Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Hobbit as Life Coach, and a Return to Dracula

I was six years old when I discovered the world of fantasy fiction, and it came in two flavors: horror, in the form of a televised version of Dracula (based on certain costumes and sets, I think it was this one), and adventure, in the form of the animated television movie The Hobbit.

Someone gave me a record, which came with a read-along version of the story illustrated with stills from the film, so I would sit by the record player -- sometimes for hours, playing it over and over again -- and relive the adventures of Bilbo and friends until the music was stuck in my head, particularly the ballad / theme song:

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.

The chances, the changes are all yours to make.

The mold of your life is in your hands to break.


The greatest adventure is there if you're bold.

Let go of the moment that life makes you hold.

To measure the meaning can make you delay;

It's time you stop thinkin' and wasting the day.


The man who's a dreamer and never takes leave

Who thinks of a world that is just make-believe

Will never know passion, will never know pain.

Who sits by the window will one day see rain.


The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.

The chances, the changes are all yours to make.

The mold of your life is in your hands to break.


The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

lyrics by Jules Bass



Spending time with my brother's family this week, I thought about how much time has passed, and how the eldest niece's creativity and interests in reading, storytelling, and art has grown. She, too, was six when she encountered The Hobbit. (Good thing I had the book, because she read it after watching the film. She's eleven now, almost twelve, and I don't think I've given her a book she hasn't devoured.)

After another incident of poor behavior this afternoon, she and I and my sister-in-law had a lengthy discussion about how her choices have consequences. She chooses how to respond, how to speak to people, how many friends she will have. She chooses. The mold of her life is in her hands to break.

The Hobbit as life coach. Who knew?

But, no, I will not be introducing any horror into her literary or viewing diet. She can choose to do that when she's, oh, thirty-five, and no longer afraid of the dark. She had nightmares after watching The Mummy ("I didn't sleep for a week!"), but The Lord of the Rings (FOTR, TT, ROTK) seems to be okay. After all, what're a few nasty orcs and some Ringwraiths?

Speaking of horror, due to the proliferation of teenybopper vampire tales in print and on film -- anybody else nauseated by the current cute-and-lovable-vampire cult? -- I purchased an annotated copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and a slim volume of the short story / novella by Polidori, The Vampyre. If there must be blood-drinking in fiction, I need not be in pain when I read it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Avatar

Yep, I was right. But I wish I wasn't.

I wanted to see Avatar at first, but the trailers told me I'd be in for a sermon. Well, according to an article on Yahoo! Movies, the film is full of political messages. I'm already full up on all the political and social agendas in movies and television shows. Why stand in line and pay for another helping?

Why does a story have to be mucked up and turned into a megaphone?

Edit: After reading all the sickeningly glowing reviews at IMDB, I started in on the "Hated It" reviews. Even more reason not to plunk down perfectly good, hard-earned cash.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In Christmas Past

This may become a traditional Christmas post for me, this being the second year the following poem has appeared on the blog. It's a compact memoir of all my childhood Christmases, and a wish for a constant remembrance of what makes tough times good.

In Christmas past, I used to wait
wide-eyed in the dark,
willing daylight to arrive--
or the first chimes of midnight--
but always, always, I fell asleep,
and did not hear the whispered consult
or see the huddled adults
conjure piles of wrapped treasure
beneath a tinseled tree.

Then came the years the gifts were few--
maybe only one--
but popcorn, cocoa, carols,
reading in the Book of Luke,
warmed the coldest winter holiday,
reminding us by frail candlelight
that even the brightest star
blooms suspended in chill space,
unseen without the dark.

c. 2007, Keanan Brand

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What's the Real Message? Questions and a Rant

Anybody else notice the product placement, or the political or social agendas in TV shows?

For instance, the Ford vehicles in Fringe, and the way the cell phone feature was highlighted in a recent episode: It was about as subtle as a car commercial, but at least the feature play a small role in the storyline (Agent Dunham calling the neighbors to check on her niece).

What about the "green" solutions or products i.e. an organic insulation for buildings, part of the evidence in a recent case on CSI: NY? Cool stuff, sure, but it has the delicacy of a "Go Green" commercial.

Or the homosexual / lesbian character and/or storyline in almost every show? This has been going on for several years, but now it seems to be more and more prevalent. Now, it's not the token black guy on the show (as during past decades), but the token homosexual. Not only a backhand to people of that persuasion, but also an in-your-face to the viewers who just want to enjoy a good story without a particular social agenda being shoved at them.

In other words, who's the preacher, and what's the sermon?

And what's with all the casual sex -- people hopping into bed with people they don't really know, almost an "I'm a guy, you're a girl, let's have sex" kind of attitude? And they're doing so without many consequences (pregnancy, disease, etcetera). Definitely not the real world.

-------------------------

By the way, I know the difference between soap opera and space opera, and I don't want all that soap in my space. I'm talking Stargate Universe, not personal hygiene.

Speaking of SGU, here's the "SF show checklist" that Lieutenant Bubba mentioned in a recent phone call:

Aliens inhabiting bodies. Check.

Aliens inhabiting ship. Check.

Characters switching bodies but retaining their own consciousness. Check.

Time loop/warp/anomaly. Check.

(Faster than) speed of light travel. Check.

Teleportation or some other kind of Star Trek movement of matter from one place to another. Check.

While that last one is central to the whole Stargate story, the one about sharing bodies is from an earlier SG storyline. However, in this new incarnation of SG, the stones are casually used, overused, and abused, compared to their previous treatment, in which uncertain and ugly consequences could arise from their use.

Conversation for another time: When it comes to time travel (no pun intended), thermal dynamics is the wrench in the works. All other elements of theory--mathematics, physics, and so on--can be reversed, but not that booger, that same thing that tweaks the tail of evolutionary theory, as well (but that, too, is a topic for another time).

-------------------------

And the new global and politically correct religion of "global warming" is bogus. I've been trying to tell people that for a few years now, but have made no converts, only spoken to others who have done their research and remember their basic high school science well enough to know our government and certain "scientists" are trying to feed them a steaming helping of horse dollops.

