Friday, December 31, 2010

Radio Rivendell dedicated to fantasy music

Where is the best place on the internet to find free and streaming fantasy music? Radio Rivendell of course because it declares that it's "the one and only fantasy radio station in the world playing fantasy music 24/7." Created primarily by Lord Elrond, who is known among the humans as Anders Dahlgren, he explained his concept of fantasy music like this:

"When I think of "fantasy" I think of Tolkien and other works categorized as "high fantasy", i.e dragons, swords, elves, dwarves, magic and other stuff. The music we play doesn't necessarily have to come from movies and games in this genre. The main idea is that the music should be able to fit and support such a world in a soundtrack manner. Our listeners use our radio when playing WoW and other online role-playing games, writing books or poetry, roleplaying etc."

Way back in 2001, Anders began burning fantasy tunes to CDs to enjoy during role playing games with his friends. As an experiment, he added his playlists to a free internet radio service called Shoutcast and named his channel Radio Rivendell. Gradually his channel became popular with enough fantasy listeners for him to set up a domain name and website for Radio Rivendell.

His love of selecting music for fantasy fans has not waned, and Radio Rivendell has grown into a big website with extensive archives of music and interviews. Fantasy enthusiasts will find a big list of artists to explore along with many free music downloads. At Radio Rivendell the emphasis is on promoting young and unknown musical artists who compose and perform fantasy inspired music. Of course Anders likes to land the occasional interview with someone famous like Howard Shore, who composed the music for the Lord of the Rings films.

Radio Rivendell operates as a nonprofit entity in Europe. Donations and advertising revenues support the site that also serves as a forum for a dedicated community of listeners.

Anders appreciates the community that has gathered around his internet radio station and had this to say:

"I just love the community that has grown around Radio Rivendell. It's not a very big crowd, but it's slowly growing every day. We're not the biggest fantasy community out there but our returning visitors likes it since we try to keep a very warm, open and friendly atmosphere. Just think of Lord Elrond's place in Rivendell, that's something I strive to create here as well. And as long as we're growing I'm encouraged to develop the site and the functionality further. I try to keep the members close and involve them as much as possible in all aspects. It makes it both easier for me and more fun for them. Being in a community is all about helping each other out in ways we can, not by displaying power and hiding all decisions from the people in the community. I also want to encourage creativity so we have sections in our forum for our community members to display their artwork, poems and other writing, music etc. So participation is what I enjoy the most!"

Still enthusiastic about his role at Radio Rivendell, Anders is looking forward to its tenth anniversary. With his listener community in mind, he is planning for the future. "It's fun to see what the community wants and try to make that available to them. For next year I also plan to upgrade the software the design of the site, I too will have to give something back to our loyal members. I want to create more things to make it more interesting to come back and participate even more," Anders said.

I've bookmarked Radio Rivendell for my own use. It's a nearly effortless way for me to get some suitable ambient music when I'm editing my fiction on my computer.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Etruscans through the eyes of a Roman - My review of The Wedding Shroud by Elisabeth Storrs

Review originally published at Historical Novel Review
The Wedding Shroud by Elisabeth Storrs http://www.elisabethstorrs.com/
Elisabeth Storrs resurrects the lost world of the Etruscans in her masterful novel The Wedding Shroud set in 407 B.C. Long overshadowed by the Romans, the earlier Etruscan culture of ancient Italy is brilliantly revealed through the eyes of the novel's heroine, a young Roman woman named Caecilia. The daughter of an awkward plebian and patrician union, Caecilia is used to seal a peace treaty between Rome and Veii, a nearby Etruscan city. Her scheming male relatives force her to marry Vel Mastarna, a powerful and wealthy Veientane, and Caecilia is carried away to her new home. Veii is only twelve miles from Rome, but it is a world away for Caecilia. The author convincingly illustrates how small an individual's personal world could be in earlier times, especially a girl raised within the confining patriarchy of Rome. Although the ancient Mediterranean world was cosmopolitan and some people were well traveled, most were like Caecilia, who finds herself within an utterly foreign culture a mere dozen miles from her native home.

Once Caecilia arrives in Veii, the informative historical contrasts between Roman and Etruscan cultures are revealed through detail-rich prose. Caecilia has been raised within the austere and outwardly puritan Roman culture that values sacrifice, duty, and war. In Rome, women are nearly cloistered within their homes. They wear plain wool clothes, are forbidden to drink wine, and are not allowed to join the serious conversations of men. With such a background, Caecilia immediately finds Veii to be a constant moral outrage. Men and women mingle. They wear flamboyant and immodest clothes. They eat rich fancy food. Women can drink and debauch at banquets right alongside their men.

But some things are a pleasant surprise for Caecilia in her new household. She is given a slave, Cythergis. Never was such a luxury granted to Caecilia in Rome. And Caecilia is expected to hold audiences with her husband as his tenants and other guests petition him. In Veii, women have status and respect and are allowed to indulge in the luxuries of life. They might even be worthy of a funeral banquet and honorary games, which astounds Caecilia. She welcomes some of the nice things about life in Veii and is gradually tempted by darker forces in a society where most anything goes.

Despite her elevated status, Caecilia is not a truly liberated woman. The differences in female oppression between Romans and Etruscans are a matter of degree. Although Caecilia is free of the mind-numbing denial and drudgery of a Roman matron, she is still the possession of her husband and her paramount purpose is to produce an heir for Mastarna. This fictional study of female status is carefully crafted by Elisabeth Storrs. Delicate comparisons are presented through the characters of Erene, the courtesan, Caecilia, the proper wife, and Cythergis, the slave woman. All three types are dependent on men and under their control. Erene is strictly for pleasure. She is more than a slave but less than a wife. As a wife, Caecilia is allowed sexual pleasure by Etruscan culture with her husband with the great purpose of procreation looming above all. Most miserable is the slave woman Cythergis, who has endured having her children sold. Although Cythergis enjoys men, she hopes to avoid more pregnancies so she can stop breeding slaves. The nuances of the difficult lives of these three ancient women are touchingly revealed.

Complex relationships in The Wedding Shroud are the ships upon which the story flows. Caecilia struggles to adapt to her new and foreign household where Val Mastarna and his brother Artile, a powerful priest, vie for the affection and approval of their mother, Larthia. The adopted son of Mastarna, Tarchon, is also embroiled in an inappropriate sexual relationship with Artile. The priest is a constant source of meddling within the family, and he soon sinks his painted claws into the vulnerable Caecilia and begins to control her with religion and addictive drugs.

The character of Artile serves to educate the reader about the practices and corruptions of ancient religions. His power is great and even the educated elites are swayed by his interpretations of signs, with the notable exception of his brother Mastarna. Although the Etruscan culture has technology and fine artistry, it remains like all ancient cultures steeped in superstition. The imprint of the primitive world remains deep and fresh despite the presence of architecture, music, metallurgy, writing, and mathematics. Animal sacrifice is commonplace with the most horrifying example shown in wild rites that culminate with the tearing up and eating of fawns. And then as part of a funeral rite, a criminal is savagely executed by having a maddened dog set loose on him.

All of this assaults the sensibilities of Caecilia, whose sheltered upbringing as a female among joyless Romans, leaves her reeling with disgust. Amid the carnal abandon of Veii, Caecilia's husband Mastarna represents a rare force of rationality and affection. Frustratingly Caecilia too often rebuffs his attempts to help her adjust. As the reader, I often wanted her to be more accepting of Mastarna because he really was a relatively nice person, but Caecilia's turmoil and many mistakes are understandable. She is young, inexperienced, and alone in an alien culture. This formula usually adds up to poor choices.

