Quote of the Moment

"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Friday, December 30, 2011

Sick and Tired

OK, sick and tired is one of those phrases that can sometimes be seen as hyperbole, one of those phrases people use to say they are just annoyed with a certain situation.

Unfortunately for me, it's a literal meaning. I have been pretty darn sick all week, so much so that I have been unable to sleep much all week. I was quite lucky to just type the previous sentences and have them make sense. Do they make sense? Maybe only to my sleep-deprived brain and illness-addled mind.

So, I am going to be skipping another week of a blog post with some type of content that doesn't include me whining about my life or making excuses.

This has also made me realize that I may need to step back and take a look at what I've been doing on my blog. Life is crazy, and I need to schedule things better and plan ahead. I'm not even sure if any of my posts have been interesting to the few readers that I have (no one comments - ha!). Also, over the next six months, I will have a heavy load of classes, which will strain my time even more.

What do all of these thoughts mean?

I'm going to take a few days to chew over things. My blog will NOT be disappearing, that is a given, but I might be posting less, at least for a while. I know that means I will be in danger of losing the few readers I do have, but I think I may have to take that risk or lose my sanity (I mean, it's hanging by a thread to begin with!).

There will be no blog posts about Once Upon A Time for now, since I am so behind on episodes and people usually like reviews shortly after the episodes air. Perhaps I will review another episode down the line, but no promises (same with Grimm).

My next post will be my yearly goals and a look back at 2011, and I hope to write that up next week, when I also decide on the direction and time commitment I will be taking with this blog. I am open to any comments and suggestions as well.

I hope everyone has a Happy New Year and manages to stay healthier than I have been! Happy writing. <3

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Whether you celebrate Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, or another holiday this time of year, I wish everyone a happy holiday!

For all the writers out there, I hope you've reached your goals for the year and the holiday season isn't road-blocking your writing time (like it is me - heh).

My review on the next few episodes of Once Upon A Time will be delayed until next week.

Happy holidays and happy writing!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Steampunk and Time Travel in The Anubis Gates

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read The Anubis Gates there are spoilers in this essay.

* * * * *

In the Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy class I took, we had to research the steampunk sub-genre. The Anubis Gates was on many steampunk lists as one of the original novels that started the sub-genre, and I was curious about it then, so I was pleased to have the chance to read it now. Time travel paradoxes also tend to make my head spin, so I was interested to see how Tim Powers handles it in The Anubis Gates.

I must admit, The Anubis Gates is not what I expected from a novel labeled as steampunk. When I think steampunk, I think more the science fiction side of things with the air ships, the interesting gadgets, and the focus on steam as a power source. Therefore, I did not expect to find so much magic in such a novel! I'm quite glad I had the chance to read this novel, though, since it did give me a fresh perspective on the sub-genre. And with it leaning toward fantasy because of all the magic, I enjoyed it immensely.

When I wrote my essay on Boneshaker for the aforementioned class, I used an article I found on the internet called "Steampunk: A List of Themes" to examine how that novel incorporates steampunk elements. I looked at the article again after reading The Anubis Gates to see just how many categories it fits into. It's obviously an alternate history, closing in on the Victorian era, so we see a lot of those antiquities. There's the cannon near the end of the novel and the gunpowder used throughout. Plus the chemistry used in the magic and to alter the humans and animals in Horrabin's "hospital"--Horrabin and his father I think would rightly qualify to be labeled as mad scientists. There is the monster, of course. Dog-face Joe is a wonderful twist on a typical werewolf. There are secret societies, sword fights, and a clear class divide (Doyle himself experiences life on the low and high end of this). All of these things clearly make The Anubis Gates a steampunk novel, and I am even more enamored with the sub-genre after seeing this fantasy side versus the science fiction side.

But before we are steeped in this magically rich Victorian time period, the main character needs to get there first. And even though The Anubis Gates is steampunk, it's also a time travel story. Time travel is a fickle thing. The writer needs to set things up just right to make sure it all makes sense. Paradoxes are easy to fall into. Powers sets up his view on how time travel works in this world right away when Doyle and the others arrive for the Coleridge speech. History already states that Coleridge lectured at that date and time, but if Doyle and friends wouldn't have arrived and paid the money to rent the room for the lecture, it never would have happened. From this example it's clearly seen that Powers' view on time travel (at least in this novel) is that you can't go back and change things--everything has already happened. There is no way to change history because if you travel back in time, you've already effected that history so the result will be exactly the same.

Even though I think the "it's already happened" approach is a great one, since it doesn't mean the writer has to explain the ripple effect, I still found it hard to accept everything concerning the time traveling. Once Doyle was left behind in 1810, I had a hunch that he would actually be William Ashbless. That hunch was obviously correct, and I do think the set-up for it was done quite nicely. However, there were just some instances where I fell into a couple paradoxical holes. First was the poem, "The Twelve Hours of the Night". Since Doyle is Ashbless, he wrote the poem at the coffee house. As he admits, he wrote it from memory. So if he is the original creator of the poem, where did the words come from in the first place? It's like the eternal debate of "what came first, the chicken or the egg?", since you keep going in circles on trying to figure it out. The words had to be originally written at some point. Powers tries to explain things away later: "My God, he thought, then if I stay and live out my life as Ashbless--which the universe pretty clearly means me to do--then nobody wrote Ashbless' poems. . . They're a closed loop, uncreated! I'm just the . . . messenger and caretaker" (273). But the words have to come from somewhere originally, so this assertion fell flat for me. Even later in the book Doyle decides his experiences are what Ashbless must have been talking about in the poem, but it's hard to believe that the poem came before the actual experiences. Even the words in the book from the 1600s has the smell of paradox. Doyle would never have written the Pig Latin words in the book if he hadn't seen them in 1810, but if that was the only reason he wrote them, they shouldn't probably have been written in the first place. It can become a circular mess, and even trying to write about it strains my brain cells.

Even though I had some issues accepting some of the time travel paradoxes, I overall did find The Anubis Gates a great read. The story was compelling, even when you did know things were already "written in stone", so to speak, and it was hard to put down. I can see why this steampunk fantasy is considered a classic, and it makes me want to read even more in the sub-genre.

Works Cited

EvilEgg. "Steampunk: A List of Themes." Writing.com. 2007. Web.
Powers, Tim. The Anubis Gates. The Berkley Publishing Group: New York, 1983.

NEXT UP: A review of a few more episodes of Once Upon A Time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Classic Fantasy from 1975-1989

This will be the last reading list I post in my Classic Fantasy series! And next week will be the final essay in the series as well. I hope you all enjoyed this series and came away with a longer reading list than you had before. I plan to revisit this Classic Fantasy series in the future to take a closer at some of the other texts which I have listed.

Without further ado, here is the reading list for Classic Fantasy from 1975-1989!

The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip
The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson
A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth series) by Piers Anthony
Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson
The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Gate of Ivrel by C. J. Cherryh
Beauty by Robin McKinley
MythAdeventures by Robert Lynn Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Tales of Neveryon by Samuel R. Delany
Split Infinity (Apprentice Adept series) by Piers Anthony
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll
Little, Big by John Crowley
Imaro by Charles R. Saunders
Pawn of Prophecy (Belagriad Sequence) by David Eddings
Magician (Riftwar Saga) by Raymond E. Feist
The Elfin Ship by James Blaylock
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Alanna: the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Tea with the Black Dragon by R. A. MacAvoy
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Black Company by Glen Cook
Archer's Goon by Diana Wynne Jones
A Blackbird in Silver (Blackbird Quartet) by Freda Warrington
Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm
Soldier of the Mist by Gene Wolfe
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
Jack, the Giant Killer by Charles De Lint
The Healer's War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie - 1989

Again, this list was pulled from the following two books: Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination by Richard Mathews and A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James.

Keep reading fantasy, past and present!

UP NEXT: An essay on The Anubis Gates.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Grimm - Pilot

Grimm is another new fantasy TV series that just started a few weeks ago. I was quite happy to see that there were two more fantasy based series coming out this year, even if they started later in the season.

Unlike Once Upon A Time, though, I'm still not sold on Grimm after watching the Pilot. Right now, I consider Grimm a mash between Charmed and Supernatural. Now, both of those shows have a special place in my heart, but Grimm feels much like the cliche I just used.