I encourage everyone to compare facts about climate truth v. climate panic i.e. "global warming". Anybody else remember the cooling hysteria from two or three decades ago, when we were being told that the earth was going to experience another catastrophic ice age? Not until Western Civ back in college did I learn the truth about global climate changes, which are like the seasons of the year -- sometimes cooler, sometimes warmer -- and events in history can be traced to such changes (diseases, currents, population growth or decrease, crop success or decline, and so on). Mankind has little actual impact, and can do nothing to stop the cycle.

So all this current stuff? Truth to tell, we're actually going through another cooling period. But hold on to your global warming stats. In another decade or so, they'll probably be back in style.

This is a brief rant. Feel free to weigh in.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Of Possible Interest to Fellow Writers

"What's in a Name?" at A Word's Worth, discussing the meaning of names

"Coping with rejection" at Jade's Journal, about the aftermath of a non-accepted story

"Avoiding the Predictable" over at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, about how the amount of interesting material in a story really depends on the writer, not necessarily the subject matter

"The Magic in Fantasy that Pervades Everything" and "The Nature of Magic, in Le Guin and Tolkien", pretty self-explanatory titles for two recent articles over at Creeping Past Dragons

"Fiddlers Five (or Three)" about how even the best writers can produce less than stellar work, to be found at Do You Write Under Your Own Name?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

No Hurry

So, discussions for Phase 3 of the Marcher Lord Select Premise Contest are up over at The Anomaly. Dragon's Rook made it past the second round, but it's definitely not a favorite for the third round.


From some of the comments discussing the contest entries, I gather that many of the readers who are casting votes are not readers of fantasy or science fiction or both, which makes me scratch my head and wonder why they're participating. It'd make as much sense as me wandering over to cast a vote in a romance novel competition: "This whole girl-meets-boy scenario isn't my thing, but I guess I'll vote for that entry over there. At least all the words are spelled right."

And then there are some snarky comments, and some over-the-top praises, and at least two predictions about different novels each being the final winner.

Ay-yi-yi.

To tell the truth, last week I almost asked the contest administrator to remove my novel from the contest. There's something a little juvenile and needy about the whole thing, as if I'm jumping up and down and shouting, "Look at me! Look at me! Pick me, pick me, pretty please, pick me."

I guess I'm of the mind that, if the writing's any good, it'll be noticed. Eventually. What's the rush?

This from a writer who spent about fifteen years, from merest hint of an idea to full-blown novel, writing the darn thing.

But, really, what's the rush?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanks!

Thanks, all of those who voted for Dragon's Rook to advance to Round 3 in the Marcher Lord Select contest. (see post below for links and information)

I read over the material I submitted for the next two steps in the contest, and am dismayed that I let some editorial issues slip past me (repetitious phrasing, bland word choices), but am trying to let go of that. Just gonna "let it ride" and be content with whatever outcome.

Haven't written a word of fiction since Monday's mad dash to the NaNo finish line. My brain is a bit mushy at the moment. I need to let it set, like a bowl of Jell-O, so it'll be ready to tackle Thieves' Honor again. Episode 11 wasn't finished before November hit me, so that's the next priority.

As for the day job, things are heating up as we're on a headlong rush toward basketball season. Our first games begin on Saturday, so we're prepping the concession stand and the gym, inventorying and replacing game equipment, setting up a new procedure for the scorebooks, and so on. What's great, though, is all the (uncomplaining) participation by the staff. If only they'd work this willingly throughout the rest of the year!

I'm also in charge of the annual fine arts and photography exhibits, which are put on display at a local bank, an historical location with a giant wall dedicated to the artistic endeavors of the community. Our art exhibit comes down on Friday, and I have to immediately prepare the photography exhibit / contest for display and judging in January.

(stage whisper) By the way, just in case you didn't know it yet, Christmas is coming.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Home Again, Writing Like Mad, and Asking for Your Vote


That loud gasping sound you just heard was me sucking in air. I've been underwater for a few days, but am finally coming to the surface.

Thanks to Thanksgiving (chuckle, chuckle) and all the travel associated with it, I'm way behind in my noveling for NaNoWriMo, but have today and tomorrow to come up with just over 9,000 words and sprint to the finish line.

Edit, 11:45 a.m., November 30, 2009: When I say, "Write like mad," I mean write like mad. I've slept maybe five hours; despite sleeplessness, chores, and work, I've whittled down the deficit to just 2,833 words. I'm giving myself until 9:00 tonight to finish them.

And One Last Edit, 11:00 p.m.: I made it. But I'm so tired, I can't even be excited about it. My fingertips hurt. I am writer; hear me whine. Actually, this is the first year I crossed the finish line, and though the manuscript -- I use that term loosely -- is a hodgepodge of random scenes and dialogue that doesn't always finish a complete arc of thought, I have the skeleton of a story. A month from now, I may scrap it all and start over; but, for now, I like it.

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FYI, my novel -- Dragon's Rook -- is up for voting in the second phase of the Premise Contest over at The Anomaly, the message boards for Where the Map Ends, a sister website to that of Marcher Lord Press, host of the Premise Contest and the publisher to whom I've submitted my fantasy novel, one of possibly five (yep, five) set in the same mythical world.

So, if you'd like to help boost Dragon's Rook to the top of the contest stack, you can find it in Poll #2.

There are so many entries, they had to be split into two lists. Check out all the other interesting novels also submitted in the contest. There were so many I liked, I voted for fifteen of them to advance to Round 3.

Better be quick! This phase of the contest ends Monday (November 30).

--------------------------------

Also, if you're on the scout for fresh new fantasy and science fiction to read, check out MLP's bookstore.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Further Notes from the Hinterland


All right, I confess. My NaNo novel has vampires.

No, no, no -- nothing Twilight or Moonlight or Forever Knight or Angel or romantic about 'em.

Think more Dracula, but less with the hairy palms and sleeping in boxes of Transylvanian dirt.

