A Perfect Book for an Imperfect Father’s Day

Having last blogged for Mother’s Day (on my author blog), it seems only fair to blog here for Father’s Day. Not too much direct experience with the mother thing, granted, but I do have experience with being a father. In 2014, I launched my novel AIKO, about a man who discovers he is a father. However, before he can celebrate Father’s Day, he must overcome a lot of obstacles to claim his child. Perhaps it is a simple story. The details make it special. And yet, it is strangely similar to one of the grand opera stories of my youth: Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. (Here is the Metropolitan Opera’s synopsis.)

As a music student in college, I was not averse to attending an opera or two. Some were more interesting than others. My mother, who always promoted my musical interests, took me to my first opera when I was a boy: Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, about a ghost ship doomed to sail the seas forever. (Why is there no movie version today? It would make a great paranormal film.) But it was Madama Butterfly that became my favorite, and the only opera I can enjoy just listening to without having to see the stage production.

In the opera, an American naval officer visits Japan and because he is staying there a while on business, he arranges to have a “temporary” wife. The inevitable happens: his business is concluded and he leaves, promising to return, and later she discovers a child will be born. He does eventually return, but with his American wife in tow. He is surprised to find his Japanese lover has a child but he is determined to bring the child home to America. The Japanese woman is so distraught over that verdict that she commits suicide in one of opera’s most tragic scenes.

While I was living in Japan in the late 1980s and early 90s, teaching English to the students of a small city, I wrote the story of an American man who meets a Japanese woman. They have a relationship then must inevitably part. A child is born. Eventually the man learns of the child’s existence and wants to do the right thing. Despite his American wife’s objection, he goes to Japan to check things out. I’m skipping over a lot of details, of course, but you see how the plot is similar to the Madama Butterfly story. That was purely unintentional.

Seeing that similarity, I decided to exploit it and revised my story to use some elements of Madama Butterfly more overtly. First, I wanted to tell the story from the man’s point of view. The opera is all from her side. Before I knew much about Japanese history and customs, I had always wondered why Cho-Cho-san (literally “Madame Butterfly”) decided to kill herself to solve the problem. She should have killed him for trying to take away her child! Not to say killing is acceptable, of course. In my Western mindset, I could not understand her motivations. Now I do. So in telling the story from his side, I would need to show him as a rational, responsible, do-the-right thing kind of guy who has all the best intentions while dealing with the situation.
The next thing I wanted to change was the time period. The opera is set at the turn-of-the-century when American naval forces first begin to rule the Pacific. In changing the setting to the late 1980s and early 1990s (the same time period I wrote it), I could exploit the new “internationalization” focus of Japan. Because of a booming economy and criticism of Japan’s unfair trade practices, the government initiated (among other acts) the importing of foreign English teachers from the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia. I was part of that influx of teachers who went to Japan. I was there at the exact time of the story, and I described the clash of generations: the older World War II seniors and the pop culture youth who knew little about the war. It was an interesting yet awkward time. And it fit perfectly for my version of the story.

So there you have it: Art imitating a life which imitates art.

Being a guy, of course I wanted my male protagonist to not be a jerk, to do the right thing. But he is human and thus has flaws. He also faces the clash of customs, lost among people who think differently, where the acts that make no sense to him seem perfectly logical to the local folk. Japan in the 1990s is a modern place, but in inaka (the rural, “backwoods” regions), the old, traditional ways still hold sway. So our hero, Benjamin Pinkerton (yes, I borrowed the name from the character in the opera, just to make the connection more obvious), tries to do the right thing: save a child he never knew he had while risking everything in his life back home. It is another stranger in a strange land scenario I like to write.

The #CockyGate Trademark Kerfuffle

Cockygate takes over Twitter!

This weekend, Twitter blew up with the #cockygate or #cocky scandal, where a romance author trademarked the common English word cocky. Normally, these kerfuffles are way over my head and I don’t pay attention but I used to work in a patent agency and I have a little, read very little, knowledge of intellectual property and what I read filled me with horror.

Quick disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are the author’s personal opinion alone and do not reflect Myrddin’s.

I worked in the search department. It was my job to check the validity of patents and report to clients on them as well as other duties. Because of this I had to attend ‘lessons’ with the ‘baby’ agents (affectionate term for trainees) on patent law. I know this isn’t trademark law and that they are very different but it did kind of crop up in conversations now and again. It was drummed into us that patents had to be unique. Part of my job was to find other patents or find inventions in use before an application was filed to ‘blow it out of the water’. I thought of myself as a bit of a pirate. Arrr!

Trademarks were supposed to follow a similar vein. Trademarks were supposed to incur protection for novel and unique marks. I may have not paid the proper amount of attention when they were talking about it, the smoked salmon bagels were particularly delicious in those lessons, so I admit I may have got the wrong end of the stick. I’m always willing to be wrong.

This brings me back to cockygate. An author filed and was granted a trademark for the word ‘Cocky’ as well as another for the stylized word to do with her book series.

The USPTO is notoriously busy and things can slip through which probably shouldn’t. Saying this, it does only take a few seconds to determine on Amazon that there were pre-existing books on there with the word Cocky in the title and even (so I’ve heard) there was a series with that word in the series title.

The danger of letting this trademark happen is that authors could trademark other common English words. This could be ‘the’ or ‘billionaire’, how about ‘star’? The last one could be great. You could retroactively sue the Star Wars or Star Trek franchises as well as untold books. This lady is a genius. Edit:  I’m pretty sure you can’t do this. I thought you could only threaten people who use your trademarked mark AFTER you’ve got it. Prior use and all that. It doesn’t stop people from trying though and sometimes just the threat is enough to scare someone to do what you want. End of edit.

I’m not saying trademarking words is stupid. Apple for example is a trademark of the computer company. An ordinary every day apple of the fruit variety cannot be confused with the maker of computers and iPhones etc. I’ve always believed that was why some are allowed and others not. Cocky on the other hand is a descriptive word which is used on a daily basis in the field the author inhabits. It has been used before and it makes it difficult to remove that word from that field without affecting others. You do not need to refer to apples in any way when talking about computers, I suppose you could give away a bag of apples with every purchase, but that is stretching it!

There may be a happy ending with this. An attorney with knowledge in the field has filed a petition to get rid of the offending trademark. I believe with my little and limited understanding that he has a real chance of this working. Also, allegedly, one of the trademarks granted was using a font that was not permitted to be trademarked. Unfortunately, I think this trademark has a genuine basis. It was the word cocky but only written in a certain way. This meant that an author could use cocky in their title but they would have to use a different font, no biggy. Except she was given the word cocky as well which meant cease and desist letters went out when maybe they shouldn’t have.

The attorney is also an author and so has a stake in this debacle as all authors do if this precedent stands. He has my undying admiration for undertaking this, not just for filing the petition but also for not seeking damages or any financial penalties. After all, the trademark happy author may have just received bad advice and is acting on that advice. I do like to think the best of people.

However this pans out, there will still be fallout even if this trademark is annihilated. Authors will be out of pocket and let’s be frank, authors don’t make a ton of money unless you are one of our heroes like Stephen King, James Patterson, JK Rowling or the other heavyweights.

I really hope this can be resolved soon and no one suffers too much from what could be traced back to a simple mistake of not enough staff at the USPTO to assess the viability of a trademark.

Men Reading Women

With the passing of fantasy author  Ursula K. Le Guin, it seems a good time to reflect on the women authors of my life, especially in science-fiction and fantasy where the percentage has been more skewed.

When I was a young reader, science-fiction got my attention. Imagining other worlds, traveling in space, or dealing with futuristic possibilities was my thing. I started at a young age reading such sci-fi authors as Ben Bova and Robert Silverberg. Also an author named Andre Norton. Mostly these were short stories, often in an anthology edited by Silverberg. One day, though, I was surprised to learn that one of my favorite authors was a woman. I thought Andre was a boy’s name! It made me think.

