Dragon Noir

Writing with Love

This is a guest post by Sanford Begley. You can find his other work at the Otherwhere Gazette where he primarily writes wit and wisdom with a fannish tinge. Around here, he’s probably better known as Cedar’s First Reader, for reasons that shall become clear in the post. And I’m very happy he wrote this, I am up to my neck in a series of essays for the final exam of my Criminal Law class. See you all in the comments! 

I write nonfiction and opinion pieces. Those things should be written from the head. Fiction should be written from the heart. This isn’t to say that the heart doesn’t inform nonfiction, nor that you shouldn’t use your head writing fiction. Just that the emphasis is different. It is sort of like the difference between debating someone and wooing them. In debate you often use emotion to sway people, but to win you usually need facts, figures, and logic. In courtship you win her by wooing her heart, not by showing her that you are on track to make at least middle management by 35. Not that showing yourself as successful hurts any.

I can write lyrical nearly poetic scenes such as:
Today it is gloomy here in Ohio. The sky an opalescent gray extending all the way to the      ground. There is a mist in the air, too fine to be called rain and hanging so well that an umbrella is  useless. The temperature is so warm that no one could stand to wear rain gear. The students at the university are dealing with it by ignoring it, shorts and t shirts are the order of the day. Altogether it brings my emotions to a certain spot where I want to scream. “WET T-SHIRT DAY”

This does not mean that I can write fiction, it means I can use descriptive language and humor. Important for fiction writers but only a start. To write good fiction you must touch something inside yourself and inside your reader. You must be able to make him feel: good, bad something. If he doesn’t get an emotional charge out of your writing you have failed.

Sarah Hoyt has been known to say that to write well you must open a vein and bleed upon the page. This is what captures the hearts and minds of your potential readers. I think she has the essence of it. I get this because I have seen it.

As many of you know I am engaged to an author, Cedar Sanderson. As her fiance I have been privileged to watch her create some wonderful work from her mind and heart.  I am going to use her work to illustrate some of my points today. This is not because I am pushing her books, though if this results in new sales and fans I would be pleased. It is because I have been able to watch her so closely. I know quite a few authors, to some degree or another. I know her deeply, thoroughly,  intimately…Get your minds out of the gutter, I was talking about as an author. No, it doesn’t matter that my mind went there first. Behave yourselves!

We will start with an unusual example of putting her heart into her work, One Eyed Dragon A simple story of a tattoo artist with a very unusual customer in some variant of ancient Japan. The customer is protectress of the local village. The artist newly arrived and with a past, hinted at, but not detailed. At the time Cedar wrote this she was immersed in a course on Oriental art and history. Her love of the art and period spilled out onto the page . The story was a shock to her to write because it fit in with nothing she was doing. Her fascination with her studies made it happen.

Another example of putting emotion into a story is more personal for her.  Her story Memories Of The Abyss deals with the emotional struggles of her first marriage. This is the only story she has publicly stated that she wrote it by bleeding onto the page. Her pain both the remembered and the lingering pain of any failed marriage come through completely. She speaks eloquently though obliquely of her struggles and this comes through clearly. Someone who has never been in an abusive relationship can get a taste of it vicariously. Spilling heart’s blood like this can also help with catharsis for the writer.

Vulcan’s Kittens was a different type of putting her heart into it. Originally written in letters to her daughter at camp a mother’s dreams of a good life for her daughter seep onto the pages and into the hearts of the reader. Oddly enough, this Ya story has a lot of senior citizen male fans. Simply because that innocent love shines through. All love, after all, isn’t between a man and a woman.

The love in her writing That I am most familiar with is the love written into her fantasy trilogy Pixie For Hire Which consists of Pixie Noir, Trickster Noir, and Dragon Noir. Pixie started as a short to make me laugh. Somehow talking about it expanded it into a trilogy…so far. I was a little down so she wrote about the tiny guy with the great big gun. As the books coalesced a lot of her love began to show. While I am not Lom and he isn’t based on me there were parts of our lives that got written into it.The reluctance of an older man who felt he was a terrible catch was taken from the early period of our relationship, Certainly the hesitations as the romance moved along were reflections of real life. In Trickster Noir a major plot point was the recovery of Lom from a near fatal experience. It rings true to men who have experienced it. That is because Cedar has had several men in her life who had to recover from such things. She captured the experience well enough that it can be painful to read about. Her love of books and libraries winds through the trilogy culminating in the library scenes in Dragon Noir.

I don’t know if you need to bleed into a story for it to be good. I do know that emotions liberally laced through it help. So if you want to write a story that stirs people, make sure it stirs you.




  1. I’ve not read Memories of the Abyss, but I have read and reviewed the rest, most recently Vulcan’s Kittens. Cedar and her crew shanghai’d me into reading genres of fiction that weren’t my preference, and made me like it. Her short work, “Plant Life,” was my first review. So, I;m a fan, and yes, Vulcan’s Kittens is a wonderful love story, most especially when you read about how it came about.
    Cedar and Sanford have discussed elsewhere that he is not limited in his expression by the artificial boundaries of common punctuation. However, it may be important to some to feel that they are getting full value for their reading time. So I make the following contribution to Sanford’s work. Sprinkle them in where you like, and save any excess for a snack later on.

