure wanders the streets of the dark city of Ungstah. What they want no one can be sure, but it all centers around a Downer named Crik.

Crik, too scared to seek freedom, spends his days working in his master's store, avoiding the spirit-eating Ash Kings while scavenging food for himself and his best friend, Jak. Until he steals from the wrong person. When Jak is sold to satisfy the debt, Crik burns down his master's house and is sentenced to death.

To survive, Crik and his friends must leave behind their life of slavery to do what no other Downer has ever done before--escape from the city of Ungstah. 

Building the Fantasy World of Your Story
By Scott Keen

My novel, Scar of the Downers, takes place in a land known as the Northern Reaches. I remember when I first started writing the book, I had drawn a rough map (a very, very rough map).  But it was the beginning of something larger. The foundation of a house is usually in the dirt, and the same goes with writing, and in this case, world building.

Since my novel was an adventure-based story, the first thing I had to create was a map. I had to know where my characters were going. So, I sketched one out in about five minutes. As I wrote the story and created new characters, I had to build their home into my world. Little by little I added to the world, creating backstories about parts of the land, giving them their own histories.

One example of this concerns Wester Village, the first scene in Scar of the Downers. Andevin and Fordon are sitting in a tavern in the middle of this village that is surrounded by a wall. In creating the world and writing the book, I drew up a short history of how and why the people of Wester Village built the wall around it. Though it didn’t make it into the final draft of the story, it is there, forming a more realistic and fuller world.

Not only do you have to build histories for the lands and cities, you must also build them for the races that inhabit your world. In Scar of the Downers, there is a race of people called the Dendron that live amongst the trees. They have a story of their origins that they have passed on from one generation to another. It is their history. This is a short write-up of the Dendron’s genesis:

            Ages ago, a wizard, who often liked to wander through the nearby forest, was treading along his well-worn path. Normally, he would bring his staff with him when he traveled, but since he was so close to home he decided to leave it there. What he didn’t know was that a beast had come down from the nearby mountains and was searching for prey.
            It had tracked the wizard on his walk where it attacked him, knocking him down. But with his staff at home, he had nothing with which to defend himself. The wizard picked up the closest thing to him, which happened to be a stick, and with it, he defended himself.
            Grateful for his life, the wizard examined the stick and was thankful for its strength. He then asked the stick what it desired.
            The stick replied, “Life.”
            Returning the stick back to the tree would only guarantee that it would break again. But who would graft it on again? No! That would not do. For saving his life, the wizard promised the stick life by giving him branches that would not be cut off and a life that would not end with the seasons.
            The stick asked the wizard, “How can you do that for I am only a branch?”
            The wizard replied, “I will give you breath. Blood shall flow through your body and a voice shall come from your mouth. The forests will be your home, and where you die a tree shall grow. You blood will be its water, your body its roots.”

From this, a race was born. None of this happened, however, overnight. It took me years to build upon the foundation that I had sketched out. As ideas came to me, I included them into my map and world. And, as I write books two and three of the series, I'm developing things even more, as these side characters move from the periphery to the forefront.

Knowing how your races and land were born is paramount if you want to create a world. It gives stories their depth and their believability.

About the Author: 

Scott Keen grew up in Black River, NY, the youngest of three children. While in law school, he realized he didn't want to be a lawyer. So he did the practical thing--he became a writer. Now, many years later with an MFA in script and screenwriting, he is married with four daughters, two of whom he homeschools. He blogs at

Visit Scott online at:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher by M. Shannon Hernandez

Book Stats
Title:  Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher
Author:  M. Shannon Hernandez
Publisher: Mill City Press
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1-62652-962-5

M. Shannon Hernandez takes a hard look at the public school system in her memoir, coming to the conclusion that it is failing its students and teachers.  She uses a straightforward approach, capturing education’s major problems by chronicling her last forty days as a teacher.  Her goal is to speak out for educators and students, and to make parents, administrators and policy-makers involved with public school education aware of glaring issues within the system. 

As an educator for more than fifteen years, Hernandez is more than qualified to write on this topic.  Anyone who teaches for even a year will see the same problems with education in the United States.  And Hernandez certainly paints a grim picture.  She is not adequately paid, lacks essential supplies for her classroom, is undermined by her principal and watches her students face unthinkable poverty and lack of familial support.  Ultimately, she makes it clear that teachers are the people “in the trenches.”  If not adequately supported, the students pay the ultimate price.  Ironic, considering all the talk about making students the number-one priority among policy-makers.

Hernandez is extremely candid.  She takes the reader on her journey, sharing her joys, sorrows, successes and failures to prove her point.  Her personal anecdotes, however, ultimately leave the reader feeling quite somber.  It’s impossible to read about the daily struggles of these teachers and students without becoming frustrated. 

Despite the fact that Hernandez worked in an urban environment and my school is quite suburban, as  a fellow educator, many of the problems she encountered are all too familiar to me.  The lack of respect teachers face is probably the most upsetting, as they are sorely underpaid and do not have access to the materials they need in the classroom.  I was most affected when she said, “. . . I realize we are so busy teaching a curriculum that is so scripted, test-heavy, and inauthentic that we have lost the opportunity to connect with students on a personal level.  Instead, we are focused on raising test scores and teaching testing strategies, day in and day out” (36).  What teacher can’t identify with that statement?

My only caution to the reader is that her situation seems insanely difficult.  This is not to say she is exaggerating the problems, because they are real and need to be addressed.  But she seems to have an extraordinarily high number of students living in extreme circumstances, and her principal, without a doubt, behaved in a horribly unprofessional way.  She goes above and beyond for her job and is barely acknowledged for her efforts, which does not happen in my school.  Teachers with her level of dedication are admired and celebrated. I would be interested in seeing the statistics of teachers who encounter problems on this level on a consistent basis.

There are times when I laughed out loud and nodded in agreement, shook my head in frustration and ached for her hardships.  Her story of being unfairly accused of inappropriate contact with a student is one I will never forget.  It is also immensely frightening.  I don’t want to give too much away, but it is certainly an important anecdote for teachers to read.

Teachers will identify with Hernandez, making this a worthwhile read.  However, it is administrators, parents and policy makers who need to read it, and I hope they take her words to heart.  


Find Shannon's website here