I could write another thousand words exploring the subtleties of this novel without giving away any spoilers. Storrs presents a tremendous amount of research in a gripping story with characters that all feel genuine. Her writing has a literary quality packed with artistic descriptions and intelligent metaphors. For example, from page 79: "It was as though she had kicked the top off an ants' nest and found another world of industry and intricacy and purpose foreign to her own, exposing herself also to the danger of being bitten." The whole novel flows like a coastal Mediterranean wind and supports an unfolding narrative with the strong reach of a thick grape vine. I was drawn in completely to the emotional edginess of Caecilia and pined for her to accept her unwanted love of Mastarna. The Wedding Shroud is not purely a psychological journey. Episodes of visceral action punctuate the unfolding drama, like the breathtaking chapter in which Mastarna recklessly wrestles an Olympic champion. I highly recommend The Wedding Shroud to historical fiction readers. Elisabeth Storrs has created a wonderful novel from a willing marriage of her historical research and writing talent.

Related post: Mysteries of Etruscan civilization still buried in ancient tombs

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What's happening at Google Ebooks?

After a wait so long, people almost stopped caring, Google finally launched its ebook store. The internet titan that famously desires to catalogue all text in the universe has entered the ebook market in a big way. Media blather claims that Google Ebooks will seriously challenge Amazon and Apple for ebook marketshare.

Although I expect Google will have a learning curve as it attempts to become a powerhouse in the consumer retail market, Google appears to have developed a platform that could appeal to a broad segment of the reading public. Even people who don't have dedicated ebook readers can easily use ebooks bought at Google. People who read ebooks without a dedicated device use their smart phones, iPads, or personal computers. Google also caters to people with dedicated reading devices, like the Nook, Sony devices, and many lesser known gadgets. The only notable exception is the Kindle.

Google ebooks are available in the cloud. Readers won't have to bother with downloading. Their free or purchased content will always be available in their Google ebooks account and can be accessed through almost any internet-connected device. Some content can be downloaded if the publisher has decided to allow it. For example, I set up my fantasy novels to be downloadable because I know that some people want to be able to store away purchased content on their own systems.

I have no idea if the Google ebooks store is going to be a success. Its flexibility across reading platforms without tying readers to a certain device or format that could become obsolete has great appeal. However, some people will likely be put off by the fact that not all content is downloadable, which means Google must be relied on in perpetuity to store purchased content. But many people won't care about that. They will just like the convenience of accessing their ebooks when they want and how they want.

Time will tell if Google Ebooks matures into a big gun in the ebook marketplace. I'm a part of it of course. I'm willing to try any viable market. I've already had two sales through Google ebooks. Someone bought Judgment Rising and The Borderlands of Power, which are the third and fourth books of The Rys Chronicles respectively. Apparently someone out there was halfway through my series and decided to get the rest from the Google ebook cloud. I hope that person is enjoying them.

Here are the links to my fantasy novels at Google Ebooks:

Union of Renegades
The Goddess Queen
Judgment Rising
The Borderlands of Power

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life


I've adopted the holiday tradition of watching the classic film It's a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart. This heartwarming story remains so relatable over 60 years after its release. Unfortunately it is frighteningly relatable. People losing their homes. The threat of financial ruin. The regret of yelling at a small child when your day is going badly. The despair of deferred dreams. This part especially is at the core of the story as the main character George constantly gives up what he wants in favor of his duties to others.

George is always dragged away from his aspirations of education and travel. He cannot escape the demands of his family's business, a savings and loan that offers the only meaningful competition to Potter's larger lending institution that seeks to first profit from lending and then transition loan defaulters into tenants, which equal permanent profits. Dire emergencies in which the savings and loan might collapse repeatedly require George to step in save the day by imploring his depositors to stick with him. Potter meanwhile longs to buy out George's savings and loan so as to eliminate the competition. George's do-gooder business philosophy of making a modest profit from financing affordable yet quality home building in the community galls Potter who idolizes relentless exploitation and profit taking without regard to the consequences to the community.

After a series of setbacks, mostly caused by George's inept Uncle Billy, the savings and loan is threatened by bank regulators who will shut it down because it's lacking sufficient funds. This failure will also cause George to be prosecuted and imprisoned. I especially appreciate the irony that Potter's manipulation of the situation turns the bank regulators against the smaller institution that is actually beneficial to society.

Of course, George is famously driven to wish that he had never been born as he stands on a bridge ready to jump. Then Clarence, a second-rate guardian angel who has no wings, shows up to redeem George and teach him to value what he has accomplished for other people. When Clarence shows George a world in which he was never born, George learns how much he has mattered. If he had never been born, he would not have saved his brother from drowning. He would not have stopped the pharmacist from making a fatal mistake. He would not have provided his wife Mary with the opportunity to love and have a big family.

But most importantly he would not have been there to help his hometown of Bedford Falls remain a decent community. Instead George is shown the garish horrors of Pottersville (the new name of Bedford Falls) in which vice and hardship rule, and progress and hope are banished from the landscape. This is the part of the movie that strikes me the hardest. It's too familiar. Pottersville is widespread. I've been panhandled too many times in the parking lots of box stores. I live in a world where most people don't get the happy ending like George where all the people he has helped over the years come together to save him from ruin. Yet, It's a Wonderful Life remains inspiring. This vision of people helping each other through tough times reminds us that communities are supposed to be based on mutually beneficial relationships, not purely parasitic ones. It's a Wonderful Life reminds people to appreciate their small acts of kindness and to reach for redemption. This classic movie dares people to keep dreaming. The rat race can be resisted, if only by small turns.   

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book blogging news: Ebook giveaways, Amazon gift card, and 26 book reviews

Ebook giveaways

Novelist Helen Smith is offering daily ebook giveaways at her blog through December 18th. Plus people who enter the drawings have an extra chance at winning a $50 Amazon gift card.

Different novels from multiple authors are the prizes. Readers can decide which ebooks they want to try to win. See full details at today's post:

Today's Giveaways - ebooks by Imogen Rose, Scott Neumyer, S L Baum

Book Review Blog Carnival

Readers who like to examine book reviews will like this blog carnival in which I started participating. Every two weeks, this book review blog carnival is hosted by a different book blog. Today the Book Frog has the carnival that contains 26 different book reviews from multiple sources. Book topics include mainstream fiction, business books, romance, urban fantasy, and more.

Blog Carnival #58 at the Book Frog

Friday, December 10, 2010

Romance writer Rie McGaha expands into fantasy fiction

Rie McGaha, mother of 12 children and animal rescuer, faces her first winter since her house burnt down. The long night of the solstice approaches, and the winds are frosty in the Kiamichi Mountains of Oklahoma. With her hunky man at her side, she hopes to see the bloom of spring again...

Although this sounds like an exciting novel, it is actually a dramatic description of romance author Rie McGaha's past year. Her family did endure a devastating fire earlier in the year, and the publisher of her newest novel, A Winter's Night, is forwarding all proceeds from sales of the title to the author to help her family recover from the fire. You can buy the novel on this page in various formats.

A Winter's Night represents Rie's foray into fantasy writing. She's been a popular romance author for years with numerous titles published.
To encourage sales, anyone who buys A Winter's Night during the month of December and notifies Rie will be entered in a drawing to win her complete back list of steamy novels. Read complete details about her drawing.

And it's a big backlist. Rie is as prolific as she is fertile. When I asked her how many novels she wrote she replied "thirteen, fourteen maybe." It's better that she keeps track of kids and grand kids and focuses on writing hot fantasies instead of counting books, right?

Because Rie and I are both busy writers and mothers, we don't have time for a long drawn out discussion, so here's the quickie interview so romance readers can get to know Rie and move on to reading her "fantasy that keeps you up."

How long have you been writing?

Since I could make my letters! I told stories to my parents long before I could write and when I was ten, I remember my mom sending in some ad she found in a magazine that was for some kind of writing test, which she gave me and sent in. At thirteen I wrote my first romance novel about a young woman from Boston who came to a small town in the wild, Wild West to teach school and fell in love with the town sheriff. I wrote the requisite morose poetry and song lyrics as a teen, then stories for my kids. Writing has always been a part of my life.

You stated in a previous article that you love "good bad boys" and put them in all your stories. Can you explain the traits of a good bad boy?