Here is our premise. Nick is a homicide cop, and he is supposedly a Grimm. This is something that is hereditary, and it's his responsibility, since his aunt, his last living relative, is dying of cancer, to hunt down the scary creatures--all those frightening fairytale creatures that no one believes are real.

Now Charmed had several cops throughout the series helping out the sisters. The Halliwells also had their awesome old Victorian they lived in (so does Nick!), and they had to keep everything a secret. And Supernatural, the Winchester brothers are always hunting down those scary creatures, and of course impersonating law enforcement in the process.

So, you see how I made the connections? Right now, the protagonist as cop has been way overdone. There are enough cop shows on TV (some very good, and I happily watch them), so why did Nick have to be a cop? What makes these nasties he's hunting any different than the ones that the Halliwells and Winchesters have beaten down repeatedly? I guess I am looking for something to lift Grimm out of the world of predictability, to surpass the "been there, done that" feeling.

Did I totally dislike Grimm? No. It did have some good points. I particularly liked Nick's partner, Hank. Not only was he willing to put up with a little of Nick's craziness, he was shown to be a smart and observant cop. He noticed the song that the "Big Bad Wolf" was humming. Unfortunately, Hank's smarts kind of reflected badly on Nick. Nick wasn't looking close enough for the proof, throughout the entire episode. It was like once he learned about the monsters and that he was a Grimm, he forgot that he was also a cop and should act like one.

I also liked the music frame of the episode. At the beginning is "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics, and then at the end is the cover of the same song my Marylin Manson. Although I am not a fan of the cover song (kind of creeps me out, even though I love the original), I did think that was a nice frame to use for the episode. Heck, that was the best part of the episode for me.

I am hoping the second episode will show more promise. I'm giving it two more episodes before giving up on it.

Overall rating: 2 of 5 Stars

NEXT UP: Classic Fantasy from 1975-1989.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Coming-of-Age and Balance in A Wizard of Earthsea

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read A Wizard of Earthsea there are spoilers in this essay.

* * * * *

Ah, A Wizard of Earthsea. I've read the initial Earthsea trilogy before (I have yet to read the newer two books in the series, though), and it's another story that I enjoyed reading again, especially since Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my favorite authors. A Wizard of Earthsea is a true coming-of-age story for the wizard Ged. Le Guin also does an excellent job structuring her magic system--it perfectly reflects what Ged becomes at the end of the novel.

"The first two books of the Earthsea cycle thus recount coming-of-age stories for two children, a male and a female" (145). What Richard Mathews states here is simple truth--it's hard not to see the coming-of-age story in A Wizard of Earthsea (and the female coming-of-age story in The Tombs of Atuan is a wonderful mirror to the first novel). We meet Ged when he's still a boy, still unnamed, and as he learns his magic, he goes through many stages and emotions to finally reach adulthood.

When Ged first becomes Ogion's apprentice, he's an impatient child. He wants to learn everything, and he wants to learn it immediately. The childish impatience gets in the way of what Ogion is trying to teach him. It's not until far later in the novel that Ged finally accepts and craves learning by listening and watching as Ogion originally wished. That impatience also sends him straight to Roke.

Once on Roke, Ged develops a disdain for his fellow student, Jasper. It's another emotion and impulse of childhood or even adolescence. And it leads him to believe that anything that goes wrong isn't his own fault, but the fault of another. When Ged looks like a fool his first day at Roke, he doesn't take responsibility for his own actions. "And Ged followed sullen and sore-hearted, knowing he had behaved like a fool, and blaming Jasper for it" (Le Guin 41). It was Ged himself who actually chose how to respond to Jasper's questions and made himself look the fool, yet Ged blames Jasper.

And the next stage in Ged's life is his fall, which comes about due to his pride. Like a pompous teenager, he boasts and shows off, which then comes back to tear him down. His spell causes the shadow to enter the world. Ged's pride comes crashing down, and instead of simply learning from his mistakes, he feels as though he needs to be constantly punished. Initially he was so high on himself, and now he drags the perception of himself to rock bottom.

Then Ged runs. He attempts to hide from his mistakes in a literal sense, by running from the shadow that pursues him. This is yet another stage in his growth.

Finally, when he's ready to accept the mistakes he's made, he decides to face them head on. He chases the shadow to the ends of Earthsea because he knows he must face the truth about himself. And once he finally meets face to face with the shadow, he realizes he is made up of his successes, failures, and mistakes; that there is a balance inside of him between good and evil, just like there is in everyone. This realization is Ged's step into adulthood. "Ged has completed one stage of his life and is ready for the next" (Mathews 141).

The balance that Ged attains at the end is a reflection on the entire magic system of the book. Le Guin masterfully outlines just what and what not magic users can do in Earthsea. You can't get something out of nothing, you can't change something without it effecting something else. There must always be a balance. And when Ged takes the shadow into himself, he's righting that balance inside of himself, just like magic.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a great high fantasy that shows that coming-of-age arc, and that's only emphasized by the magic Le Guin weaves into the story. The following novel focuses on the other side of the coin, the growth of a female protagonist, making both books powerful reads in a great series. Le Guin is an author that I think should be read by any fantasy or science fiction writer (or reader) since she is an exceptional storyteller.

Works Cited

Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea. Bantam Books: New York, 1975.
Mathews, Richard. Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. Routledge: New York, 2002.

NEXT UP: A review of the first episode of Grimm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Classic Fantasy from 1950-1974

This will be a long list! I'm not sure if I will end up taking this series all the way through 1999 because the books multiply exponentially. But below is a list (at least somewhere to start) of classic fantasy from 1950-1974.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt
Voyage to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron
The Golden Apples of the Sun by ray Bradbury
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Half Magic by Edward Eager
The Children of Green Knowe by L. M. Boston
The Wonderful O by James Thurber
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope
A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
James the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
The Stealer of Souls (Elric Saga) by Michael Moorcock
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Witch World by Andre Norton
The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydian) by Lloyd Alexander
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Snow White by Donald Barthelme
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
A Wizard or Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Swords in the Mist (Gray Mouser Series) by Fritz Leiber
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Nine Princes in Amber (Amber series) by Roger Zelazny
Deryni Rising (Deryni series) by Katherine Kurtz
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Darkover Landfall (Darkover series) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

And that is the list. So, which classics on this list do you love? Are there any others you think I should include that aren't on there now? It's amazing how much fantasy is out there, past as well as present.

This list was compiled with the help of Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination and A Short History of Fantasy.

NEXT UP: My look at A Wizard of Earthsea.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Review: Once Upon A Time - Pilot

I know I'm a couple episodes behind, but hopefully everyone has now watched the Pilot of Once Upon A Time (for those like me that DVR everything and watch when there is time). There are of course spoilers in this review.

Since both Once Upon A Time and Grimm are new fantasy TV shows this season, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at both while the season passes. I always get excited when I see the networks taking a chance on fantasy.

The Pilot of Once Upon A Time pleased me, overall. However, I was left with a few questions that kind of felt like plot holes.

I loved it that Emma Swan's profession was a bounty hunter. It was unexpected, and unexpected is always good, especially if it fits nicely into the story. Her profession was utilized a little bit in the first episode, but I'm hoping that it will be used throughout the series. As long as the writers didn't just make her a bounty hunter and forget about it in the long run, it was a great choice.

I also liked how she was the type of person to spot a lie. It was nicely done at the end how she asked Henry's "mom" if she loved him - Emma obviously saw it was a lie, but instead of outright telling us that's what she saw, the writers showed us that she saw the lie by having her check into the inn instead of leaving town.

The clock re-starting was a little predictable, but it is hard to get away from some predictability.

However, as I mentioned earlier, there were a couple of things that didn't make much sense. First, Emma's name. She claims she was abandoned on the side of a highway (obviously where she came through via the wardrobe). How exactly did whoever found her or the foster care system know her name? We know there was no note attached to the child. Was her blanket embroidered with her name? If so, I totally missed that, but it does seem like a bit of a hiccup.

