Saturday, December 29, 2012

Enoch's Device Is Available In Print!

My debut novel, Enoch's Device, is now available in paperback at Amazon and the CreateSpace eStore! The novel also has its own webpage, enochsdevice.com.


It was very cool to hold the first print edition of my novel in my own hands. It's now going on the top shelf of my bookshelf, between The Arcanum and The Name of the Rose!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Wayward Herald: Update on Enoch’s Device

Enoch’s Device is now up on Goodreads and Shelfari, so please tell your friends on those sites! Also, the novel is now available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com. A print version should be available starting in early January. In the meantime, you can check out my new author’s page on Amazon here. It even shows my weekly blog posts on Fresh-scraped Vellum.


In other news, as of December 25th, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had grossed an estimated $168,303,000 in the U.S. according to Box Office Mojo. That nearly doubles its gross on opening weekend. Sadly, for my wager at least, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 had grossed $227,366,118 after its second weekend. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a vacation for many, so there may be plenty of movie-watching to be had. But unless Bilbo and the dwarves draw huge crowds between now and New Year’s Eve, I’m thinking I'm losing my bet like Gollum lost that precious ring.

Until next week, good tidings and good day!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Enoch's Device Is Available Now!

My new novel, Enoch's Device, is now available on Amazon! I have long awaited this day, and I'm grateful to be able to share it with you now.

 
Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, an Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse.  
Pursued by Frankish soldiers and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor, Brother Dónall, journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais from a heretic-hunting bishop who insists mankind must suffer for its sins. Together, the trio races across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days.  
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.
I hope to have the novel up on Barnes & Noble and Kobo by tomorrow. A paperback version should be available in early January. But you can purchase the ebook at Amazon right now (here's the link). I appreciate your support and hope you enjoy Enoch's Device!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cover Reveal – Enoch’s Device!

I can finally reveal the cover art for my new novel, Enoch’s Device! The artwork was done by Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics, who was great to work with. The back-cover blurb follows this image of the book’s cover.


Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, an Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse.  
Pursued by Frankish soldiers and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor, Brother Dónall, journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais from a heretic-hunting bishop who insists mankind must suffer for its sins. Together, the trio races across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days.  
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.
The novel should be available on December 22nd – but more on that soon!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Wayward Herald: The Hobbit Has A Big (Lonely) Mountain To Climb

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opened this weekend, setting a new December record according to Box Office Mojo. The film earned $84.6 million in the U.S., which is great – but it’s far behind what I need to win my domestic wager.
The Hobbit faces a long trek up the Lonely Mountain!
The Hobbit’s opening day ranked only 29th all time. The opening day of its competition, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, ranks 6th all time. (As an aside, and for the sake of all that's good in the world, the #1 rank is held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, followed by The Avengers.) The Twilight film’s domestic gross in its opening weekend was $141,067,634, which by my count is around $56 million more than The Hobbit. Bilbo and his band of dwarves are going to need to make up some serious ground over the holidays if they have any hope of closing the gap! Otherwise, I’m going down like Smaug on his last trip to Lake-Town. Uggg.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vampires vs. Hobbits: A Questionable Bet & A Great Book Giveaway!

The other night, my wife and I made a friendly wager, perhaps a foolish one on my part. She has long been a fan of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and predicted, rather confidently, that the new Hobbit film would never beat out the latest Twilight movie at the box office. I told her she was crazy. Of course The Hobbit would win, after all, it’s one of the bestselling books of all time. Only books like the Bible beat it out, right?


At that moment the wager was on! Was I a fool, or will Tolkien’s masterpiece save the day? Only time will tell, but here’s what statistics may suggest. The Hobbit is believed to have sold more than 100 million copies. Of course, it’s been out since 1937. Breaking Dawn, the fourth novel in the Twilight Saga, is believed to have sold at least 10 million copies, and it’s only been around since 2008. So, if The Hobbit has been out about 75 years, that would amount to an annual sales average of a little more than 1.3 million copies. Breaking Dawn may be averaging at least 2.5 million copies annually in just four years! (Thinking I’m in trouble.)
 
Or course, we’re talking movies here, not books. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 stars Robert Pattinson (a fact my wife has reminded me of more times than I can count) and Kristen Stewart. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey stars a British actor I’ve never heard of and Ian McKellen. (Thinking now I’m in big trouble.)
 
Since I’m probably going down with a ship full of dwarves, I thought I’d have a little more fun with this and feature my first book giveaway on this blog. Here are the rules, if you’re interested in joining this oh-so-important debate:
  1. Post a comment here by noon (EST) on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, with a prediction of whether The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will out-gross The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 at the U.S. domestic box office by the end of The Hobbit’s third week (which will be Dec. 28-30, 2012); and predict by how much (in U.S. dollars) The Hobbit will exceed or fall short of Breaking Dawn Part 2 during this same time frame (i.e., the “margin of victory”).
  2. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2 grossed $254,598,866 at the end of its third week according to Box Office Mojo, which will be our official source for domestic box office data. This is the number The Hobbit will have to beat.
  3. In addition to posting your prediction, you must be a “follower” of this blog, which means you’ve “joined this site” by clicking the “Join this site” button on the right-hand column.
  4. The whole thing is free, like my blog. If you win, you must be able to send me an email address and have a regular street address (no P.O. Boxes) for shipping purposes. Books can only be sent to addresses in the United States and Canada.
  5. The winner i.e., the person who predicts which film will have the highest domestic box office gross at the end of its first 3 weeks and comes closest to predicting the margin of victory – will win the book giveaway, either a copy of The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 1: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion, or The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion, depending on whichever film prevails. In the event of a tie, the winner will be chosen by a random drawing.
 So, its Bella vs. Bilbo (or is it Edward vs. Thorin?), and the game is on!  Best of luck to all – and throw some luck my way. I’m afraid I’m going to need it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Wayward Herald: December Math

