A New Writing Instrument

One of my Christmas Presents was an Aurora Ipsilon Fountain Pen. I’ve been using it the last couple of weeks. The ink of one of my old pens isn’t fantastic. Hopefully that will change, as I have some Skrip coming in. Not that my handwriting will ever be anything you want to see in more than measured doses.

Still, this new implement of creation has a steel nib, so it writes with feedback. But not uncomfortably so. The finish on the grip is distinct from that on the body, and it sits comfortably in my hand with a very nice balance when posted. And it’s produced a dozen pages the last couple days.

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Happy New Year

And thank you for taking the time this year to peruse my gear-driven corner of the web. I’ve had a little trouble shaking off a particularly undesired Christmas gift I received from family. But once I have, I hope to get back to a regular posting schedule.

I think my concerns for the ‘rules’ of NaNoWriMo got the better of my judgment. Or maybe the Fantasy is back to clawing at my mind and demanding that I return to it. Either way, I’m going to take the long weekend to reread it and then get back to work on it. I have a nice new fountain pen to write with. Though it needs some better ink.

http://www.pensandleather.com/aurora-ipsilon-resin-black-gt-fountain-pen.aspx

Even though Inquisition won’t run on my laptop, Civ 5: Beyond Earth will. Hopefully I can avoid having that, and bowl games, consume ALL my time this weekend. 😉

How Does One Define Steampunk

This article is an able try: http://unleadedwriting.com/2014/07/10/what-does-steampunk-mean-10-authors-share-their-vision-of-the-genre/?utm_content=buffer810fe&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

I do not have the time to make my go at it in full here. But there is one phrase that guides me when I write it: “The Future That Never Was.” Even though my Steam is on another world, it’s very much informed by the dreams and aspirations of the Victorian Era. Not that there aren’t problems, and plenty to subvert. But to me, Steampunk, well done, is an OPTIMISTIC genre. Regardless of the politics of the writer, there ought to be hope, vision, and a sense of the ability to make things better.

It’s also a genre driven, if I may say, by the Rule of Cool: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleOfCool That is to say: “The limit of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to the element’s awesomeness.” Airship dreadnoughts flown by mechanical automatons! Absolutely! Airships that make everything in the world black, disgusting, and sick? Well…you just icked the wow of steampunk. Even China Mieville knew how to skirt this line. Bas-Lug could be fairly depressing. But the monsters and clockwork machines were just that wicked.

At the end of the day, there’s another phrase from Brass Goggles that I loved: “Steampunk is as a Steampunk does.” At its heart, it’s an attitude. And not a dour one.

Insects and Insight

This is a snippet from my Sword, Sorcery, and Sandal Epic Fantasy. Strategos Amuhan, the narrator, is the “Hannibal” of my pseudo-Punic Wars plotline. Which is fairly close to the beginning of the arc here. Enjoy!
________________________________________________________________

If I would have been forced to describe the last day’s march on Trystwy in a single word, it would’ve been ‘swarmed.’ Never have I seen so many ways to be attacked by relentless, blood-sucking insects. Leeches waited in the swamps our march skirted. Mosquitoes and black-winged moths both descended on us in fast-moving clouds, as maddening as Shahrak Horse Archers. Even Shayla, whose ebullient mood had proven infectious since joining us, frowned and muttered, “Khepra Himself must have planted His seed in this bog.”

As a third mass of bugs appeared, thick enough to conceal the sun, Tiernan dismounted from his horse snarled, “Erebus take this!”

“Run faster!” Spiros taunted. “Maybe we can use you as bait!”

When Tiernan arrived at the bank, he didn’t dive into it, instead he reached into the mud with both hands and slathered it over his exposed arms and face. Clumps rolled down his short beard and tumbled back into his hands. The Thunderbolts hooted, but Shayla leaned forward on her pony like a cat being teased until its rump raises and wiggles. He returned to the ranks with a wide, lips-sucked-in grin that resembled a matron’s toothless effort. Even I found it impossible not to shake my head at the bard.

He had the last laugh, for as the bugs feasted on us, he rode through them without so much as a flick of the finger. When next we passed a spring with sufficient bank, half the host dove for the mud. I found myself tempted to join them, but as Strategos, my duty was to bear every burden without flinching. No matter how trivial it might seem. So I contented myself with swatting those insects that slipped beneath my hood or up the sleeves. With the low shoulders of Shayla’s gown, I knew that she had to be suffering worse, despite her cloak. So I cleared enough space with a hand for me to talk. Then I asked, in a tone I thought gentle, “I’m assuming Tiernan’s remedy is part of your folklore. So why didn’t you avail yourself to it, Shayla?”

