Category Archives: mythology

St Albans – “Count the stars…”

Sue Vincent continues St. Albans, this time though the abbey itself. Seen through the eye of the photographer and the soul of the poet, we find ourselves in a holy place, where architecture meets the divine.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

st albans january hols 072

We had finally made it into the Crossing at the centre of the Abbey… you barely remembered that the tiles beneath your feet had been made by Minton when you looked up. One incredible painted ceiling after another stretched away from the Tower Ceiling. The precise outlines of the stones on the white of the walls are an illusion created by medieval painters and the Norman arches that have stood a thousand years are decorated in ochre.

st albans january hols 099

Above them float the roses of St Albans. Although the bright painted panels we now see were only installed in the 1950s, they are an exact copy of the 15th C tiles that are still in place above them, now protected by their presence. One of the tiles can be seen against the painted stones of the aisle. The tiles show the red and white roses of the House of Lancaster and York…

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Filed under Adventure, History, mythology

Comfort books, second course: Dragonriders of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey

Michael-Whelan-Dragons-dragons-4284189-1204-827Today I am serving up the second course of our three course meal of books that are comfort food for my soul. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series directly motivated me to become a writerNo other series of books has had a more profound effect on me as both a reader, and as an author.

The artwork gracing many of her later covers was done by the same brilliant artist, Michael Whelan, whose work graces many of Tad Williams’ books.

I have read the entire series every year since I snuck my father’s Science Fiction Book Club copy of Dragonflight in the summer of 1969. Since that time I have worn out 6 hardbound copies of The Dragonriders of Pern, a collection comprised of the first three books based on the fantastic Weyrs of Pern, and the people and their dragons who live within them.   I can’t tell you how many fellow Pern fanatics tell me the same thing, “When I think of dragons, I think of Pern.”

AnneMcCaffrey_DragonflightAnne McCaffrey’s 1968 novel, Dragonflight was the first book in the original trilogy, and is the book that launched an empire that now encompasses at least 23 novels and several anthologies of short stories that are just as compelling as the novels.  In 2003 McCaffrey began writing with her son, Todd McCaffrey and in 2005 Todd took over the series, and has acquitted himself well. I am still buying and enjoying the new entries in the series!

Dragonflight began life as a short story for Analog, Weyr Search which appeared in the October 1967 issue, followed by the two-part Dragonrider, with the first part appearing in the December 1967 issue. In 1969 the two award winning short stories were combined into the book Dragon Flight, and was published by Ballantine books.

Anne McCaffrey was the grand mistress of worldbuilding. Aspiring scifi and fantasy authors should read her work for the small clues and hints that are sprinkled within her work , the little brushstrokes that create the larger picture. She gave us a real planet, in Pern–and our minds built around her framework, believing the world of Pern to be as real as our own earth.

moretaPern is a planet inhabited by humans. In the forward of the book, we find that he original colonists were reduced to a low level of technology by periodic onslaughts of deadly Thread raining down from the sky. By taming and bonding to the indigenous flying, fire-breathing dragonettes called Fire-Lizards and then making genetic alterations to make them larger and telepathic, the colonists gained the upper hand. The dragons and their riders destroyed the Thread in the skies over Pern before it was able to burrow into the land and breed. The Threads would fall for fifty or so years, and then there would be an interval of 200 to 250 years.  However, an unusually long interval between attacks, 4 centuries in duration, has caused the general population to gradually dismiss the threat and withdraw support from the Weyrs where dragons are bred and trained. At the time of this novel, only one weyr, Benden Weyr, remains (the other five having mysteriously disappeared at the same time in the last quiet interval).  The weyr is now living a precarious hand-to-mouth existence, due to a series of ever weaker leaders over the previous fifty or so turns (years).

dragon flight 2The story begins with Lessa, the true daughter of the dead Lord Holder and rightful heir of Ruatha Hold.  She was ten years old the day her family’s hold was overrun by Fax, Lord of the Seven Holds.  Out of everyone in her family, she is the only full-blooded Ruathan left alive, and that was because she hid in the watch-wher’s kennel during the massacre.  Now she is a drudge, working in the kitchens or her family’s rightful home.  However, Lessa is gifted with the ability to use her mind to make others do her will; grass grows where it should not, and nothing grows where it should.  Every day of her life since the day Fax massacred her family she has used that power in secret to undermine him.  Now the mighty Fax only visits Ruatha when he is forced to, and has left the running of the hold to a series of ever more incompetent warders. Things have become quite grim there under Lessa’s vengeful care.