Every December I am reminded of how difficult it is to get anything done during the holidays. Agent Rachelle Gardner once suggested that writers should plan out how much time they think they’ll have to write during the holidays – and then divide that in half. Even that may be generous, and this December is proving to be no exception! So, blogging may be a little slow this month, but hopefully there will be some exciting news on the horizon.

Stay tuned, and try to enjoy the hectic holidays!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Hobbit: A Classic on Many Levels

I recently re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit for the first time in probably ten years. Once I got past the older and awkward narrative viewpoint (in Tolkien's defense, the omniscient point-of-view was in vogue back in 1937, especially for what was considered a children’s book), I was reminded of how rich and wonderful the story is. I also realized how classic the tale is on so many levels. Not only is it a prototypical journey tale, but it incorporates all the classic archetypes of fantasy fiction.

This illustrated edition is one of the best!
I’ve written a number of posts on journey tales, including what the late screenwriter Blake Snyder called “The Golden Fleece.” These stories embody the classic quest myth; or, as Snyder puts it, a “hero goes ‘on the road’ in search of one thing and winds up discovering something else – himself.” The same transformation occurs in The Hobbit. Bilbo begins the story content never to leave the Shire, and more worried about his dishes than anything else, only to be reluctantly drawn into the dwarves’ quest to reclaim their treasure from the dragon Smaug. By the end, and after numerous adventures, Bilbo has become a genuine leader and hero – tricking the dragon, stealing the Arkenstone, and trying to broker a peace between the men, elves and dwarves before the Battle of the Five Armies.

Looking forward to the movie on December 14!
The Hobbit also embodies all five of the archetypes I wrote about in my series on the Top 5 Clichés in Fantasy Fiction. As I noted back then, these so-called clichés are actually classic archetypes, and often fundamental elements to great fantasy fiction.
  • The Farm Boy With A Secret: This element represents the Messiah archetype – the everyman chosen to save the world (this archetype goes back to the biblical David, and maybe before then). Bilbo is certainly an everyman (and without any secret or hidden powers), but through courage and determination, he becomes a true hero: an ordinary person who accomplishes extraordinary things.
  • The Wise Wizard: Gandalf embodies this archetype, a mentor character whose wisdom helps guide Bilbo in his quest.
  • Orcs!: Or rather goblins in this one, but the archetype of the monster lurking in the darkness to threaten men is alive and well in The Hobbit. The trolls, spiders, and even Gollum also play this role.
  • The Magic Weapon: This archetype represents the protecting power of destiny, or a form of divine aid. In The Hobbit, the ring plays this role. It’s the device that allows Bilbo to escape Gollum, free the dwarves from the spiders and the elves, and trick Samug into leaving his lair. (Incidentally, Tolkien re-wrote the scene with Gollum and the ring after he started writing The Lord of the Rings; in the original version, the ring was not the object of pure evil that it's later revealed to be.)
  • The Overwhelming Ancient Evil: This is the weakest of the five archetypes in The Hobbit. The Hobbit lacks an overriding antagonist, but instead includes a series of opponents along the journey. If there is a central antagonist, it would be Smaug, who might fit the definition of an ancient evil. But even he is gone before the final act, giving way to the conflict between Thorin and Bilbo before the Battle of the Five Armies (the conflict with Thorin, I must admit, was one of my favorite twists in the novel).
Lastly, The Hobbit contains all of the classic elements of a great epic. The journey involves a fairly vast setting and takes a considerable amount of time. The stakes are huge, and while they start out small – the fate of the dwarves’ treasure – they end up being quite large as the massive goblin army arrives for the Battle of the Five Armies. This battle is also a truly grand event, as is the scene with the dragon at Lake Town. And, Bilbo plays the role of a true hero (Bard also has a cameo in this role when it comes to slaying the dragon).
 
Overall, I’m glad I re-read The Hobbit, and look forward to the film next week. And, I’ll look forward to reading the novel again in a few years time. It is part of the bedrock of the genre, and every time I read it, I discover something special.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Wayward Herald: A Great Blog Says Farewell

The Wayward Herald looks forward to the post-NaNoWriMo month of December and revival within the blogosphere on the topics of writing, publishing, and, or course, historical and fantasy fiction. But the end of November 2012 also marks the end to one of the great fantasy book review blog sites around: Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review.

Sailing to New Horizons
This was one of the first sites I joined upon starting my own blog, which periodically reviews fantasy fiction. Graeme Flory, however, was a prolific reviewer whose insightful commentary brought my attention to more than a few novels that I’ve truly enjoyed.