She turned up her nose at me and harrumphed, turning her pony around and disappearing into the ranks behind as I gaped until a moth found its way to my tongue. That cost me much in military decorum. Tiernan covered his mouth and chortled. “The Chief didn’t lie when he said taming that one is like saddling the wind. Be thankful she’s infatuated with you.”

I feigned a blink as we resumed our march. “What convinces you she is?”

“Gods Amuhan!” His chest quivered. “Her eyes never leave you. Even now, she watches your back. Her hand ‘accidentally’ finds yours whenever it can, and brushes your arm or leg when it can’t.”

I tucked my head further into my cloak to hide my blush as another cluster of dried mud fell from the bard’s smirking face. “But you knew this already. Because while most Gods have favored you, Telas did not. You’re no better lying than the child caught with a chunk of bread from the oven.”

Snickering, I looked back at Shayla. Her head turned and dipped, like she was unaware of where I was. But before I returned my gaze to the road, her golden eyes belied the claim of disinterest. “Yes I did know,” I affirmed. “Though hearing you say it encourages me. One never is quite certain if a man’s heart isn’t playing tricks on him when it comes to the affection of a woman. Still, there’s something strange about her family.”

My bannerman’s face narrowed into a line. So I leaned a hand on my knee. “Let me guess: You know because it echoes the story about why you left your mother’s people?”

Tiernan winced. “I’d hoped you hadn’t seen my reaction to your analogy.”

“I did, comrade.”

After glancing over his shoulder to ensure Shayla’s pique hadn’t passed yet, the bard said, “Lord Amuhan, I’ll tell you my story. It’s up to her to tell you how close it is to her own. But I’m certain the same law is involved.”

“What law is this?” I drummed a finger on my thigh. Then flicked at another mosquito.

“Our people have a custom when duels are fought. To prevent retaliation, the victor must take the surviving spouse and any children into their own family.” His eyes flicked to Shayla again.

“That explains why she and Carii are so different in temperament and looks.” I stroked my chin. “So the Chief became her husband to guard the daughter. And she took up her training because Shayla possesses talent as well.”

“Probably,” Tiernan conceded. “I was accepted among the Lexovi because of my Mother’s talent. She had birthed me before becoming Beien Ciall to them. But another challenged and defeated her. All such duels are to the death. If there isn’t a death blow, the victor carves out the loser’s heart. “ He paused and cleared his throat, and I glimpsed a sheen over the big man’s eyes.

“And by law, you had a new mother,” I finished.

He nodded grimly. “Understand, most of the time, such ‘adoptions’ go well enough. However, in my case she didn’t want a ‘half-breed’ for a son. So I became an outsider in truth. And if a boar’s tusks were laced with poison, would any think to look before I died?”

“No, they’d never know,” I replied with a shake of the head. “They’d assume you succumbed to the wounds. So how did you—?”

“I’m not a bard because I have a strong voice and love to collect stories that can be put to song,” he answered dryly. “Mother taught me much of herblore and natural remedies. She also taught me a good deal about ritual magics.”

My eyes rounded. “Why didn’t you say this when Toi was poisoned?”

Tiernan shook his head. “You forget, he walked away. We thought it little more than a scratch. It wasn’t until the Priestess couldn’t heal him that she even thought to look for poison. By then, Toi was already dead. Besides, the chemist seemed to do a thorough enough work in identifying it. And I had never seen it before either.”

I closed my eyes and remembered the yellow ball and black bile extracted from his body. The bones broken from convulsions and contorted expression on his face as the poison killed him. There wasn’t a pit in Erebus deep enough for his murderer. And I wasn’t certain the order to kill me had come from Davos either. “I appreciate you telling me this, Tiernan. It couldn’t have been easy.”

“I’ve gone this far in disclosing the ways of Mother’s people,” the bard said with a deep frown. “You should know, even if Shayla were Carii’s birth daughter, eventually the two would become rivals. And only one could remain in the tribe.”