Boys tend to want to read stories of other boys or men doing things, heroic things. At that age I honestly didn’t care what the girls did in stories. It was just that male authors tended to write about men doing manly things (I’m generalizing, of course), so I had no reason to try female authors. I also did not have much knowledge then of how difficult it was for female authors especially in the genre of science fiction and fantasy; I just wanted a good story. My mother pushed A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle on me, telling me it was a good story, but as a young boy I was not so interested in reading a story about a girl!

Gradually, I grew up. Focusing deliberately on a wider range of fiction, literary and decidedly non-SF works, many of them were written by women. I enjoyed them: I got to experience life as a female character, got to understand the issues they dealt with, and perhaps gained from perspective I did not previously know. It was educational. Whether or not the authors were women still did not matter to me as a reader more than what the story itself was. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books about Authorian legend interested me, not because of the author but because of the Arthur. Nancy Kress and her sci-fi and books on writing mentored me for a time, as well.

Classic women authors starting with Mary Shelley and continuing through the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen entered my experience in college by making me play along as the man in the pages of their books. I could empathize, to a point, with the women in the novels. That experience helped develop the Romantic qualities which have eventually ruined me. I can’t confidently say, just from reading, that I now “get it” or that I understand all the characters endured and could cheer as they rose up and took whatever position they deemed in the story to be a success. Yet my empathy continued to grow.

In grad school, read Francine Prose and Annie Proulx, partly to see a view of life which I could not see without the lens of a woman author writing about a woman protagonist. A couple years ago I read a teenage romance series by Stephanie Perkins, not for the thrills of young love and relationship conundrums but to understand how a young girl thinks and acts. I used what I learned from those books for my own novel which featured a young girl. More than research, I deliberately tried to learn to see what I could not with my own experiential eyes. And then a film on cable TV one night prompted me to check out Margaret Atwood’s novels, starting with The Handmaid’s Tale. Now, of course, it has returned in a new series.

Having a daughter further instilled in me the urge to seek women authors for her to read. The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer became a milestone in my daughter’s life. Inspired, she even wrote fan fiction herself. No matter what word or label you may apply to me and my experience with women authors, I want the best for my daughter, and for her to understand other women’s lives and times, struggles and triumphs.

More recently, as I worked on my own epic fantasy involving dragons, I returned to the novels of Anne McCaffrey. While her dragons and their world are remarkably different from the ones I was writing about, I very much appreciated the craft, the imagination, the pure exhilaration of the world she invented in Pern.  Then the sci-fi/dystopian trilogy by Marie Lu caught my attention as something my daughter might like to read…but I read it first. Before reading these authors, Marian Perera, a fellow newbie, came out with Before the Storm, which wonderfully taught me how women think and act in sci-fi romance. It was liberating as I was composing my own sci-fi trilogy.

Now Ursula has passed on, never to write another novel. Yet we remain blessed to always have the products of her mind, the outpouring of words that frame and construct and fulfill our own hopes and aspirations for years past and years to come…for the world of make-believe is our world, today’s world, in disguise.

 

#BookReview: Legion Lost By K.C. Finn, review by Gypsy Madden

My blog at LiveJournal (and cross-posted to Goodreads) is where I review books that I read. So, to give you a quick taste of my reviews, I’m sharing one of my latest favorite books by the wonderful indie author K.C. Finn:

Legion Lost By K.C. Finn – I gave it 5 stars

Category: YA

 

Summary: In a dystopian future, there are interconnected cities known as the System and they are ruled over by the corrupt Governor Prudell. Our heroine lives outside of the System in a colony underground. But one day, the Underground is raided by System soldiers, and our heroine manages to escape though her mother and brothers are taken captive. Starving and on her own, she happens upon a young boy who is on his way to join the Legion. The Legion turns out to be the System run army made up of young teenagers. The girl decides to join, as a boy, and perhaps find a way to rescue her family members once she gets inside the System. But she finds that in the barracks everyone showers together, so her secret would be found out immediately, so she tries to hide herself in with the rejects. And in with the rejects she finds a new family of friends for herself.

Comments: K.C. Finn’s writing never ceases to amaze me. I love getting lost in her imaginative worlds and discovering new friends among her cast of characters. Legion Lost is a wonderful coming-of-age story with a dystopian background. I’m personally not a fan of anything to do with military, but it really didn’t bother me in this story. Having joined the military made a wonderful new set of complications that our heroine Raja had to figure her way through. And, yes, I adored Stirling. You could easily see the bashful, shy, awkward teenager, hiding behind his tough roguish captain façade. And all the other rejects had wonderful personalities, too (and especially Lucrece). There really wasn’t a character I could point to in this entire story and say they felt like a cardboard creation. Where so many of the indie YA dystopian books on the market right now read like re-treads of Hunger Games and Divergent, this one blazes its own direction. Yes, there are shades of Hunger Games in this (the corrupt government with a possibly evil leader, rebel factions itching to overthrow the established government, a heroine who grew up on the fringes and suddenly finds herself amid the struggle, not knowing who to trust, a strong heroine beating the odds, and yes, the touching coming-of-age). I hope it isn’t giving away too much, but I loved that this story had a Twelfth Night plot to it (my favorite Shakespeare play!) I can’t wait to see where the next book in this wonderful story takes us to!

You can pick up Legion Lost at https://www.amazon.com/Legion-Lost-K-C-Finn-ebook/dp/B01BKYGD00/ (Right now only $0.99 cents!)

And visit my blog at http://timelady.livejournal.com/ or https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7170704.Gypsy_Madden/blog for plenty of more book reviews!

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Gypsy Madden loves fantasy, science fiction, and anything British and adores making costumes and dressing up at conventions! She has participated in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest for 3 years as well as helping with the pitch workshopping thread, contributed chapters to the round robin stories of the Doctor Who Internet Adventures (DWIAs) and can even be spotted in the Naruto fan movie Konaha vs Chaos, dressed up as Harry Potter at several of the HPEF symposiums, and in LOST as a mental patient. Hired by a Demon is her first novel in print.

Christmas O’Clock: A Review for Kids and Adults

I know it’s not Christmas, but I recently wrote a review of the Myrddin Anthology Christmas o’Clock. Check it out and support the wonderful Myrddin authors!
I gave it a high 4 stars. Each story included in the anthology is appropriate for children (and I could even easily imagine reading it to a child and starting a new holiday tradition). Magic Coal for the Naughts by Alison DeLuca was about two children who had wound up on the naughty list and had lumps of coal that they could not get rid of.
The List by Nicole Antonia Carson was about a young girl who had been taken to court by Santa on the charge that she should be put on the naughty list. She challenged it by pointing out that her brother was actually the naughty one. It reminded me of Law & Order with a dash of Judge Judy, but starring some very young kids.


Rudolph Saves Christmas by Shaun Allen reminded me of the Miser Brothers Christmas animations. And The Christmas Tree by Connie J Jasperson was a perfect way to top off all of these cute Christmas stories. It was a delightful mix of science fiction meets Christmas tradition and the worries of children that Christmas would come to pass on a trip to the stars without what makes the holiday special.

All sales of Christmas O’Clock go to help the international group Water is Life.

Gypsy Madden is an author of urban fantasy and a costume designer who lives and works in Hawaii.

“Girls Can’t Be Knights” by Lee French – A Review

 

 

   This is a very different sort of YA story, dealing with a young girl (Claire) who has been orphaned and finds herself in the foster care system.  Trouble seems to find Claire at every turn, until she meets a young father-figure knight named Justin.  Even more trouble follows as the two alternate between the modern world and the fantasy world, battling corrupt spirits.  When I first read Lee French’s “Girls Can’t Be Knights” from the Spirit Knight Series, I began writing a review from an adult’s point of view.  But having written several Young Adult fiction books, I knew the difficulty that adults can have when trying to critique something written for a much younger audience.  So I asked my twelve-year-old to read it and tell me what she thought of it.  This is how much our views differed!