There are swords involved -- of course, there are swords involved! -- as well as an old truck, a vendetta, a spyglass, and a biker gang.

I can't say more, because
1) I don't want to lose my creative momentum,
2) I don't want to give away the story (and if I start talkin', who knows where I'll shut up--yep, I said where, because I can wander all over the conversational landscape),
and
3) I honestly don't think anyone's ever written anything quite like this before, and I want to keep it to myself. Until it's published, of course.

31,000 words down -- 19,000 to go.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Notes from the Hinterland

I'm one of "those" writers participating in National Novel Writing Month (see post below), and thus have been absent from the blogosphere.

But I can't blame all my absence on writing. It seems that four days away from the office can put me eight days behind at work.

So this post is me coming up for air. Or, more aptly, sending a postcard from the wilderness, letting folks know I have encountered monsters and survived.

I'm not quite to the halfway point with the NaNoWriMo novel, so I hope to get there and beyond this weekend. Once I do, I might reward myself with a walk to the post office, or a little yardwork, or almost anything that gets me away from this computer.

Note: For a fun bit of literary trivia, check out the recent entry at the blog of one of my favorite authors, Will Thomas, and read about a couple of my other favorite authors, Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Fun stuff!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NaNo Update

National Novel Writing Month -- NaNoWriMo, or just plain NaNo to us geeks -- is open for business, and only the insane need apply.

At the start of the second week of my attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, I am ahead of the daily goal: by this date, the manuscript should be between 13,000-15,000 words, and I'm a few thousand beyond that. However, if I don't stop doing other things, like chores or photography or watching my television shows online because I missed them all week, I'll be slipping into a deficit.

Now, there are others of the writing ilk who despise November -- not because they dread trying to cram all those words into so short a span of time, but because they don't see the point. Or they don't like the pressure. Or they are editing their manuscripts for publication. Or they're about to head out on the road for a book-signing tour.

Or they have real jobs.

Or they'd rather sit around watching television shows online. (Note to self: Hulu is not your friend.)

I used to sit out, too, until I was so frustrated with all the writer's block that I decided to just break down that wall and do something totally crazy. Something that didn't require me to examine every word or idea, but to simply slap words on paper and tell myself a story I enjoyed.

That I did. Didn't get anywhere near 50,000 words, though.

Nor the next year.

Maybe this year.

As usual, the story is bizarre and unrealistic, and other projects lay abandoned -- but only temporarily -- while the excitement for the sheer act of telling a story is coming back.

Gotta work myself up to it, though.

Let me just settle in on the couch, bring up the Internet, and catch a television show or two while I think about what to write next.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Home From Texas

I returned home last night from Texas, where I stayed in a hotel just down the road from Fort Hood. My original post on this topic was short, written and posted just as news reports were being broadcast about the shootings, and is included below.

I won't comment on the shooter or delve into my own thoughts or emotions, except to say that most of the flags I saw were flying at half-mast, as Governor Perry ordered they be through Sunday. However, there were still some flying top-of-the-pole, and that angered me.

Even across the border in Oklahoma, flags were lowered in honor of the dead.

Respect, people. Respect.

-------------------------

The original post (from Thursday, November 5, 2009) and it's one edit:

I'm in Killeen, Texas, for job-related training, and am currently watching the news regarding a deadly shooting on Fort Hood: at least 2 shooters -- 1 in custody, 1 still at large -- and 7 dead, with 20 or more injured.

I work for a Boys & Girls Club, and many of the other folks here at the session work at Clubs on-base or near base. Not only do they work with kids whose parents are injured or killed overseas, now they have this tragedy.

More later.

--------------------

The latest facts: (as of 4:30 pm, CST)
12 dead, 31 injured
2 suspects in custody
1 gunman dead
Fort Hood still locked down

As might be expected, despite the fact that the afternoon classes were still in session, most peoples' attention was glued to televisions, and to Internet feeds on cell phones and laptops.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

I'm off the starting line with a solid word count on the first day of NaNoWriMo, and I hope to run a steady race this year.

Tuesday, I and three coworkers head to Texas for job-related training. The plan is for me to do as little driving as possible so I can write. We'll see how that one plays.

At the hotel and the conference site, I shall seek out nooks and corners to hide in so that my relentless typing and occasional maniacal laughter does not disturb the wildlife, ahem, the people around me.

Instead of tackling fantasy or science fiction, as I'd planned a month ago, I'm working on a thriller/horror idea that's been haunting me for two or three years. As a submissions reader for a horror magazine, I need to hone a few scary skills of my own.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Real Life Disrupts - and Tells a Story

I work with kids -- that's no secret -- but some of them need more attention than others, either because of learning issues, Asperger's, or high intelligence with little creative outlet. Still others have mental or emotional needs that can disrupt everyone's calm, especially if medication has been switched or forgotten, or if their wills are thwarted. Thursday was such a day, and "Donny" was such a child.

When I am brought to the library (shown in the photo to the right, during a storytelling activity back in the spring), I see that he has crawled under the row of computers in the library, is curled up in the corner, and refuses to come out.

At this point, it's not about the fact that he mocked a six-year-old kid and made him cry; it's about his refusal to admit his wrong and own his actions, and about his refusal to follow staff instructions.

I say, "Fine. When he comes out from under there and does what he is asked, he can have his snacks. Otherwise, if I come back to the room and he hasn't done as instructed, I have no problem crawling under there."

Staff person nods and goes about her tasks with the other children.

I return a few minutes later to prepare for the next activity. Donny is still under the computers.

I crouch beside him. "Did you not believe what I said earlier?"

He crawls out. "But I'm not gonna 'pologize, 'cause I didn't do nothin' wrong."

"Actually, you are. Come with me."

"I don't want snacks."

"Nobody said you did."

We track down the boy he made fun of -- who, by the way, is new to the Club, is a shy kid with a great imagination (he's in the novel-writing club), and isn't too eager to get anywhere near Donny, who is twice his size and possesses a quick temper.

