Guest - Danielle Ackley-McPhail

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Guest - Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Good morning everyone! Today's guest is author Danielle Ackley-McPhail.She's been both an editor and an award-winning author. She's got a fabulous article for us today. Oh, and read all the way to the Lynda Again section for details on her contest!


Establishing Reality in Your Fantasy

I know…I know… seems like I’m contradicting myself, doesn’t it? Not really. No matter what you are writing—science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc—you need to establish some reality that your audience can identify with. Sometimes this draws on your own experience (after all, mostly we do write about what we know automatically), but sometimes we want to explore something different. For my novel, The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale, I wanted the backdrop of a biker bar with my primary character the leader of a biker gang. I am not a biker. I don’t interact with bikers. I’ve only been on a motorcycle once.

Yeah...what was I thinking! Actually, I was thinking this is going to be really cool! It was also a lot of work, though. See, bikers aren’t just tough men and women (or faeries, in the case of my novel) wearing leather and riding motor bikes. There is an entire culture there, right down to a unique language that to the uninitiated definitely needs interpretation. Fortunate for me, there are a lot of biker sites out there that have glossaries of terms that define the phrases for you and even put them into context. This was invaluable to me when I went to incorporate flavor into my story. Some of it was obvious and I could just substitute the terms for other words I would generally use, for example:

“What’ll you have?” asked the hot, young mattress cover masquerading as a waitress.

But often I had to work a bit of explanation into the text. Case in point:

“You keep tellin’ yourself that,” she murmured, her gaze brutal in its wisdom.

“These riders are here to make the run with you…with the Wind Walker.”

He hissed through clenched teeth. “Anyone can be a wind walker; all it takes is treating people right, looking out for them on the road.”

It was a challenge to insert just enough “color” without alienating the reader. I sprinkled in some motorcycle and biker facts, used the language where it felt appropriate and not forced and then let the story progress. It took research, but with the internet there is more than enough material out there on virtually anything you could want to use as a theme. And for what is not readily accessible, consider interviewing someone living in that culture or take a field trip (if that is an option) to observe people similar to the characters you wish to write. For me it was simple. My main character, Lance, is physically based on my uncle, and the secondary character Bubba is based on my brother. I have first-hand experience with their personalities and mindset as it applies to the culture I needed to portray.

Once I had the biker elements incorporated I could work in the fantasy thread needed for the story, in fact, in a way this was simpler than if I had chosen a different social group because believe it or not there are already fantasy elements in the biker world. Primary for my purposes was the legend of the road gremlin. See, the original biker gangs were made up of retired Air Force personnel. In the Air Force if something went wrong with a plane it was gremlins. When they transitioned into bikers that bit of legend came with them, morphed into road gremlins. To protect themselves from this hazard bikers hang little bells off their motorcycles. The ringing either scares the gremlins away from the bike before they get on, or it traps them in the bowl of the bell if they are already in residence. This was an ideal element for me to incorporate to link “reality” with “fantasy”.

To further strengthen the link between my bikers and the magical realm of faeries my biker gang is called the Wild Hunt, mirroring the legendary Hunt found in myth and folklore, only substituting motorcycles for the horses the faeries would ride. Also to mirror the magical realm the hierarchy of a biker club mimics a Court (as in royal or faerie) structure, thus setting up the primary conflict in my tale

When I applied magic to my characters it was something appropriate to their lifestyle…helmets spelled for protection, magic tattoos that link one character with another...things you would expect in real life, only with a magic twist.

After all, that is the challenge. Give a reader just enough that is familiar to them and then give it an unexpected twist. Now this context is urban fantasy, but a similar foundation can be applied to high fantasy equally as well. Just take the culture or social group you want to emulate and do you research then find ways to adapt their identifying features to a fantasy setting.

Have fun, play with it, but definitely do your homework because if you don’t capture the proper feel it doesn’t matter how well written the other aspects of your story are, if one thing doesn’t ring true it throws off the whole story.

Better Get Your Bad-Ass On!


Motorcycles meet magic and mayhem as Lance Cosain, the halfling leader of The Wild Hunt MC, protects his turf and his people from attacks ordered by Dair na Scath, the high king of the fae.

Holding his own against rogue fae, redcaps, and the gremlins of the road, all Lance wants to do is settle down with his lady. Instead he goes toe-to-toe with the high king’s champion over an ancient dagger and the claim to a throne.

Who will triumph? The king of the road or the king of the realm? Either way, the Hunt is on!

EXCERPT (from The Halfing’s Court)
“Hey, man, it’s been a while.”

Lance turned abruptly to see a tall, lean man with shoulder-length, golden-blond hair and bright green eyes that glowed with power deep within. Lance nodded, giving his best friend a comfortable grin. Gavin was Suzanne’s brother. If he was here, she had to be around somewhere. Lance went back to scanning the place.

“She’s not here,” Gavin continued, as if reading his mind.

Lance’s brow drew down low, and the grin took on a menacing feel. He shoved away from Gavin and headed toward the bar.