I married a good bad boy. These are the ones who make the best heroes because they are everything a woman wants in a man. Not only is he the one who will love you forever, be the man who will always put you first, go to any extent to protect you, he also has his own set of rules, standards and morals. He's not above breaking the law if it suits his needs or stands between him and his goals. Especially his lady.

Any additional comments?

Thank you so much for having me, Tracy. This is always the worst part of being an author....I hate promotions! But then it allows me to meet nice people like yourself, so it does have a few perks!

To read excerpts from Rie McGaha's 15 of her novels plus the free read Tattoo, go to http://www.riemcgaha.com/.
 
She is also up for Romance Author of the Year at Deep in the Heart Romance blog, so go give her a vote.
 
Rie spreads a lot of love around the internet. She publishes numerous blogs too.

Sizzling Releases! Interview with the hottest authors of current sizzling releases.

Author Offerings Interviews with authors of titles older than 30 days.

An Author's Tale Authors blog about many subjects and hopefully some of it has to do with writing!

Spotlight Author/Men In The Spotlight Features of men involved in the publishing industry whether they be authors, cover models, publishers, etc. My first guest is yummy cover model Jimmy Thomas!

Rie is brilliant. Why didn't I think of interviewing male models?

I wish her much success.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mysteries of Etruscan civilization still buried in ancient tombs

This famous masterpiece of Etruscan art shows the culture's approval of soft feelings and the male/female duality of civilization. A stark contrast to the later rigidity of Roman civilization that revered pure domination.
Rome was not built in a day, and it was not the beginning of Italian civilization either. Before the Romans, the Etruscans dominated the Italian peninsula from approximately  900 B.C.E. until the rise of the Roman Republic in the 5th century B.C.E.

When Romans were still considered rustic bumpkins, Etruscans were exerting their refined civilization into a savage Europe. The November/December 2010 issue of Archaeology Magazine reported that the Etruscans ruled their land of Etruria between the Tiber and Arno rivers. They were excellent seafarers, trading throughout the Mediterranean, but interestingly the origins of the Etruscan language are unknown. Scholarship of their unique language cannot identify any known related tongue. About 300 words from this ancient language have been identified, and the Etruscans adapted the Greek alphabet for use in their own writing.
The Etruscan Chimera of Arezzo
The artistic skill of the Etruscans captivate modern people with its elegant beauty. The Etruscans were highly regarded as master metallurgists. Even a layperson can immediately recognize the skill illustrated in Etruscan artifacts. For example, this 5th century B.C.E. bronze chimera found in Arezzo, Italy in 1553 displays reverence for the organic flow of natural objects and obviously durable craftsmanship.

Etruscan civilization was well advanced for its time. The Archaeology Magazine article written by Rossella Lorenzi opened with "They taught the French to make wine and the Romans to build roads, and they introduced writing to Europe." (p. 36, Nov./Dec. 2010). These are significant boasts for a civilization that has been historically overshadowed by people who developed within its nurturing realm.

Tarquinius Superbus was the last Etruscan king of Rome. After being expelled by Roman forces in 509 B.C.E., the Romans replaced the Etruscan system of monarchy with their Republic. Gradually from this point forward, Rome absorbed the cities of Etruria and asserted their culture.

Although Roman ruins get the greatest attention from scholars and tourists, Etruscan ruins still have secrets to reveal. Many tombs near the city of Tarquinia, about 50 miles northwest of Rome, have yet to be explored. This Etruscan necropolis contains an estimated 6,000 tombs, and scholars are currently undertaking new excavations. Knowledge of the rich artistry and obscure cultural origins of Etruscans will hopefully expand as these distant ancestors of the Italian peoples are further studied.

Coincidentally, right after I read the article about the Etruscans in Archaeology Magazine, Australian author Elisabeth Storrs submitted her new novel The Wedding Shroud for review at Historical Novel Review, where I am a contributor. The Wedding Shroud explores the conflict and connections between the Roman and Etruscans cultures during the turbulent 5th century B.C.E. With my interest in Etruscan aroused, I snapped up the novel and am currently reading it. I'll be sure to alert everyone when my review is done. I can say already that it is going to be a good one.  

Her website: http://www.elisabethstorrs.com/

Related post: The inspiration of archaeology

Monday, December 6, 2010

Completed another stage of editing my newest fantasy novel

Sisyphus by Titian
Mythological king condemned for eternity to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down, and have to start over.
Tonight I finished entering another round of edits into the manuscript for my newest fantasy novel. I'm working on another fantasy quartet, and the first novel only needs one more round of editing before becoming publishable.

My editing process involves roughly three edits and/or rewrites that are accomplished by:

- Reading the draft of each chapter on paper and marking it with my corrections.
- Entering the corrections into the manuscript on the computer.
- Reading each chapter on the computer and doing some on-screen editing.
- Print and repeat.

I've now done this twice with the manuscript for Book I. For the third and final round of editing for the first novel, I will make a checklist of tasks and questions. The checklist will help me fine tune multiple issues like dialogue, character development, clarity, style issues, and wordiness as well as overall appeal.

While I've been doing all this editing, I've continued to write the series. I'm closing in on completing the third book. I've set the deadline of New Year's day for finishing the third novel. Some mildly serious family issues are interfering with this goal, but I'm trying to channel my stress into my art.

I actually enjoy editing my work. The process allows me to get out the small chisels and hammers after hauling the big blocks. I can edit a chapter in usually one or two hours. A typical chapter takes me about five to ten hours to initially draft. After three rounds of editing that total three to six hours of work, any chapter involves from eight to sixteen hours of effort in writing and editing.

Until I wrote the above estimations I never actually thought about how many hours go into creating each and every chapter of my novels. As you might surmise, I do not watch much television.

During Book I's next round of editing, I expect to finally figure out a title for it.

Until then I invite fantasy readers to try my already complete fantasy series The Rys Chronicles.

The first novel Union of Renegades can be downloaded for free in a choice of formats.

Or, pay $1 for convenient wireless downloading and access it from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Barnes & Noble Nook
Amazon Kindle

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kick-Ass - The movie with the perfect name

Want some shockingly R-rated action with capes and jet packs?
Tired of super hero movies that are safe for kids? Then director Matthew Vaughn's 2010 movie Kick-Ass will let you put the kids to bed so you can indulge in some top-shelf juvenile fantasy.

Kick-Ass uses the classic template of a teenage boy struggling with transition from boy to man. He feels powerless against neighborhood thugs, and wonders why no one stands up to them. His noble spirit ignites in a conflagration of frustrated teenage testosterone heroics. Dave crafts a super hero persona that consists of a wet suit, mask, two batons strapped across his back, a taser, and a sturdy pair of boots. His first foray into defending society puts him in the hospital in serious condition. He survives with nerve damage that provides him with an above average ability to take a good beating. Aside from his bravery, this is pretty much the extent of his super hero powers.

After recovering from his hospital stay, Dave becomes Kick-Ass again and his awesome street fight with a dangerous gang is recorded on a camera phone and Kick-Ass becomes an internet sensation.

Kick-Ass's rising star is noticed by a real superhero called Big Daddy, played by Nicholas Cage that star who works harder than a single mom with two jobs. Cage is of course wonderful because he always is, and his demented quest to defeat crime boss Frank D'Amico has driven him to become an exceedingly gifted high tech super hero. Big Daddy does not act alone. His tweenie daughter is Hit Girl, and she is his dependable and lethal side kick. Hit Girl kills people. She uses guns, swords, martial arts, you name it. She is a killer. Watching a child kill on screen shocked me, but I appreciated the daring of the filmmakers. Big Daddy has raised Hit Girl to be this way, and their relationship is creepily plausible. Ask any warlord in a third world hellhole, and he'll say children can be dependably manipulated into killers.

Big Daddy works tirelessly against criminal forces, and takes their money to finance his superhero lifestyle. His actions often interfere with the business of his enemy Frank D'Amico, who now blames Kick-Ass for his problems.