I hung my head. Rain Dancer sensed my distress, mincing his steps as I looked over first one shoulder, and then the other for the wilder woman. I caught a glimpse of her blond mane near Captain Spiros at the front of the Hundred Hands. A stab of jealousy pricked my side, though if I had been the newcomer, I’d be as curious as Shayla to learn of the new cultures.

“The condor was hers? Or Carii’s?”

“Hers,” Tiernan answered without hesitation. “She’s the curious one. And the birds are already bound to her arms.”

I pivoted and made an interrogative grunt. He shook his head. “Now I am getting perilously close to discussing secrets Mother made me swear I’d never share. If she wishes, Shayla will explain herself.”

With a sigh, I answered, “For an explanation, this isn’t helping me understand her very much.”

Tiernan chuckled. “Lord Amuhan, I may be a bard. And I certainly know the ways to woo women. But I’ve never made claim to understand them.”

I laughed so hard, I nearly swallowed a mosquito.

Shall Cthulhu Be Overthrown?

So the Progressive March through Science Fiction and Fantasy continues apace. Not being sated by ensuring the dreaded Sad Puppy slate was skunked (Despite Toni Weisskopf having more 1st place ballots than anyone and clearly meriting the award on more than one occasion. But hey, anyone who doesn’t support the Group Think abrogates all minority status for their evil independent thoughts.), now the Glittering Ones wish to cast down H.P. Lovecraft as the image of the World Fantasy Award and replace him with Octavia Butler. In true Progressive Fashion, they’ve gone to Change.Org, so we can have the White House talk about things other than what truly matters. Because they’ve done so well at handling the economy, foreign policy, and Ferguson. https://www.change.org/p/the-world-fantasy-award-make-octavia-butler-the-wfa-statue-instead-of-lovecraft

OK. I get it, H.P. Lovecraft is a very problematic person to uphold as a patron. His racial statements were difficult even in the time, and only become more raw in our over-sensitized age. (I have my own issues with his statements on faith and atheism.) Octavia Butler is a hero of modern Speculative Fiction. Both of them are generational talents, though I think only the most desperate Progressive would claim their proposed replacement’s legacy will ever match the foundational impact of Lovecraft on the genre. Personally, Butler isn’t my cup of tea, but I can respect her talent. I can even concede that as important as Lovecraft might have been, he’s not even, in the modern sense of the term, a Fantasy Author (though closer than Ms. Butler).

The problem is this: Nothing that Butler is known for is related to FANTASY. She wrote Speculative Fiction, Alt-History, and Science Fiction proper. The World Fantasy Award, contrary to the Hugos and Nebulas, is specifically not a blanket Speculative Fiction award. If you want to change the patron, then name a candidate that actually represents the GENRE. Of course, the Tor.com blog can’t even be bothered to point out this minor problem in the proposal. They’re too busy carrying the water for the long march of the Progressives: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/08/should-the-world-fantasy-award-be-changed?utm_source=exacttarget&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=tordotcom&utm_content=-na_read_BlogPost&utm_campaign

So here, let me share some alternatives, if the politics of Lovecraft and Howard are beyond the pale:

Tolkien? Only the founder of modern fantasy. And he’s the only writer with a larger footprint in the genre than either of the current patron or the proposed successor.

Roger Zelazny? The Amber Chronicles remain relevant, and his legacy is as rich as any.

Terry Prachett? Ok. This one might be a tad controversial. But it’s in the right way. He pokes at everything, and to be fair, Discworld, at its best, did one of the hardest things in writing: Merged coherent story telling (at least internally plausible) with effective satire.

Robert Jordan? I’m not a Wheel of Time fan. But I can’t deny its impact on the genre.

Any of these four, to me, would have been a better alternative, and one that actually fits the criteria of being a patron of Fantasy, than Ms. Butler. If this is actually about embracing the entire community, and not just giving another sop to political correctness, then we should name a candidate ALL of the fantasy community can support. And it’s best to start with someone who actually wrote in the genre, thank you.

So Hercules the Movie Is Out

And it has The Rock, who I think it just about a doggone perfect Herc.

But I will not be seeing this. Why? General principle, it’s a “demythologization.”

Yeah, all those cool things you see in the trailer, they only happen in the narrative during the first 4 minutes of the movie. “Son of Zeus?” Yeah, Herc made that up so his enemies would fear him. We’re going for the “true” story, you know.