 

Character Development

Me:  This was my main complaint as I didn’t feel I knew enough about the main characters.  I wanted more fleshing-out.

12 y.o.:  Claire and Justin were awesome.  I liked how she seemed like some girls at my school.

Plot

Me:  I wanted more background so that I could understand why the characters acted as they did, rather than having to wait until the end for explanations.

12 y.o.:  I liked how it moved so fast without having to read a bunch of pages about every small detail.

Setting

Me:  The story was rather short and setting descriptions were on the minimal side.

12 y.o.:  There was enough description of places to move the story along.  I was so interested in the action that I thought there was just the right amount.

Conflict

Me:  There was an abundance of conflict, but I wasn’t always sure I understood what some of the terms really meant (such as ur and ne-phasm).

12 y.o.:  Lots of it!  There was always something going on that kept your interest.  It made me want to keep reading until the end!

Resolution

Me:  The resolution did satisfy me, but I would have preferred it not to come all in a rush at the very end.

12 y.o.:  Everything that I was hoping would happen, did come together at the end.  I loved how it ended.

Desire to continue reading the series

Me:  I did enjoy this book, but probably would not continue with the series.

12 y.o.:  There are more?  Can we get the next one now?

So you see, Lee French has targeted her audience well.  The young teen and preteen reader seem to love or not mind the very things that I did not care for.  I’m betting your young reader will too.

Kathleen Barker was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. A graduate of Blessed Sacrament, the Institute of Notre Dame and Towson University, she spent twenty years as the much-traveled wife of a Navy pilot and has three children. While working for a Fortune 500 insurance company in New Orleans, she wrote feature and human interest articles for their magazine and received the Field Reporter of the Year award. After Hurricane Katrina, she returned to her beloved state of Maryland where she started work on “The Charm City Chronicles”. All four volumes, “Ednor Scardens”, “The Body War”, “The Hurting Year”, and “On Gabriel’s Wings” are available in Amazon’s Kindle store.

#GraceUnderFire: Mary Shelley

The commonly publicized stories of famous men and women are generally focused on their great victories and glorious successes, and rarely touch for long on the less-than-glorious moments in their careers.

And, while I am always inspired by great successes, I am far more intrigued by how the heroes and heroines of history handled the most crushing, personal defeats.

One woman I deeply admire as much for the way she handled disgrace and loss as for her literary success, is Mary Shelley.

The year was 1814, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was 17–young, even by the standards of the day–when she ran away with a married man. That man was Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was (until he eloped with Mary) a close friend of her father.

Mary was the daughter of the famous political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the pioneering philosopher and feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft.  Her father was the first modern proponent of anarchism, and (until recently) her late mother’s tempestuous history overshadowed her brilliant work as a writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights. Her parents were Free Thinkers, and were notorious in their own rights.

Percy was the eldest legitimate son of Sir Timothy Shelley, 2nd Baronet of Castle Goring. Sir Timothy had himself produced an illegitimate child, which (in Percy’s eyes) made his  pious horror at his son’s transgressions seem rather hypocritical.

William Godwin was frequently in danger of going to debtors’ prison as his businesses regularly failed.  Good friends always rescued him, and long before beginning his relationship with Mary, Percy Shelley had agreed to bail the man he admired out of debt.

After their elopement, the enraged William Godwin refused to see them, but still demanded money to be given to him under another name, to avoid scandal. Their assertions that marriage was a matter of mind and God rather than the law fell on primly deaf ears.

Mary viewed her father’s reaction to their elopement as both sanctimonious and motivated by greed. It does appear that way, in view of his past and his political views, and also in view of the liberal way in which he had raised her after her mother’s death.

But beyond Sir Timothy Shelley and William Godwin’s hypocrisy, the couple faced intense censure from society at large, and paid a heavy price for the choices they had made.

After the suicide of Percy’s 1st wife, Harriet, and his subsequent marriage to Mary, the Chancery Court ruled Percy Shelley morally unfit to have custody of his children, despite Mary’s desire to raise them. In what was a well-publicized case, Percy’s children were placed with a clergyman’s family.

Despite having her personal business widely discussed and being snubbed by people she had believed to be her friends, Mary refused to behave as an outcast, writing and living as normal a life as she was able. Forced to live abroad to escape creditors, Mary and Percy found their exile from England hard to bear, despite their famous (and infamous) circle of friends who were exiled for much the same reasons.

When faced with the suicide of her sister Fanny and the deaths of three of her children, Mary suffered a deep depression. She retreated into her writing, and her husband retreated into confusion. Nevertheless, in public she carried herself with grace and dignity, no matter what was said or implied about her. During that time, Percy wrote:

My dearest Mary, wherefore hast thou gone, And left me in this dreary world alone? Thy form is here indeed—a lovely one—But thou art fled, gone down a dreary road That leads to Sorrow’s most obscure abode. For thine own sake I cannot follow thee. Do thou return for mine.

At the age of twenty-two she found herself a widow, and spent the rest of her life raising her only living son, writing, and getting Percy’s works published. Her life with Percy had been a struggle in many ways, far beyond the obvious, but no man ever captivated her more than he had. The wild passion she felt for him was as much spiritual as it was carnal, a true meeting of minds.

They were young, and although he loved her body and soul, he was not entirely faithful to her, and didn’t hide his infidelity from her. They lived beyond their means and were hounded by creditors, which could have meant debtor’s prison. In Mary’s eyes, that lack of security was far more difficult to endure than sly comments about her perceived bad behavior.

Mary Shelley was brave in what she published, and wrote her political thoughts into her novels and essays boldly, despite women having no right to voice their ideas. She believed in the Enlightenment idea that “People can improve society through the responsible exercise of political power,” but she also feared that the reckless exercise of power would lead to chaos, and her works reflect this belief.

Her works reveal her as much less optimistic than her radical parents, Godwin and Wollstonecraft. She doubted her father’s theory that humanity could eventually be perfected.

Even her early works are critical of the way in which 18th-century thinkers, such as her parents, believed radical political changes could be brought about. It has been pointed out that the creature in Frankenstein reads books associated with radical ideals, but the education he gains from them is ultimately useless.

Mary supported her son with her writing, and a small stipend she managed to squeeze from Sir Timothy, who wrote into his will that she should pay it back when her son inherited the title and estate. She was never accepted or acknowledged by her father-in-law, although her son did live to inherit his title and estate.

How people find the strength to hold their heads up in the face of public humiliation, personal tragedy, and intense social ostracism is, to me, a far more intriguing story than their successes. Anyone can ride the wave of glory–it takes a person of great character to surf the shoals of public disaster with grace and step on shore with confidence and their dignity intact.

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#GraceUnderFire: Mary Shelley by Connie J. Jasperson was first published 7 Oct 2015  on Life in the Realm of Fantasy

Wikipedia contributors, “Mary Shelley,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mary_Shelley&oldid=757791087 (accessed October 5, 2015)

Image: Portrait of Mary Shelley, Richard Rothwell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cover Reveal For ‘Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar’ And A Quick Word About PaintNET

The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar by Rachel Tsoumbakos FINAL COVER ART 940 resize

Now that Christmas and New Year’s has come and gone and the school holidays are nearly over here in Australia, it is time to get serious about edits for my upcoming book, Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar. But, before that can happen, there was just enough time to create the cover!

Thanks to some awesome input from my fellow Myrddin authors, and, in particular, Connie J. Jasperson, there has been many hours spent relearning how to use PaintNET. So, what does the cover for Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar look like? All the details are below.

 The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar by Rachel Tsoumbakos FINAL COVER ART 940 resize
[Image via © Nejron | Dreamstime.com/Rachel Tsoumbakos]

Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar Blurb

 

Lagertha was known to be one of the wives of the famous Viking, Ragnar Lodbrok. But did you know they first met each other at a brothel? And just how long did their marriage last? Was Lagertha really the revered shield maiden we see her as today? The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar aims to unravel all these secrets.

Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar is so much more than a history book though. While Part One examines the historical facts, Part Two brings their whole story to life with an historically accurate novella of their lives.

Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar aims to discover just how much of what we know of the shield maiden, Lagertha, and the famous Ragnar Lodbrok in popular culture today is actually true.

The Truth About series explores the historical fact from present day fiction in regards to the Vikings and other key historical figures that existed in the Viking era.

You can add Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar to your Goodreads reading list. Also, once the next stage of editing is completed (I’m around the halfway mark for this), I should have more idea of a release date, which means you will soon be able to pre-order The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar on Amazon. Make sure you sign up to the Myrddin Publishing blog so you will know as soon as pre-order is available!

Also, for some fun facts you might not know about Lagertha and Ragnar already, you can check out my previous post on these two Vikings here.

So, What Is PaintNET Anyway?

If you have ever wanted to use Photoshop but just can’t afford the money or time to learn how to use such an enormous program, PaintNET might be just your thing. It is a freeware product designed by the people and for the people. This program is part of GNU, another free software operating system. While PaintNET is a great resource for those designing book covers and manipulating images, it is not entirely a full version alternative to Photoshop. If you want that, you will need GIMP, which is very much the freeware equivalent of Photoshop. However, if you — like me — have tried Photoshop and become completely overwhelmed with all it can do, PaintNET is nice alternative. It is very much a bridge between what can be done in Microsoft’s Paint program with a few added extras and the full Photoshop experience.

[Image via © Nejron | Dreamstime.com/Rachel Tsoumbakos]

Maps: the Art of Going Places

Maps are awesome additions to books.  I love drawing them, and I love books that have them.  When I was reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series I was constantly paging back and forth to the maps, wishing for smaller, more localized maps. They don’t have to be accurate–but they do have to give some idea of where the action is taking us.

When I formatted Huw the Bard, I included three maps. At the front I left the whole map of Waldeyn. Then I split the map, north and south,  so curious readers could see how the two halves of Waldeyn differ from each other, and how that difference in terrain affected his journey. The  second map is inserted where the second stage of Huw’s journey begins.

I did it that way because I am a voracious reader of anything by L.E. Modesitt Jr.,  but I am angry with his publisher, TOR Fantasy, for not updating the maps in his Recluce books. The maps in the front of that series of books detail the world AFTER The Chaos Balance, and bear absolutely NO resemblance to the towns in fully half of the books that are set before that time!

Sigh. All that money spent for beautiful artwork for the cover was a good investment, oh, mighty publishing giant, TOR–but the interior could use NEW MAPS! Give me the coordinates and I’ll draw them for you! (oh dear, I’m hyperventilating again….)

One of the best maps of a fantasy realm that I’ve ever seen was the map of Middle Earth as done by Pauline Baynes in 1970. It is beautiful, a complete work of art on its own, as all maps once were in the golden age of discovery.

I won’t lay claim to being an artist on this level, nor will my maps ever achieve this kind of style and creativity, but I am working on new maps for the world of Neveyah, and the Tower of Bones series. The ones I have right now are all in color, and they don’t translate well to black and white for print.

But, I’ve been working on that too. The map to the right of me is the current map of the City of Aeoven.

Now, if I can just make it look good grayscaled.

 

10 Unlikely actors for movie remakes (that were originally books)

movie remakesEver wondered what a movie would have been like with a different choice of actor? We love books here at Myrddin Publishing but sometimes we are drawn to the glitzy, sparkly lights of the cinema. Everyone loves a good movie and we are no different. Sometimes we like to think about how we would have written the story or who would we choose to star in a movie about our books. It was only a matter of time before one of us put a wish list of unlikely actors for movie remakes!

Here are six suggestions that may make your toes curl or  make you think twice.

1. Pride and Prejudice

Mr Darcy played by Arnold Schwarzeneggar

Arnold has played romantic leads in the past, but the Terminator star might give a new dimension to the character. Who could forget Kindergarten Cop or True Lies?

You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.” (Elizabeth Bennett) ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

If Arnie had been playing Mr. Darcy, would Elizabeth Bennett have said that? Of all the movie remakes in this list, I would love to see this actually happen!

2. Bridget Jones Diary

Bridget Jones Diary played by Sigourney Weaver

Bridget Jones was famously played by Renée Zellweger but the drippy lead could do with some Sigourney Weaver ‘take no prisoners’ approach. Her style could make the ending all the more worth it and although she wouldn’t need Colin Firth, the fight scene would be worth watching in and of itself.

3. The Silence of the Lambs

Hannibal Lector played by Eddie Izzard

Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs  and Mads Mikkelsen in Hannibal have tough boots to fill but Eddie Izzard could be an awesome choice for a film remake. You will only need to check him out as the chilling Wolf in Powers to see why. He started out his media career as a stand up comedian but soon branched out into TV and film. The guy has run over 40 marathons and is multilingual which shows a dedication seldom seen in this world.

4. The Shining

Jack Torrance played by Rowan Atkinson

The actor who played the lovable Mr Bean has a wide repertoire of acting skills and should surely bear another look for this iconic character. Nobody could surpass the performance of the original but if there was to be a remake maybe they could take another gander at the Johnny English star. After all, he’s already used to being called Johnny. Is it such a stretch to imagine him, axe in hand, shouting “Here’s Johnny?”

5. The Godfather Series

The Godfather played by Eddie Murphy

You may be thinking that the actor playing the Godfather needs to be American-Italian, right? But bear with me. Eddie Murphy could give a new angle to the movie. Gone are the days when he made movies like The Golden Child and Beverly Hills Cop but given a really juicy role, he could get his mojo back. He’s a wise guy but this film is sooo serious maybe it could do with a bit of eccentricity.

6. The Bourne Series

Jason Bourne played by David Schwimmer

David Schwimmer is best known for his role in Friends but maybe it is time for him to expand his acting genius. No one would suspect him capable of such physical feats which makes him ideally placed to be a spy. His job as a dinosaur bones curator would be the perfect cover. To be honest it was a toss up between the Da Vinci Code and the Bourne Series for this guy for me.

7. Fight Club

Tyler Durden played by Zach Galifianakis

Best know for the Hangout movies, a Fight Club remake committee would not be doing their job if they did not at least consider Mr. Galifianakis in the lead role.Just like Edward Norton, the unsuspecting viewer, (if there is anyone left in the world who hasn’t read the book or seen the movie), would never guess the narrator and Tyler are one and the same. The role would stretch Zach but he could do it. Movie remakes seem a dime a dozen lately but this could be overdue for one.

8. Carrie

Carrie White played by Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie is known for playing strong characters. This would be a departure but would be a giant step for women. Any character Angelina would play wouldn’t stand for what Carrie does. It is probabl;y wish fulfillment but I for one would like to see her go into the that school and beat the pulp out of her tormentors.

Has anyone else noticed that the actors playing the ‘kids’ at the school look like they are in their thirties, possibly late thirties? Angelina Jolie looks way better and is (probably) a lot fitter than the actors portrayed in the original film. It would be a cross between a Buffy and Willow. That’s a movie I would really love to watch. I admit, there have been a few Carrie movie remakes, surely one more couldn’t hurt.

9. The Notebook

Noah Calhoun played by Jean Claude Van Damme

My husband introduced number 9 in this movie remakes list to me when we first met. I loved The Notebook when I first saw it but felt that Noah should really grow some back bone. I hated how she used the poor bloke and didn’t seem to appreciate him as much as she should have. Enter Jean Claude Van Damme. Instead of watching a drippy hero mope from one end of the movie to the other, he would grow some and find someone else to appreciate him for who he is.