Dave immediately gets in way over his head, and is lured into a trap by the crime boss's son, Chris, who poses as a new super hero Red Mist. Played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (of McLovin fame in Superbad), Red Mist easily tricks the guileless Kick-Ass.

Kick-Ass is an enormously entertaining action movie with breathtaking gratuitous violence that is not too gory. The contrast between the pathetic incompetence of Kick-Ass, who Big Daddy likes to call "Ass-Kick," and the high-achiever expertise of Hit Girl is charming. The directing of Kick-Ass is high energy and cutting edge. A true pleasure to watch, melding graphic novel pizazz with cinematic artistry.

Kick-Ass serves most brilliantly as a satire of comic super heroes. The story integrates superbly with modern internet culture, something the successful Spider-Man films have failed to do. The character of Dave captures wonderfully the needs of teenage men as they seek to be competent, powerful, and most importantly get laid.

As always parody proves to be the highest art form. Kick-Ass is a slick and guilty pleasure made to satisfy adults and teens craving hard core action.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New fantasy ebook giveaway prize selected for December drawing

Enter the drawing for the fantasy ebook A Dance of Cloaks when you download my novel Union of Renegades at www.braveluck.com

A new month brings a new prize offering for people who visit http://www.braveluck.com/ and download my free fantasy novel Union of Renegades: The Rys Chronicles Book I. You join my readers' list when you download the free sample and you will be automatically entered in the prize drawing for December.

This month's prize is a digital copy of A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish. It's a clever fantasy novel driven by a bloody rivalry between a powerful thief guild leader and an entrenched nobility. Throw in some coming-of-age rebellion against your father's authority and you have some good fantasy reading in a pitiless fantasy world.

I'll do the drawing for A Dance of Cloaks on January 1st. Please visit Brave Luck Books (TM) to download the first book of The Rys Chronicles and see the full details of the monthly ebook giveaway drawing.

I notified the November winner yesterday and am still waiting for a response so I can deliver the ebook in the format requested by the winner. I buy my prizes through http://www.smashwords.com/ so I can obtain files free of DRM that I can delivery to winners without encryption hassles.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New fantasy novel release: The Silver Cage by Mik Wilkens


Multi media specialist and Renaissance faire enthusiast, Mik Wilkens released her fantasy novel The Silver Cage on December 1st.
Yesterday I read the excerpts from the new fantasy novel The Silver Cage by Mik Wilkens. The richly inspired fantasy world of Lucasia created by Wilkens was immediately engaging with the winged Riak, the monstrous wyrm Sytan, a cantankerous cat, a powerful princess and later queen, a delightful creature called a shakorn that is compelled to help, and David Connor who is troubled by strange dreams. Soon David will be pulled from our world into Lucasia...

Today is the official release date of The Silver Cage, and last night Mik Wilkens answered some questions from me about her novel:

1. Who is your favorite character in The Silver Cage?

Overall, my favorite character would have to be Riak. The funny thing is, he wasn’t in my first rough ideas for the book or even in the first part of the first draft. I was several chapters into the novel when he walked into my head and said, “Hey, I’m supposed to be in this story.” So I had to go back and add him in several places. Good thing I did, too, because he became a really important part of the story. The reason I like him so much is because of how little I knew about him when I started writing the book and how much I found out about him. Plus he’s an emotionally complex character, and he’s pretty darn sexy.

From a writer’s perspective, my favorite character would have to be either Emerald or Karel, mostly because writing dialogue for them is so much fun, although in rather different ways since Emerald tends to be rather talkative and Karel not so much.

2. How long did it take you to write your novel?

I wrote two-thirds of the first draft in about six months while I was attending graphic design school. After I graduated and got a "real" job, I had to put the novel aside for a few months while I settled into the routine of working for a living. Once I got back to writing, I finished the first draft in about three months, so I spent a total of about nine months getting the entire thing down on paper - literally, since I write all of my first drafts by hand.

3. Can you summarize the magic system of your fantasy world?

I would love to explain the magical system in The Silver Cage, but it's such an integral part of the story, I'm a little hesitant to reveal too much about it other than to say that creating a logical magic system was one of the driving forces behind writing the novel. I think I can safely say that on Lucasia, the world where most of the story takes place, magic is a force of nature. To find out how it works, you'll just have to read the book. ;-)

Thank you for answering my questions, Mik.

I have no time to read and review The Silver Cage right now, but it appears to certainly deserve a look from fantasy readers. Read excerpts from The Silver Cage.

It's available at Amazon for Kindle starting today and will be coming to Barnes & Noble and Borders at any time.

The Silver Cage at Amazon.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Science fiction book review: The Unwanted by Daniel L. Carter

Young genetically engineered super children escape their evil origins in science fiction thriller The Unwanted by Daniel L. Carter.
Nurses Janet and Michele are initially excited about their high-paying side job at a research facility. Then the weirdness of the situation starts to bother them. The constant administration of unknown drugs to pregnant women who don't speak English and the creepy wheelchair-bound Dr. Tibon Scharf soon make Janet and Michele wary of their employer.

Meanwhile Nick, an FBI agent investigating a series of deadly explosions that kill mysterious groups of infants, learns that the people involved are using genetic engineering equipment. Despite his efforts, he is always one step behind Tibon and his ruthless assistant Liz Bolan. Tibon destroys his latest research facility and moves before the FBI catch up, but this time the clean up job is botched. Janet and Michele narrowly escape the explosion meant to kill them and five experimental infants. Knowing Tibon has law enforcement connections, the women flee with the babies to a remote cabin on the Oklahoma ranch of Janet's uncle, Leigh Barrus.

Uncle Leigh shelters them secretly after they explain the danger. The babies (three boys and two girls) are named Sampson, Marcus, Zack, Angie, and Anna. They soon exhibit rapid growth and alarming powers of intellect and strength as the years go by. Tibon continues with his genetic engineering experiments while Nick's FBI career flounders into failure.

As I read the novel, Carter's writing built genuine feelings in me for the fugitive family. They grapple with money problems, nosey redneck neighbors, and their difficult state of isolation. Uncle Leigh was the star of the novel for me. His gentle, loving, and protective influence provided everything a person could want in a father figure. The weirdly advanced children love and respect him too, and the influence of his Christian values has a positive effect on the five children, whose lives have special challenges.

Although a story with genetically engineered super children is not particularly original, the Christian upbringing did provide an interesting twist. Prayer gives the children a coping mechanism for their intense emotional issues, and belief in a higher power helps them see beyond their personal problems. However, when Anna tells Uncle Leigh that God speaks to her, even he is incredulous at first. Yet there is no denying her intense psychic abilities, and Uncle Leigh accepts that perhaps she does have a superior connection with God.

The accelerated development of the children is presented in a reasonable and interesting fashion. The stupid and often insensitive boyish excesses of the Marcus, Zack, and Sampson feel real, and the girls are charmingly bossy and reliable.

The Unwanted is a well paced novel that never gets slow. Something is always going on. It has plenty of tense gunfights, super power battles, tranquilizer darts, helicopters, missiles, explosions, and the threat of poison gas.

About my only problem with the novel was the cliche nature of the scenes involving FBI agent Nick. They read like any crime drama you've ever seen. I'm not saying they are badly written. Carter has a smooth flowing style that lets a narrative unfold with great clarity. But Nick and his law enforcement fiascoes lacked originality. Why does the law enforcement character always have to be divorced, obsessed with a case, and driven to drink? Although this character annoyed me, he does not dominate the novel. The majority of the novel is very engaging, and the developing young super heroes are sympathetic and likable.

As the first in a trilogy, The Unwanted sets up a great foundation for further adventures with characters whose origins have been thoroughly explained. The Unwanted markets itself as a novel for all ages, and I agree. As an adult I found it to be intelligent reading, and I think that teens would find much to appreciate as well. My bottom line opinion is that The Unwanted reads like you are watching a Hollywood blockbuster.