The boy backs up against me, and I take him by the shoulders to reassure him. He looks up at Donny.

Donny looks over our heads and refuses to shake hands.

I send the little boy away and conduct Donny into my office, where he shouts and calls me names -- I am, among other things, a blathering, stupid, freakin' loser. He starts flailing, and I grip his upper arms to hold him steady. No one's hurt at this point.

Then he hauls back and delivers a good kick to my knee.

"All right, then." (I confess: I really want to kick him back.) "I'll let you go when you calm down and talk to me."

More name calling. More attempts to kick me. More irrational craziness i.e. all girls are liars, everyone in the room was lying about him, he accuses me of choking him, his dad's gonna sue me, and there's no way he's ever going to apologize to some stupid freakin' loser.

"If that's the way you want it, we'll just stand here until your dad arrives."

"I'm gonna tell him what you did."

"Excellent! I would love the opportunity to describe for him exactly what happened. I'll show him the precise way I held you so you wouldn't flail around and hit me. I'll tell him how you kicked me, and called people names. I'll tell him about your refusing to follow staff instructions, and your disrespect of a fellow Club member--"

"Tattletale!"

Now, that's an argument for ya.

"So, will all this kicking and flailing and name-calling get you what you want?"

"I don't wanna be here anyway!"

"Will it get you what you want? Will it put you in charge, and let you have your way?"

"I don't care!"

"Sure, you do. What will this get you?"

No answer. I don't let him go, and he never gets away. He just stands there and cries. And calls me names.

Finally, when the wailing becomes more of a whimper, I ask him again if he will talk to me.

"Fine."

"Was that a yes?"

He nods.

"All right. Look me in the eye."

He does, and we talk for about five minutes. He's exhausted.

"I have to go to the other room" -- it's been forty-five minutes since I was supposed to be leading a different activity in the library -- "but you can sit in that chair until I get back."

He sinks into the small student desk, folds his arms, and lays his head down, still sniffling.

I check in on the staff member who stepped into the breach for me. She's doing okay with the group, so I return to my office and stuff a couple Kleenexes up under Donny's arm. One hand scrabbles out and snags the tissues.

The father arrives. His shoulders sag as soon as he sees his son in my office; I'm like the vice principal at school -- the one stuck with most of the disciplinary measures. "What'd he do now?"

Truth to tell, though I know much of Donny's background (which I will not describe here), this is the first time I or any of the other Club workers have experienced one of his meltdowns. He's usually an involved, pleasant, well-behaved kid, and I tell his father as much. After some conversation among the three of us, his father sends Donny out of the office and reveals that Donny has recently performed a far worse -- and public -- demonstration directed toward his dad (again, I will not describe the details here).

Turns out, there are upheavals in the boy's routine: medication changes, and the threat of being returned to a "normal" school, but also several family issues, the most disturbing of which is the fact that, when he asked to go stay with her last week, Donny's mother told him she doesn't want him.

That explains the "all girls are liars" statement.

I am true to my word: I tell his father everything. Dad doesn't know what to do about Donny's situation. He can't, after all, make the mother's cruelty go away, and all he can ask from us is our patience and understanding. His own is being tested.

So the story ends. Sort of.

There is no rainbow here, no riding off into the sunset. Sure, father and son leave the office in a more subdued state than when either of them entered, but there is no peace. Just an uneasy calm. The heavy silence right before the storm breaks.

But there's hope. Father loves son. And son, though he refuses to admit it, knows it is true.

"For God so loved the world..." You know the rest.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly - The Interview, Part 3

And so we conclude this interview with Dave Farney and Adrian Simmons, the editors of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, with a final round of questions and some interesting answers:

6) What's the greatest thing about wielding ultimate power
ahem editing and producing Heroic Fantasy Quarterly?

Adrian: As pedestrian as it sounds, I really enjoy finding great S&S stories and putting them out for people to read.


David: Before we started HFQ, we used to joke about the editorial gig being our path to Supreme Being-ness. (You’ll have to supply your own sinister laugh.) But in the end, editing and producing HFQ
is everything I thought it would be: a ton of work. As Adrian said, discovering great new stories is easily the best thing about being the guys behind the curtain.


7) How has being an editor changed you as a writer? (Do you view it or approach it differently now? How do you apply what you've learned as an editor?)

Adrian: The value of those first few paragraphs can’t be emphasized enough. But that has to be balanced out by the cold hard fact that there is a lot more that goes into getting a “yes” than a good story well-told submitted to the right market. The longer I’m at this, the more I see luck being the lion’s share of the ingredients to success.

David: I’m not approaching my own writing any differently. In fact, I’m a little surprised that the stories we tend to like kind of contradict the things I’ve learned about submitting you know, where one’s manuscript should be grammatically correct, perfectly formatted and all that. For the most part, the stories having that sort of shiny curb appeal tend to be the most boring ones we receive.

8) For the benefit of the civilized masses — as opposed to the barbarians who believe every good story should involve swords and a good fight or three what's the appeal of heroic fantasy?

Adrian: The appeal is that it is fun to read. If done right, it is reading that you can experience, you can really feel it. And, like all good writing of any genre, if done really-really right, it sticks with you.

David: For me, it’s that heroic fantasy tends to be fast-paced with lots of outward focused characters. For some reason I think fantasy and adventure fantasy in particular works better when there’s not a lot of handwringing or personal inventory taking place. I don’t know what my disconnect is here, because I do enjoy those traits in contemporary or mainstream literature.


9) Is there a well-known piece of literature or a famous film that folks might not realize falls into the realm of heroic fantasy / sword-and-sorcery? (And, if they did know it, might elevate their opinion of the genre?)

Adrian: Most of the heroic fantasy/sword-and-sorcery fiction and movies are pretty distinctive because of the magic elements, so there really isn't anything I can think of that people won't realize falls into that category.

To come out swinging on the subject, though, I've got to say that in my experience, most people who don't like a great S&S movie like Conan the Barbarian don't understand it it goes over their heads. Or maybe I should say that, since they don't expect it to be anything other than mindless action, they miss the forest for the trees.