whitedragonThe action is vivid, the people and the dragons are clear and distinct as characters.  The social and political climate on Pern is clearly defined.  Each of the characters is fully formed, and the reader is completely immersed into their world. The way the dragons teleport, and their telepathic conversations with their riders makes for an ingenious twist in this seductive tale. And speaking of seductive, what I love the most about the entire series is the frank sensuality that never disappoints me.  Anne McCaffrey never drops into long graphic descriptions of the sex that is frequently part of her stories, and yet she manages to convey the deeply empathic and intensely sensual connection that the riders and their dragons share.

To the right here is the colorful book cover as was published in 1970 by Corgi.  I never liked this cover nearly so much as the Michael Whelan covers, though I did have several copies of this particular book.

This book changed my life as a reader of fantasy and science fiction.  I found myself incessantly combing the book stores for new stories by Anne McCaffrey, and eagerly read anything that even remotely promised to be as good as this book.  I read many great books in the process; some were just as groundbreaking, and some were not so good, but even after all these years, this series of books stands as the benchmark beside which I measure a truly great fantasy.

white dragon 2The Dragonriders of Pern series has captivated generations of fans. It was the first adult series of books my youngest daughter ever read once she left the Beverly Cleary books behind, having simply snuck them off my shelf (I wonder where she got that notion). Even though I have read the entire series every year since 1983, I find myself fully involved in the story.  Every year new books are to add to the series, and now if I were to sit down and begin reading the series it would take me two full weeks of nothing but reading to get through it, even as fast as I read.

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Filed under Adventure, Battles, Books, Dragons, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, mythology, Publishing, Romance, Self Publishing, writer, writing

Friday Interview: Carlie M.A. Cullen

Photo of CarlieAs I promised a while back, today Carlie M A Cullen, author of The Heart Search trilogy, has consented to answer a few questions for us. She is a lovely, talented woman who has been one of my editors for several years now!

CC: Hi Connie! It’s lovely to be here. Thank you for the tea.

CJJ: Hello, and you’re welcome! Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

CC: I grew up as an only child. My parents worked full time and both had second jobs. As a result I was left to create my own entertainment. I loved the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and started to write my own fairy tales. I found myself disappearing into the stories I created and it made me feel less lonely. From there, I progresses to writing longer short stories and poems. It’s something I’ve continued to do into adulthood.

CJJ: As you know, I love this series. Tell us about your most recent book.

CC: I hope you’re not after any spoilers, Connie! [laughs] Heart Search: Betrayal is the final book in the trilogy and takes Remy and Joshua’s story to its natural conclusion. However, it’s not all hearts and flowers – far from it. There is a traitor who is passing copious amounts of information to someone who has a massive grudge against the coven, and who they are in league with. But there are four possible suspects. Which one is it and can the coven discover their identity before it’s too late? There are many twists and turns along the way, some good and some terrible. Certain characters really shine and there’s the discovery of new talents along the way. Unfortunately there are casualties, some of which may shock my readers.

CJJ: The story line in Betrayal is quite divergent from the previous two books. How did you come to write this novel?

CC: When I reached the halfway point in the first book, Heart Search: Lost, I knew there was too much of a story for just one. It was at that point I realized Heart Search would turn into a trilogy. I couldn’t leave the world I’d created and made the decision to complete the trilogy before moving onto other stories I had in my head.

CJJ: I always have that problem too. I think some stories are just larger than we originally thought. So, do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

CC: It depends on what I’m writing really. With Heart Search, I had the first twelve chapters meticulously outlined, but around chapter five my characters decided they were going to take over and make me tell their story their way. I threw away the outline and have ‘winged it’ ever since. As I wrote this based on current day, it was easy to do.

With my next book, I’ve had to do some extensive world building and creating magic systems and the like before I began writing. However, as far as the story goes, again I’m winging it and seeing where my muse and characters takes me.

CJJ: Well your muse is taking you to some wonderful places! In your opinion, how does your work differ from others of its genre?