Go to http://www.theunwantedtrilogy.com/ to read a sample or go straight to buying The Unwanted.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Musical Saturday - Listen to the universe with sitar music

I love sitar music. Like many people I first heard this instrument on Beatles' albums. I don't think there is any musical instrument that reaches into the energies of my body and ignites my imagination like the sitar.

The website of musician and composer Biswabrata Chakrabarti explains that Indian classical music is based on the concept that "the whole universe was created from the energy of sound - it's only the sound that exists in the beginning."

Hindu music traditions reach back thousands of years. The beauty and complexity of Indian classical music place it at the pinnacle of the musical art form. For your enjoyment this weekend, expand your mind and emotions with the exceedingly famous Ravi Shankar.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Movie Review: Skyline


A horde of technologically superior brain-gulping aliens descends on Earth in this sci fi horror directed by Colin Strause and Greg Strause.

Skyline distinguishes itself for its lack of hope. No one has a viable plan for fighting the aliens. None of the characters are military commanders or scientific aides to the President. Skyline is an alien invasion horror that reduces its cast to squealing feeder mice as the aliens harvest major cities of its protein treasure.

Set in a hedonistic Los Angeles high rise, a visiting young couple, Jarrod and Elaine from Brooklyn, party down with Jarrod's old rapper buddy Terry, who is now successful in the music business and wants Jarrod to join his crew. This premise nicely sets up a plausible situation in which beautiful young people populate the story. Scary movies need beautiful young people. No one wants to watch ugly people face their worst fears.

Jarrod and Elaine's first day in Los Angeles includes pool-side fun and alcohol-fueled partying in Terry's penthouse. Issues flare up constantly, like Elaine's new pregnancy and Terry's bold adultery with his assistant in the penthouse he shares with his wife.

After everyone passes out, the aliens come. No one has any idea what is going on. The characters are all pretty much stupid blockheads. This was actually captivating in a weird kind of way. There was no character who was on the staff of SETI or a genius computer scientist or a survivor of alien abduction. No one in Skyline has any brilliant ideas. No one is going to hack into the alien operating system with a smart phone. Much of the dialogue is:

"What's happening?"
"I don't know!"

The script suits the painfully average crew of actors, but that does not really detract from the movie. The point of Skyline, which it delivers well, is that no one is going to come across as smart when humanity is being destroyed by beings that are technologically and biologically superior.

Skyline is a well executed study in watching one species consume another. The movie never drags. It is always engaging. It spends a lot of time with the men arguing over their bad ideas while the women cringe helplessly. Overall it is an entertaining movie that rewarded me with a couple chuckles although it did not mean to. I give it 3 out of 5 stars. Having paid matinee price and eschewed the purchase of concessions at criminally insane price points, I feel I got good value. Skyline actually became most interesting at its cliffhanger ending, leaving me wondering what will happen next.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Musical Saturday - New recording of complete Conan the Barbarian soundtrack

The weekend can be a time to brush aside mundane distractions and focus on inspiring music. I tend to be very fond of soundtracks, especially symphonic scores. The score for the film Conan the Barbarian by distinguished composer Basil Poledouris has recently been freshly recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra with Nic Raine conducting.

This special 2-cd collection presents the original 100-minute film score, complete with tracks not included in the original soundtrack release. I certainly plan on updating my music collection to include this new complete version of the soundtrack. The score for Conan the Barbarian has inspired me for years. I love to listen to it when I am writing. Its epic and exciting musical landscape drives away the real world and opens the doors to "high adventure." I found the new Conan soundtrack at Buysoundtrax.com.

Enjoy this video excerpt of a City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra recording session.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interview with thriller author John Walker

Find the complete Dark Retribution quartet and other novels by John Walker at http://www.sanctuaryinthedarkness.com/
I recently encountered revenge thriller author John Walker on Goodreads. His body of work (six novels and counting) gets good ratings from readers, and I was intrigued by his long term dedication to writing and his independent business sense. Although he and I do not write the same type of novels, I wanted to know more about this kindred spirit of the writing craft, and John Walker agreed to an interview.

1. You write in the first person, which you use effectively to draw in your readers, but how do you overcome some of the challenges of writing in the first person? For example, revealing thoughts/motivations of other characters.

Through conversations, meetings and by having the central character witness events. Writing through the first person seems the most realistic way to present a story for me as we all live our lives, view the world around us and think in the first person. In writing my stories, as I am viewing the fictional world of my central character(s), I am in effect living vicariously through them.

The only variation I have encountered in real life is when I met some individuals who refer to themselves in the 3rd person. For example: instead of saying “I’m going to do this,” they will state their own name and say something like: “[Jack/Jill] will do this.”

2. With six novels published and another on the way, you obviously have a creative drive to write. Do you find writing therapeutic? fun? personally entertaining? What do you get out of the creative process?

Writing has always been something close to magical for me. I have always been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. There has never been a single period of my life when I haven’t been without a book to read. When I was 12-years-old, rewriting my school homework essays in my spare time, something woke up inside me. From then on there was no doubt that being a writer was everything I’ve ever wanted to be. Other creative people express themselves by composing or playing music, others through drawing, painting, sculpting, others through directing movies. It’s all just different mediums that fuel the magic of creativity. Through writing I can leave this world and enter another, immerse myself in the characters and the situations they are in … all by just sitting at my desk and day dreaming! I’m happiest when I’m working and for me it doesn’t get better than that. When I finally completed God’s Soldiers, the final book in the Dark Retribution Quartet, something happened to me that I hadn’t anticipated: my mood plunged and I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so despondent. After all, I’d managed to complete four books in a series that was important to me. I should have been cheering with joy. Everyone around me noticed the depression I’d sank into and it wasn’t until I began to discuss it with others that I was able to understand the reasons why: the cause was because I was leaving behind characters that had been a part of my life for many years. I’d finished the story and was leaving their world behind. It’s another magical thing about writing that our characters will eventually become so real to us.

3. All your novels receive high ratings at retail and review sites. Your main work so far is the Dark Retribution Quartet. Do you know if a majority of readers of the first book Wrath and Remembrance follow through and complete the series?

There have been some readers who have read the first book, Wrath and Remembrance, and haven’t been able to continue with the other 3 because of the genre and dark, violent themes just aren’t for them. I can appreciate that and I have no problem with it. My books aren’t for everyone. We all like different things. It’s part of what makes us individuals and why our world is so diverse and full of variety. I love getting feedback from readers. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s positive or negative. My stories run like a movie in my mind and my characters all look a certain way. What intrigues me is how other readers perceive the characters and situations in the books. The German director Wim Wenders made a movie in 1991 called Until the End of the World, starring William Hurt, Solveig Dommartin, Sam Neill, Max von Sydow and Jeanne Moreau. Part of the story involves the invention of a device that can record the characters’ dreams while they sleep and they play them back the following day. I’ve always wished someone would somehow realise this concept, make technology catch up to the idea, and create a device that would record a reader’s imagination. It would be cool to be able to see how others imagine what authors set down on paper. Movies come someway close to that with a director’s cinematic interpretation.

4. The concept for your novel Hank Shank VIII is to set loose the character of Henry VIII in modern times. How did you get the idea and does the modern Hank Shank go through as many wives?

The idea came when another publisher asked me if I was interested in writing a biography on Henry VIII. I’d learned about him at school and always found him a deeply flawed, paranoid, ruthless, but fascinating man. I was already involved with writing God’s Soldiers at the time so I shelved the project for about a year. Although I hadn’t begun writing Hank Shank VIII, I still gave it a lot of thought. I didn’t really want to write yet another conventional bio’. There have been many done and I’d already read Henry VIII: King and Court, by Alison Weir, which is my favorite book on that subject. Then an idea came to me as I wondered how Henry VIII would have lived in our era and inspiration sprang from there. In researching Henry’s story, I made a life-chart, complete with dates and that made it easier to retell his story in a contemporary setting. And, yes, he goes through the same dynamics of life and the same number of wives.

