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.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Wayward Herald: “Go With God, and Fight Like the Devil.”

Bernard Cornwell’s new novel 1356 came out this week in the UK. Unfortunately (and for reasons that still vex me), it won’t be released in the U.S. until January 8, 2013 – but I can hardly wait! The novel is about the famous Battle of Poitiers during the Hundred Years' War, and it brings back one of my all-time favorite Cornwell characters: Thomas of Hookton, the protagonist of the Grail Quest series. Vagabond remains one of my favorite novels, and The Archer’s Tale is a close second, so it will be good to have Thomas and his yew bow back in action.  And you have to love the motto at the bottom of the cover!


IndieReader, in a post titled Reason #5 to Self-Pub: Not Being in Debt to a Publisher for Your Advance, reported on the lawsuits filed by Penguin to recover advances from a number of prominent authors. Ouch!  These lawsuits prompted author Dean Wesley Smith to remind writers that Advances Are Loans.

At The Creative Penn, author Joanna Penn writes about her Lessons Learned from 1 year as a Full-Time Entrepreneur

As of today, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is the #1 fantasy novel on Amazon, while The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern ranks as the #1 novel in historical fantasy.

Until next week: good tidings and good day!