CC: I can only really talk about the Heart Search trilogy here. In the first book you have two POV’s: Remy in first person and Joshua in third person. Their stories run parallel to each other and every now and then they softly bump before going off again. I believe this is what makes it unique. In book two, I brought in extra character voices and gave them their own POV’s in third person. The final book takes even more POV’s into the mix, always in third person, whereas Remy has maintained a first person POV throughout.  I also believe (going by the reviews I’ve read) the storyline itself is completely different to what others have read before. Put all this together and that’s what I think makes my work so different from others in its genre.

CJJ: So now we get down to the question that I always wonder: Why do you write what you do?

CC: As I said earlier in the interview, I loved the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and that was a huge influence in my writing. Growing up I tried reading different genres, but I always came back to fantasy. There’s something so intriguing about the characters you can create, the worlds you can build, and adding to that those mystical creatures we all know so well: fairies, goblins, dragons, vampires, et al. It seemed only natural for me to write in this genre. It’s where I’m in my comfort zone.

CJJ: I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

CC: Originally, I wanted the dream of getting an agent and a decent publishing deal, but I was new to the industry and quite naïve. After a few rejections, I decided that after all my hard work on the book it would be nice to give people a chance to read it. In addition, I had people I knew asking me for it. It was about that time I joined Myrddin Publishing. Everyone was so supportive from day one so I published it through them and haven’t looked back since.

Now I know more about the industry, I’m really glad I’ve taken this path. I have so much more control over where my books are sold, what sort of cover I want, what price to charge, and how much I want in royalties that I think I’d now be too stifled by a major publisher.

CJJ: I agree! Being a part of the Myrddin Group has been a blessing to me too, considering the assistance we give each other in every aspect of bringing a book to market. And the fact that you really are in control of your own work and profits makes this an adventure!  So what advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

CC: This is a tricky one to answer because what’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. I think the best thing they could do is talk to other authors, some who are indie and some who have gone the traditional route. Ask them about the pros and cons of both and then they can make an informed decision that’s best for them.

I wish I’d done that in the beginning as I was so green it was ridiculous, but I was one of the lucky ones who met some wonderful indie authors who helped me along the way.

But going back to the question, do your homework and don’t make any snap decisions or judgments that you may later regret.

CJJ: Very good advice! Thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to visit with me, and for sharing your wisdom!

Alice in Wonderland Tea SetCC: Thanks so much for inviting me, Connie. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. Now, is there any more tea brewing?

CJJ: Yes, actually. This is a lovely citrus Lady Grey, I hope you like it! This tea set is my Alice in Wonderland set, which my children gave me last year!

>>>—<<<

Betrayal front coverCarlie M A Cullen was born in London. She grew up in Hertfordshire where she first discovered her love of books and writing.

She has always written in some form or another, but started to write novels in 2011. Her first book was published by Myrddin Publishing in 2012. She writes in the Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genres for New Adult and Adult.

Carlie is also a principal editor for Eagle Eye Editors.

Carlie also holds the reins of a writing group called Writebulb. They have published four anthologies so far, two for adults and two for children, all of which raise money for a local hospice.

Carlie currently lives in Essex, UK with her daughter.

>>>—<<<

Links for Carlie M A Cullen

Website: http://carliemacullen.com

Twitter: @carlie2011c

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CarlieMACullen

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=240655941&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B009MWVL5A

About.me: http://about.me/CarlieCullen

Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/CarlieCullen

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6550466.Carlie_M_A_Cullen

BOOKS:

Heart Search, book one: Lost: http://smarturl.it/HeartSearch-Lost

Heart Search, book two: Found: http://smarturl.it/HeartSearch-Found

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Filed under Blogger, blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, mythology, Publishing, Self Publishing, vampires, writer, writing

Talking with Erika M. Szabo

Field Roast holiday roast croppedWe survived another Christmas! The refrigerator is bursting with leftovers, and we had a wonderful dinner with one of our sons, and one of my brothers. Life is good! The carnivores said the turkey was good, but surprisingly to me, given the amount of teasing I endure at their hands, the Hazelnut Cranberry Holiday Roast en Croute was the star of show, with little of it being left over. The world did not stop in its orbit as the vegan meal was consumed with gusto, and no one left the table hungry!

I’m always intrigued by the way other authors think, and today, Erika M Szabo, author of The Ancestors’s Secrets series, has consented to answer a few questions for us.