    1. But Pat, I am trying to conserve punctuation for those less fortunate. Won’t you think of the children!

    2. How pedestrian. Embrace the exotic!
      &&&& ###### ^^^^^^^ ÷÷÷÷÷ ≥≥≥≥≥ ∫∫∫∫∫∫∫ √√√√√√ çççççç ≈≈≈≈≈≈

      1. Must be nice to have that big a punctuation budget. I can’t even afford enough periods, let alone the exotic characters

        1. Periods are easy, with enough study. In fact, I recently wrote a Period Piece. Let me see if I can include it inline below:


              1. Why titles like “riding the red horse” which ought to be all full of manly testosterone, instead bring out the 12 year old in me.

                As a side note, Mr Begley needs to add “1st reviewer” to his resume: I’m sold.

  2. Sanford, congratulations for having such a wonderful better half to share your life. Tell her you succeeded, as I just purchased Vulcan’s Kittens. It was at the Kindle $4.99 sweet spot for a ‘known to be good’ author. I had titled my review on Amazon of the Pixie for Hire series as “seamless storytelling”. I suspect what you speak here of projecting her love and her feelings is the same thing I was trying to describe. It wasn’t the settings or the ‘magic’ of her books that delighted me, but indeed the way the characters have true feelings, how she captures that special Alaska family spirit, how in the end, it is love and the basic goodness of her characters that allow them to prevail. Although it is a fantasy universe, somehow, you feel that you could fit right in with the characters, and they are truly three dimensional.
    Take good care, I want a lots more stories from her.
    (Hopefully, this comment had adequate commas to keep Pat entertained!) 😉

    1. Glad to make sales 🙂 And I think you will enjoy the new book. While it is superficially a coming of age story in a fantasy setting it has resonances for adults, even old farts I also think you have caught the essence of why her books are so good

      1. Actually, I’m very fond of Young Adult books, if, like Cedar, they are by a decent author. With the social justice overtaking SF/F, I will take YA over their lecturing drivel every time. Yes, Cedar has a little morality and wisdom for the kids, but in her case, the lessons are good, and her presentation isn’t heavy handed, just a natural flow of the narrative. I am currently 61% through “Kittens”, and it is wonderful.

        1. I think YA books today have become a refuge for some authors who are avoiding Literary requirements elsewhere. And I am glad you are enjoying. The God’s Wolfling is the sequel (Shameless plug)

          1. Since teens are unlikely to put up with navel-gazing intersection-ally femininist-approved Art in lieu of interesting characters and plot, YA has become a haven for story-tellers. The audiences are old enough to handle complexity and (thank you JK Rowling) big honking books, and the author only has to cram in a sex scene if they honestly want to. The emo, however can get a bit thick: the world is ending, and you and your mates are the only thing standing between your wholevwolrld, the puppies NAND your record collection and Ultimate Evil (TM) but, hey, let’s pause and take a chapter to figure out if he likes you or yanno, *like* likes you.

            As a result, YA like romance, is one of the few markets actively growing (and making money) and also, interestingly one where women dominate (to the tune of when Hollywood options your book, you get to influence/veto scripts. How many male writers get to do that? Patriarchy: pfui.

  3. Sanford, A love you forgot to mention that shows up in her pixie books in the love of food. Someone reviewed Trickster and had the one lone complaint that they ate too much, she described too many meals. It made me realize that the meals were an element that really made the book(s) seem so normal, real and believable to me — that they shared the “breaking of bread” so often.

    1. And that was such a part of our life, our reality, that we cannot see it. Some of the food mentioned is because the laws of magic in that world require the energy to come from somewhere. The actual power of the spell comes from wherever the magic comes from. The energy for controlling it comes from the user. Use a lot of magic, eat a lot. Not that we don’t share a sense of country hospitality. Come to someone’s home, you get fed, or at least offered something light

    2. I remember Elizabeth Lynn’s early stuff — her characters do mundane things like go outside to take a leak. At the time it was novel and endearing, because it made them so ordinary to themselves (and it fit Lynn’s style). But after a certain point I was like, all right, we know you have daily bodily functions and all that. Let’s get to something else!

      1. In The Pixie books eating is often an integral part of other things. They sit down to gave a war council and the housekeeper shoves fresh pastries in front of them because it is what she does. And some of the early mentions were directly tied to magic use. While eating is part of life and the books I don’t think the average person would tie it so strongly as a theme. The reviewer who mentioned the food had just had Cedar as a dinner guest. They talked food and recipes. Cedar food blogs as well, this directed his attention to the food. I really don’t think it is all that much a deal

  4. OT for Cedar … I just finished Dragon Noir and am eagerly awaiting the YA trilogy of David and Linnea’s adventures in cross-dimensional sleuthing … yes?

    1. LOL – you know, I don’t know. Currently Mark is telling me his story, which begins with him stepping into Lom’s shoes and investigating what’s happening in Seattle following Georgio’s death. But I can’t write it this summer. I have plans already. And this morning I woke up with a YA fairytale thing… might be from the Children of Myth world. My mind is a weird place.

      I hope you enjoyed Dragon!

      1. Oh my yes I enjoyed it … want more! I even had the opportunity to recommend the trilogy to someone on a plane. I know it’s not like factory work, though 🙂 I look forward to Mark’s perspective, too.

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