Like the “true” story of King Arthur and Troy, this is once again a sad attempt to strip away anything fantastic and leave the audience with a “real” sense of who the character was. For a given value of real where historical elements that could not have existed together are thrown together by Did Not Do Their Research Screenwriters (Llamas in Troy? Oh yeah). With the result that we get a by-the-numbers Hollywood cliche story attempting to be the biopic of a character we can’t know anything about without the myths.

What a load of tripe. You want to go sword-and-sandal non-mystical? There’s LOTS of stories to tell that could do it right. But those wouldn’t have the ‘name’ value. Say “Hannibal” and people think of a cannibal, or a black dude on an elephant (hey, btw, he was Phoenician w/ a Spanish mother, and thus olive-toned, but yeah “History Channel” you know). Never mind the Punic Wars would be an amazing series to bring to the screen. We need to tell people that no one believed that silly mystical stuff back then. Religion only comes from the rubes, you know. Oh wait, you mean Plato had a section about Atlantis? Welllll… don’t look here, because shut up. Instead, we get Hercules trying to play a mercenary general with a heart of gold. Because…”history,” meaning, “We made up the story. But we have to start somewhere, right?”

Whose history? The history the revisionist hucksters want to sell. There’s never been any sense of wonder or adventure in the world. So you can just sit back, dull your minds on Rom-Coms, and forget about dreams, faith, or anything that makes you creative. What a sad, myopic, universe to live in.

UPDATE: Oh, and here’s another beautiful “historical gem” from the Hercules movie. So Hercules, the Founder of the Spartans, the Warrior Elite of the Ancient World, whose classic saying was “With Your Shield or On It.” IOW, come back victorious or come back dead. The people who took a King’s personal guard to Thermopylae and commit mass suicide trying to hold off Xerxes Army (300, anyone?). Yeah, THOSE people learned all this from Hercules. Now this would be a very HISTORIC element of his life, if anything.

So what does the movie do? Hercules gives a mealy-mouthed speech about how it’s more important to ‘survive’ than to win the battle. That’s sooooo historical. So truth-telling to power. Brett Ratner, you are a freaking clown.

A Hearty Endorsement

Of this list of questions: http://writerswrite.co.za/15-questions-authors-should-ask-characters

I’ve always been a fan of doing character interviews. I do them of my major characters in each book. Along with questions like, “What would cause you to abandon your plan?” for the antagonist (as in, “Does he do it because he wants to make the world better, as he sees it–and thus is a well-meaning extremist. Or is he just in it for Global Domination and the EVULZ). Even minor characters get a good helping of these questions. You never know when one might ‘step up’ on you.

For Yalissa, in my Hellenistic Fantasy, for instance. What would mentally destroy her has changed from Book 1 to now. In the 1st, the Destruction of her Temple and Faith would have undone her. She would have sacrificed everything for her fellow Chosen. However, the events of the second book tear away all of that from her. Now, her relationship to Sharit is more open to questioning. And what she truly cares for is the people she has freed from captivity.

How did she get from point A to Point C? Ahh. Not telling. lol. One day you’ll learn. I hope. 😉

Here We Go Again

You know, I’ve come to the conclusion that the entertainment industry is populated by the only group of semi-educated people on earth who both:

1) Have no freaking comprehension of how market economics works. And

2) Still make money, despite their incompetence at managing said system.

Of course, I would add that their lack of intuitive grasp of the Law of Supply and Demand is beginning to have consequences. Especially with the new realm of Indie Creators and small marketeers eating away at their profits.

Which is, of course, at the heart of why a bunch of .001% authors can suffer Amazon Derangement Syndrome, claim a boycott is happening when it isn’t, and then duff around while their publishers–who artificially inflate the prices on e-books–continue to tell them stories about how Amazon is cheating them. This despite the fact Amazon has specifically promised to compensate THEM for any losses.

Note, this means authors are complaining because their publisher is abusing them, and they are complaining to the party that is actively trying to compensate them fairly.

Yeah. GET A CLUE. https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140703/13251627775/one-percent-authors-want-to-end-destructive-conflict-bring-order-to-galaxy.shtml

Where We Discuss Who Tarien Cole Is.

Or More Accurately: Is Not.