However, what many people don't realize is that heroic fantasy is just a kind of sub-category of heroic fiction, and a lot of great, socially acceptable, examples of that abound. I just watched The Maltese Falcon, and it (and a lot of film noir) could be considered heroic fiction. Road To Perdition, too. If you took out the Italians and the Tommy guns, and replace them with Danes and broadswords, that story is straight out of dark-age Ireland.

Three O’Clock High, which is a great, underrated, late-80s movie about an average high-school kid who has to fight a bully, is also cut from that same cloth. It is one of those movies that is a black comedy with an almost Nordic patina to it — the kid is just fated to do this. And, if you don't like all the noir then let me throw out something with a little more color: The Warriors.

David: Yeah if the book or movie has swords and fantastical elements like magic, and if the characters are larger than life or a bit over-the-top with dialogue, action, and bloodshed, then I agree most people will recognize the work as S&S or HF. Certainly all genre readers will.

While I agree with Adrian that heroic qualities are found in all kinds of disparate works, I still say there are traits distinctive to the adventure fantasy characters we like: an outward focus, a certain emotional coldness or callousness, big talk or grandiosity, and perhaps separatism. Movies examples are easy think of Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies. If you take away the guns and skyscrapers and replace them with swords and ramparts, then you’ve got a perfect heroic fantasy character and story.

Same goes for most westerns. Just about any of the Akira Kurosawa samurai movies could be heroic fantasy if there were sorcery involved.

Stealth heroic books are harder to name, but I might suggest Cold Mountain (let me stress book, not movie the latter of which was a sappy mess) or Don Quixote or No Country For Old Men. If you enjoyed the main characters and narratives of any of these, you might enjoy reading sword-and-sorcery. And vice versa.


10) Lastly, a two-edged sword of a question: a) What single piece of advice would you give any writer wishing to submit something to HFQ, and b) What advice would you give to any writer in general?

Adrian:

a) Our guidelines are specific and pretty blunt, so read through them. We put all our cards on the table right there.

b) Although it is better to be lucky than good, you have to good enough to attract some luck.

David:

a) I don’t really have anything to add. Just read our guidelines and then a story or two on the HFQ site before submitting.

b) I suggest that writers find a way to get feedback on their writing. Everybody needs an editor!

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And that, my friends, is the end. Check out the adventure at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly
, and tell the guys what you think by posting a reply on any of the three interview segments here on the blog.

Happy Reading!


Glossary of Abbreviated Terms
HF -- heroic fantasy
HFQ -- Heroic Fantasy Quarterly
S&S -- sword and sorcery, a fantasy subgenre

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly - The Interview, Part 2

I've been asking my friends Adrian and Dave, editors of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, a few things about themselves, their reasons for starting the magazine, and their vision. You can catch Part One here -- it covers only the first question, 'cause these guys can talk, but they're never boring -- but I've endeavored to cover a little more ground in this portion.

So, without further explanation or ado, we continue the interview:

2) HFQ is compact, publishing only five pieces per issue (so far, three stories and two poems per edition). How did you arrive at the decision to keep it so small?

Adrian: Mostly it's a matter of practicality. HFQ is a two-man show.

And even with three months to do it, reading through the inbox to narrow down the tier-two submissions, and then reading through the entire manuscripts of those to get to the best of the best, and then to pick the ones we want to run, and edit them, all the while wrangling the artwork, fixing technical bugs, working day jobs, and keeping our own writing going, it takes a lot of time and energy.

On top of that, we have a limited amount of money powering this project, and we wanted to pay a respectable amount, so that was also a huge factor.

David: Right—publishing every three months just seemed like a manageable timeframe, both to go through submissions and to stay on readers’ radar. Time will tell on the latter.

So far, so good as far as the editorial/behind the scenes duties go, even if I sometimes wish there were four months between issues. But Heroic Fantasy Tri-annually doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.

3) Do I assume correctly that a smaller quantity means a higher quality?

Adrian: We like to think so. There is a lot of good, albeit amateur, writing that we just have to pass on, and since we're only doing five items, if we miss something in the editorial process, we really feel bothered by it.

David: As we state on the HFQ website, one of our goals is to elevate sword-and-sorcery to a rightful high place. So yeah, we think publishing a smaller number of items will allow us to spend more time working with writers—if need be—during the editorial process.

We’ve seen everything from grammatically perfect stories that were real snooze-fests, to stories with great ideas but wherein the author displayed a complete lack of competency in assembling words on the page. We reject both of these varieties; I think it is the latter that Adrian referred to as amateur.

4) A lot of online magazines keep a shorter schedule, publishing monthly, or updating their content weekly. Why did you decide to go with a quarterly schedule?

Adrian: I tend to think that a weekly schedule is too much for the reader, honestly. I mean, I don't read every story at Strange Horizons (love it!) even if I do remember to stop by every Monday. Monthly publishing is a little easier on the reader, but again I don't read every month's worth of Internet Review of Science Fiction or Revolution SF or even LOCUS, for crying out loud!

Furthermore, a lot of "updates" are really just blog entries, or book reviews or whatever and we wanted to make the focus of HFQ the fiction and poetry—not our views on the latest movies, or wringing our hands about the state of the publishing industry.

David: Agreed. Correct or not, I also think too much content can be counterproductive to fiction e-zines. On the Internet, we all suffer from some degree of ADD or restlessness. We want to get in and get out, and on to the next thing. Or maybe that’s just me!

More importantly, I think it’s better for writers if their stories can stay up on the front page for a longer period of time. This is secondary to why we publish on a quarterly schedule, but it is something that has occurred to me since we actually published our first issues.


5) Your submission guidelines are clear (and funny), and the genre is in the title -- heroic fantasy. However, I know from experience that magazines receive material that has no place in the publication i.e. the horror magazine for which I read receives straight-up fantasy and science fiction, or outright dramas that are not horrific in any way. Are there any HFQ submissions that seem to have landed from some other plane of the universe?

