Book Review: How to Write Magical Words

Book Cover for How to Write Magical Words

Book Cover from Amazon


How to Write Magical Words: a Writer’s Companion is a non-fictional collection of writing advice from the Magical Words blog participants.

A compilation of essays originally published on, a popular writing blog with thousands of regular followers. Distilling three years worth of helpful advice into a single, portable volume, it contains nearly 100 essays covering such wide-ranging topics as:

– Getting Started . . . Again
– Creating Characters in Small Spaces
– Storytelling Tropes: Belief
– Binding Character and Narrative: Point of View
– Word Choice and Pacing
– Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies, Oh My . . .
– Writing Action Scenes
– The Beginning of the End
– Developing Your Internal Editor
– Artistic Choices and the Market
– Business Realities for the Writer

Many of these essays are accompanied by comments and questions from the blog’s readers, along with the author’s response, making this volume unique among how-to books on any subject.

The core members of Magical Words — David B. Coe, A.J. Hartley, Faith Hunter, Stuart Jaffe, Misty Massey, C.E. Murphy, and Edmund R. Schubert — have experience writing and editing fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, romance, science fiction, non-fiction, and more. This group is uniquely qualified to cover the full spectrum of writing-related issues. How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion is a book that belongs in the library of anyone interested in the craft of writing, the business of writing, and the writing life.



How to Write Magical Words is a very good how-to writers book. But face it, there are dozen such books out there.

But not from seven different authors, each giving what works and doesn’t work for them. A tool that might work for one might not work for you – but with seven different people throwing out examples and hints, at least one set of tools will fit your needs. Faith’s metaphoric examples, David’s technical knowledge, Misty’s beginner’s enthusiasm and doubt, Edmund’s editor’s perspective … each author brings something unique to the table.

The best part for me was the Self-Editing section. As someone interested in self-publishing and not yet able to pay an editor – this is the true gem of the book. Describing crutches, and the difference between revising and copyediting, and how to revise dialogue. All gems. “BIC and Rewrite Tips” is something I am going to read through every time I complete a flirt from now on. In fact this book as a whole just became a must-read after completing each of my books and before I post it to Amazon.

(BIC means “butt in chair”)

The only issue is book covers the first 3 years of the blog – 2008 to 2011, and the section on “Business” is getting a little long in the tooth. Vanity press and POD is covered, but not the true self-publishing now available. For that you need to monitor the blog and attend sci-fi/fantasy writer’s conventions such as ConCarolinas and DragonCon. The business has changed so much in the past three years and will continue to change dramatically for the near (and maybe far) future. 

(Review originally written on June 24, 2013)

Blog: The Genders of Urban Fantasy

Bonus blog today. I figured since I waxed poetic, or at least ranted and pooled information from a lot of other bloggers and websites, about the uneven treatment of genders within genre, I should touch base on Urban Fantasy. This fantasy sub-genre focuses on fantastical activity (werewolves, psionists, vampires, elves, spellcasters, etc.) in a contemporary setting, usually in a big city like New York. Some sub-sub-genres include Historical Urban Fantasy (Thieftaker Chronicles series by D. B. Jackson starring a wizard set in revolutionary Boston) and Suburban Fantasy (Witch Way to the Mall(an anthology) edited by Esther Friesner). Closely related to Urban Fantasy is Near-Future Sci-Fi, where a story is set in nearly modern times but the fantastical elements have a scientific bent.

I love Urban Fantasy, but have found it to be very gender-divisive. While some series are “generic”, for example the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher and Deadly Curiosities series by Gail Z. Martin, most are either clearly “female” or “male” sub-genres. The female subgenre has romance (or at least heavy sex), usually with two love interests, the woman kicks-ass, rarely needs help, and has magical powers of her own. Nearly all males of the story are defined by their relation to the main character, often portrayed sexy but needing the woman through some mystical link. (An example would be theAnita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton.) The male version usually has one female love interest, but the true love is guns and explosives. The stories have lots of violence. The lead character is larger than life, but came from “every-man” beginnings like accounting before magic intrudes on his life. All women are defined in their relationship to the main character, and the first description is not about personal competence but what they look like…how sexy they are. (An example would be the Deacon Chalk Bounty Hunter series by James R, Tuck.)

Both versions have a lot of wish-fulfillment, feature loners, and are unrepentantly sexist. The male version read like old westerns or spy novels and the female versions read like supped-up bodice rippers and, again, traditional spy novels. And everything about them is a guilty pleasure.

Sometimes the authors take the sexism too far. When none of the women in the Male Urban Fantasy have agency (the ability to act on their own) and all exist as sex objects, and the story is basically glorified gun porn, plus the Alpha Male walks over everyone in the story because his mission/opinion is the only one that matters, nothing about the story is likable or identifiable. In the female version of bad Urban Fantasy, when all of the men are weak and let the female treat them like crap, the story is basically self-empowerment of one female who belittles or demeans even her female friends, and magic solves all issues, again the story becomes unreadable.

Am I going to stop reading “female” version Urban Fantasy? Not likely, but then I will also continue to read the “male” version and the “generic” version as well. I enjoy the strong agency of the females in Female Urban Fantasy and the exceptional fight scenes in the Male Urban Fantasy…and the cool magic all around. I do wish more authors could find a way to create a powerful main character without belittling the opposite sex – Ms. Martin and Mr. Butcher in their “generic” versions prove it can be done.

Any comments or thoughts on Urban Fantasy by gender split? Have you noticed the difference? Does it bother you on an emotional or intellectual level? If only one, why do you think it appeals to your emotions/intellect but bothers your emotions/intellect?

Urban Fantasy Heroines cover art breakdown

Image acquired from OrbitBooks – Link to original here