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

ES: I became an avid reader at a very early age, thanks to my dad who introduced me to many great books. I started writing educational books twelve years ago when I received my PhD in Alternative Medicine. I love animals, therefore I created the Read for Animals anthology series and published two books with authors and poets to help animals. The story idea for Ancestor’s Secrets series came from my Hun heritage, from the legends and history. I created a magical, fantasy world using bits of real historical facts and incorporating real life events from my years of working as a trauma nurse into the story.

CJJ: I love that you are able to draw on your heritage for your work. Tell us about your most recent book.

ES:  In the Ancestor’s Secrets series, present and past blends into a paranormal fantasy tale with intriguing clan secrets, magical heritage, love triangle and Ilona’s exciting and dangerous life in a secret society. Ilona is a young doctor settled into a world of logic and reason. She inherits a world of traditions, well-kept secrets and magical powers, and is left to piece together her clan’s past, using nursery rhymes taught to her by her mother. Learning some of the secrets not only confuses her, but places her in mortal danger.  When a sinister man appears, Ilona connects his presence to a series of mysterious deaths. He can influence others to kill her, but why can’t he touch her? There are clues around every corner, and the elusive answers draw her further into the hidden world of her people.  As if the mysteries aren’t enough, her life becomes more complicated when she meets a dashing stranger. Although he saves her life by putting his own life in danger, she senses evil in him. The first book of The Ancestor’s Secrets series raises questions such as: what if there is a secret society exists hidden among us with its strict rules and fiercely enforced laws, and certain members come to possess magical powers? What if finding love, despite the obstacles thrown our way, is possible? What if we could have the power to visit the ancestors in the past and create our own future?

CJJ: That sounds intriguing! How did you come to write this novel?

ES: On a rainy afternoon I couldn’t find any new book to read. I was moping around, browsing my bookshelves, mumbling to myself. After a while my daughter had enough and snapped at me, “Mom, stop whining! If you haven’t a book to read, then write one.” Her challenge shocked me, but I started playing with the idea. I’ve never excelled in following rules or formulas, so I discarded the instructions I found in “how to write fiction” books, and made up my personal rules. At first, I started playing with the story just for my own enjoyment, I thought, writing the swirling ideas in my head was far better than being haunted by them. I kept writing for months, and soon I realized that I never had so much fun doing anything in my life before.

CJJ: I always wonder, and my reader do too, do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

ES:  When I started writing the novel series, I only had a vague outline of the story in my mind, and I kind of let the story develop on its own. Some parts are totally different now than I had originally planned.

CJJ: Many of us write fantasy, but how does your work differ from others of its genre?

ES: The Ancestors’ Secret series is an epic fantasy, heroic romance series written mostly in diary style with paranormal magical powers, ancient legends, love triangle and time travel.

CJJ: We each write for our own reasons, but why do you write what you do?

ES:  My favorite genre to read I love to read is magical realism/fantasy stories, therefore it is my favorite genre to write as well.

CJJ: I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

ES: The first edition of my novel series was published by a traditional publisher. I was not satisfied with the editing, book cover, formatting, as well as the full control they had on the story. I decided to break the contract, form my own publishing company and edit, format and publish the story the way I like it.

CJJ: I had a similar experience! What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

ES:  Both have advantages and disadvantages. If your book is accepted by a traditional publisher, read the fine lines of the contract and if it doesn’t suit you, then go indie.

I so agree with you, Erika!  Thank you for visiting today, and I can’t wait to read these books!

erika szabo protectedbythefalconebookBook 1, Protected By The Falcon

Ilona is a doctor and is ruled by logic, yet when she starts to develop unusual powers, her beliefs change and she’s thrown into a world of mysteries, traditions and secrets. Nursery rhymes taught by her mother lead her to discover her clan’s past, which still exist with its fiercely enforced laws. A dangerous dark man stalks Ilona who is unexpectedly rescued by a handsome stranger, Zoltan. As their relationship grows, her feelings for best friend, Bela, starts to fade. When her life and the future of her people become threatened, she must gather all her courage and use her inherited powers to fight back. Infused with Hungarian legend, the twisting plot keeps the reader turning the pages of this extraordinary fantasy story. The Ancestors’ Secret series is an epic fantasy, heroic romance series with magical powers, ancient legends, love triangle and time travel that is a great read for fantasy lovers and also suitable for young adults.