10. X-Men 》

Professor X played by Vinnie Jones

I’ve been a fan of the X-Men films since they started. I’ve always loved superheroes. Professor X holds a special place in my heart as he was played by the Captain of the Enterprise. If a remake were on the cards then who better to replace him than Vinnie Jones? Hard man, ex-footballer turned actor he would deliver his lines with a glare. His lack of accent range would be no problem here as Professor X has a British accent anyway if a little more refined. He’s getting a little long in the tooth, (I’m going to so regret that statement in a few years), so the wheelchair is perfect.

I hope you enjoyed this foray into dream movie remakes. Which movies would you like to see remade and which unlikely actors would you choose to play the leads?

 

Ceri Clark is an author with Myrddin Publishing  who writes non-fiction technology guides as well as children’s fiction. You can find out more about her and her books on this site or at her personal sites Cericlark.com and MinkieMonster.com.

What is Beta Reading?

beta-read-imageBeta reading has become a part-time vocation for me. Over the past two years, I’ve beta read a dozen full-length novels—I’m working on the baker’s dozen as I write this. Also, I’ve proofread a few books and provided feedback for several short pieces.  It’s enjoyable work for sure, but it is work.

Fast reader doesn’t apply to me, although my comprehension is pretty good, even so, a recreational read takes half the time of a beta read. The time taken isn’t important to me, but it’s necessary in my case because I’m…a slow one-finger typist. Truly, I’m honored to be a beta reader and want to provide useful information to help the author evaluate and, if necessary, revise their manuscript.

My formal writing education stopped with a Business Communication course in my third year of college when everything was handwritten or typed, and computers were the size of buses—double-deckers at that. The best “English” class I’d ever taken in many ways. It focused on the importance of clarity and discouraged overly complicated sentence and paragraph structure. Writing to inform, not illicit an emotional response, was the fundamental message and it served me well in my accounting career. I’d never heard the term “show, don’t tell” until I started writing, but, on reflection, that’s what financial statements do.

Not being a trained grammarian is a plus in my mind because I miss grammar and punctuation mistakes and therefore don’t spend much time thinking about them—that’s the line editor’s job.  Nor am I an expert writer. I can’t turn mediocre prose into artistic expression. Hell, I can’t tell you what artistic prose is, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have to be purple.

What makes you think you’re qualified to be a beta-reader?

(What makes you think you’re qualified to be a beta-reader? You might say. And I might say back, screw you. But, I wouldn’t because accountants don’t talk that way—in public).  I’m as qualified as anyone else to be a beta reader because there are no qualifications for a non-existent service. (You spent too long doing taxes, you’re talking in circles. Yes. I’m not.)

Merriam-Webster on-line doesn’t have a definition for “beta read,” “betaread,” or “beta-read.”  I tried the Library of Congress search engine but couldn’t zero in on a definition. I even tried the Oxford English Dictionary. Sadly, the lack of a UK library card barred me from learning its wisdom on the issue.  If a UK-library-card-carrying person reads this post and has nothing better to do, (If they had something better to do, would they be reading your poppycock, you might say, but I rather you didn’t.) please let me know what OED has to say.

Wikipedia offers this definition:

An alpha reader or beta reader (also spelled alphareader / betareader, or shortened to alpha / beta), also pre-reader or critiquer, is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption.[1] Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.

Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterization or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking.[2]

The two people cited in this definition, were recent authors but not “authorities” as far as I can tell.  Definitions by self-published authors and those that sell services to them abound on the internet, but each has its own twist. Some bloggers recommend authors provide a questionnaire to beta readers to guide them through the process. I’m not a fan of questionnaires, they’re too similar to homework for my liking. Given the lack of a clear standard, I’ve developed my own.

gold

I do my best to think like a “reader” rather than a writer or editor. I concentrate on the story, plot and the characters. If all is well, I won’t have much to say. It’s the hiccups and stumbles that force me to speak. But, it’s not easy. I don’t want to criticize an author because I would have worded a passage differently. Each person has a voice, and that’s good. But, if I don’t understand the message, I feel compelled to say so. At other times, I think I understand the message, but I don’t like it, which is a difficult spot because I don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings or undermine their confidence.  On the other hand, it’s my duty to provide honest responses.

Why I Beta Read

I beta read for two reasons. I’ve had positive responses from “clients, ” and I’ve learned from the experience. During one of my earliest beta reads, I noticed a character from the prior book in the series had disappeared from the story line. Doubting myself, I went back to the older book to confirm the character had survived the “big” battle—he had. The writer sent me an Amazon gift card to show his appreciation.

Recently, I read an Advanced Review Copy of a very good post-apocalypses novel by R.E. McDermott entitled Push Back. This author does his research, and I was hesitant to raise an issue as an ARC reader, but he’d asked for feedback. He used the word “blank” as a verb in a line similar to, “…we’ll have to blank the old pipe.” It threw me for a loop, and I shared my stumble with him. He kindly explained that to blank a pipe was to bolt a solid or “blank” flange over an open-ended conduit to seal it and was a common industry term. I learned something in the exchange, but he changed the verb to something like “cap” to avoid confusion. Experiences like these make me volunteer to beta read.

Have you been a beta reader? Do you want to be? Please share your thoughts.

By: David P. Cantrell (c) 2016

 

The Story So Far

Having recently completed my own writing challenge, namely finishing a series of fantasy books that I set about commencing six years ago, I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect upon the journey. Before you worry that this’ll turn into a mawkish post about what I learned about myself, and the industry, and all the wondrous people I’ve met (I have, but that’s not what I’m blogging about), console yourself with the title of the post. The Story So Far…

One of the difficulties of writing a six book series is deciding what to put into each book with regards the prior events. The problem spirals as the sheer complexity of events expands throughout the epic. Now, not being a vastly successful mainstream author, it’d be unlikely that anyone would pick up my series half way through, although possible. And the books themselves are meant to be a part of a series, not standalone with a common thread/ milieu running through. Yet, given the books came out roughly one a year, I don’t flatter myself that my readers are so obsessed with my work that they remember very last detail from the prior one… I know I don’t!

When I began editing and rewriting sections of book two to cope with the fact it had originally being the last 40% of a mega-volume one (for those that don’t know, Darkness Rising 1 and 2 were originally Dreams of Darkness Rising, and clocked in at Tolstoy length, so was split) I began considering my ‘story so far’ options. Option 1 is some slightly clunky prose between characters where they reminisce and ruminate on recent events to the degree that the reader can catch up. That’d read like…

Emelia smiled wrly at Jem. “It’s funny to think that my latent Wild-magic powers were so successfully manifested at the time you and Hunor sneaked into Lord Ebon-Farr’s rooms, fought that hidden Air-mage, and procured that darned blue crystal that turned out to be part of a prism of power.”

“And all the stranger that that would then lead to Ebon-Farr’s niece, Lady Orla pursuing us across to Azagunta and capturing us, before flying to Thetoria, fighting a demonic humour, and setting Aldred on a course of investigation that would lead him far away.”

With a flicker of nostalgia, Emelia began to recall all the events that had lead up to that fateful day…

final-dr6-front-cover-only-large

AAaaaarrrggghh! Stop, just stop. No-one talks like that out with TV fantasy series. Yet it’s slightly preferable to the… ‘Story so Far’ info-dump that by book six would run to eight blooming pages!

It was our own literary goddess Alison DeLuca who edited Darkness Rising Book 2, and when faced with the info-dump story so far section I’d written to start the book, she got her virtual red pen, drew a big line through the forty paragraphs, and simply commented ‘we’re writers, we can find better ways of doing it than that.’
Challenge accepted.

Six books, five ‘story so fars’ and because of the plotlines and structure, several disparate groups and POVs , often in ignorance to one another. How to maintain originality…?

Well, here were my top five:

1. The Dream Play (book 3: Secrets)

Emelia, whose dreams are so significant to the plotline, and who through dreaming becomes linked with the main protagonist , Vildor, recants a ‘story so far’ by dreaming she is watching a play.