The second thing that bugged me was Henry. Supposedly, he's Pinocchio. So then, why didn't he immediately have the curse on him and exist in Storybrooke like the others? How was he then born to Emma Swan? And if bad things happened whenever anyone left Storybrooke, how was HE able to leave Storybrooke without consequences? Some of it just seems a bit shaky or big leaps in suspending disbelief to me.

There was one more thing I wanted to comment about. Now, I haven't watched any further episodes yet (although I hope to this week), but from this one episode it really felt like the writers have a horribly negative view on our own world. Our world has been portrayed as a place where there can never be any happy endings. I do like the darkness that surrounded the first episode. After all, I'm all for the dark fantasy, as you know. I'm just wondering if it was too heavy handed for some people in the first episode with such a negative view on our own world.

I do look forward to watching the next episode of Once Upon A Time, though! That's a good sign - just like the desire of wanting to turn to the next page in a book.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

NEXT UP: Classic Fantasy from 1950-1974 (I promise this time, really).

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

It's that time of year again! Writers are going crazy to push out 50,000 words. Ah, NaNoWriMo, you daunt me and drive me all at the same time. I have never successfully completed a NaNo novel, but at least I've gotten a decent amount of words done trying.

This year, I'm going to be a Rebel again! That's nothing new for me. Projects that need finishing before I can start new ones. I will be completing the rough draft of Dead As Dreams (so close!), and then I'll be continuing Daina's Dance: Rhythm novel. There should be more than 50,000 words between those two projects, but I am going to allow myself to set a goal of 25,000 instead. I do still have the toddler to chase around and an online class to complete this month. I will attempt to post weekly updates on my blog, and I will be Tweeting the results of my writing sessions.

Also, don't forget about Writing Quest - November! You can join Writing Quest in concert with NaNoWriMo. =)

My Word Count Meter for the month is below. I will attempt to change out the emoticons everyday, but no promises. I've already gotten in an hour of writing time already today! Next session will start right after I post this!

NEXT UP: Wherever my whims take me! (Either the Classic Fantasy Reading Lists continued or a review of Once Upon A Time.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sickness, Class Work, and Party Prep

Have you already guessed what I'm about to post? Yup, I am going to have to push off my next promised blog post. Life never seems to run smoothly when I need it to!

And the 1950-1999 fantasy reading list will actually be split in two, since there are so many titles I have already gathered. It's great that there is so much wonderful fantasy to read out there. =) These posts might not be the next immediate posts, though, as I will be posting for NaNoWriMo, and I hope to post some reviews on the two new fantasy series on TV - Once Upon a Time and Grimm.

Have a Happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Hobbit - The Adventure!

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read The Hobbit there are spoilers in this essay.

* * * * *

I remember the first time I read The Hobbit. It was 8th grade, the same year I was exposed to "The Pit and the Pendulum". Perhaps Poe and Tolkien both influenced my love of writing dark fantasy, as it was the following year that I started working on my first (rather horrible) novel. I loved The Hobbit then, and I still do now. The songs, the riddles, the races, the world, and above all the adventure.

"The Hobbit's enduring appeal to children of all ages is exceptional; it is a book with ample craftsmanship and depth to reward repeated readings and a nearly perfect lure into the larger mythos of Middle-earth" (Mathews 60). I couldn't agree more with everything in this statement from Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. I have read The Hobbit several times, and I don't think I will ever tire of it. Most importantly, though, it is a story that is a great read for children and adults, just like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

As I read through it this time, I really saw deeper into the appeal of the adventure and the dichotomy within Bilbo. First, there is the Baggins side of Bilbo. This represents the adult--serious, responsible, and happy to enjoy the comforts of home. Bilbo's Took side, on the other hand, is pure child. It's the side of him that is tempted by the idea of adventure, no matter how uncomfortable and dangerous it might be. "Then Mr. Baggins turned the handle and went in. The Took side had won. He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce" (Tolkien 18). Children can instantly connect to the Tookish side of Bilbo, the fun and adventurous side. And adults can recognize it too, since there is usually a little Took in all of us, even once we've grown up, buried deep within the responsibility of the Baggins half.

The Took side obviously wins out, with a bit of trickery from Gandalf, and Bilbo runs off on his adventure. And what an adventure it is! The Baggins side invades many times, yearning for the comforts of home, but Bilbo continues on. Throughout the entire book you have a constant rising and falling action: captured by trolls, escape the trolls, captured by goblins, escape the goblins, Bilbo stumbles across Gollum who wants to eat him, and he escapes Gollum as well. And that's in just the first third of the book. Right along this rising and falling action, Bilbo and party are going over and under mountains, up and down trees, through forests and down rivers. Their journey is a perfect mirror for that rising and falling action. Bilbo says it best: "I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led" (Tolkien 221).

Child or adult, it's easy to get sucked into Bilbo's adventures. "Tolkien married the adventure fantasy with epic: suddenly, the journey on which the participants embarked had world-shattering consequences" (Mendlesohn and James 48). This statement mostly refers to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but The Hobbit also has those world-changing consequences. How can a quest that would ultimately disturb an ancient and terrible dragon not? At the end of the book the goblins are nearly wiped out due to a war over the treasure. It's an epic end to an exciting adventure, and I look forward to the next time I read The Hobbit.

Works Cited

Mathews, Richard. Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. Routledge: New York, 2002.

Mendlesohn, Farah and Edward James. A Short History of Fantasy. Middlesex University Press: London, 2009.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. Ballantine Books: New York, 1989.

UP NEXT: A reading list of fantasy books from 1950-1999.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Allure of the Unknown in Black God's Kiss

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read Black God's Kiss there are spoilers in this essay.

* * * * *

The main thing that pulls you into the stories in Black God's Kiss is the description of the worlds that Jirel enters. C. L. Moore uses the character of Jirel as a vehicle to explore new and unknown worlds. I found myself dragged along by the need to discover just what Jirel would face next, since the worlds are set up so that almost anything can happen.

In the introduction of the book, Suzy McKee Charnas states, "Moore was clearly as interested in mood and atmosphere as in action" (18). And this is evident right from the first story, "Black God's Kiss". Instead of seeing a deep backstory or an emotional exploration of Jirel, the reader is presented with this weird portal into a strange world--a tube that twists and turns deep into the earth, where there is no up or down. Then, Jirel steps into a world with an expansive night sky, a place where gravity works differently, where strange human apparitions hop through a swamp, and a tower made of light greets her.

Every step Jirel takes in the story, she doesn't know what is to come, nor does the reader, and that's the great appeal of it. The reader looks forward to the new discoveries and the descriptions of this alien world. At one point, Jirel comes across a herd of white horses. It all seems so beautiful and majestic, something a little more normal, but we find out otherwise. "But as they came abreast of her she saw one blunder and stumble against the next, and that one shook his head bewilderingly; and suddenly she realized that they were blind--all running so splendidly in a deeper dark than even she groped through" (39).

In the second story, my favorite, "Black God's Shadow", Jirel enters that same world as in the first, but it's changed. The tower of light is gone, and there is a river where one wasn't the first time. At this point, we get the hint that this world is like a living entity in itself. And throughout the entire story, many of the descriptions hint at how this world is truly alive. "But it seemed to her that the ground against her body was too warm, somehow, and moving gently as if with leisured breathing" (75).

"Black God's Shadow" is the epitome of a story that pulls the reader along solely with the atmosphere and the strange discoveries Jirel finds. There are fields of flowers that grow with insects trapped in them, and if disturbed and released, those insects are vicious. The water whispers and sounds as if it is talking, and it attempts to reach out and grab onto Jirel. Even the trees she comes across cast strange shadows. "And one slim, leafless tree writhed against the stars with a slow, unceasing motion. It made no sound, but its branches twisted together and shuddered and strained in an agony more eloquent than speech. It seemed to wring its limbs together, agonized, dumb, with a slow anguish that never abated. And its shadow, dimly, was the shadow of a writhing woman" (71). Near the end, Jirel hears a strange music on the wind, and Moore describes it all so beautifully.

I could go on to point out all the alluring details in every one of the stories of Jirel of Joiry, but I think the previous examples are just enough to show the draw of Moore's atmospheric writing. The pull of the unknown tempts the reader to turn the page, and then there are wonderful descriptions when Jirel crosses paths with the many oddities. Darkness pervades all of these stories, and Moore is deft at reigning it in and making the alien worlds come alive.