http://www.amazon.com/Protected-Falcon-Ancestors-Secrets-Book-ebook/dp/B00LNBSKIY

erika m szabo ChosenbytheSwordebook (2)Book 2, Chosen By The Sword

In book one, Protected By The Falcon, Ilona is thrust from her easy and steady life and forced to face the unknown, which prompts her to discover the ancient tribal secrets. The rules of her ancient Hun clan that still exist with strict laws suffocate her, but she is resourceful and daring. She discovers secrets and obtains unimaginable powers to protect her sister, who bears the next leader of the clan. If she does not succeed, the fate of her people is at stake. She must sort through her own feelings about the men in her life. Will she choose Bela, her best friend, or the handsome and noble Zoltan? From the time when her people were nomads, the castles of the 14th century to the present, travel through time with Ilona as she struggles to overcome the obstacles placed in her path by ruthless individuals who want to inflict their rule on the Hun clan. The Ancestors’ Secret series is an epic fantasy, heroic romance series with paranormal magical powers, ancient legends, love triangle and time travel that is also suitable for young adults.

http://www.amazon.com/Chosen-Sword-Ancestors-Secrets-Book-ebook/dp/B00RAGLWVI

Short Bio of Erika M. Szabo:

ErikaMSzabo I became an avid reader at a very early age, thanks to my dad who introduced me to many great books. The writing bug bit me much later, on a rainy afternoon, when I couldn’t find any new book to read. My daughter had enough of my moping around and snapped at me, “Mom, stop whining! If you haven’t a book to read, then write one.” Her challenge shocked me, but I started playing with the idea. What if there is a secret society with strict rules and laws exist hidden among us? What if certain members come to possess magical powers? What if those abilities could be used to do good or evil? I’ve never excelled in following rules or formulas, so I discarded the instructions I found in “how to write fiction” books, and made up my personal rules. At first, I started playing with the story just for my own enjoyment, I thought, writing the swirling ideas in my head was far better than being haunted by them. I kept writing for months, and soon I realized that I never had so much fun doing anything in my life before.

If you are interested in seeing more of Erika’s work, here are her links:

WEBSITE: http://www.authorerikamszabo.com  

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/Erika.M.Szabo.ND.Author

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/ErikaMSzabo

LINKEDIN: http://www.lnkd.in/N64qzw

GOOGLE: https://plus.google.com/112402888400847638099/posts   

PINTEREST http://www.pinterest.com/erikamszabo/

SMASHWORDS https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/GoldenBoxBooks

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Filed under Adventure, blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, mythology, Publishing, Vegan, WordPress, writer, writing

Hunted Heart, by Alison Deluca

Most avid readers of the fantasy genre are fans of the old fairytales as told by the Brothers Grimm and I am no exception. In fact it was my love of fairytales that inspired me to write in the first place. I am always interested in reading other authors’ takes on these fairy tales. It is amazing how differently two authors will tell what began as the same story.

Today my good friend, Alison DeLuca, author of  the steampunk Crown Phoenix Series, has consented to answer a few questions for us, and allow me to share the wonderful cover of her new book, Hunted Heart. It is a standalone book, and is a true fairytale, the premise of which had really intrigued me.

CJJ: Alison, tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

AD: I always loved reading. My early favorites were Alice in Wonderland, the Odyssey, Arabian Nights, and fairytales of all kinds.

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

AD: Hunted Heart is an adult version of Snow White. Prince Kas is the one threatened by the wicked queen, and the huntress, Tali, is given the job of taking him to the forest to cut out his heart. They end up falling for each other, but not without a great deal of adventure along the way. Yes, there is a wicked queen and my version of a poisoned apple. And we mustn’t forget True Love’s Kiss…

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?

AD: Someone I met online prompted me and begged me to write the story – she is the J.R. in my dedication. I loved her idea of making the hunter a strong female and ran with it.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

AD: This book was an exercise in winging! The Snow White structure supported my story, and I was able to take off from there. Writing a fairytale redux is completely addictive – I might have to do a few others.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

AD: It is genderbent, and I’ve set the story in a mythical Norse country. I couldn’t resist including Freja, Iduna, and a few others from Norse tales. It’s also quite adult, with violence and some sexy scenes, and a charity project: Tali, my main character, suffers from some terrible abuse as a child, and so 100% of the royalties go to HelptheChildren.org.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

AD: Honestly, because I can’t help it. When I get an idea it needles me until I pin it down on paper. It’s like giving birth, to be honest.