I know this place. It is a hall of deception, and for this I am glad. For all here wear cloaks of secrets, which wrap around their souls with the strength of iron.

I am seated in the decayed stalls, and before me the first Act has commenced. At my side sits Emebaka. She holds my hand with her own tiny scaled one. Her eyes glitter like diamonds in the winter sun. I make to speak, but she shakes her head. The dream must command my attention. My wayward mind needs order—I need to reflect on all that has passed.

There are children on the stage, stuttering their lines like nervous suitors. The faded backdrop is of the Splintered Isles. A man is taking a sack of gold, and the children are wailing as they are carried off stage.

My father is selling me. To the Eerians.

No more spoilers!!!

2. The Prayer (book 4: Loss)

In this ‘story so far’ the knight, Sir Unhert, offers a prayer for his companion, Aldred. This allows a reflection on their actions, and the second ongoing plotline in the series.

Blessed Torik, hear my prayer.

I have never been a devout man. I placed my faith in the strength of steel and the might of griffons, yet this day I ask for your forgiveness in this matter, and your aid. There is one I hold dear who lies dying before me, every passing day taking more of his vitality away, stolen like a thief in the dark.

And though we are far away from the majestic peaks of Eeria, and your great temples in Coonor, I know that my prayer will carry on the four winds, across the ravines and gullies of the Emerald Mountains, to your omniscient ears.

final-front-cover-only

3.The Crystals (book 5: Broken)

This one was quite random: the crystals, the focus of the quest and the goal of both Vildor and Jem, begin discussing the current situation. I was proud of this one, as it was fairly off the wall, and I think worked well.

That, and more. We must understand if we are to prevail. We must understand if we’re to be whole again—our four primary facets, and our newer darker aspect.

Then I shall go first, sister. For is it not the wind that drives the water, the wind that fuels the fire? I was first to be found, two centuries from when we were cast asunder by the jealousy of a son.

The emperor who bore me, whose blood is barely dry?

Hush, brother, let our sister speak. Let her tell you how she came to be here in this desert of flame.

4. Words (book 6: Redemption)

This was a tiny bit of a cheat, as I used a character from a prior book (Orla’s old flame, Muben) as a storyteller, who learns of the historic events and their precursors by meeting a goddess. Very Greek. I figured by book 6 most readers would just want a recap of key events that are relevant to the finale.

Words. Words as keen as a magnate blade, or as dull as a mace. They can freeze a man’s heart, or ignite his soul. And words… words are all I have.

When I was a young man I craved books. The intricacies of the script held such majesty, such power, that even before I could read them they made my spirit soar. Their wonder became my life, my livelihood, as I slipped the chains of my Eerian masters and took to the infinite roads of Nurolia.

The druids of Artoria, they carry their words on their flesh. Whorls and swirls of ancient scripture cover them like walking parchments. I often wonder if you took the contents of my skull and smeared it across the ground would it leak ink not blood. For words, dancing together in fables and tales, flow through me.

I sit watching as the fire peters out, my audience dwindling back to their farmsteads, I reflect upon one word. Ty Schen—that’s what they call me in Mirioth. It means ‘chronicle.’ They come from miles to hear the stories, the histories, and the legends. Yet once I had another name, one given to me by my late father, in the tongue of my homeland, the Sapphire Isles.
“Muben?”

Oh, I know, I’m a tease… leaving you with that excerpt… of a recap! And finally, I used this device in couple of books…

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00032]

5. The Journal (books 2 and 3)

Very similar to the letter idea (which I used in book 4, and turns up in a later book for someone else to read), I used the idea that some of my characters would write a journal as a recap device. It felt less contrived than the joking dialogue method I tried above, and served the purpose in earlier books where the plotline was perhaps easier to realistically summarise from a key character’s point of view.

It feels odd writing this in the pages of Livor’s journal, but it’s what he would have wanted, what he would have told me to do if we had had a chance to speak more in life.

Is there folly in conversing with the dead? Once I would have said so. Once life was simple—you lived life to the full, embracing every moment as if it were your last—and then you died. You died like my mother did, rotted by a wasting disease. You died like my father did, killed by his traitorous servant, a Dark-mage


So now I’m editing the sequel to my sci-fi/ steampunk series, The Nu-Knights, I’m toying with different ideas: files/ dossiers, diaries, confessions… The nature of the series makes it easier to do succinctly, and as a gradual dialogue in the story, so perhaps I’ll not need one for book two.

What about you other authors out there? How do you tackle it? And for the readers, is info-dump a big turn-off, or do you accept that fantasy=massive amount of summarised plot detail in first five pages?

And that length of post, probably needs a summary of its own!!!

ss7

Cool off with “Cover of Snow”

Every summer I search for the perfect beach read that has certain qualities:  not too long, not too mushy, and with a plot that will keep my mind from drifting lazily back to the hypnosis of the surf.  The funny thing is, I generally don’t read mysteries.  They are the literary equivalent of math puzzles to my brain, and who wants to sit in a beach chair and do those?

For inexplicable reasons, I decided to read Jenny Milchman’s “Cover of Snow,” hoping it wouldn’t bring about the aversion I felt while trying to read Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” (loved the movie, hated the book).   I needn’t have worried.

The story is set in New York state’s Adirondack mountains where Nora Hamilton lives with her husband, Brendan.  She wakes one morning, sleepily recalling their lovemaking from the night before.  The warm reveries don’t last long as Nora discovers that Brendan has committed suicide, hanging himself inside their farmhouse.  From that shocking beginning, Milchman takes her readers on a wild ride through the frozen rural community.

 

cover of snow

Milchman’s descriptive prowess telegraphed the bitter cold straight to my bones, and wove an artful suspense that kept me engaged to the very last page.  This is her debut novel, which has won the Mary Higgins Clark Award.  I can’t wait to read more from this talented writer.

 

Kathleen Barker was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, but spent much of her life as the traveling wife of a Navy pilot. While working for a Fortune 500 insurance company in New Orleans, she wrote feature and human interest articles. After Hurricane Katrina, she returned to her beloved state of Maryland where she started work on “The Charm City Chronicles”. All four volumes, “Ednor Scardens”, “The Body War”, “The Hurting Year”, and “On Gabriel’s Wings” are available in Amazon’s Kindle store.

The lighter shade of Darkness

A lighter shade of dark
I’m down to the last few proof reading tweaks of my epic fantasy series, Darkness Rising, and it seemed an appropriate time to reflect upon whether I’ve succeeded in what I set out to do with it six years ago.
For those who haven’t read it (yes, I’m sure there are some of you out there…) it’s a six book series which follows the adventures of Emelia, a young girl liberated from ‘servitude’ by two thieves, Hunor and Jem. Emelia, in classic fantasy fashion, discovers she has an ability in Wild-magic, an unregulated branch of sorcery despised by the rigid Orders of elemental magic, and ‘psychic’ in style (emphasis on telekinesis, pyrokinesis, telepathy etc). The trio embark upon a quest to pull together the pieces of a magical prism before the bad guy, Vildor, an undead sorcerer can enact his nefarious plan.

So what were my goals when I began the epic journey of writing six books totalling over half a million words? It’s a really good question, and I suppose I could boil to down to:
1. To finally finish a literary project
2. Creation of a new world with an in-depth history, with enough variety of culture and race to provide a good backdrop to the quest
3. A fantasy yarn that would draw on traditional elements of the genre, without becoming too stereotypical, and that would avoid the current trend towards dark-fantasy
4. To try and throw some fresh elements into the genre, and synergise my love of comics and role-playing games with the work

Dr6

Well, number one is a tick. Woot! The Darkness Rising series represents my first attempt at anything beyond a short story. It was odd how it began and then grew. Initially I planned a chunky single volume, which then transformed into a two book project. Before I knew it I’d introduced a second key plot-line, that of Aldred and his own mission to cure his father of a curse, and finally a third, with the everyman character of Torm (a friend of Emelia’s from book one) and his curious relationship with the disgraced Arch-mage of Air. The three plot-streams remain fairly independent until books four and five when they all collide and then go bonkers. Was it padding, or did it add to the story? I suppose the reader is the best judge, but to my mind the idea of having two key characters (Hunor and Ekris) who are enemies was great fun, and having Torm progress from a minor character to one in whom the reader can empathise with (especially his raw heroism in the face of terrible odds at the Siege of Keresh) felt a good choice too.