Graeme is moving on to new horizons, and I wish him well. Everyone needs a change some time, and as a blogger who tries to create insightful content at a weekly pace – albeit a pace much more slothful than Mr. Flory – I totally understand.

Good luck Graeme, and thanks for many years of great blogging!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: Devil’s Lair

This week I finished reading Devil’s Lair by David Wisehart, a historical fantasy novel that’s part grail quest, and part return to Dante’s Inferno. It’s an engaging read, and my full review follows this image of the book’s cover.

Part Grail Quest, Part Return to Dante's Inferno.

The premise of Devil’s Lair is that Dante’s account of his travels through Hell in Inferno was basically a true story. Now, the devil has seized the holy grail, and its absence on earth is bringing about the End of Days as the Black Death spreads across Europe in 1349 A.D. A quartet of pilgrims lead by William of Ockham, the famous (and historical) friar and philosopher, undertakes a quest to find the gateway to Hell and retrieve the grail. With him are Nadja, a young German woman accused of witchcraft because she was born with the power to see the future, and Giovanni Boccaccio, the famous (and historical) Italian poet who is an expert on Dante and is expected to guide them through the underworld. The fourth member of their party is Marco da Roma, a former Knight Templar who they find left for dead on a battlefield, suffering from a serious bout of amnesia.

William of Ockham helped inspire William of Baskerville in The Name of the Rose.*

The first part of the story, and frankly my favorite part of the novel, takes place in Italy, where the pilgrims are trying to get to Avenrus, a gateway to the underworld according to Virgil in the Aeneid. The problem is that Marco has no intention of joining them, and this provides the conflict for the first half of the story. The pilgrims’ travels through Italy take them to Rome and Padua, the home of Petrarch, the most famous poet of the time, who possesses an artifact the pilgrims will need if they’re to survive a journey through Hell. I found the scenes set in medieval Italy to be well-crafted, and they anchored what otherwise could have been a purely fantasy tale to a real and important period of history.

The second half of the story takes place in the nine circles of Hell, a setting based literally on Dante’s Inferno, complete with all of its monstrous denizens. There are a number of exciting scenes in the underworld, but in between these, the story slows down for scenes where each of the main characters learns something about themselves and their past. At times, this felt like reading a condensed version of Dante’s epic poem, but the author pulls it off and the ending contains enough of a twist to make the whole journey worthwhile.

In addition to being a Dante expert, Boccaccio was quite the ladies' man!**

One minor point: Similar to Loki, which I reviewed earlier this month, it was difficult in Devil’s Lair to identify the story’s protagonist. One of the reasons is that the author gives each of the four characters relatively equal time as a viewpoint character (using a third-person limited point-of-view). I’ve always felt that the protagonist should have the majority of scenes from his or her viewpoint. That way, the reader will always know whose story it’s supposed to be. In the case of Devil’s Lair, I think the protagonist is Giovanni Boccaccio, but it very well could be Marco da Roma. If you’ve read the novel, I’d be interest in your opinion – who is the protagonist in Devil’s Lair?

* Photo credit Moscarlop.

** Photo credit JoJan.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Wayward Herald: Awaiting the End of NaNoWriMo

The Wayward Herald remains convinced that the number of interesting blog posts on which to comment decreases substantially during National Novel Writing Month. Fortunately, that will soon end, and that is one thing for which the Wayward Herald is thankful this week.

Dante looks back on Purgatory at the end of NaNoWriMo.
The Wayward Herald is also thankful for the folks at Sci-Fi Bloggers, who have not only guest-posted on Fresh-scraped Vellum, but continue to publish interesting content during NaNoWriMo! This week, they published a post on the Top 5 Game of Thrones Characters (from the HBO series). For me, it’s a close call between Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark, but in the end, and by a hair, I’m going with Arya! (I’d make the same call for A Clash of Kings, by the way.)

Sci-Fi Bloggers also posted a review of The Amazing Spiderman, which was released on DVD this month. I thought it was absurd that the Spiderman franchise was being rebooted just five years after the Tobey Maguire series ended. And while that remains absurd, I pretty much share the view of Sci-Fi Bloggers when it comes to this film.

Also, author Dean Wesley Smith published an article titled The New World of Publishing: Some Perspective on 2012, about changes in the publishing industry over the past year. It’s a must-read for writers.

Finally, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist featured a teaser for Season 3 of Game of Thrones. I can hardly wait!

Until next week, good tidings and good day!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving, 1621 Style!

Growing up, I never paid much attention to the origin of Thanksgiving. Other than what I may have learned from elementary school, all I ever recall knowing was that it was a big feast between the pilgrims and the Native Americans sometime after the English landed at Plymouth Rock. Only in the past few years did I become interested in what really happened at the first Thanksgiving. Like many an adventure, it all started with a few bottles of wine ...

Thanksgiving, 1621, Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Not that the pilgrims drank wine at the first Thanksgiving (at least by any accounts I’ve read, although they did have some beer), but the several bottles my friends and family drank a few years ago, after another gut-busting Thanksgiving dinner, inspired us to do some research into the origin of Thanksgiving. (That’s also how we discovered the role Squanto played in all of this, but more on him in a moment.)