“Suzanne’s not here,” Gavin went on as he followed. “but she should be. She called two hours ago to say she caught some static outside of Dalton, and I was to let you know she’s on her way.”

She was coming! Delayed only by an encounter with the police. He closed his eyes and breathed, deep and slow. Then the rest of what Gavin had said broke through.

“Two hours ago? Dalton’s not even an hour away. Was she havin’ trouble with the Shovelhead?”

“The bike was runnin’ fine.”

Lance didn’t know what to think. Suzanne was one of the best bikers he knew; she should have been here by now. Why hadn’t she called a second time? He wasn’t comfortable with the possibilities that came to mind. “Anything else happen on her ride?”

Gavin considered the question. “She told me she had a run-in with a couple of BUGs a few days back, but she said it was nothing. A few insults. It looked like they might get tough, but a cherry-top cruised by and the guys backed off. She was fine; they were gone. I didn’t think anything more of it….” His voice trailed off.

A slow burn devoured Lance’s patience. “And you haven’t gone after her yet?”

“I only just pulled in ten minutes before you.” Gavin’s mouth was grim. “She left the message at the bar.”

Where the hell was she?

Award-winning author Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for over fifteen years. She is senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, and a member of The Garden State Horror Writers and Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres. Her most recent novel is The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale. She can be found on LiveJournal (damcphail), Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail), and Twitter (DMcPhail). To learn more about her work, visit

- Lynda Again

Danielle is offering a free ebook and a free computer wallpaper image to one lucky person who leaves a comment AND sends her an email at greenfirephoenix @ (no spaces) by noon on Friday, May 14

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10 Responses to "Guest - Danielle Ackley-McPhail"

Pauline said...

what a fun AND informative blog on world building (no matter what you write!) Many thanks to both of you. Despite making me think on Monday, I'm grateful! (grin)

Anonymous said...

Hi Lynda,
Your comment: "Give a reader just enough that is familiar to them and then give it an unexpected twist." really does say it all. THAT is what makes writing in this genre so fun. I love your ideas and plot on this book.
Wishing you great sales!

hugs, Kari Thomas,
Paranormal Romance Author

Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

@ Pauline, Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

@ Kari. Actually, Lynda is hosting, but I am the author of the article. Glad you like what I had to say :) This is actually my favorite novel I've written.

Linda Andrews said...

I really enjoyed your post and loved your examples and the excerpt. The book sounds like it would be great fun.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

Hi Linda,

Glad you liked it!



Unknown said...

This sounds like a great read! One of the most fun things about urban fantasy, especially, is the ability to combine "worlds" like motorcycle gangs and faeries :-) I'll definitely be checking this one out!

Unknown said...

No matter what your medium is, every universe, every world, whether mundane, science fiction, or fantasy, has its rules. Usually these are grounded in the rules that govern our reality; where and how they deviate, at least in regard to physical laws, determines which of those three setting types the story falls into. When focusing on a particular community, again, there are rules, whether that community is a real one, a hypothetical one (based on a lost civilization, or based on an alternate evolution had some historical event were different), or a complete figment of the author's imagination, and there are other rules which determine where and how those rules might get bent or broken. Establishing those rules, even if only in your own mind, is a useful practice, which helps maintain the consistency of your story, or of your setting across multiple stories. If using a real or mythological society or locale, research is important; if you mess up, or deviate too much from established lore or doctrine, someone will call you on it. (You might be surprised how much, for example, vampires which glitter in the sunlight, rather than burn, bother some people.)

If you're sharing a universe, especially if you're using well-known characters, it becomes doubly important, because then you are playing by someone else's rules. Consult with the other authors who write in that universe. Read the world-building documentation, review the technical manuals, interview the folks "who were there". If your universe is based on a video game, play the game at least once all the way through, if it has a story and ending; if it's a persistent world (MMO), read the design documentation written by and for the folks who build the missions and quests. Even something as small as a mistake in the command hierarchy of an alien army, or the spoken mannerisms of a well-known character, will annoy those in your audience who turn out to know more than you bothered to find out. Too many inconsistencies, especially over multiple works, and you'll chase your audience away from either your other work or the shared setting.

Just watch out for the trap of spending all your time and energy constructing the rules, and not enough on the writing or the plot. You might end up with a really great role-playing setting, or a wonderful guide for other authors to write in your universe, but it’s moot if you never finish the story, or you rush through the writing to meet a deadline and your editor, or audience, rejects it.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

@Suzanne: Thanks, I hope you enjoy, once you do get a look at it :) I know I had a lot of fun writing it! The only novel I ever wrote that I was able to read once it was in print...all the others I kept wanting to change things ;)

@David: Very good points, my friend. And speaking of role-playing games...the plan is to make a module for The Wild Hunt once Mike's game system is up and running :)

Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

Congratulations to Pauline B. Jones, winner of an ebook version of the Halfling's Court.

Pauline B Jones said...

Many thanks,Danielle! Can't wait to read it!