5. Your earliest novel, Wrath and Remembrance, has been published since 1998. Were you originally published by another company or have you always self produced your fiction?

Wrath and Remembrance was a long time in the writing. I began writing it in the mid-1980s. Initially, all 4 books in the quartet were part of one massive volume. I knew back then that the story was too big to tell in one go and I was still getting so many new ideas for the characters and the story, so several rewrites followed.

During the early 90s, one publisher read a different draft version of Wrath and Remembrance and told me they’d only publish it if I completely changed the ending and didn’t kill off one of the characters. Even if I’d complied, it would have meant deleting several chapters of the book and it would have ruined many aspects of the next 3 books in the series. So I refused and didn’t bother with that publisher.

In 2004, I was offered an ebook contract with a different publisher. The concept of ebooks was new to me then and I agreed to let someone else take the reins as it meant freeing up more of my time and making my work available to a world-wide audience. Unfortunately, that particular publisher proved both unreliable and uncommunicative, and I cancelled my contract with them after 3 years. I’m still in touch with many of the other authors who were contracted to the same publisher and they had a similar experience to mine. I was bitter for a long time after that as I’m serious about what I do, have a strong work ethic and I don’t appreciate having others waste my time.

I decided to create my own publishing label and go back to having full control over my work as I enjoy being independent and my own boss.

I would certainly be open to consider an offer of a contract from another publisher if one was offered to me, but sales are going well as things stand now.

6. Any additional comments?

Right now I’m busy with my 7th book, entitled Backlash. It’s a psychological road-chase-thriller set across 8 states in America. I’m still only on the first draft, but very happy with the way the story is developing.

I also have ideas for a future book project on the American Civil War. This subject has interested me for a long time and I’d love to produce a book on that.

Thanks again for the opportunity to do this interview. It’s time I put on some fresh coffee and got back to work. I just had an idea for my book!

Readers interested in John Walker can read the first chapter of Wrath and Remembrance at his website.

Also, see reader reviews and ratings of his all his novels at his Goodreads author page.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Easy Rider: They do NOT make movies like this anymore

Provocative, illuminating, and riveting from start to finish, the counter-culture 60s movie classic Easy Rider will still get movie lovers' motors running.

I was somewhat reluctant to watch Easy Rider. I knew the film was regarded as a classic, but I was not sure if a movie with two dudes riding around on motorcycles (choppers?) would appeal to me. Well, don't judge a man by his haircut because I was wrong to doubt the artistic quality of Easy Rider.

Released in 1969, Easy Rider was independently produced by Peter Fonda, who co-wrote the screenplay with Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper star in the movie as Wyatt and Billy respectively.

Easy Rider opens with Wyatt and Billy making a bunch of cash from a cocaine sale in Southern California. After outfitting themselves with a pair of fancy motorcycles, Wyatt fills a soft plastic tube with his money and conceals it in the gas tank of his motorcycle. They then take off on a cross-country ride to New Orleans to enjoy Mardi Gras. And thus the road trip begins.

They soon discover an America that is not receptive to a pair of outlandish bikers who don't seem to have any honest business being anywhere. Wyatt and Billy are refused rooms at little motels across the desert, forcing them to camp every night. Only a rancher distinguishes himself by offering some repair assistance and a hot meal.

Then the bikers end up staying at some far flung hippie commune of spaced out back-to-the-land idealists who think they are going to be able to grow all their own food. Billy watches incredulously as they plant seeds in dry soil and inquires if they expect any rain.

Throughout the movie Billy, as played by Dennis Hopper, does most of the talking. Wyatt, played marvelously by Peter Fonda, tends to quietly roll joints and occasionally offer pithy statements of wisdom. For example, when Billy tires of the weirdo commune and wants to leave, he complains to Wyatt harshly about the people over dinner. Wyatt's response is to simply point out to Billy that they are eating the food those people shared with them. 

All the scenes at the commune offer a critical view of the misguided idealists who got wrapped up with strange cult-like leaders during that era. The commune leader collects his flock for group drug use in front of their own children. The scene with the little kids bemused by their whacked-out parents is difficult to interpret. I think it represents how easily revolutionary intentions can descend into stupidity.

Before Wyatt and Billy depart the commune, the commune leader gives Wyatt some LSD to take with him. Ever open-minded, Wyatt accepts the hallucinogen for later use.  

After further adventures, Wyatt and Billy hook up with the drunkard lawyer George Hanson, played by Jack Nicholson. Fans of Nicholson will appreciate this early role. Hanson decides to join the two bikers on their trip to Mardi Gras. The Hanson character serves as a fascinating contrast to Wyatt and Billy. Outwardly, Hanson is a down-home conservative in a suit. He employs the socially-accepted drug of alcohol as his means of self destruction, but he becomes enamored of the strange freedom embodied by Billy and Wyatt, who go where they want to go, do what they want to do, and look how they want to look. The story of George Hanson presents a twisted morality tale as he suffers the backlash of a hostile conservative culture that forbids experimentation and free thinking.

To avoid giving away more of this story, I'll conclude only by revealing that Wyatt and Billy do make it to Mardi Gras. Easy Rider is a film that will leave you thinking. It has been months since I watched it, and I still ponder it regularly. I'm letting it gestate in my mind before watching it again. So far my interpretation of Easy Rider is that freedom is anathema to a dominant culture and that there are no easy rides no matter what course you take.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Blog tours welcome at Her Ladyship's Quest

Blog tours are a mainstay of online social media campaigns, and they have gained a new stop at Her Ladyship's Quest, the blog of fantasy author Tracy Falbe. Styled as a place to feature the new, the old, and the best of the overlooked, Falbe's blog is accepting submissions from authors, musicians, visual artists, journalists, and filmmakers organizing blog tours. People can pitch their ideas for guest posts, interviews, giveaways, excerpts, and samples.

Every post at every blog on a tour helps to boost online buzz. Falbe's blog was recently visited by the blog tour of Chris Kelly, author of Invictus: Matilda Raleigh, and she considered the experience a positive contribution to her blog.

"Like any blogger, I am always looking for ideas to write about, and blog tours provide a mutually beneficial way for me to find new media that I think is cool and help creatives get the word out. My blog is not just me talking about myself," Falbe said.

Her eclectic blog features both fiction and nonfiction. All genres are considered although there is an emphasis on fantasy. Falbe believes that her interests in history, archaeology, and Nature expressed at her blog complement her love of genre entertainment. Knowledge is a tributary to the river of imagination.

Reviews and interviews shape the core of the blog's content while articles and essays enliven the mix. Because this blog is not locked into rigid content guidelines, the opportunities to various content producers creating a blog tour are numerous. People needing to get their work featured online in as many places as possible can benefit from submitting their tour requests at this blog.

Although books, ebooks, and movies dominate most posts, Falbe is interested in branching out into coverage of other media like music, graphic novels, video gaming, and independent films (including documentaries) because the purpose of Her Ladyship's Quest is to travel the media landscape.

Falbe can be easily contacted with form on the blog tours page. Anyone organizing a blog tour should provide a brief description of the media being promoted, express posting ideas about the content, and be clear if any specific dates are needed for publicity purposes.

[This information was also distributed as a blog tours news release.]

Historic fiction readers get high sea adventure, daring traders, and abolition in Ice King

Iconic image from the British abolition movement
I added my review of Ice King by Geoff Woodland to Historical Novel Review yesterday. I enjoyed the novel very much. It is fast paced and wraps the big historical issue of slavery in a personal drama. Set against the complicated world of trans-Atlantic trade, the Ice King focuses on the economic factors that relied on the Slave Trade and the efforts of abolitionists to establish new economic models that were more humane.

This novel has a broad scope. The action swings between Liverpool, England, Boston, Massachusetts, and the West Indies. Every historical setting is carefully crafted, and having read this novel I feel much more informed about the era of the early 1800s when Great Britain was beginning to disassociate itself from slavery and the young United States was still plagued by the issue. All while the wealthy world relentlessly craved the sugar coming from the slave plantations of the West Indies.