So what about goal two? What I needed when created the world was an empire that had fallen apart (by civil war), magic that had had its hey day, events that would lead to Wild-magic arriving and what the reaction of the established Orders would be, and some suitable spats between adjacent nations. I also needed a rationale behind a ‘common’ tongue, given the rather cosmopolitan nature of my characters –and one of the former Empires provided that (the only legacy of the Eerian Empire was good roads and an Imperial tongue). Much as the characters and plotlines evolved, so did the political and cultural milieu of the world. The areas I’m most proud of are the Goldorians (with their pseudo-Puritan rejection of magic) and the Artorians, cleft into north and south, with opposing world views and religions. I had great fun with the Pyrians also—a nation who had learned their Imperial from works of Eerian literature and were thus intrinsically verbose and long-winded (as exemplified by Ygris the Fire-mage).
So did the series draw on traditional epic fantasy and steer clear of darkness, the book title excepted? I recall when I began the series being paranoid about stereotypes in fantasy—poring over websites that mocked the typical content of pseudo-Tolkien and Eddings. I lamented that I had a heroine rescued from ‘captivity’ who in a short period of time becomes a skilled warrior and sorceress; that I had an ancient evil threatening all; an artefact that would save the day; a quest, with a fine bunch of fellows, one of whom is a wise mentor; a ‘common’ tongue; magic used like superpowers; dark knights; adventurers…

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Then I got over myself. Who cares if any of that is in there? Those things are raw material, components to mix up and throw around and try and do something a little bit cheeky with. So, yes, Emelia is a skilled warrior after tutorage by Hunor and Jem. But given that she combines intelligent use of magic with sword play, why wouldn’t she be? And she’s bested on a number of occasions. She’s hardly unbeatable—her Wild-magic comes at a price, that of bipolar disorder, and a terrifying link with the main antagonist, Vildor. She does daft things, makes mistakes and poor choices. Ultimately, we come to love her more for it as we see her wade through the doldrums of depression and self-loathing. The ancient evil is not quite so clear cut either. From a very sadistic beginning we see Vildor in increasingly sympathetic light, always knowing he is despicable and evil, yet having some concept of his background and evolution. We see the twisted obsession of Xirik, his lieutenant and lover, and ultimately the real driver behind the ambitious plot. Sure there’s a quest, in fact there are several, but it doesn’t run as smoothly or as linearly as we’d expect as we head into the latter third of the series. New players come into the arena, the sinister creator of the crystals, Vaarn, throws an unexpected spanner in the works.

My concept for the magic is unashamedly RPG-based: elemental magic focused through gems of power, fragments of the great crystal that shattered in the myth of creation. And the Orders of magic are constrained by regulations, a Codex, that came into place after the Era of Magic ended rather badly. They rake in the cash from cynical use of sorcery to manipulate nature, from the weather alteration of the Air-mages, to the tidal influences of the Water-mages. And up against this ‘establishment’ with its snobbery and manipulation, comes the Wild-magic. A sorcery that springs up in an individual during adolescence with no consideration of social class or wealth or education. Hence it is persecuted by the traditional Orders, as something anarchic, not least as it affects the mind or neurological system of the wielder (Emelia, Jem, and Lemonbite being our first encounters with that). And through this I tried to make allusions towards society, and persecution, and happily drew from sources such as the X-men comics (itself drawing from themes of the Holocaust and genocide).

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The tone of the series is deliberately light. Sure you can dig deeper into themes of religious persecution, fear of death, existential dread, mid-life crisis, mental illness and self-harm, class war, vengeance and betrayal, but on the other hand you could happily read the series and hardly consider any of those themes. I’m a big fan of George RR Martin, Joe Abbercrombie, and Steven Erikson yet the darker end of fantasy can become quite fatiguing. Repeated negativity, violence, horror and gloom results in desensitisation and, especially for the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones, escalation. GoT is like a fantasy drug—we crave more and more, eager to ramp up the gore and gloom, hoping each shock is more grisly than the last. As a lad I grew up reading traditional fantasy of Tolkien, Eddings, Brooks, Moorcock (agreeably very cynical) and Hickman-Weis’s Dragonlance. In later years, when I began reading around the genre to prepare for the Darkness Rising series I read Hobb, Vance, Zelazny, and Poul Anderson, mixed in with Lynch, Erikson and Martin, and loved the gentler approach to characterisation and plot they had. So that was where I wanted my tone: exciting, adventurous, but nothing that would pull in an 18 certificate when Zack Snyder decides to adapt it for HBO…

So, an epic journey for me as well as the characters—and one in which I’ve met my own bunch of companions: Myrddin Publishing , and the sorcerous talents of Connie, Ceri and Alison and their influence on my books. Some of my old DnD pals (Giles and Nik) acted as excellent sounding boards, and in Nik’s case, an editor for book four. And my restless brain moves onto further projects—the slightly neglected YA sci-fi series, the Nu-knights, will be getting a new book by end-2016, and a secret alternate history project is in its infancy…

Are password books safe

Are password books safeThe answer to the question, are password books safe, is no, yes ah, oh dear, maybe!

The reason I say this is that no password recording strategy is a hundred percent safe. There are a lot of reasons why recording your passwords is not a good idea. For example, to be sure that you are as safe as you can be, you would need these three things to happen:

  • You would need to have an incredible memory; remember 30+ character passwords (a mix of capital and lower case numbers, letters and symbols) for each website you visit
  • The employees that work for the website you are visiting must be completely trustworthy and untrickable
  • The online password safe you could be using must be unhackable

Human nature is always going to be human nature and if you can’t use a website because of those reasons then you need to record them somehow.

But are password books safe?

This brings me back to the maybe.

Of course if you have a book that is obviously a password book at first glance and you write everything down in it including your mother’s maiden name and your place of birth, then no. … but, and I stress the word but, they can be made one of the safest ways to record passwords.

There is no reason that you can’t write a random password down but also have a secret portion that is only in your memory.

This means that if someone steals your password book and tries to use the information in your book then it is useless to them.

Here’s how it might work

Example random password to be recorded in password book.

This should be different for each website.

dF[email protected]!

Ezample word that is only in your memory.

This can be the same for all websites but I recommend having two, one for banking and shopping and another for everything else.

Tiger

Example combination:

[email protected]!

By adding in your memorised word in a pattern that you always use, you only need to remember the Tiger portion. In the above example I have done recorded, memorised,  recorded, memorised until the memorised password ran out of letters and then used the rest of the recorded characters unaltered.

You could always add the whole memorised portion after the first, second or third character etc. For example, this could be: [email protected]!

Whichever you think is easier to do.

What about online password vaults?

As I mentioned above, there is no completely secure way of recording passwords. Passwords need to be complicated and different for each website you visit. Password vaults can be hacked and indeed they have been in the past. The advantage of a password vault is that they warn you if a site has been hacked, they can auto fill login information and you can get to your password information from practically anywhere.

You can use the above password method for password vaults as well and if you keep a password book safe then if you get locked out of your password vault for any reason then you can still get into your websites. If you do use this way to record login information, then you won’t be able to use the auto login function as they won’t have all your password.

The key to my password method is that however someone gets hold of your recorded password they shouldn’t be able to use it. If an employee of a website you joined is tricked into giving your whole password away then they will only have access to that one website because your passwords will be different for all the others. This limits the damage.

So, are password books safe? The answer is they can be safer than other methods if you are careful!