Works Cited

Moore, C. L. Black God's Kiss. Planet Stories: Bellevue, Washington, 2007.

NEXT UP: One of my favorites - The Hobbit!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Classic Fantasy from 1900-1949

So, the last list I offered we left off with William Morris and H. Rider Haggard. Where do you think I'll start this list? I bet some of you will guess right.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
The Gods of Pegana by Lord Dunsany
Country of the Blind and Other Stories by H. G. Wells
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Moon Pool by A. Merritt
A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison
Mary Poppins by Pamela L. Travers
Black God's Kiss by C. L. Moore
Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard
Retelling of the Mabinogion by Evangeline Walton
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
The Well of the Unicorn by Fletcher Pratt
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction started publication in 1949, and it's still going strong today!

Again, this is by no means a comprehensive list! There are so many great fantasy classics, and some of these listed are also the beginnings of series.

Did I miss anything that you insist should be listed here? What is your favorite classic fantasy from 1900-1949?

Most of the list was taken from Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination by Richard Mathews.

NEXT UP: A look at the Jirel of Joiry stories, including "Black God's Kiss", by C. L. Moore.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Week Off Take Two

So, this week I've been sick and still swamped, so my compilation of a good reading list has been delayed. I hate being so inconsistent with my blogging, but I fear this might happen a couple more times while I am still working on my M.F.A. My apologies.

Perhaps I'll leave this post with a question. =)

What is the most influential fantasy book that you have read? Do you consider it a classic? Why?

OK, that's three questions. Next week, I will have that 1900-1950 reading list for everyone.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sense of Wonder in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz there are spoilers in this essay.

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a story that is still popular over a century after it was written. This children's fantasy tale has been adapted for the stage as well as the screen, and many writers have explored the novel by creating new retellings (myself included a couple years back). There is a sense of wonder throughout the story that makes me smile every time I read it.

Portal fantasy is a type of fantasy that takes you into another world. And L. Frank Baum does just that in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by using a cyclone to drop Dorothy into the land of Oz. "L. Frank Baum Americanized the other-world fantasy" (Mendlesohn and James 26). Baum's main goal with this portal fantasy was entertainment, to create a piece of popular fiction that children would love without the addition of teaching lessons like most older myths and fairy tales. In the introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum writes: "It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out" (2-3).

And in his pursuit to entertain, Baum created a world and story that pulls the reader along with a sense of wonder. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is bursting with description, and the type of description that causes the reader to pay attention, so he or she becomes wrapped up in the world. Color, the contrast of light and dark, and the use of gemstones are especially prevalent. There is hardly a page without some type of description to evoke a sense of wonder.

The biggest device used is color. Dorothy lands in the realm of the Munchkins, where their favorite color is blue. The Winkies favor yellow, the Quadlings red. And near the Emerald City, everyone prefers green. These colors surround Dorothy at every turn, and she even puts on a pair of silver shoes that once belonged to the Wicked Witch of the East. The road she travels on to the Emerald City is yellow. One of the best sections that highlights the array of colors in this novel can be found right before Dorothy and her companions wade into the field of poppies. "They walked along listening to the singing of the brightly colored birds and looking at the lovely flowers which now became so thick that the ground was carpeted with them. There were big yellow and white and blue and purple blossoms, besides great clusters of scarlet poppies, which were so brilliant in color they almost dazzled Dorothy's eyes" (Baum 514).

The use of light and darkness is more subtle. When Dorothy first arrives in Oz, the sun is shining and she walks past many open fields. But she eventually reaches the darkness of the forest, where unknown monsters lurk. "It was almost dark under the trees, for the branches shut out the daylight; but the travelers did not stop, and went on into the forest" (Baum 250). There is a back and forth between the light and the dark throughout the novel.

And there are of course the gems that glitter in the Emerald City. But that isn't the only place we see such wonder. The Good Witch of the North wears a beautiful white dress. "Over it were sprinkled little stars that glistened in the sun like diamonds" (Baum 63). Even the cap Dorothy uses to call the Winged Monkeys is studded with jewels.

This sense of wonder saturates The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and because of it, Baum succeeds in pulling readers into this other-world, young and old alike. It's a story that is sure to live on for many more centuries ahead and to impact future generations.

Works Cited

Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. George M. Hill Company: Chicago, 1900. Public Domain Books, 2009. Kindle Edition.

Mendlesohn, Farah and Edward James. A Short History of Fantasy. Middlesex University Press: London, 2009.

NEXT UP: A reading list of classic fantasy from 1900 through 1949!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Origins of Fantasy

My apologies for the tardy post this week. Other things that needed to get done got in the way due to some personal things, but better late than never.

Last week I promised a list of some classic fantasy "must reads". Now, as I mentioned in a former post, the definition of classic varies. So, this list may not be what you expected. I'm going to stick to some much older titles this time around, and I'll cover newer ones in a future post. All of these texts were published before 1900. And of course, many of these weren't even considered fantasy when they were written.

Have you heard of Project Gutenberg? If so, you know what a great thing it is. If not, it's time you learned! Project Gutenberg has made many texts, ones where the copyright has expired, into free accessible e-books! If you don't have an e-reader, you can also download them to your computer and read them that way. So, when I have books listed below, if they are on Project Gutenberg, I'll have the link.

As a note, I may take a closer look at these fantasy texts in the future, for a Classic Fantasy Series: Part II.

The Odyssey by Homer
The Iliad by Homer
Aesop's Fables
The Aeneid by Virgil
The Metamorphoses of Ovid
The Divine Comedy by Dante
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The Mabinogion
The Arabian Nights Vol.1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4
Le Mort d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory Vol. 1, Vol. 2
The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser Book 1
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
Grimm's Fairy Tales
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Goblin Market by Christina Georgina Rossetti
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Hagard
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris
The Well at the World's End by William Morris
She by H. Rider Haggard

This is by no means an extensive list. What other texts that were published before 1900 do you think should be included? I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks.

Most of the list was taken from Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination by Richard Mathews.

NEXT UP: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Baiting the Reader in The Wood Beyond the World

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read The Wood Beyond the World there are spoilers in this essay.

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The Wood Beyond the World contains a lot of classic markers of modern fantasy, including adventure, an otherworld, foes to overcome, and a happy ending. That happy ending, though, isn't a surety throughout the novel. William Morris baits the reader and implies that things could turn out much differently, much darker.

Richard Mathews states, "William Morris and George MacDonald are the pioneers of fantasy as a modern literary genre" (16). And in Morris's The Wood Beyond the World we can see some of the themes that have become popular today. Our protagonist, Golden Walter, yearns to see more of the world and thirsts for adventure. So, instead of doing what is expected of him, he sets out on a journey, seeking people he saw in visions, and not knowing where his next step will lead him. He enters a strange land, where he isn't sure what the inhabitants actually are, and subtle magic surrounds him. To be with the woman he falls in love with, he must contend with a queen and a dwarf, as well as later a primitive people that would sacrifice him to their god.

However, the journey must always come to an end, and so much classic fantasy contains the happy ending, including The Wood Beyond the World. Walter gets to be with his love, the Maid, and both become King and Queen of a land which they rule well.

That happy ending may not have come to pass if Morris had taken a different turn. Throughout the novel there are hints and indications that mislead the reader, that suggest things might not be as happy and perfect as they seem, that good intentions could in fact hide manipulation.

Walter sees the images of three people--they appear and disappear before his eyes like apparitions. So, wanting to know who they are, he starts his journey. And the first of the three he comes across is a dwarf. In this meeting, Morris plants the first seeds of doubt in the reader. The dwarf speaks of the Maid as if she were some monster, calling her a Wretch and Thing. "'But thou, fool, wilt repent it thereafter, as I did. Oh, the mocking and gibes of It, and the tears and shrieks of It; and the knife!'" (Morris 429). This makes the reader wonder if the Maid is truly a monster, and when Walter finally crosses her path and falls in love with her, the reader then wonders when she'll reveal herself, when we'll finally see what she truly is, instead of the innocent Maid she appears to be.