The hero of the novel is Captain William King. He is a capable and creative character. I enjoyed reading a novel in which the hero already had many of his skills established. It was not a story of him gaining experience. It was the adventure of a man applying his experience.

Please enjoy my full review at the Historical Novel Review blog: Ice King by Geoff Woodland review.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New monthly giveaway drawings for fantasy readers

Looking for a lucky winner every month
As of today, I have started a new promotion at my fantasy fiction website Brave Luck Books (TM). I have always offered the first novel in my fantasy series The Rys Chronicles as a free download in multiple formats. Now, any person who joins my readers' list gains access to my free ebook AND is automatically entered in the current month's drawing.

What am I giving away?

For all entrants in November the prize is the full length novel The Jade Owl by Edward C. Patterson. The prize will be the ebook version in the format desired by the winner. After the drawing, I will purchase a copy of the novel and email it to the winner.

The Jade Owl gets consistently high ratings at retail and review sites and was a Finalist for the 2009 RAINBOW AWARDS.

About the novel:

In China they whisper about the Jade Owl and its awful power. This ancient stone, commissioned by the Empress Wu and crafted by a mineral charmer, long haunted the folk of the Middle Kingdom until it vanished into an enigma of legend and lore. Now the Jade Owl is found. It wakes to steal the day from day. Its power to enchant and distort rises again. Its horror is revealed to a band of five, who must return it to the Valley of the Dead before the laws of ch'i are set aside in favor of destruction's dance. Five China Hands, each drawn through time's thin fabric by the bird, discover enchantment on the secret garland. Five China Hands, and one holds the key to the world's fate. Five China Hands. Only one Jade Owl - but it's awake and in China, they whisper again. 

Find out more about prolific novelist Edward C. Patterson.

If you'd like to read my fantasy novel Union of Renegades and get a chance to win The Jade Owl, please enter the giveaway. No purchase is necessary.

My monthly drawings will always be giving away digital goods that I can award to a winner anywhere in the world. I know that I have readers in countries other than the United States, so providing digital prizes through my giveaway drawings allows me to be inclusive to an international audience.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween


This delightful image courtesy of the public domain has a caption that reads:

Put on a witch's cloak and hat,
Make friends with a big black cat,
Burn a candle and watch the flame,
And it will spell your true lover's name.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Introducing Historical Novel Review

The vast tapestry of history provides writers' imaginations with unlimited opportunities for inspiration. Many writers harvest from this fertile ground and produce historical fiction for an appreciative audience. At Historical Novel Review, readers can peruse a continual stream of reviews and articles about many types of historical fiction books.

Yesterday I had the good fortune to receive a positive review for Union of Renegades at this blog. Although my novel is the first part of a fantasy series, its Medieval fantasy world appealed to the tastes of one of the reviewers.

Adding to my happy feelings of being flattered, I was also invited to contribute to this review blog and am looking forward to writing my first review for the site. The historical fiction book I'm reading is called Ice King by Geoff Woodland. The novel concerns the challenges of William King from Liverpool, England as he endeavors to earn a living in the dynamic trans-Atlantic trade among Great Britain, Africa, America, and the West Indies. William is personally dedicated to proving a profit can be made trading without resorting to the horrific slave trade. William's father, however, has made a fortune in the African trade, as it is called.

Thank you Historical Novel Review and its editor Mirella Patzer for allowing me a place to publish reviews and help readers become aware of my writing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Favorite Thing Ever - New blog about spreading the joy

Expressions of delight and satisfaction gush forth from Favorite Thing EVER

Had your fill of blogs where people complain about doing laundry or cut down things you think are awesome? Then ditch the grumpy scene and subscribe to http://www.favoritethingever.com/. Publishing since July, Favorite Thing Ever was dreamed up by zombie expert Matt Youngmark after he decided regular review sites were tedious. At Favorite Thing Ever, Matt, Kormantic, and a group of presumably slavishly loyal bloggers post about the things that they really like, from books to games to root vegetables.

Intrigued by this blog that promises not to waste its readers' time on "things that suck or are only kind of okay" I recently interviewed Matt and Kormantic to find out more about this positive crew.

1. What were your motivations for creating ftE?

Matt: I used to work at a weekly newspaper, and the experience kind of burned me out on the whole idea of "arts criticism." It's like, if you're a critic, stuff just falls into your lap and it's your job to tell the world if it's any good or not. But there's no law that says you have to review things that you don't like. It's just easier. So more often than not, our entertainment section would read like a list of things we thought we were better than that week. Instead, I like the idea of a place where I can just access my inner fanboy and pimp my favorite things out to the rest of the world. Anybody can write pithy barbs about why something is overrated, but I think it actually takes more balls to put yourself out there and say you love something. To hell with it if all the cool kids think "Ultimate Fantastic Four" is "so 2006."

Kormantic: It was 147% Matt's idea. He did all the heavy lifting as far as creating and setting up the site. I will say, though, that I've always been a big fan of manic joy, and I used to vibrate at high frequencies about all manner of grooviness at my own lonely little blog-- now I have a place specifically designed to do that, and a gang to share it with.

2. What is your favorite post so far at ftE? Please explain why.

Matt: Usually the thing I just wrote. A friend accused me of having some Cocker Spaniel in my blood, because whatever I'm interested in at the moment is the SINGLE MOST AMAZING THING I HAVE EVER HEARD OF, OMG YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS. There was one example, though, where I played a new game at a convention (Castle Panic!), fell in love with it, and then had this perfect venue to immediately share my enthusiasm. That sort of encapsulated the entire purpose of ftE, for me. Plus, the game's creator really appreciated it and gave me a shout out on his blog -- I still get warm fuzzies, just thinking about it.

Kormantic: It might be the one I did about potatoes. I mean, theoretically, there is (a very little) money to be made in talking about items that you can almost always buy on Amazon (including, in fact, potatoes, weirdly enough) but the point of the site isn't HEY BUY THIS BUY THIS it's, I love this and this is why and maybe you will love it, too. And what's easier to love than the homely, cheap, versatile, delicious potato? I don't think I've ever met anyone who wasn't always happy to have some potatoes, man.

3. How many bloggers are currently contributing to ftE?

Matt: Nine at present. Some write every week and others write whenever they get inspired to -- we're blessed to know a bunch of wonderful writers who are also wonderful human beings, so our existing circle of friends was the perfect venue to recruit bloggers from.

Kormantic: I've been in an online writing group that goes back yonks, and I also happen to have a lot of friends who LOVE things, so I was able to contact some of them and pimp the site. We have some lovely contributors who came to us that way. We met others because Matt was promoting his book. I do believe one just started writing for us because he liked the site and we liked him.

4. Would you delete comments from haters in order to maintain the manic tone of ftE?

Matt: Haters gonna hate. So far we've only gotten one negative rant, and he was actually reasonably polite, so we left him a chipper response and let it stand. My instincts are to leave it all up there, good and bad, but I imagine if somebody posts something truly hurtful or vile we'll nuke it.

Kormantic: Our (so far single) Complainy Pants called our site an "inane, meta-consumerist, total-waste-of-time pap", actually. Me, I think he missed the point. We're not Consumer Reports by a long stretch, and we're not saving the rainforest or anything, but I think we're delightful. I don't think hearing someone wax rhapsodic about a book they loved is a waste of time. I also don't think it's consumerist to say, point out a handsome little recycled notebook, or a magical toothbrush. It's not like I can see any of us writing about diamond encrusted soda cans or the gold rims on our Hummer. And again, we often write about stuff that's cheap as free. When we're draped in Versace and wearing Gucci noserings, we'll be the first to tell you that Materialism has gone to our pointy little heads. (g)

5. Do you think, in general, that the blogosphere is bloated with rants, complaints, and overly harsh sometimes ignorant criticisms?