Apparently there are only two written accounts of the first Thanksgiving, which was celebrated in 1621 as a harvest feast by the English colonists at Plymouth and the Wampanoag, a Native American tribe. Turkey, it turns out, was not the centerpiece of the meal, although one of the two written accounts referenced a “great store of wild turkeys.” The main course appeared to be venison, but there is also reference to waterfowl and “Indian corn.”

The interesting part of the meal is what was not eaten, at least according to an article in The Smithsonian Magazine. There were no potatoes or sweet potatoes, because white potatoes originated in South America and sweet potatoes came from the Caribbean, and neither had apparently made it to North America by 1621. The colonists also lacked butter and wheat flour, so there was no pumpkin pie. Among things they probably did eat were fish, eels, and shellfish (like lobster, clams, and mussels), which were staples for the Wampanoag and the colonists.

But this feast may never have occurred if it were not for a Patuxet Native American named Tisquantum, commonly known as Squanto. He served as an interpreter for the colonists, taught them how to grow corn, and showed them the best places to catch fish and eel, which helped them survive their first winter at Plymouth. He also helped negotiate a peace treaty between the colonists and the Wampanoag in March of 1621. Without this, I suspect there would not have been a first Thanksgiving.

A drawing of Squanto – I imagine he dressed more warmly in the winter of 1621!

Squanto’s backstory was less than idyllic. He was captured twice by the English and forced to leave behind his wife and child. During his first captivity in 1605, he was taken to England along with several other native Americans, where his captor, Capt. George Weymouth, wanted to display them for his financial backers, who were interested in seeing some natives from the New World. In England, Squanto learned the language and apparently became the consort of an English woman. By 1613, he was hired as a guide for an expedition to New England, and returned to the New World with the famous explorer John Smith.

This is the same John Smith who was saved by Pocahontas in 1607 and 1608.

But Squanto’s time back in Plymouth, where the Patuxet tribe lived, did not last long. Once Smith went north on another expedition, one of his lieutenants, a Capt. Thomas Hunt, decided to kidnap Squanto and twenty-six other Native Americans and sell them into slavery. Hunt sailed to Spain, where he hoped to sell his captives for twenty pounds each. When some local friars discovered Hunt’s plans, they took possession of Squanto and his brethren, hoping to convert them to Christianity. Squanto ended up living with the monks until 1618, when he found his way back to London, and then to a ship headed to the New World.

Upon returning home, Squanto discovered that his entire Patuxet tribe had died from the plague (believed to be smallpox, a disease introduced to the New World by Europeans). Despite all of this mistreatment and misfortune, he stayed and helped the colonists until he died of fever in 1622. According to one account, the Massachusetts governor at the time called Squanto a “special instrument sent by God for their good beyond their expectations.”

So, this Thanksgiving, my family and friends are going a bit more historical. There will be venison and some lobster, and turkey of course. (I suspect mashed potatoes will be in order too, only because my friends and family might never forgive me if I eliminate them for the sake of historical purity.) There will also be more wine, and probably a few mixed drinks – including a special concoction that we intend to dedicate to Squanto.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Top Shelf of My Bookshelf

The other day I was looking at the top shelf of my bookshelf and realized it contains a number of beautiful hardcover books, but they’re not necessarily my favorite novels (due, in part, to the fact that I keep my Bernard Cornwell novels together, and every book I own of The Warlord Chronicles are all paperbacks, so they reside on the second shelf). That said, what’s on the top shelf of my bookshelf? We’ll, here it is, from left to right, and draw whatever conclusions you may:

One of the greatest fantasy novels ever?
Numero UnoThe Stand, by Stephen King, one of the greatest post-apocalyptic novels ever written. I adore this book, but why it’s number one on my shelf, I have no idea. (Perhaps, because it’s so thick and can hold up all the other books?)

The Stand is followed by the entire Dark Tower series, from Stephen King’s The Gunslinger to The Dark Tower, including The Wind Through The Keyhole. In my view, this is one of the greatest journey tales ever written, and one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. Wizard and Glass may be the pinnacle, but all the others are excellent, and The Gunslinger remains one of my all-time favorite novels.

The Arcanum follows Stephen King on my top shelf. I love this book, which most of you may not have read. Though I highly recommend it!

You really should read this!
Next, I have two books from Umberto Eco: Baudolino (which I have yet to read) and The Name of the Rose, which served as part of my inspiration for my own novel, Enoch’s Device.
 
The Name of the Rose  was part of the inspiration for Enoch's Device!
After that, I have some classics: Homer’s The Odyssey and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Hard to argue with either of those.

J.K. Rowling dominates the next seven volumes, all from the Harry Potter series. It’s hard to dispute that these hardbacks are all beautiful books (the covers, I mean), and the stories are now classics in the fantasy genre.

Undeniably, Rowling has created some classics!
From there, I have three Dan Brown novels: Angels & Demons, The Da Vince Code, and The Lost Symbol (please don’t judge, I actually enjoyed reading these, though Angels & Demons was my least favorite).

The bookend on the right consists of two classic works from J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit, and a complete, hardcover volume of The Lord of the Rings with brilliant illustrations from Alan Lee. This is one of my prized possessions, and it serves as a glorious exclamation point to the top shelf of my bookshelf.