But Morris draws us deeper in, adding touches to confirm those doubts, to make the reader consider even more that the Maid may be manipulating Walter all along. She tells him one thing, but he overhears the opposite when she's speaking to the King's Son. And then, when the Maid finally makes her escape with Walter, after a scream pierces the night, she keeps putting off the telling of her tale to Walter, making excuses about why she cannot speak of it. The delays in the telling lead the reader to believe she has something to hide, that the love she professes to Walter might not be true.

And finally, when we near the end of the tale, Walter loses track of the Maid in the mountains. Walter thinks she may have lost him on purpose. "And now once more the thought came on him, that the Maid was of the fays, or of some race even mightier; and it came on him now not as erst, with half fear and whole desire, but with a bitter oppression of dread, or loss and misery; so that he began to fear that she had won his love to leave him and forget him for a new-comer, after the wont of fay-women, as old tales tell" (Morris 1645). This begins to confirm the doubts and fears that Morris had planted for the reader to follow.

But of course the Maid eventually finds Walter and allays his fears. They both come across a city, and Walter is chosen to be their new king. He takes the Maid as his queen, and she finally gives her innocence to him. She doesn't turn out to be a monster after all.

I must admit, the dark fantasist in me kind of wished for the hidden reveal, that the Maid was truly the Wretch and Thing the dwarf had claimed her to be and had played Walter as a fool all along. But Morris laid things out wonderfully, misleading the reader into thinking that this evil was a possibility, which made The Wood Beyond the World a great read. And yea, I verily look forward to reading more of his novels at a future time.

Works Cited

Mathews, Richard. Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. Routledge: New York, 2002.
Morris, William. The Wood Beyond the World. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1913. Project Gutenberg, 2007. Kindle Edition.

NEXT UP: A list of some Classic Fantasy must reads!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Classic Fantasy

For those of us who started reading fantasy when we were younger, we likely have fond memories of some of the novels we first read. In most cases, those novels are now considered classic fantasy.

I do think the definition of classic fantasy is different depending on who you talk to. It's hard to draw a a solid line between classic and modern, especially since time continues to pass and what was considered modern one day may be considered classic the next. The line moves, and sometimes age still doesn't make a novel classic, depending on the viewpoints of many people.

The class I am taking this semester involves reading and examining many classic fantasy texts. So, over the next few months, I will be focusing on classic fantasy on this blog. Hopefully you'll find things to reminisce about or classics that you never picked up before, but decide to finally do so.

Do you remember when you first started reading fantasy?

I think J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit was the first fantasy book I ever read (and I'll get to read it again for class!). And for me, the books that thoroughly pulled me into dark fantasy were Tanith Lee's Black Unicorn and Books of Paradys. I also have fond memories of Andre Norton's Witch World books.

What are your favorite fantasy classics?

NEXT UP: A look at William Morris's The Wood Beyond the World.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Week Off

Dear readers, I've decided to take a week off from blogging! I know you were all looking forward to discussing Classic Fantasy, but I assure you, next Wednesday I'll do just that. Until then, happy reading and writing!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Finding Time to Write!

Recently, I've picked up the book Time to Write: Professional writers reveal how to fit writing into your busy life. Heck, finding time to read the tips is a hard enough feat!

But the truth is, for all of us that have that drive to write, time is always a factor. So many things want to interrupt writing time, seem more important than that writing time. Before you know it, a year has come and gone with little to no writing because you let everything else get in the way.

If you're Born to Write, you'll find the time, even if you do have productive periods and unproductive periods like I do. That drive, that need, that yearning will overcome you, and you'll jump off that writing cliff. The thing is, we all need to strive for more consistency. We need to stick to it if we intend to produce words on a regular basis. Get in a schedule, a pattern, and learn what is the best environment and time to write. We have to make writing a habit. This is something I've yet to succeed at, but I'm still trying.

Time to stop making excuses and make time to write! It's easy enough to say, not so easy to do. So when you scrub out those excuses and get in the good habit, make sure you're proud of yourself for doing just that - it's a lot of hard work. Writing isn't easy, nor is making the time to do it.

There are several links below with many tips on finding time to write. Bookmark them if you don't have time to look at them now. One small bit of advice just might be exactly what you need to get your writing gears turning and your fingers flying.

So, when do you make time to write? What are your usual roadblocks, and what do you think you can do to overcome them?

Finding Time to Write: Making Writing a Priority

Five Tips for Finding Writing Time
Finding Time to Write When You Have No Time to Write!
Why There'll Never Be a Perfect Time to Write
Make Time to Write: How to Find Time to Write

UP NEXT: Classic Fantasy

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lee Allen Howard - Horror and SciFi

OK, last week I had said a review of The Sixth Seed would be next up. Life and school intervened and cut down my planned reading time, though. Instead of a review, I have something better - a guest blog post from the author of The Sixth Seed, Lee Allen Howard! If you'd like to know more about the author, please scroll to the bottom of the article.

Horror and SciFi by Lee Allen Howard

When I first began working on THE SIXTH SEED, I wasn’t planning to write anything other than a horror story. And it started out as a story, a short one, way back in 1994.

The idea invaded my mind during my drive home through rush-hour traffic as I approached the Ft. Pitt Tunnel in Pittsburgh, PA. A man gets a vasectomy performed by a doctor in league with the Gray alien race in order to produce the first human/alien hybrid. The doctor implants a genetically engineered paraseed in the man’s vas deferens, outside the cauterization point, that impregnates his wife with their sixth child—the first hybrid to develop full-term in utero.

I thought this was horror at the time. It was when it was only a 5000-word short story.

But the more I worked with it, the bigger it grew. Frustrated with my inability to get a handle on this tale, I sent it out for review and received a comment that the idea was too big for a short story; why not develop it into a novel?

When I wrapped my head around the possibility, I broadened the story arc, developed the characters, and gave them a backstory. Working on my antagonist revealed that I needed to represent his world realistically, and this included science and medicine. (Frankly, without this grounding in reality, the story would be too farfetched to believe.) So I studied up on urology and obstetrics. I was lucky to have an uncle who’s an OB/GYN and a friend who just underwent a vasectomy and was willing to give me the gritty (intensely portrayed in chapter 1).

My horror story was mutating into something else, some kind of hybrid… Was it science fiction? Kind of. Fantasy? That, too, listing toward the dark side. Definitely paranormal, in the aliens and UFO sense. And what else? Family drama. What a mish-mash.

I tried to place this book for a decade, and it couldn’t be categorized. I liked it just fine the way it turned out, so I refused to rewrite it to make it acceptable for traditional print publication. I finally decided to produce it myself for Kindle and Nook.

I bill THE SIXTH SEED as “a dark paranormal fantasy fraught with suburban Pittsburgh horror.” But the science fiction is there too, in the medical procedures, extrapolated to the conception, prenatal care, and delivery of a child half alien.

Like Tom and Melanie Furst’s bizarre progeny in the novel, every great story is a unique mix of fact and fiction, science and horror, family and fantasy. Whatever tale you’re writing, don’t let genre constraints keep you from birthing the story that needs to be written. Create your own hybrid!

THE SIXTH SEED is available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com, or at Smashwords.com: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/64365.

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About the Author

Lee Allen Howard has been a professional writer since 1985. He writes horror, erotic horror, dark fantasy, and crime. His publication credits include Cemetery Sonata anthology, THOU SHALT NOT... anthology (Dark Cloud Press), THE SIXTH SEED, SEVERED RELATIONS, and STRAY. He is currently working on his fourth novel.

Lee blogs about writing and editing on his writer’s site: http://leeallenhoward.com. He is currently studying spiritualism, mediumship, and healing with the Morris Pratt Institute.

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NEXT UP: Finding time to write!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Liz Coley - Extraordinary People

Today we have another guest blog! This one is by author Liz Coley. If you'd like to know more about her, please scroll to the bottom of the article.

Extraordinary People by Liz Coley

Back in 1976, Judith Guest wrote the very influential YA novel Ordinary People about a troubled teen in a dysfunctional family trying to survive the death of the oldest son. By the end of the book, the most this kid will be able to save is himself and his relationship with his father. He's an ordinary person.