CJJ: I so know that feeling! I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

AD: I love the freedom indie publishing gives me. I’m able to write what I like and donate the proceedings when I do a charity project like this.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

AD: Both have their merits and challenges. Being an indie does give you freedom but also relies on individual marketing. Traditional publishing gives more support but gives the author little choice on things like covers and presentation. Both are good in their way – each author must decide for herself how she would like to proceed!

 CJJ: Alison–I love the answers you gave my stock questions!  Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get the word out about your charity, HelptheChildren.org.

AD: Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Connie. This was a lot of fun!

And without further discussion, here is that amazing, most intriguing book cover:

HuntedHeart cover final

 

I confess I am blown away by this one, and I have become quite a fan of Alison’s graphic designer.

Alison DeLuca HeadshotAlison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

You can find Alison here:

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/alison.deluca.author

OR http://on.fb.me/TNWEfb

Twitter – http://twitter.com/ – !/AlisonDeLuca

Google + http://bit.ly/ADGoogle

Author Central: http://amzn.to/ADeLucaAuthorCentral

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/alisondeluca/

I have long been a fan of all of Alison’s work and have been fortunate enough to have some of my own work  included included along side of hers in a charitable anthology, Christmas O’Clock,  a book of wonderful short stories for children that is available in both paperback and for the kindle. (All proceeds for Christmas O’Clock go to Water Is Life to help children and families in an international effort.)

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adventure, Battles, blogging, Books, charity, Fairies, Fantasy, Humor, mythology, Romance, Self Publishing, Steampunk, WordPress, writer, writing

Loki, Zorg, and why I love the bad-boys

Thor-Everything-LokiI love swashbuckling sword-fights and movies fraught with testosterone and machismo. I don’t need it in real life, thank you–that’s what I have books and movies for. So what are my favorite movies?

Thor–anything Thor will be a winner  from my point of view.

Let’s just say that anything featuring a bad-boy god with a twisted sense of humor is high on my list of must-watch movies. Plot? Sure, if you say so–but this is a movie so bring on the eye-candy now.

I love the character of Loki as played by Tom Hiddleston. He is everything the God of Mischief should be, and then some. He’s like that beloved ex-boyfriend–you’re always glad to see him, and even happier to see him leave.

Fifth_element_poster_(1997)What other sorts of movies intrigue me? Well, I am a huge fan of the 5th Element. I adore the character of Korben Dallas as played by Bruce Willis, but for me the man who stole the film was Zorg, as played by Gary Oldman.  Who doesn’t love a megalomaniac industrialist enslaved to The Great Evil? What a guy! And lets face it, Korben Dallas is just as much fun as Han Solo, and both are quintessential bad-boys.

The thing that intrigued me most about the 5th Element was the way the film portrays consumerism in that society as a living, breathing thing that has veered out of control. Extreme lust for technology and power is set against that of a simple man wanting a simple life–our own flaws are laid bare in the characters of Zorg and Korben Dallas.

But where is the eye-candy in that movie? Well you have to admit it is one of the most visually stunning films of the twentieth century.

You might wonder where I am going with this-so do I. Oh wait!  Bad-boys! Why I love to write about the bad-boys and read about them and even see the movies featuring them!

han-solo-smugglerThe bad-boys are intriguing, dangerous, and definitely not the boy your mama set you up with.

They are fun.  So I have two new manuscripts in the works and one features a bad-boy, a man who falls from grace and years later returns. Some of his experiences have changed him, but some things will never change. While his basic arrogance has been tempered, he is still the man he always was, but with a better grasp of what is truly important.

A bad-boy is a multidimensional character, made of many layers both good and bad, and as the story progress those layers are peeled away, revealing a new facet, but also hinting that more still lies hidden. The trick is to make those layers lure the reader (or watcher) in.  Loki, Han Solo, and Korben Dallas are all characters who intrigued me. They are written perfectly, because at the end of the movie, the observer still doesn’t know them well, but wants to.

From watching these movies, I’ve learned that one should dole out the character in small bits, showing a layer at a time, but always holding out the lure that far more lies hidden beneath the surface.

That is the trick, and it’s one thing to know it and another to do it.  But we try!