This is one beautiful book!
So, now that I’ve confessed about the top shelf of my bookshelf, I’m curious to know: What’s on the top shelf of your bookshelf?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Wayward Herald: The NaNoWriMo Effect

The concept of my early week posts under the guise of The Wayward Herald is to highlight interesting blog posts and other information I’ve encountered from the blogosphere in the prior week. But these days, there’s been a dearth of interesting posts, and I attribute that to NaNoWriMoNational Novel Writing Month – which takes place every November.

I follow a ton of writers’ blogs. But if the authors of those blogs are devoting all their time to NaNoWriMo, that explains why there may not be a lot of interesting stuff out there right now. After all, who can draft good blog posts when you’re trying to write 50,000 words in a 30-day time frame? Maybe The Wayward Herald should take the month of November off, sort of like a sabbatical.

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo. I’m fearful that I’d crank out a bunch of junk that would need endless amounts of revision. My personal writing style is a bit more deliberative. I outline my novels before I write them. (For those interested, I am fairly devoted to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! and John Truby’s The Anatomy of a Story.) And, as an author of historical fiction, I usually conduct a ton of research before I even begin my outlining. Sometimes this research can take several months, or more. This isn’t really conducive to NaNoWriMo unless you’ve finished the bulk of your research by Halloween.

Nevertheless, this week, I tip my cap to those devoted enough to embark on NaNoWriMo – may you fare well and prosper!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Kingkiller Chronciles Days 1 and 2

This week, I'm featuring my first ever guest post, a great article by Sci-Fi Bloggers about Patrick Rothfuss' fantasy series, The Kingkiller Chronicles. Sci-Fi Bloggers is an online magazine covering all things science fiction and fantasy: movies, TV, books, video games, comics and more. It's well worth reading!

Kingkiller Chronicles Day One
The eerie cover belies the rich color in Rothfuss's writing.
The fantasy genre has a hard time fitting in with most academics, and Wisconsin-native Patrick Rothfuss knows this. He teaches writing and fencing at the local college but spends the long winters writing. His breakthrough novel The Name of the Wind caught many academics offguard with its reinvention of magic in fantasy.

The Name of the Wind reads like a memoir of orphaned troubadour turned adventurer Kvothe, as he recounts the shift in his life that brought him to fame and then infamy. After the death of his family, Kvothe enrolls in The University to study sympathy, the force that connects all life and can be manipulated by those who understand it. Sympathy in Rothfuss’s world looks like magic but works like science. Rothfuss splits the way sympathy works into several different fields that could easily be equated to medicine, alchemy, metallurgy, and physics. What makes the story interesting is that Kvothe seems a natural genius at all of them.

However, the intricacies of the novels don’t revolve around Kvothe’s savant-like success but rather his stupidity-based failures. Kvothe represents the ideal in all of us, the destiny to succeed at the same time that we self-defeat. The flaws in Kvothe are what lead us to enjoy his life story, not his successes.

The characterization of both the world and people in The Kingkiller Chronicles makes this series a page-turner, but the way the story unfolds itself is really what shows the level of Rothfuss’s craft. The plot happens in reverse, as we enter the story long after Kvothe has gone into hiding and awaits his impending assassination. Even though things are happening that the reader has yet to come into, there isn’t the sense of confusion common to the in medias res technique. It’s clear that Rothfuss knows where he is going with this story; questions about what is happening prompt discovery but never get left by the wayside the way flashback story elements do in television (I’m looking at you polar bears from LOST).

Book two of the series, The Wise Man’s Fear, continues the narrative feel of the previous volume but has a bit of more of a conventional feel to it. In this book, we follow Kvothe as he takes a leave of absence from The University and tries to make a mark on the world. Kvothe finds himself on three significant adventures into the worlds of political intrigue, fairy mystery, and martial arts training. While it is fun to follow along the three and see how they interweave, the second book does carry the feel of “fan-pleasing.” At times, we get the impression that someone buzzed into Rothfuss’s ear, “wouldn’t it be cool if Kvothe also trained to be a hired assassin? Wouldn’t it?” The overall effect is that the character seems to be overcompensating for failures that actually endeared him to us in the first book. On the other side of the coin, we can see how Kvothe needs to rise high in the world in order to be set his fall in book three of the trilogy.

The dialogue in both books feels clever and fresh despite the semi-antiquated setting. The plot moves forward at just the right pace to keep things interesting without feeling breakneck. The world itself is richly detailed and enjoyable. But what truly distinguishes this series is the art woven into it. Characters take time to tell each other stories that enrich the world without feeling preachy or heavy-handed. Religions are introduced that have striking similarities to our own but don’t insist that we draw the connections. Kvothe devotes himself to music, and even without hearing it, the reader feels struck by its inclusion. Most importantly though is the development of architecture in the books; Kvothe inhabits the world in such a way that we feel that we are breathing the same dust as him and washing our hands in the same clean water. When even the facet of environment makes the reader connect with this world, you know that the book will truly take you somewhere that even the most academic mind would love to explore.