Adrian: Actually, can we clear something up regarding our guidelines? People! We never said Tunnels and Trolls was a bad game. What we said was that nobody played it. Which is doubly ironic in that one of its claims to fame is that it has solo-player rules. We know people who own the game, but neither of us has ever met a single person who has played it.

David: Right. A little brother of one of my old D&D buddies bought Tunnels & Trolls. But we never played the game with him. I also never inhaled.

Adrian: The vast majority of our submissions are in the heroic fantasy/S&S genres. But even those clearly-defined genres get kind of fuzzy around the edges, so we do get some stuff that straddles the line. We also get the occasional story that has no business at HFQ. But honestly, we knew going into this that would happen, so we reject them politely and professionally.

David: I might disagree a bit on the clear definition of what constitutes HF/S&S. It can be hard to describe, but we certainly know it when we see it.

That said, I’m sure it is a bit difficult for writers to be sure of exactly what we want, and there is indeed a fuzzy area where stories straddle a line between high fantasy and sword-and-sorcery.

As to the original question, yes, we get stories that could never fit into even the loosest definition of heroic fantasy, but I actually don’t remember many of these. I tend to remember the HF stories that were near misses. I say if a writer has any doubts about what may or may not fit with us, just go ahead and submit it. Our rejections are quite cordial.

Adrian: Not to get on a high horse here, but not only were we spurred into creating HFQ because of the shabby treatment of the S&S genre, but more broadly, we were spurred into creating HFQ because of the shabby treatment of genre writers in general. We want to be defined by what we enjoy and publish, not (by) what we hate.

David: Agreed, agreed. But neither do we want to serve up easy targets for genre (or subgenre!) haters.

--- to be continued ---

Glossary of Abbreviated Terms
ADD -- attention deficit disorder (but I think we pretty much know that one!)
D&D -- Dungeons & Dragons, a classic role-playing game
HF -- heroic fantasy
S&S -- sword and sorcery, a fantasy subgenre

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly - The Interview, Part 1

So, as some of you may already know, Adrian Simmons and Dave Farney -- my friends and fellow writers -- edit the strong-outta-the-gate online magazine, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, now in its second issue.

I've been wanting to sit down and talk with them about this new endeavor for a long time (we haven't had a face-to-face conversation in more than a year), so I'm excited to be able to bring you an interview with these guys. When they answer a question, they really answer a question, so I've broken the interview into parts; for instance, this first entry only covers one question.

Enjoy!

Note: In the discussion below, KB refers, of course, to me.

artwork c. Norimichi Tanaka

1) Who are you, and why are you here? No, seriously, tell us a little about yourselves, how you met, and why you've collaborated to give the world this dandy little magazine known as Heroic Fantasy Quarterly?

Adrian Simmons: Hobbies include backpacking, writing, taekwondo, traveling. Fantasy devotee. Science fiction enthusiast. Train aficionado. Fan of the Irish whiskey. Sometimes, while traveling by train, I'll work on writing while enjoying the Irish whiskey. Fifteen minutes of fame on the Internet. Not above italicizing.

David Farney: I enjoy writing, and my reading tastes are much like my musical tastes: all over the board. I’ve taken a recent interest in speculative poetry. I’ve decided that Copenhagen pouches go with red wine as tastily as smoked cheese and crackers. My mom thinks I’m a hick. My wife still thinks I’m cool.

Adrian: How we met is a bit of a funny story. There is this writing conference in Oklahoma— OWFI—it is mostly older women writing prairie romance. My second year there, I'm in the book room and I see another thirty-something male. He looks a little lost among all the estrogen. We fall to talking and I ask what he writes, and he kind of quietly says that he's working on a fantasy novel.

I press the attack: About what? He sheepishly asks if I know anything about the end of the world in Norse mythology. Not only do I know it, I know the gods who survive it.

I've never seen a guy look so relieved! A kindred spirit! We hung around off-and-on for the weekend, and kept in touch ever since.

David: I don’t have much to add to the “how we met” part except to say that OWFI was my very first writer’s conference, so this along with the preponderance of quilters and cowboy writers left me feeling doubly lost. And young! But Adrian found me, and then we found the three or four other young people there—

KB (in an aside): I was there, and I remember how cool it was to find a fellow fantasy enthusiast!

David: —and we ended up having a good time. In addition to discussing Norse myth, I’m pretty sure Adrian and I talked a little Conan or Robert E. Howard at that conference. Kindred spirits indeed!

KB (in another aside): I recall eating lunch with you two at a Korean restaurant, Conan on the big screen TV in the corner. Fun times.

David: Which kind of ties in to the present and why we’re doing HFQ. Some six years later, I’ve turned 40. But I discovered fantasy fiction in seventh grade and for the next few years read as much Howard, Moorcock, and (to a slightly less extent) Tolkien as I could lay my hands on. I was blown away. In the years since, I’ve had real trouble finding any fantasy I enjoyed as much. The “wow” factor simply wasn’t there. So, for me, founding HFQ is about a couple of things:

First, I’m sure it involves mid-life issues and re-capturing my youth or something; indeed, I’m happy to report I have re-experienced that fantasy “wow” factor by reading and publishing stories at HFQ. Even some of the stories we didn’t publish scratched that itch.

Adrian: We put together HFQ because we love the genre and got tired of seeing S&S [sword-and-sorcery] be the whipping-boy of the genre-writing world.

We wanted to bring back a little adventure, a little action, a little enjoyment of a tale well told and the shameless visceral thrill where the good guy gets the bad guy within arm's distance and messes him up good!

We felt there was something wrong with the world if there wasn't a market paying three digits for S&S that came out more than once a year. Plus, a quarterly S&S e-zine was the only set of criteria we could agree to work on together.

David: Adrian touched on the second motivating factor: a market need for adventure fantasy. There’s tons of good fantasy out there—both online and in print—and there seems to be no shortage of its various subgenres: urban, dark, high/traditional, etc. But particularly online, the subgenre of heroic fantasy (adventure/sword & sorcery) is underrepresented.