 

 

 

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How I came to fall off the Earth (and why I don’t care)

The Arc of the StoryWow–what a wild week this has been–28k words written on my NaNoWriMo manuscript, and a dip into a culture that is nothing short of amazing.  What a challenge–to write a great story well enough that people will want to read it, and to do justice to a whole culture.

We should have challenges in our work–if it comes too easy it’s fluff. A lot of people are happy with fluff, but not me, and I suspect, not you!

As you all know, I have written some very difficult scenes in the past, not for the gratuitous effect, but because those situations made my character who they were. They were life altering moments where the path suddenly changed, and everything that followed was driven by that incident.

A friend recently asked me how I handle writing such scenes.

When it’s a tough scene, I write as much as I can when I first know what has to be written. Then I set it aside and come back to it later to expand on it and shape to my intent. For me, a scene has to be done in stages so that it flows naturally. At the end of my my last journey though a manuscript, I will have a seamless narrative that flows from one scene to the next, always building toward the final denouement and the conclusion.

a medieval keggerBut right now I have five bodies to get rid of, so I need to get back to writing. Hero set down his mug of mead and picked up the shovel. He looked first at pile of corpses and then at the sky. They didn’t usually fall from the sky and he wondered what Author was up to now, that he should suddenly have to dispose of so many. However, Author was inscrutable and Her mind mysterious. One could only go with the flow, and dispose of the corpses as they fell.

OH the endless agony–but for a little hilarity amidst the eternal darkness of November take a look at Stephen Swartz’s blog post this week:

How NaNoWriMo is like being in Interstellar

 

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Plug in to The Matrix

 

the Matrix PosterNovels have layers. Theme is what the story is about on a deeper level than the plot details. It’s the big meaning, and often it’s a moral meaning. Love, honor, family, and revenge are all some common, underlying themes.

I think of the scenes in my books as if they were scenes in a movie. Each conversation is a scene.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in Outer Mongolia as we wrangle our words. Our mind is off chasing squirrels, and our fingers are madly keying dialogue. It happens, and then we find ourselves writing paragraphs of discussion regarding the vase on the kitchen table. Why are we discussing this vase?  If there is a reason that will emerge later, keep it. If it is just idle fluff, lose it.

I actually have a scene in one of my forthcoming books where the characters do just that. They are discussing a vase that was made by a child, but the conversation is not important for the sake of the vase, nor is it really about that object. It is there to expose how important an absent person is to one of the speakers, and the brief interaction between the two speakers endears to the reader one of the characters who will later meet a sad end. The underlying themes of this book are brotherhood, family, romantic love, honor, duty. The obvious theme is the successful resolution of a quest. The core plot device around which the story evolves is an ongoing War of the Gods, and the world in which the tale is set in is their battleground, offering all sorts of opportunities for mayhem.

Consider the first scene of one of my favorite movies of all time, The Matrix. This movie has a lot of action, but it has a lot of dialogue also, and that dialogue advances the plot and never loses the theme of the story.

Quotes from the matrix

The conversation concerns a drug deal, but the underlying theme is never lost. The key words are in the first line, written on the computer, The Matrix has you, the third line, follow the white rabbit, and in that very last line, telling Neo to unplug. The Matrix is all about waking up, about what reality is, and about Neo as the potential savior of the world, which has been enslaved by a virtual reality program. It is about escaping that program. The conversations that happen in the course of the film all advance that theme, even the minor interactions, from the first conversation to the last.

The Arc of the StoryWe must approach conversations in our novels as if they were scenes in a movie. In a good movie, we don’t notice it, but there is an arc. In a story arc, a character undergoes substantial growth or change. It ends with the denouement in the last third or quarter of a story. The end of a narrative arc is the denouement, the final resolution. It shows what happens as a result of all the conflict that the characters have gone through.

If we don’t keep the arc of the story moving with each scene, we will lose our reader, and to that end, each conversation must reflect the underlying themes of the story without beating the reader over the head with it. As in real life, some of the people know more than others, and to advance the plot and the theme, small clues must come out over the course of each scene, each scene building to the finale.

I876MilanoDuomo‘ve said this before, but we must build the overall arc of the story from scenes, each of which is a small arc, in the same way a gothic cathedral is constructed of many arches that all build toward the top.  The underlying arches strengthen the overall construction. Without arches, the cathedral wouldn’t remain standing for very long. The novel is a cathedral and your scenes are the arches that hold it up. The conversations that form those scenes are miniature arches, each with a beginning, a high point, and a resolution.