My Comment: A good friend of mine has recommended The Name of the Wind for several years now. After reading this post from Sci-Fi Bloggers, I downloaded the novel on my kindle and look forward to reading it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Wayward Herald: Tuesday Edition

I have long been a fan of Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! as an excellent resource on storytelling, and plot in particular. This week, in preparation for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), author Bethany Myers posted an article titled Plot Like A Pro, a creative piece applying Snyder’s 15 elements of story structure to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. If you’re a writer or a Potter fan, it’s worth the read!

J.K. Rowling knew a thing or two about good plots!

This week The Passive Voice linked to a guest post on Laura Howard’s blog by author Anthea Lawson titled Is Traditional Publishing a Happily Ever After? She was a traditionally published author who is now going the indie route, and her post is quite insightful.

Meanwhile, the folks as Middle-Earth News did a great piece on the fact that Stephen Colbert is a ginormous Tolkien fan (who knew?). He even has a part in the upcoming film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Middle-Earth News also featured a new TV spot for the upcoming film, which you can view here.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell has retaken #1 fantasy ranking on Amazon, while The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern remains #1 novel in historical fantasy.

Until next week, good tidings and good day!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Loki

A while back, I was doing research on Vikings for my next novel, which will be the sequel to Enoch’s Device. In the course of that research, I spent some time on Norse mythology, since many a tenth-century Viking would have clung to the worship of Thor or Odin instead of embracing the Christian faith that was slowly spreading throughout Scandinavia. While I found several good texts on Norse mythology, I jumped at the chance to read Mike Vasich’s 2010 novel, Loki (which I only discovered recently). Loki is a masterful retelling of Norse myths, and my review follows this image of the book’s cover.

Norse mythology comes to life!

Author Mike Vasich brings Norse mythology to life in way that only a gifted storyteller could. The novel slightly reimagines the Norse legends leading up to the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarök, but stays basically faithful to the core mythology. The story is told through the viewpoints of several of the Norse gods, including Tyr, Freyja, Odin, and, of course, Loki, the King of Lies, whose mistreatment and exile by Odin and the other gods motivates him to bring about the Nordic version of the End of Days. In the novel, Odin is known as the Terrible One, a grim and manipulative being that lives up to his nickname. The other gods are also interesting characters – especially the fearsome Thor and the sensual Freyja – as is Loki, who is both a sympathetic character and a murderous villain.

The novel reminded me a bit of some of the great, vintage fantasy tales, like Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné. But Vasich tells his story in a modern and well-written third-person limited point-of-view. The story moves at a quick pace and the battle scenes are masterfully portrayed, being some of the most exciting in the novel. On top of that, the ending is both thought-provoking and satisfying. This is a truly fantastic novel that should appeal to anyone who loves mythology, or simply a really good fantasy tale. I highly recommend it!

Is Odin the antagonist?
One more point: Loki had me thinking about a Wayward Herald post titled Who Needs A Protagonist? (which commented on a great article by Jane Lebak). If Loki is the novel’s protagonist, he is somewhat atypical, being part antihero and part villain. In this respect, he reminded me a lot of the character of Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. There are many more fitting heroes in Loki, however, including Tyr, Heimdall, and Thor, which could suggest that Loki is actually the novel’s antagonist (although, in my view, one-eyed Odin plays that role). Yet Loki’s character is the only one who seems to change by the novel’s end (and who ever said change had to be good?), so at least by many views, he would be the story’s protagonist. But for those who have read Loki, I am curious as to your opinion – is Loki the protagonist or the antagonist of the novel?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Samhain!

This is an update of last year's tribute to Samhain - Halloween.  I still love this opening from Bernard Cornwell every time I read it ...

To the Celts, October 31st was Samhain (spelled "Samain" in Old Irish), a harvest festival that many believe became the inspiration for Halloween. I could write more about Samain, but today I’d like to simply quote the great opening passage of Bernard Cornwell’s Enemy of God. Cornwell, who reimagines the Arthurian myth, writes about a time when the old Celtic ways remained strong, despite the spread of Christianity in Ireland and Britain. So, in the words of Derfel Cardan ...
Today I have been thinking about the dead.
This is the last day of the old year. The bracken on the hill has turned brown, the elms at the valley’s end have lost their leaves and the winter slaughter of our cattle has begun. Tonight is Samain Eve.
Tonight the curtain that separates the dead from the living will quiver, fray, and finally vanish. Tonight the dead will cross the bridge of swords. Tonight the dead will come from the Otherworld to this world, but we shall not see them. They will be shadows in the darkness, mere whispers of wind in a windless night, but they will be here.
In this novel, Arthur discovers one of his worst nightmares.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Wayward Herald: On Hobbit Trailers and Heroes

The folks at Middle-Earth News previewed two TV spots for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which will debut in December. One of the spots is featured below. You can view the other one here.


Meanwhile, Andrew Russo of Scifi Bloggers published an article on the demise of the TV show Heroes titled How Heroes Devolved: Going from an A+ to an F in One Fell Swoop. It’s worth the read!

As of today on Amazon.com, The Twelve by Justin Cronin maintains the top spot in fantasy novels, while The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern and The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks hold the top two spots in historical fantasy.