In science fiction and fantasy, when the protagonist is a teenager, the kid is far from ordinary. Think Ender Wiggin, Frodo Baggins, Katniss Everdeen, Miles Vorkorsigan, Luke Skywalker. Think Harry Potter. The stakes are huge--save the world, save the empire, defeat ultimate evil. The teens who star in adventures of huge consequence can't be ordinary, not even in a "well, everyone is special in their own way" version of ordinary. They have particular grit, particular grace, particular cunning, particular vision, particular maturity. They see a world of hope and possibility. They step out in front of the adults--they step up to carry the ring, build a personal army, save the world, lead the way. Their voices aren't those of adolescents wondering the usual adolescent wonders--can I get a date? am I too fat? why are my parents such dorks?--at least not most of the time. They aren't navel gazers. Their eyes are up and on the distant horizon, or higher even, in the stars.

Science fiction and fantasy readers, at least those I know, read to escape the ordinary; we read to think about and experience the extraordinary for a while. The what-ifs are large, cosmic even. Readers who haven't grown up immersed in these genres don't entirely get it. Why would you read that? they ask. It's so unrealistic.

That's the whole point. It's unrealistic. It's inspiring.

But then is this likely? A thirteen year old boy scaled Everest--could he have climbed Mt. Doom? A sixteen-year old girl circumnavigated the world solo--could she have led a space fleet to another planet? Several kids have taken on the evil of genocide in Darfur--could they take on Voldemort? A teenaged girl with visions led a defeated French army to victory--would she have rallied the Earth to fight off invading Martians?

In my just-released novel Out of Xibalba, a teenager from Ohio finds herself stranded in the deep past, alone in the waning days of the Mayan Empire. Mistaken for the goddess Ix Chel, she has to figure out not only how to survive, but how to give this catastrophe meaning. By changing the world, of course.

There are extraordinary voices, people who aren't like most of us. There are extraordinary teens with exceptional talent and drive and initiative and maybe even magic. Between the pages and in the real world.

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About the Author

Liz Coley writes science fiction and fantasy for adults and teens. Her short story sales appear in a variety of anthologies: The Last Man Anthology (2010), More Scary Kisses (2011), and the upcoming Bride of the Golem and Strange Worlds Anthology. She has also been published in Cosmos Magazine and Cosmos Online in Australia. Liz has been writing and submitting seriously since 2001, with efforts coming to fruition in 2010/11. Her novel Out of Xibalba is available at Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and Createspace in trade paper and ebook versions. On the heels of this publication comes the news of her first sale to big publishing--but that announcement will wait for a later blog.

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NEXT UP: A review of Lee Allen Howard's The Sixth Seed.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Camp NaNoWriMo and a Chain Story Continued

Many of us know about NaNoWriMo - that novel writing event that comes around every November. Writers dive in and attempt to accomplish 50,000 words of a rough draft, ignoring other less important things for the month, such as cleaning and sleeping.

Of course, November can be a less than ideal month for some to attempt this challenge. Thanksgiving dinner for those in the U.S. can interrupt the flow (especially if the writer is the one preparing that dinner, and for a lot of people). School is in full swing as well, students and teachers working on things not only during school hours, but at other times as well (teachers have homework too!). Oh, and usually the weather is turning into something plain undesirable, making it harder for those people with weather mood swings.

So, why November? Why not have this novel writing month in summer? Well, those of you who have desired such a change don't need to wait any longer because now there is Camp NaNoWriMo! Camp NaNoWriMo is run both in July and August, so the writer can choose the month that works best for him or her. Or maybe try both!

I know, you're about to say I'm a little late on the bandwagon with talking about Camp NaNoWriMo. July is almost over. I actually didn't know about it until June 29, and I had the blog slots all scheduled and planned. So, I'm talking about it now. And what better time to do so than when we're so close to August? There's always time to set up your tent, throw some logs on the campfire, and join in with the other campers...er, writers.

Will you join in on Camp NaNoWriMo? What do you plan to work on?

I hope to get down 25,000 words in August (I sadly know well enough that I don't have time to do 50,000 in a month right now), which is a scary goal to begin with, and I'll be continuing Dead As Dreams - I'm so close to the end, I can taste it!

Also, don't forget to watch my Facebook page for August's Writing Quest!

I'd be interested to hear what others are working on - feel free to post a little something in the comments, and if you're bold, post an excerpt as well. ;)

Speaking of the comments section, I'd also love it if we'd all continue the last chain story that was started. I have copied what we already have below for ease of reading (and added some paragraph breaks - heh).

The Rules: Add only 1 sentence at a time - you can take as many turns as you'd like, but you can't post right after you just posted! To get the ball rolling, I will tag someone on Facebook, so if you'd like to keep the story going, make sure to tag someone or e-mail someone to ask them to take the next turn.

The Story So Far:

A dandelion seed danced on the wind, weaving back and forth, finally alighting on the cap of an emerald mushroom. It quivered in the breeze, almost lifting off, but the skin of the mushroom cap rippled and engulfed the seed, casting off the fluff.

Tetrarch Q'rin hovered over the scene, dutifully noting the occurrence in her journal. Soon it would be time to face her new husband. She did not know how the arranged marriage would work, she being a scientist, and he being a royal bureaucrat, although she had an empirically based estimation...and a bad feeling.

She sighed, turning to go, but saw the mushroom twitch.

NEXT UP: A guest blog post from Liz Coley.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

MGOC Series on Fantasy (And Science Fiction) - Heidi Ruby Miller

Today we have Heidi Ruby Miller guest blogging for the Many Genres, One Craft series on fantasy (and science fiction). This is the last guest blog in the series. I hope everyone who has stopped by to read all the wonderful guest blogs have enjoyed them - I know I have! If you'd like to know more about Heidi and Many Genres, One Craft, please scroll to the bottom of the article.

Science Fiction Romance by Heidi Ruby Miller

I didn’t realize I was writing Science Fiction Romance when I started Ambasadora as my thesis novel for Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction graduate program. It took several critique sessions with a mixed grouping of genre writers before I appreciated the relationships in my novel were integral to my plot and my world.

That was 2006, and though SF Romance was around at the time, I had never heard of it. Then two things happened: one of my critique partners, Rachael Pruitt, suggested I read Heart of Gold by Sharon Shinn in the same semester that Catherine Asaro was the author keynote for the WPF program. I looked at my work differently from then on.

Gone were the days of writing for men. (Though it should be of telling interest to note that one of my critique partners and all three of my thesis readers were men, so in essence, the majority of my audience at that time were still male….)

I played up the emotional intensity and elevated the sensuality of the book, especially between the main protagonists, Sean and Sara. It proved to be an easy enhancement considering the society is essentially based on sex, as all societies really are. My Ambasadora-verse society is divided into an Upper and Lower Caste with sub-divisions among the Uppers. Add to that the concept of multiple partners and I couldn't help but write about how sexual relationships had a direct impact on my world. Then I went about finding other books like mine, and it was more difficult than I anticipated.

But thanks to wonderful online communities like SFR Brigade and SF Romance groups on Goodreads, I'm finding more to read within the genre. Recently, I've come to enjoy Jacquelyn Franks' The Three Worlds series which begins with Seduce Me in Dreams; Sara Creasy's Scarabaeus series; and I just started reading Pauline Baird Jones' Girl Gone Nova, which won the 2011 EPIC Award.

I wonder if what draws me to SF Romance is the idea that love can transcend time and space, being as much a constant as the speed of light. That's really what the Ambasadora-verse is based on—how love and desire rule everything else, including government, religion, and science.

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About the Author

Heidi Ruby Miller writes stories where the relationship is as important as the adventure. She loves science fiction, Chanel, action movies, and high-heeled shoes and teaches creative writing at Seton Hill University. Heidi co-edited the writing guide Many Genres, One Craft based on Seton Hill's MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. The first book in her Ambasadora series was her thesis novel for the WPF program. You can find Heidi at http://heidirubymiller.blogspot.com and @heidirubymiller and on Facebook and Goodreads or interacting in person and online as a member of the following organizations: Authors Guild, Pennwriters, Broad Universe, SFR Brigade, SFPA, and EPIC.