Matt: "Bloated" is a good term, I think. People get so worked up! And freedom + anonymity makes a natural breeding ground for our worst impulses, so if a comment thread stretches long enough, it's only a matter of time before someone gets compared to Hitler. I don't think I'd want to change that, though, you know? The WHOLE POINT of the internet is that you can say whatever you want. If there's any kind of mission statement behind ftE, it's not that the internet can be full of joy and pleasantry instead. It's that the internet can be full of joy and pleasantry as well. And it is!

Kormantic: What Matt said.

6. Any additional comments?

Matt: Come check out favorite thing EVER! Join the conversation in the comment threads, and if you're bursting with enthusiasm about something, pitch us an idea for a guest post! We are having a giant, nonstop party over here, AND YOU ARE ALL INVITED.

Kormantic: Bring CANDY!

Matt Youngmark is the author of Zombocalypse Now, a full-length zombie choose-your-own-ending novel (for grownups!) from Chooseomatic Books. Back in the day, he worked the newsprint mines at Tacoma Reporter and Pandemonium Magazine. Kormantic has currently lost over 16 millionteen games of Words With Friends in a row. She lives with Matt in their secret lair in the heart of a volcano. She likes CANDY and words that rhyme. The two of them were recently married! To each other!

Congratulations on the marriage. May you be each other's favorite spouses EVER.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nonfiction book review: Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne

For me, history books fall into two categories: 1. interesting subjects written in a dry plodding style, or 2. interesting subjects given life and meaning with dramatic artistic writing. Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne definitely falls into the brilliantly written category.

Empire of the Summer Moon recounts roughly four hundred years of the history of the Comanche Native American tribe. The Comanches were a fierce force reaching from Kansas to Mexico that curtailed the northward advances of the Spanish Empire and later Mexico and also thwarted the westward ambitions of Texas and the United States for decades. Gwynne gracefully explains the far-reaching historical impact of the Comanches with vivid and often horrific details from a bloody history of the North American interior that has been mostly glossed over in the last hundred years. Gwynne ties the long narrative together with the gripping story of Cynthia Ann Parker. At the age of 9, she was abducted by Comanche raiders from her family of Texas settlers in 1836. She proceeded to live the majority of her life with the Comanches, wholly adopting their culture and rejecting white civilization upon her unwanted rescue in 1860. Cynthia was a legend in her own time during her long captivity and especially after her rescue. Taken back by the whites with her little Comanche daughter Prairie Flower in her arms, Cynthia languished in misery instead of embracing her return to the civilization that bore her. Upon being returned against her will to her blood relatives, she fascinated America with her persistent Comanche ways. Known as the White Squaw, she typically refused to speak English and clung tenaciously to her pagan Comanche rites. Always longing for her home among the Comanches, Cynthia Ann did not live long among her white captors. Prairie Flower died in 1864 and Cynthia Ann perished in 1870.

And Cynthia Ann Parker was made even more famous by the fact that she was the mother of Quanah Parker, the last great war chief of the Comanches who only surrendered after a long and bloody war with the U.S. military.

Quanah was known for his brilliance and brutality. All Comanches were traditionally brutal in warfare. Among the Plains Indians, war was always a fight to death because capture meant slow torture to death. Children were abducted and kept to be raised as Comanches, adult women captives would be gang raped, enslaved, and/or tortured to death with horrible mutilations. Adult male captives were routinely tortured to death. The Comanches excelled at all these practices and were dreaded by ALL. Comanche raiders terrorized Mexicans, Americans, and Native Americans alike.

Quanah, even after the inevitable victory of the U.S., continued to distinguish himself by adapting to civilized life. He managed to thrive after a fashion amid the despair of reservation imprisonment, unlike his fellow Comanches who knew only the utter sadness of conquest.

Empire of the Summer Moon is a must read for all history buffs. Its tales are crafted from the journals of ill-fated Spanish officers, reports of Texas Rangers, reports of U.S. officers hardened by the Civil War, and the gripping accounts of captives who escaped the Comanches. This epic clash of the Stone Age and rising Empires is jaw dropping in its scope and drama.

To appreciate the talent of Gwynne's writing, read this excerpt as he explains the tragedy of Cynthia Ann Parker:

The event that destroyed her life was not the raid at Parker's Fort in 1836 but her miraculous and much-celebrated "rescue" at Mule Creek in 1860. The latter killed her husband, separated her forever from her beloved sons, and deposited her in a culture where she was more a true captive than she had ever been with the Comanches. In the moments before Ross's raid, she had been quite as primitive as any other Plains Indian; packing thousands of pounds of buffalo meat onto mules, covered from head to toe in blood and grease, literally immersed in this elemental world that never quit left the Stone Age -- a world of ceaseless toil, hunger, constant war, and early death. But also of pure magic, of beaver ceremonies and eagle dances, of spirits that inhabited springs, trees, rocks, turtles, and crows; a place where people danced all night and sang bear medicine songs, where wolf medicine made a person invulnerable to bullets, dream visions dictated tribal policy, and ghosts were alive in the wind. On grassy plains and timbered river bottoms from Kansas to Texas, Cynthia Ann -- Nautdau -- had drifted in the mystical cycles of the seasons, living in that random, terrifying bloody, and intensely alive place where nature and divinity became one.

Cynthia Ann Parker nursing her precious daughter Prairie Flower

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dark Horse comics planning new web platform for readers

I read this morning at Digital Book World about the announcement from Dark Horse Comics to invest its energy heavily on creating a reader platform independent of third party retailers, particularly iTunes.

Dark Horse publishes hugely successful and arguably awesome licensed comics like 300, Conan, Star Wars, and Hellboy. The article Dark Horse Circumvents iTunes, Plans to Sell Direct described the new platform like this:

Launching in January 2011 with over 130 individual issues and “several dozen collections,” Dark Horse Digital Publishing will be a proprietary, web-based platform accessible via any device with a browser (but not Kindles, Nooks, or Kobos), as well as via proprietary apps for iOS, Android and others to follow. Their ecommerce model will be “very similar to the Kindle experience and as seamless as possible for the user,” with a Dark Horse-branded app replacing their title-specific apps (400,000+ downloads to-date), and an online store where comics can be purchased, downloaded and synced wherever they’re being read. Existing standalone apps will be upgraded and those comics migrated into users’ accounts in the new store.
Factors motivating Dark Horse to establish its own competitive marketplace include an understandable desire to maintain control of pricing and avoidance of censorship. I have read several times that Apple denies content access to its selling venues if it determines the content to be undesirable. Because the comics genre tends to sexy, political, violent, and cutting edge, I can well imagine why publishers would shy away from editorial control imposed by retailers. This outside and arbitrary influence would only undermine the product they develop for an audience that is likely interested in daring content.

I admire these efforts by Dark Horse. Of course as a tiny mite in the world of publishing, I lack the resources to develop a fancy publishing and marketing platform, but I still find this move by Dark Horse very validating to my own efforts. Although I place my novels in many major retail outlets, including Apple's iBookstore, and I profit by this, I remain careful not to invest the entire future of my business in the accommodation of retail companies.

I still promote my fantasy fiction website http://www.braveluck.com/ and am planning future upgrades to make it more attractive and competitive. My sales through my direct-to-readers outlet are an important part of my income, but my website is also important to my long term success and creative control. At any time large retail companies could change their terms and wipe out my profit. Also, like Apple has proven, I could for some unforeseen reason be censored. I probably won't be, but who knows?

I encourage readers to try out the new Dark Horse system in 2011. It is not that I think large retail companies are bad. They serve a market and let me reach a market, but they should not be allowed to completely own content creation. Publishers of all media need to keep a market space for themselves. Readers can benefit by supporting the direct-to-reader sites of creators too. Pricing I'm sure will remain competitive. Remember, the middleman won't need to be paid. And also the dollars spent by readers will be more fully supporting the actual creative business people. 

Followers