Until next week, good tidings and good day!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Monkish Humor

I’m back from fishing – without any sighting of the Midgard Serpent, I might add – and back to a mountain of work. I had planned on writing a post on why I chose an Irish monk as the main character for my upcoming novel, Enoch’s Device. But since I’ve lacked the time to give that post the attention it deserves, I’m offering a humorous clip about monks – although, it was probably much less funny if you were a monk at the abbey of Lindisfarne in 793 A.D.!


A special thanks to fellow blogger Leslie Hedrick, who left a link to this video in a comment to one of my posts. I appreciate it!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Wayward Herald: Are Portal Tales Dead?

This week, author Marie Brennan, at Science Fiction & Fantasy Novelists, wrote an interesting post on portal fantasies, titled This Wardrobe Closed Until Further Notice. The premise is that agents and publishing houses have no interest in portal tales — those stories where a character from our world goes through some looking glass or other portal into a fantasy world that he or she has to save. Apparently, this concept has become hugely overdone, especially in YA fantasy. But Ms. Brennan ponders why this is so, and whether this new found bias against portal fantasies is justified. Her article is well worth reading!

Is the looking glass broken?

Meanwhile, author and former agent Nathan Bransford, in a post titled The Way We Learn About Books is Changing, wrote about some interesting statistics in book buying. According to Mr. Bransford, two years ago, 35% of book purchases were made because the reader discovered the book in a brick-and-mortar store. Today, by contrast, only 17% of readers discovered a book in a physical bookstore. For more on this trend, read Mr. Bransford’s post here.

If you are interested in the late Roman/early medieval time period, Leslie Hedrick posted a wonderful article titled On The Topic of Pre-Dungeon Prisons. Ms. Hedrick’s blog is full of fun and interesting facts concerning this time period, and it’s always a good read!

As of this weekend, The Twelve by Justin Cronin has claimed the top spot in fantasy fiction on Amazon.com, while The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern holds on to the #1 ranking in historical fantasy.

Until next week, good tidings and good day!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fishing for Really Big Fish

Norse mythology has a great tale about fishing. The god Thor (he of booming thunder and the hammer Mjölnir), decides to go on a fishing trip with the giant Hymir. As for why, who knows? I thought Thor hated giants, killed a whole bunch of ‘em at one point, but maybe Hymir was good company. While fishing, Hymir catches two whales – yes, not mere fish, but whales. Not to be outdone, Thor demands they sail further out to sea, and ends up hooking Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent, who encircles the earth (and, unfortunately for Thor, proves to be his downfall at Ragnarök – probably because Jörmungandr was still miffed about that big fish hook). But, nevertheless, what a catch! Of course, Hymir cuts the line before it ends in disaster. After all, what’s a mere boat to a serpent big enough to encircle the world?

Thor's catch was a bit bigger than a whale.
In the spirit of Thor, I’m going fishing this week, but I’ll be lucky to catch anything bigger than a trout, let alone the World Serpent of the Norse – though if I see evidence of him off the coast of Florida, I’ll be the first to let you know! In any event, I hope to be back next week with a new post.
 
So far, so good! (And love the cover!)
And, speaking of Thor and the Midgard Serpent, I'm currently reading Loki, by Mike Vasich. This novel has been fantastic so far, and I hope to review it soon!
 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Wayward Herald: Tolkien, King Arthur and More!

One of the most interesting bits of news this week concerned a heretofore unpublished poem by J.R.R. Tolkien titled The Fall of Arthur. Middle-Earth News announced this week that the poem will be published in its entirety by Harper Collins on May 23, 2013. For anyone who has read Tolkien’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, this is great news!


In other tidings, Splash of Our Worlds posted a review of the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I’ve not seen the film, but I reviewed the book here. Splash of Our Worlds liked the movie, so I’ll have to see it.

Also, as of this weekend, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire , Books 1-4, moved into the #1 spot for fantasy fiction on Amazon.com, while The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern retained the #1 rank in historical fantasy.

Until next week, good tidings and good day!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Journey Tales & The Golden Fleece

Last week, I mentioned how my upcoming novel, Enoch’s Device, was a bit of a journey tale. This was a reference to a series of posts I wrote on Long Journeys about a year ago, during a time when I was travelling constantly, with little time to write. A year later, I find myself in a similar situation, so I am going to the archives for this week’s post, but keeping my focus on journey tales.

The late Blake Snyder in his book Save the Cat! calls the journey tale plot type “The Golden Fleece,” based on the legend of Jason and his Argonauts. These stories embody the classic quest myth. Or, as Snyder puts it, a “hero goes ‘on the road’ in search of one thing and winds up discovering something else – himself.” Since Snyder wrote about screenplays, he offers several movie-related examples including the Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. But I think the two journey tales I wrote about last week, The Lord of the Rings and The Dark Tower, fit Snyder’s definition perfectly.
 
Roland goes on quite a journey!
Although the quest in The Lord of the Rings involves destroying the One Ring, the journey transforms Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin from comfortable “everymen” to unlikely heroes. In Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, the transformation of Roland Deschain is more subtle. Along the way, Roland encounters allies in Jake, Eddie and Susannah, and his relationship with them through the various trials they face tempers Roland’s ruthlessness with compassion. Roland’s change is just enough to have a critical impact in the novel’s shocking conclusion.