I worry that adventure fantasy stands at the brink of extinction. But I also sense there are plenty of us out there who may have discovered heroic fantasy by playing Dungeons & Dragons when it first came out, and I think this effect isn’t likely to happen in future generations.

So I hope we’re not only preserving but creating new interest in heroic fantasy, and providing a different variety of fantasy in the short form department—something we can hopefully introduce to our nieces and nephews and kids and grandkids who sure as hell aren’t going to discover adventure fantasy by playing D&D and finding a list of authors in Appendix N like we did. Nope–their imaginations are atrophying away in front of game consoles.

I’m pretty sure Adrian would agree with all that.

--- to be continued ---

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Haunt of Jackals - Day 3

Welcome to the final day of the CSFF Blog Tour featuring Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson, sequel to Field of Blood in the speculative Jerusalem's Undead trilogy.

I admire the fact that Wilson has tackled ideas that might be controversial. In the realm of Christian fiction -- a term with which I am growing more and more discontented, because it seems to imply sermons in fictional form -- are more and more attempts to portray the darker side. Aside from the dreadful tracts by Chick, my first experience with such literature was This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. It caused quite a debate in the churches my family attended. I expect Wilson's work will do the same.

And that's not a bad thing. People need to be stirred on occasion, challenged in their thinking and their beliefs. It is the Christian unafraid of the challenge who is strong in what he believes. He's not unsettled when called upon to examine his faith or his point of view. He can look at matters head-on and not run away or sidestep. He can admit when he's in error, and can extend grace to those who do not have clear understanding. I say all that to say this: Simply because a piece of fiction -- written by a Christian -- incorporates such creatures as vampires does not mean the story is somehow evil.

The Christian fiction I remember from childhood seemed to be all light, and as a result was light, in that it often had very little depth. Nothing truly terrible happened to anyone, justice was always served, and almost everyone "got saved" at the end. It's not news that I loved the work of Lewis and Tolkien, and Peretti was a welcome though spiritually challenging addition. They wrote of a darkness that must be overcome, and of a light that would shame the dark.

How can the light be seen unless there is darkness? What is a candle in the sunlight?

In Field of Blood and Haunt of Jackals, humans do one another harm, the vampiric Akeldama Collectors do much more harm, and they even create a gruesome gallery of sins: the Six, No Seven Things that God hates, taken from the book of Proverbs. They enslave, feed upon, and kill humans who are lead about by their own lusts and anger and willfulness.

I posted this yesterday as a comment on Becky Miller's blog:
I can understand why some Christian readers may not "click" with a story involving vampires. After all -- to my mind -- there's no mythical creature who so resembles Satan as does a vampire: the mind-control, the sucking away of life, the attraction of immortality that blinds one to the repulsive nature of one's existence after accepting that form of immortality.
Definitely not the source of a cozy story to read before bedtime.

But where's God in all this evil and darkness? Aside from a glance or two toward prayer, and several mentions of the Nazarene and His blood, God doesn't seem to be a major player in the story. I understand Wilson not wanting to bludgeon his readers with a sermon or excessive scripture, but the Collectors seem to have more faith in God as their enemy than the humans have faith in God as their friend. (For a clear discourse on the presence or absence of the salvation message in Haunt of Jackals, click here to read the entry on Rachel Starr Thomson's blog.)

Off that topic and onto something else that bugged me: the uncomfortable level of apparent flirtation between Gina and Cal, daughter and father. Yeah, before she knew who he really was, she wondered about him as a possible romantic problem, especially since she was married to Jed and still kept remembering Teo, a childhood sweetheart. Such thoughts were excusable in the first book, but in the second? Things just got a little too weird for me. I never really did buy the secrecy -- why Cal couldn't tell Gina sooner that he was her father -- so instead of thinking it funny when he gets up in Teo's face at the hostel and defends Gina's honor, I cringed. And cringed again when she just assumes a stranger at the museum is hitting on her, and he responds in kind, but it turns out to be Cal in disguise. That just felt "off".

Also, there are some continuity issues that might not have bothered other readers but kinda skritched at the back of my brain. For instance, after escaping Collectors, Gina goes to a hotel where the Tomorrow's Hope orphans and their chaperones are expected to arrive. Would a busload of frightened orphans keep to their schedule even though one of their number has just been brutally killed, and another has gone missing with the bus driver after fending off a fearsome attack? And what about Gina showing up at Bran Castle after fighting off a demon-possessed boar? No coat's gonna cover the bloody mess, the tangled hair, or the stench of boar, especially after the critter nigh swallowed her arm.

Despite my less-than-stellar review of the Jerusalem's Undead series so far, I'm glad it's out there, being read and causing discussion. I'm glad Wilson had the guts to write it, and that Nelson had the guts to publish it. I hope unexpected good things happen as a result.

And that's all I have to say about that.

For other points of view, click here for a list of the remaining stops on the blog tour.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Haunt of Jackals - Day 2

We return to this month's CSFF Blog Tour feature, speculative novel Haunt of Jackals, sequel to Field of Blood in the Jerusalem's Undead trilogy by Eric Wilson. Because the two books are so intertwined in my thoughts, and since Jackals follows immediately on Blood's heels (no pun intended), I'll be discussing them together.

As one raised to love a good story, the Good Book, and a good many bits of obscure yet interesting information, I came to this series prepared to enjoy it. If a novel keeps me glued to my seat or stretched out on the couch for hours, that's a good story. Haunt of Jackals (HoJ) received a quicker read than its predecessor, Field of Blood (FoB), which remained on the bedside table for two weeks, about one-quarter read, before I picked it up again. Granted, a great book can still languish -- not because I don't like it, but because I'm either 1) mulling its depths, as when I first encountered Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, or 2) dealing with its emotional effects, as I did after my brother gave me a copy of Rora by James Byron Huggins.