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About Many Genres, One Craft

Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction (Headline Books, 2011)is an amazing anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.

MGOC is available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

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NEXT UP: Camp NaNoWriMo and continuing the current chain story!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

MGOC Series on Fantasy (And Science Fiction) - K. Ceres Wright

So, I thought Heidi Ruby Miller would be up this round, but instead we have a wonderful blog post from K. Ceres Wright! My apologies for the change of direction. And it's even more of a change of direction because this time it's about science fiction, so this time we'll say it's the Many Genres, One Craft series on fantasy (and science fiction). =) If you would like to know more about the author and Many Genres, One Craft, you'll find further information below the article.

Science Fiction by K. Ceres Wright

Older Influences

The first science fiction book I remembering reading was The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. I would read it over and over again, and remember spilling cocoa on several of the pages as I sat in bed at night. What appealed to me was the notion of a lone scientist who could discover something important through a clever invention of his own, in this case, an undetected planet orbiting Earth. One could only see it through a special filter. The scientist persuaded two boys to build a spaceship and travel to the planet. Upon arriving, they found that the Mushroom people were dying due to a lack of sulfur. But they rectified the problem by leaving their pet chicken on the planet. Anyone who’s smelled rotten eggs know they contain a lot of sulfur.

As I got older, I discovered Isaac Asimov, and delved into his short stories and eventually his novels. After I read his Robot series and Foundation trilogy, I didn’t think science fiction could get any better. He had told an epic tale of human space travel over a span of about 20,000 years, and the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire, which mirrored, of course, the fall of the Roman Empire and the onset of the Dark Ages.

I think history is a wellspring of ideas for science fiction because you can take basic themes, events, and characters and just inject them into a new universe. Characters can make the same decisions as historical figures, for good or ill, but they may or may not get the same results. It just depends on the nature of the writer’s universe. For example, slaves threw open the gates of Rome to the Visigoths in 410 because they were fed up with oppressive treatment. However, if in your universe, the slaves are well treated and can expect to eventually climb the social ladder, the outcome would most likely be different. They may use the impending invasion as an opportunity to negotiate full civil rights, or they may defend the city and take advantage of the period of rebuilding to secure their rights. It could turn out any number of ways, but the important thing is to make sure the effects logically follow from the causes. And to do that, you have to make careful study of not only history, but human nature.

Speaking of human nature, out of all of Asimov’s books, my favorite character was Dr. Susan Calvin. She was intelligent and objective, like a detective of sorts, as she teased out the reasoning behind many a robot’s behavior. And she was quirky, preferring the company of robots to humans, as it were, not the stereotypical lone female in science fiction who needed rescuing. I think it was her so-called quirks that made her endearing.

Newer Influences

I love cyberpunk, but I came late, having first read Neuromancer by William Gibson in 2004. It was written in 1984. I had discovered it on the book shelf of a colleague at work. The cover was awful, but the promo at the top said it had won three major science fiction awards, so I thought it couldn’t be that bad. And when I started reading, I could hardly put it down. I was amazed by Gibson’s use of language. His prose was tight, efficient, hardboiled and reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett, but startlingly original, as were his concepts of “jacking in” to interface with computers. He sliced in pop references throughout the book, metaphors for the modern age. Gone were the pristine cities and heroic characters of traditional science fiction. Here were the anti-heroes, urban decay, and moral ambiguity representative of today’s society.

Another author who has captured my imagination in the realm of cyberpunk is Richard K. Morgan. In his book, Altered Carbon, a person’s memories and personality were stored in cortical stacks in the spinal column. When the body died, the stack could be downloaded to a new body, or sleeve. Stacks could also be copied and updated, to ensure against permanent damage to an already-downloaded version. The book’s protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, was an ex-soldier whose sleeve had been enhanced with specialized neuro-chemical sensors that increased physical strength, intuition, and the five senses, delving into the realm of biopunk. Morgan’s writing style is hardboiled, as well, but makes use of beautiful descriptive narrative.

My Fiction

My short story, “The Haunting of M117,” in Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction, is not cyberpunk. I would describe it as a combination of science fiction and paranormal. My protagonist is a Gullah healer who’s been sent to a planet, along with practitioners of other religions and the occult, to exorcise demons that were released when particle beams collided inside the Titanic Hadron Collider on planet M117. She has a secret guilt, which she has to overcome, in order to save the others on the planet.

For the book I’m writing now, tentatively entitled, Cog, I’ve endeavored to use the hardboiled narrative style I like so much. I also enjoy making up new words, forcing the reader to use context clues to understand what I’m talking about.

My protagonist is an heiress to a wireless hologram company, and finds out one day that her father is in a coma, her brother embezzled money and skipped town, and the company’s vice president wants her dead. She’s forced to return to her friends from the street, back when she was a drug addict, for help. Here’s an excerpt:

He led a squad of skeemz rackers on the other side of Baltimore, in Owings Mills. They worked out of the basement of the mall. Nothing like Tuma’s operation, though. They were connected. Really connected. His programmers just sat, wearing fryers, writing skeemz for weeks at a time, their medinites monitoring and patching the effects of inactivity, nourishment forced into them intravenously. They looked like hollowed-out corpses, skin and flesh sagging on their bones, but man, the end product seemed worth it. Groundbreaking, visionary shit. Everyone wanted a Lydo skeemz. Best in the business.

We’ll see how it goes…

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About the Author

K. Ceres Wright is a writer and editor for a management consulting firm. Her story, "The Haunting of M117," appears in Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction, Book 1. Her poem, Doomed, was nominated for a Rhysling award. She lives in Maryland with her son, Ian, and daughter, Chloe.

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About Many Genres, One Craft

Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction (Headline Books, 2011)is an amazing anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.

MGOC is available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

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NEXT UP: Unless something catastrophic happens, I promise that next week we will have Heidi Ruby Miller's addition to the MGOC Fantasy Series!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

MGOC Series on Fantasy - Mike Mehalek

Today I have a new post in the Many Genres, One Craft Fantasy Series! This time Mike Mehalek is guest blogging. If you'd like to know more about the author and Many Genres, One Craft, please scroll to the bottom of the article.

Only Metaphor by Mike Mehalek

I was never good at writing fantasy. Even when I was a kid trying to mimic TSR’s (now Wizards of the Coast) choose-your-own adventure books, I knew something was missing. I still have those handwritten pages tucked away in an undisclosed, I’ll-take-it-to-my-grave location--Okay! Okay it’s in the filing cabinet under the printer, but you’ll never find the key (because the drawer doesn’t lock)--and they are pretty terrible pages. It’s a combination of inexperience, anachronisms, trying to copy something that has already been done, and not knowing how to incorporate the creative backstory and characters without just dumping them into my tale as carelessly as I dump sugar into my coffee each morning.

What really made this story and most of my fantasy writing crap--hell, almost all of my stories suffered this tragic flaw until I discovered the grizzly (and obvious) truth--was their lack of an ending. Not just an ending but a middle, and a late beginning too. You see I suffer from a genetic writing disorder on chromosome 20. Many people have this disease, but fortunately most are not writers. You see, where most writers possess a metaphor gene on chromosome 20, whether they know it or not, I have none.

The metaphor gene allows writers and storytellers to sprinkle symbols, language, characters, character actions, plot points, colors, textures, sights, sounds, setting, motif, irony, and other literary tools to convey a central theme or themes to their readers. Some readers lay it right out in front of you (Some writers can do it so readers “get” the metaphor without ever mentioning it, while others place it right before the reader so that his or her psyche can gorge on it like some sort of book vampire. (Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for example, and Paul Harding’s Tinkers both explore the passage of time, coupled with the desire to return to the past, the former implicitly, the latter explicitly). A book’s metaphor is its lifeblood. Without it--call the morgue--it’s a “dead” book.

Enter Only Human (OH), the current name I am using for my urban fantasy manuscript, which was named Dragon during my sojourn at Seton Hill University. OH came into existence years before, as this question: what would it be like for a dragon if it had to spend its existence as a human? The question got me started on the manuscript, but it was an indirect question; and as I’ve previously mentioned about my writing, I never could make it beyond the first few pages before the story fizzled out. As I explored this question through the writing of OH, I realized that what I was really asking of my manuscript was “what does it mean to be human?”