 

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Words

Ulysses cover 3I’ve been having a kind of rolling conversation with Professor Stephen Swartz regarding James Joyce’s Ulysses. It reminded me of what I realized when I was reading it in college–that it is a series of great one-liners strung together. It is nearly incomprehensible to folks like me when taken in a large chunk, but like all of Joyce’s work,  cut down to small bits, it’s got some hilarious, witty moments. So what is this fascination that I feel for James Joyce and his work? I’m a moderately uneducated hack-writer of genre fiction, but there is something about his way with words, a kind of addiction that keeps pulling me back.

Ulysses was never originally published as a single volume, instead it was first published as a serial in the American journal, The Little Review over the span of two years from March 1918 to December 1920, in 18 episodes, and was first published as a single volume in 1922. It’s an incredibly long book for the era, 265,000 words. Books of that length are much more common nowadays, but usually only in genre-fantasy. (Robert Jordan, Tad Williams.)

Ulysses 4Ulysses details the wandering appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin over the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Roman name of Odysseus, the hero of a classic Greek heroic tale that was Joyce’s favorite as a boy,  Homer’s epic poem Odyssey. The novel establishes a series of parallels between its characters and events and those of the poem.  Leopold Bloom corresponds to Odysseus the Wanderer, Molly Bloom to Penelope (Ulysses’s long-abandoned, ever-faithful wife), and Stephen Dedalus, Telemachus (Ulysses’s and Penelope’s son who seeks endlessly for knowledge of his father.)

265,000 words to describe one day in the life an extraordinary Irishman.

But they are great words, a series of deliciously twisted, carefully structured phrases strung together in a delirious, stream-of-consciousness that hovers on the edge of making sense while entertaining you–if you can face the wall of words that is each episode.

“History,” Stephen said, “is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine. 

“Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand.”

“Bury the dead. Say Robinson Crusoe was true to life. Well then Friday buried him. Every Friday buries a Thursday if you come to look at it.”

“We were always loyal to lost causes…Success for us is the death of the intellect and of the imagination.” 

 

UlyssesJames Joyce’s prose is deliberate, shocking and full of puns, parodies, and allusions. He shows us his characters clearly, and depicts them with broad humor.

All of what James Joyce put into his work is what we, as modern writers, want to inject into our own work; only perhaps in a more accessible form that a broader audience of readers will enjoy.

It takes a special kind of obsession to wade through a doorstop like Ulysses for pleasure, as most people are forced  into it (as I was originally) by the requirements of a college class in literature. It’s the sort of thing no one does without a good reason.

For me, that reason is the fabulous one-liners that pepper the nearly hallucinogenic narrative. I simply open it to any page and start reading, letting what happens on that page sink into my consciousness, cringing or laughing as may be.

800px-Night_Sky_Stars_Trees_Quote

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Pareidolia

Martian_face_vikingSo I was reading a rather badly crafted novel last night–one that was entirely forgettable other than this one word: pareidolia.  I tried to get my kindle to find the meaning, and it was unable to answer that question too.  But  Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge, came to the rescue:

Pareidolia (/pærɨˈdliə/ parr-i-doh-lee-ə) is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant, a form of apophenia. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.

The word comes from the Greek words para (παρά, “beside, alongside, instead”) in this context meaning something faulty, wrong, instead of; and the noun eidōlon (εἴδωλον “image, form, shape”) the diminutive of eidos. Pareidolia is a type of apophenia, seeing patterns in random data.

Sir Paul McCartney, image from Rolling Stone MagazineHuh. Who knew? Apparently people have been suffering from pareidolia  for thousands of years: seeing patterns in the stars and calling them constellations,  faces and images in clouds, and seeing the face of the Virgin Mary in the patterns on their french toast. They also hear the Beatles implying “Paul is dead” when you play their songs backwards.   The Rorschach inkblot test uses pareidolia in an attempt to gain insight into a person’s mental state.

330px-Francesco_Melzi_-_Portrait_of_Leonardo_-_WGA14795You aren’t crazy–you are extremely creative and able to visualize it pretty clearly. Even Leonardo Da Vinci understood the phenomenon–apparently he wrote of pareidolia as a device for painters, writing “if you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well conceived forms.”

Well, it’s a word I most likely won’t use, but there it is — pareidolia — a new word in my vocabulary.

 

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