With Field of Blood and Haunt of Jackals -- though HoJ is more rapidly paced than FoB -- I had the persistent thought that the story would have been better served by being condensed: FoB could have been Part 1 of the book, and the bulk of HoJ could have been the rest. Maybe that's the editor in me, always looking to advance the story down the most efficient path.

Wilson skilfully keeps the story clear despite its complications and numerous characters. I like his use of chess as a recurring motif, and his adeptness at weaving Christian and Judaic tradition, Scripture, modern events, geography, vampire mythology, and history into intriguing, believable fiction. Who knows but that there really are Collectors and Concealed Ones among us?

Rasputin, by the way, was an interesting and unexpected addition.

About the Collectors: I never quite bought into all their behaviors, speech patterns, and thought processes. This could just be me again, but they seemed to have too much modernity and sameness. And, though readers are expected to be concerned for the welfare of protagonists in any given story, I never actually felt any real tension until late in FoB, when a Collector approached Gina at her job then later joined forces with a bomber. Not good for Gina; great for the story.

There might have been more tension and suspense if the story started later, and if the conflicts, secrets, and revelations provoked action rather then brooding and angst. Gina's attitude wearied me. Once, when she dwelt one more time on the troubles between her and her mother, I actually said out loud, "Enough already!" She ponders it again in HoJ when she considers trying to bleed away her adopted son's tragic memories. By this time, however, she's been through her own tragedies, and she's matured.

Though surrounded by other characters who sometimes carry the story, Gina is the heroine. As such, she is expected to grab the audience's sympathies so they'll be on her side throughout the story. Due to her commission and her true identity, I wanted her to succeed; as a person, though, she made little connection with me. The same with Cal, her father.

Dov, the teenage boy with the horrific past and a burdened future, and Teo, Gina's childhood sweetheart who still loves her yet who betrays her, are the two most realistic characters in Haunt of Jackals. I believe them. Maybe that's because I've been the teenager who's seen and experienced terrible things, and I've been the one who carried a secret affection, know it would never be returned in quite the same manner. But, more than that, perhaps Wilson believed them, too, and so wrote them -- whether he intended to or not -- with more tension, understatement, and realism.

Speaking of realism, I like the fact that Wilson set part of the story in the Pacific Northwest. I spent most of my first fourteen years in Oregon (that's OR-reh-ghen, not or-i-GON), know about OMSI, used to visit family in Portland, and still have relatives in the Willamette Valley (will-AM-et, not william-ET). It's always a kick for me to encounter stories set in Oregon and Washington.

Maybe that's why I enjoyed watching "Frazier" when it was on the air. Anyhoo. Moving on.

One thing I enjoyed about HoJ is the way the story ranges all over the world. Since childhood, I've been fascinated by atlases, globes, and maps of all kinds -- probably something to do with the influence of Treasure Island -- but I've only traveled the United States and Honduras, so if a story can transport me to exotic places, I'll hang on for the ride.

And if the story explores the dark while still shedding light, better still. HoJ is about light shining in darkness, and though the dark may close in, it never overcomes.

This has been a mixed and rambling review; I'll try for a little more cohesion tomorrow. Meantime, for other opinions of Haunt of Jackals, click here for a list of other blogs on the tour.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Haunt of Jackals - Day 1


This month's CSFF Blog Tour features Haunt of Jackals, sequel to Field of Blood in the Jerusalem's Undead trilogy by Eric Wilson.

In this series, Wilson presents a fresh imagining of vampire mythology: Collectors and Concealed Ones, Those Who Hunt and Those Who Resist. Collectors need bodies to inhabit in order to prey upon humanity; Concealed Ones are chosen humans, marked by God, immortal, and commissioned with the protection of humanity. They recruit and work with Those Who Resist, people who follow the Nazarene and oppose the Master Collector.

It is a complicated tale Wilson endeavors; although readers might pick up everything they need in "What Came Before" at the beginning of Haunt of Jackals, I recommend they first read Field of Blood. Although FoB is not the focus of the tour, I will -- for the sake of continuity -- discuss both books.

Aside from a few interesting twists on the old material, and all the roles blood (divine and human) plays in the story, as well as the inclusion of Talmudic and Biblical tradition, I found the first book plodding until about Chapter 39, nearly 300 pages in -- not exactly a good sign that I'd find the next book any more exciting.

However, the foundation having been well established in Field of Blood, Haunt of Jackals takes off with plenty of action, beginning on the heels of the climactic fight that ended the previous book. The characters also start acting their parts. Well, the Collectors (vampires) acted their parts in the first book, too, even more so than the protagonists, who seemed to do a lot of talking and thinking and angsty brooding before they finally started kicking vampiric butt near the end.

In Haunt of Jackals, Wilson has the protagonists on the move -- chasing, fleeing, hiding, calling out Collectors, fighting -- and the good guys take down a few vampires and get the Akeldama Cluster in a bit of a twist.

But there's been a vampire missing since the Akeldama Collectors rejuvenated the bodies of two long-dead families, the Houses of Eros and Ariston: the Collector who inhabits the body of Natira, the globetrotting son of the twice-dead Ariston, massive, strong, and the true leader of the house. He's looking for Concealed Ones, and planning a massive strike that will take them all down at once. He's found twenty; only sixteen to go.

There is an intriguing blend of historical fact, Scripture, legend, and modern culture, all mixed together with imagination and intelligence. Over the next two days, I will discuss that mix, as well as some of the questions that arose while I read.

A list of the other stops on the tour -- which means other opinions and insights on the novel -- will be posted as soon as it is made available.

CSFF Blog Tour Links -- Haunt of Jackals

And here are the links, as promised in the post above:

Brandon Barr
Wayne Thomas Batson
Jennifer Bogart
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Amy Browning
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Julie
Carol Keen
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika
Nissa
John W. Otte
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson
KM Wilsher

The goal of the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour is to promote books and reading. Each tour, some of us love the book, some of us could live without it, and some are undecided, so if a book looks interesting, or there's a debate about it, check out what everyone's saying. And leave a comment or two, to let the tour sites know you visited.