It occurred to me, if I were to explore this theme, then my dragon needed someone in his life--someone that he cared deeply about. The creation of the character Kevin was a direct result of this revelation. And the story started writing itself. If I hit a wall, I spent time, mostly unconsciously, exploring that central question. What does it mean to be human?

More and more pages revealed themselves to me. Stressors from the plot points and action sequences created new interactions with these two characters and as much as I feel that OH is chockfull of violence, gore, humor, and suspense--the theme of love was all over the place; and when the final bullets flew and the six-inch long teeth stopped crushing bones to dust, my metaphor emerged from the flotsam. Love is what makes us human, and true love cannot die.

OH was insightful to me as a first time novelist in both its message and its use of metaphor. Despite my genetic makeup, I know that it is possible to write meaningful fiction and to complete volumes of prose if only I keep at it with persistence, dedication, and metaphor in mind.

So let me close with the words from a very dear friend of mine, a dragon, who taught me a little more about life than I did before I met him, and wish that you and your writing find “all the things you need, not everything you want but what you need. And I sincerely hope that every once in a while you too receive something better than you deserve.”

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About the Author

A friend once told Mike Mehalek that "writing will set you free," and he’s bought into that philosophy 110%. To him writing is a way to escape from reality, a means to earn a living, and a way to show the world that one person can make a difference. He feels fiction should be enjoyable at the surface, but it should also have enough depth that those willing to dive for it can find greater meaning. In 2008 Mike graduated from the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill with his thesis Dragon, an urban dark fantasy.

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About Many Genres, One Craft

Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction (Headline Books, 2011)is an amazing anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.

MGOC is available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

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NEXT UP: Another article in the MGOC Fantasy Series - Heidi Ruby Miller! Strike that, Heidi will not be until the following week. I've been informed that next up will be K. Ceres Wright!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Randomness: Sense of Wonder, the Sublime, the Uncanny (And Chain Story #2)

*Grips the wheel of randomness, takes a deep breath, and pulls it into a dizzying spin* Where will the wheel stop? Who knows?

Yes, yes - I know. I didn't know last week, though. >:) Today, the wheel has landed on Sense of Wonder, the Sublime, and the Uncanny! Also, if you keep reading until the end, you'll find the beginning of another chain story for your writing pleasure.

So, as mentioned in my update post, I had my residency for my M.F.A. program this month. It was a blast, and I knew I'd want to blog about at least part of it. Dr. Al Wendland did a wonderful module on Sense of Wonder, the Sublime, and the Uncanny. I thought it would be a good idea to at least cover the definitions of these concepts as they can be hard to wrap your head around at times.

Sense of Wonder, the Sublime, and the Uncanny are all devices used in speculative fiction (and can also be found in other types of fiction). These devices make a story richer and can help deliver a bigger impact.

Sense of Wonder is found mostly in beautiful description, evoking awe and the desire to be pulled into the described location or object. The use of color is prevalent, as well as other sensory details. As a writer, you take something ordinary and make that ordinary object breathtaking with words. A sunset, a vast field of flowers, the intricacies of an electronic device - anything can be described just so to bring out that Sense of Wonder inside of us, a tug at our emotions.

The Sublime takes that Sense of Wonder to a whole different level. It's a feeling of vastness and the unknown. Instead of looking at something ordinary, the writer takes a look at something that is incomprehensible. This is utilized in things such as an alien planet or an apocalypse. The reader gains a sense of something impossible to describe when introduced to the Sublime.

And then there's the Uncanny, where you take something ordinary and make it strange. Talking cat? Uncanny. It's where the writer creates something normal that does something unexpected. If it's taken far enough, if that ordinary object is pushed to the point of changing that it becomes a bit terrifying, it turns into the Grotesque.

So, where in your writing do you take advantage of Sense of Wonder, the Sublime, and the Uncanny? Even if you weren't aware of writing these things in initially, you'll notice that they're there and they make your writing that much better.

Speaking of writing, don't forget to join us for Writing Quest - July. Sorry, had to mention it. =)

Now, as promised, here's the start of a new chain story (and an example of a Sense of Wonder). Rules are the same as last time: only add one sentence, you can add another sentence after someone else has posted, and don't be afraid to have fun (and be silly). Happy writing, all!

Beginning of Chain Story #2:

A dandelion seed danced on the wind, weaving back and forth, finally alighting on the cap of an emerald mushroom.

Continue the story in the post comments!

NEXT UP: The MGOC Series on Fantasy continues with Mike Mehalek!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

MGOC Series on Fantasy - Chun Lee

The Many Genres, One Craft series on fantasy continues with Chun Lee - another great writer I've known for many years. If you'd like to know more about the author and Many Genes, One Craft, please scroll to the end of the article.

Just Because it’s Grounded Doesn’t Mean Fantasy is Bad by Chun Lee

I’ve been asked to do a guest blog, which is something I have never done, but I don’t think it will be too difficult. I thank Alexa, for this opportunity (it’s really nice and comfy here). Our subject is fantasy. More specifically I am to give you two examples of fantasy from way back in the day and two examples of contemporary fantasy and explain why those titles speaks to me or influences me.

Let me first define my favorite type of fantasy. I like my fantasy to be grounded. I like it to make sense. I don’t mind the wonder of it, absolutely nothing wrong with wonder. In fact I think grounding a fantasy enhances the wonder. Giving the reader a sense of how characters view their world lets the reader understand how wondrous a certain fantastic element is. I never liked it when characters felt no awe in the presence of the fantastic. So my favorite fantasy reads tend to have a realistic grounding to it. Take a look at T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. This is the novel that pretty much decided what the Arthurian legend was going to be for the 20th century. The fantasy elements in this book can always be doubted. It could be magic but it could also be an interesting dream or a simple misinterpretation of reality. In this world magic is magic only when you believe it to be magic. It’s a very fine line that White does a fantastic job treading.

Another fantasy classic worth taking a look at is Dracula. I know you want to now point out that Dracula is a horror novel, but what’s wrong with considering it to be both horror and fantasy? There are plenty of fantastic elements in it. It’s also grounded. It’s a strange mixture of the emerging faith in Victorian technology and the fear of the distant supernatural coming to town. Applying science to fantasy seems to be the most logical thing to do when faced with the impossible. It’s human nature to want to understand how some strange foreigner is using supernatural powers to drink people’s blood and take their women.

Let’s now move on to contemporary fantasy. We have so many choices to look at so how about I just let my inner superfangeek out and use my two favorite contemporary fantasy writers? George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has been captivating my interests for years now. It is low magic fantasy, but it does not need to be low magic to be grounded. It is grounded because Martin created his world from a historical basis. The man has done his research and it’s obvious he knows a lot about the politics of a medieval society. There is an economy to his world. Matters on one side of the world have ramifications on the other side of the world. And when Martin does use fantastic elements in his story I know I am in good hands because he has thought out exactly what such things could mean to his world.

Another favorite of mine is China Míeville’s Perdido Street Station. I love the fact that Míeville answers the question of how science would react if magic was a common phenomenon; it tries to find industrious uses for it. Míeville creates a world in which magic and technology are married to one another. And yes, it breaks the rule of lack of wonder from its characters (Míeville tends to break a lot of rules and does a fantastic job at it), but there is a sense of wonder in the narrator’s voice that is imparted to the reader. The characters may not be impressed with all the amazing architecture, fantastic machines, and multiple races, but the narrator is and he isn’t scared to share the impressive nature of the world he is describing.

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About the Author

Chun Lee is dodging gators and enjoying amazing Cajun cuisine in Lafayette, Louisiana. His work has appeared in The Late Late Show, Dissections, Sails and Sorcery, and the upcoming anthology Paper Blossoms, Shattered Steel. He is a graduate of the WPF program at Seton Hill University and is currently earning a Ph.D. in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His article "Pursuing the Graduate Degree" is part of the writing guide Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction.

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About Many Genres, One Craft

Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction (Headline Books, 2011)is an amazing anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.

MGOC is available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

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NEXT UP: Randomness and a new chain story!