I often hear the statement, “Your writing must reflect your beliefs.” I personally find this a ludicrous statement. My current work, for instance, is a Hellenistic Fantasy written with full polytheistic pantheons, the possibility of apotheosis, Pre-Christian philosophy regarding Government, Civics, and Economics, and the general presupposition that all war is Holy War. In short, it is a Fantasy Recreation of the world of Rome and Carthage in the Punic Wars. Minus even the far-off influence of Judaism and Monolatry (if not true Monotheism). My lead characters all operate within the views of that world. One a priestess whose Patron oversees Love, Beauty, Trade, and the City, as Tanith did Carthage. Nor do I apologize for their own personal agendas, some of which include things we consider quite odious in the modern world: Slavery, for instance, was commonplace in the era. Well over half the Roman population was servile. Carthage could not have functioned without them either. It would be a gross disservice to insert modern considerations on the topic into that setting. They simply did not exist.

The person who Tarien Cole inhabits has a very distinct set of values. Despite my love of steampunk, I enjoy my modern conveniences, thank you. Despite the fact my current WIP comes from a ‘pagan’ setting, I am comfortably Christian in confession. And I have other works where that faith does occur in characters. Including a Historical Fantasy set in 16th Century Prague with a Brandenburg-born Bohemian Lutheran with Calvinist sympathies (who takes a Romani sorceress as his wife). Despite the fact the economic system of both of those worlds predates Adam Smith, I am a believer in the Free Market.

In short, most of my works have little relation to me. Some have virtually none. I don’t, as a rule, cut snippets of myself off and make characters out of them. In fact, I made the lead male character of my Steampunk as divergent from myself in personality as I could imagine. Just to see if I could! Hence his rather Indiana Jones-ish mentality to everything from women to problem solving.

Am I saying it’s wrong to do that? No. There are no ‘right or wrongs’ in writing, except this: “Thou Shall Not Bore Thy Reader. Because That Simply Sucks.”

I happen to enjoy making characters from what I observe. In history, in reading, and in the setting itself as I formulate it. I don’t pre-program parts of myself into the story. And even when a character ‘somewhat’ aligns with myself, I’m still responsible as a writer to answer questions AS THE CHARACTER. Not as me. So again, I am almost always endeavoring to divorce myself from the process, and listen to the characters.

They are not me. They may be my friends (though their murderous, sadistic author has a strange way of showing it). But I am not a metanarrator. Consider this one more reason I resent using fiction as a method of message.

Change This Title to “Since 2005”

And it’s closer to right. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/21/disappointing-series-finales_n_5514671.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592

I can’t argue with most of the list. The final season of Lost literally destroyed my enjoyment for the years before. Of course, the article makes the popular canard of saying J.J. Abrams was still involved with the show then. He wasn’t. Alias, a show he was involved in the entire run, had a very good finale, IMHO. 

What’s the difference? Well, it’s not a matter of difficult mythology. Alias had its Rimbaldi myths, which dominated most of the early seasons, and then slid into the undercurrent of early Season 4, when they rebooted the show. But the finale bathed in it, right down to using Sloane’s quest for eternal life against him. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-XJyk6qIos

BTW, Jack Bristow’s line in that scene is one of the greatest lines I’ve ever seen. And he was right, Sloane trapped in Rimbaldi’s tomb forever. Poetic Justice on the ultimate scale. How is that for a perfect finale? Oh yeah. There was still Sydney’s finish. Which was almost as satisfying.

Lost? Well. Not everything can make as much sense. But at least it could’ve answered half its own questions.

But my choice for ‘best finale ever’ has to be Babylon 5’s “Sleeping in Light.” A quiet, emotional piece that even in repeated viewing wrings manly tears from me. The choices they’ve made have consequences that cannot be avoided. But Sheridan, Delenn, and Babylon 5 itself has changed the galaxy in every way they could hope. It is the opposite of the expansive, explosive Alias final act (though the station gets a big boom). And yet no less rewarding.

And that’s why, compared to the ones on the list, they worked. Those finales were honest with their characters, worlds, and the fans who had invested in them. They gave real payoffs in return, and answered the key questions of the story. That’s what a good ending should do. To me, that’s why I’ve never bought the argument against the Scouring of the Shire in Lord of the Rings as a proper ending. The readers don’t see the events of the story through Aragorn and Gandalf’s eyes. But through those of the Hobbits. And we have every reason to see they are capable of solving their own problems now. No longer hiding from the world of men or easily cowed. It’s important to demonstrate the growth of our heroes. 

A proper ending provides resolution. If it can leave another story to tell beyond that, all the better.