Full disclaimer: Ceri Clark has published two themed secret password books through Myrddin Publishing. Take a look at her cat themed book, Meow-nificent Kittens at http://cericlark.com/meow and her dog themed password book, Paws-itively Puppies at http://cericlark.com/woof

Getting Malled

I’ve been dragged to the seventh circle of hell, aka the Mall, for holiday shopping two days in a row. This means sniffing perfumed cards thrust under my nose, drinking over-priced coffee, and hauling bags the approximate of several kettlebells.images-1
The truth is both trips were really fun, so ignore my weary attempt at hipster chill in the previous paragraph. But the reason I had a good time was not the shops, nor the food courts, and certainly not the constant offers of reward cards as long as I hand over lots of sensitive info.
Yesterday the trip was with my daughter, who’s reaching an age where things get … sensitive. Let’s just say there are hormones involved. Lately we’ve been a terrible rut where I’m sick of myself. Yes, I grow more and more tired of my squawking voice as I howl at her to GET THE HECK OUT OF THE BED and don’t you miss the bus, young lady, because I surely am not driving you today.
Spoiler alert – I drove her that day.
So, it was lovely to forget all the homework, the grades, and the constant need to get a pre-teen lump out of warm blankets. We made each other laugh, especially when we realized the sweatshirt she wanted at Pac-Sun featured reindeer who were quite “friendly.”images
Today I hooked up with a pair of old friends and continued the carnage. There was more overpriced coffee (oh dear, I think I’m hooked) and more laughter. In fact, we guffawed so loudly about the poor oil baron’s wife who’ll end up having to wear that jeweled Victoria’s Secret bra we might have startled the guy at the calendar cart.
It’s been great, but I surely don’t mind being in my house for the next few months, the way things should be. I’ll crawl out to get staples like milk and chocolate, but that’s about it. In any case, the real shopping is about to begin – downloading the new books coming out this month.
I highly recommend it. I plan to do this shopping in pajamas and slippers, with a glass of something jolly firmly in hand. I want a few Gillian Flynn books as well as Nightingale, the historical novel about a pair of sisters in WWII.
And *shameless plus alert* don’t forget the upcoming Myrddin collection of short stories, featuring horror and romance and fantasy.
Oh yes. It will be mine.
While you’re shopping to feed your Kindle or the blank space in your bookshelves – do you have any blank spots? I definitely do not – why not toss together a batch of tassies? You can make the pecan or lemon version, and they’re delicious. Here are my recipes for both:

PECAN TASSIES
1 cup butter, softened
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preparation
1. Beat 1 cup butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add flour to butter mixture, beating at low speed. Shape mixture into 48 balls, and place on a baking sheet; cover and chill 1 hour.
2. Place 1 dough ball into each lightly greased muffin cup in mini muffin pans, shaping each into a shell.
3. Whisk together brown sugar and next 5 ingredients. Spoon into tart shells.
4. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until filling is set. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool on wire racks 20 minutes or until completely cool.
Note:
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Prep: 45 min., Chill: 1 hr., Bake: 20 min., Cool: 30 min. If you don’t have four mini muffin pans, you can bake these in batches. Keep the extra dough chilled until you’re ready to use it.

LEMON TASSIES
INGREDIENTS
FOR THE CRUSTS:
• 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks, plus more for pans
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 1 large egg yolk
• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
• Pinch of salt
FOR THE FILLING:
• 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1 large egg
• 3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
• 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
DIRECTIONS
1. For candied lemon zest: Remove zest from lemons with a vegetable peeler, keeping pieces long. Remove white pith using a paring knife, and finely julienne using a very sharp knife. Place julienned zest in a small bowl; cover with boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes; drain.
2. Bring 1 cup sugar and the cool water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When sugar is completely dissolved, add julienned zest, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand overnight. Remove zest, and drain on wire rack. Roll in sugar. Dry on wire rack. Store zest in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with rack in upper third. Lightly butter a 24-cup mini-muffin pan; set aside. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flour and butter. Pulse until mixture is the consistency of fine crumbs. Add the sugar, egg yolk, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Process until evenly incorporated and smooth; do not overprocess.
4. Divide the dough into quarters. Divide each quarter into 6 pieces. Shape into balls. Place each ball in a muffin cup; press down in the centers so that the dough fits the cups snugly. Set muffin pan on a baking sheet.
5. Bake until lightly browned all over and slightly darker at the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer baking sheet with muffin pan to a wire rack to cool.
6. Make the filling: In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla until completely smooth. Using a 1/4-ounce ice cream scoop, fill the cooled crusts. Bake until filling is set and just beginning to color at the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer muffin pan to a wire rack. Garnish with candied lemon peel. Let cool completely before serving. The tassies may be stored in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

Steampunk and Me

There’s a certain irony as I sit here in unseasonal October sunshine outside my house that I’m about to write a piece on the fascinations of Steampunk. When I begin pondering one of my favourite genres I almost always visualise belching chimneys, foggy cobbled roads, gaslamps, cogs, cogs and more cogs, with a dash of airship and automaton thrown in for good measure. What is it about such atmospheric images that fascinates me (and many others) so? What’s the enduring appeal of Steampunk?

The genre is considered a relatively new one, although its origins in the Victorian science-fiction of HG Wells and Jules Verne clearly shows its beginnings from over a century ago. The term was first coined in relation to the work of Jeter, particularly the remarkable novel Infernal Devices, but really gained momentum with the popularity of The Difference Engine by Gibson and Sterling. In this book the creation of a steam-powered computer and its influence on an alternate history really captured the essence of steam punk—variations of technology based on steam and clockwork, with alternate histories/ realities.

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Although those works were the early ones in the newly named genre there are, of course, several notable books with the Steampunk ethos before Jeter and Gibson. Moorcock’s Nomad of the Time Stream, Harry Harrison’s A Trans-Atlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!, and Tim Power’s awesome Anubis Gates were all pioneers in the (as then unnamed) genre. Personally I loved Bryan Talbot’s work on Luther Arkwright, which counts as one of the finest works of comicdom ever for me, and was a huge inspiration for my own novel, The Infinity Bridge.

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But what is it about the genre that appeals? I think one of the key reasons is the Victoriana aspects. There’s a romanticism about the Victorian era, partly because of the literature we have come to love from the time (Dickens, Austen, the Brontes, Elliot, Hardy, and Wilde), and partly because of the seminal nature of the historical events of the time. For the British it was a time of Empire, and often we forget the rather atrocious treatment of the colonies, especially of Africa and India, and focus on the utter British-ness of the culture. It seemed a time of heroes, and of valour, and of values and integrity, and this nobility of the time with its intrinsic reservations, and politeness, and precise manner of talking, contrasts so vividly with the slang ridden, often selfish nature of modern society.

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So take this time of reservation, and its stylishness, and throw into it alternate history and science fiction and you have something rather cool. There was a definite beauty to the imagery of the era—brass, clockwork, cogs and gears—the mighty steam trains of the time are still stunning to regard. In this modern age of plastic and minimalism the grandeur of Victorian technology seems all the more appealing. And take this technology and then advance it into fiction—giant brass robots, airships, huge Nautilus-like submarines, clockwork cybernetics—and you have far more style than the sterile realms of modern CGI laden science-fiction.

Finally, to me, there’s also a rather naughty appeal to Steampunk. As we sometimes drown in a sea of excessive political correctness it is fun to escape into an era where our heroes are rather unwittingly non-PC. And beneath the Victorian primness there is always a seedy undercurrent, of backstreets, and smog, and opium dens, and bordellos, and supressed sexuality, which seeps out as the drama of our fictional world unfolds.

So what about you other Steampunk fans? What’s the appeal for you? Is it the style, or the stories? The Victorians and their subtle hypocrisy, or the romanticism of an era already steeped in classic literature? Whichever, its appeal is only set to grow and infiltrate media previously ignorant to its brass-coated charms.