Much of the fun a journey story offers is all the interesting places the protagonist goes and the various obstacles he or she must overcome. We love the Mines of Moria and its Balrog, Fangorn Forest with its Ents, and the stairs of Cirith Ungol with its spidery queen. Yet, in what Snyder called one of his truisms about a good Golden Fleece tale, “it’s not the incidents, it’s what the hero learns about himself from those incidents that make the story work.”

I wholeheartedly agree. In most of the journey tales I’ve read that didn’t work, Snyder’s truism was lacking. I’ve tried to be mindful of this in my own novel, which is structured as a journey tale even though a puzzle is imbedded in story’s bones. But what do you think of Blake Snyder’s truism? Is it the key to a great journey tale?
 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Wayward Herald: Who Needs A Protagonist?

It was a slow week for tidings, but the Wayward Herald found one post by author Jane Lebak quite interesting. The post, titled No Protagonist? No Problem (but don’t try this at home), starts with the premise that a protagonist is critical to any good story. And by “protagonist,” she means the character who “faces the main story question and in solving the main story problem, changes in ways that are good for him or her.”

She notes that the reason The Phantom Menace failed as a story is because it lacked a true protagonist. Think about it, and she’s right. But then she takes up the case of The Avengers, which was a great movie. It too appears to have no true protagonist, so why does it succeed where the Phantom Menace failed? Her explanation is worth reading – and I agree with her wholeheartedly.

Who is the Protagonist?

Ms. Lebak also released a new novel this week titled The Wrong Enemy, with a very interesting premise!

In other tidings, as of this weekend Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell remains the #1 fantasy novel on Amazon, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is still the #1 novel in historical fantasy. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter holds the sixth spot in that subgenre, and right before it, at #5, is one of my favorite stories, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.

Until next week, good tidings and good day!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Inspiration & The Name Of The Rose

On a lazy weekend back in the early ‘90s, I stumbled across a movie on TV that helped me discover one of the finest books I have ever read – and the story that became the inspiration for my first novel.

I was drawn to the movie by its medieval setting, and became immediately intrigued once I realized it starred Sean Connery, one of my favorite actors (I grew up a huge James Bond fan, so I came by this honestly). Christian Slater was in it as well, and the two played monks who were skulking about a maze-like monastery, trying to solve a series of murders. There was also a peasant girl that had a thing for Christian Slater, as well as a bunch of other creepy monks and F. Murray Abraham as a merciless inquisitor. When the credits rolled, I realized the film was based on a book called The Name of the Rose, and the next day I set out to find it.


One of my all-time favorite novels!

I drove to the nearest bookstore (which, sadly, has now closed like almost every other bookstore near where I live) and mentioned the book’s title to the lady at the counter. She recognized it immediately and soon handed me my first copy of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (I now own three copies, including a beautiful hardcover edition).

For those who haven’t read it, The Name of the Rose is a medieval take on a classic murder mystery in the vein of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. In fact, one of the main characters, who plays the role of Holmes in the novel, is named William of Baskerville, an allusion to one of Doyle’s tales, the Hounds of Baskervilles. William, a Franciscan friar, and his young Benedictine apprentice, Adso of Melk (Eco’s version of Dr. Watson), arrive at a monastery in Northern Italy where one of the brethren has died under mysterious circumstances. At the behest of the abbot, William sets out to determine whether the monk committed suicide – or was murdered. When a number of other deaths occur under circumstances that hint to passages from the book of Revelation, many in the monastery begin to fear that the Antichrist must walk among them.

The monastery turns out to be a den of secrets, making it the perfect setting for a medieval mystery. The biggest secret concerns the monastery’s labyrinthine library, which the abbot forbids anyone from entering. Then there are the clues – including apocalyptic symbolism, coded manuscripts, and secret symbols – that William must decipher using his logic and deductive reasoning, all in the hope of unraveling the mystery before the murderer kills again. By the time a notorious inquisitor arrives, ready to employ his own brutal methods to solve the crimes, the book had me so hooked I couldn’t put it down. And the story has stayed with me for nearly twenty years. 

Baskerville, William of Baskerville ...

A decade ago I started writing novels, all in the fantasy genre, and most involving warrior-type characters. None of them were about monks, and none were good enough to publish – or in most instances to even finish. But all the while, in the back of my mind, there lingered The Name of the Rose, along with a few intriguing questions: What if the apocalyptic clues that William and Adso encountered were signs of the actual apocalypse, instead of just evidence left by some mortal killer? And what if, by solving the mystery, the monks could prevent the End of Days? Over time, those questions evolved into the premise of my new novel, Enoch’s Device.

Ultimately, Enoch’s Device ended up a very different story than The Name of the Rose. My novel is not a murder mystery, but rather a medieval adventure – and a journey tale of sorts – that takes my protagonist from Ireland to Moorish Spain as he, and his mentor, strive to unravel the mystery behind Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the apocalypse. The novel is steeped in mythology and history, and contains a good bit of magic as well. And the two monks at the heart of the story, Brother Ciarán and Brother Dónall, bear only a faint resemblance to Adso and William. But those two characters, and the story Umberto Eco crafted so brilliantly around them, became my inspiration. And for that, I am grateful.