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 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 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. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ebook Review: The Devil's Bidding by Leslie D. Soule

This short story serves as an excellent introduction to the emerging talent of paranormal fantasy author Leslie D. Soule. The Devil's Bidding is published by Decadent Publishing, and I expect its quality will encourage interest in Soule's upcoming novel Fallenwood.

The premise of The Devil's Bidding is that the main character Tom, minimum wage retail employee who lives with his parents, lists his soul at an online auction site to make some extra money. The style of Soule's writing is smooth and down-to-Earth. I was immediately drawn into Tom's troubled life. Soule created in him a very realistic and sympathetic person. Perhaps it was because I could relate to his existence in dead end retail work, especially on a grueling Black Friday shift double shift. I've also been a seller at online auctions for years although it never occurred to me to put my soul up for auction.

Despite my background, I'm sure other readers will be able to quickly feel Tom in their imagination. Soule's writing is packed with details and phrases that interpret our real world and bring it into focus with language that fully activates the senses. For example, the phrase "like the aftertaste of bitter beer" summoned intimately the sensation of bitter in my mind.

I also really liked this sentence:

Tom took a swig of the generic-brand cola he'd bummed off a friend in the hallway and found it, unsurprisingly, unfulfilling -- just like everything else in life.

Adding to Tom's misery is the recent suicide of his fiancée Brenda. He feels hopelessly guilty and is just going through the motions of holding down a job and pursuing an education. Mostly he wants to distract himself with video games and escape from this going-nowhere existence. Tom easily represents thousands of others in our world.

Of course, for the fantastical element of the story, the Devil, Satan himself, wins the auction for Tom's soul. I enjoyed the portrayal of Satan in this story. He seems just as discontented as Tom, plugging along from one tedious damnation to the next. I liked how he cheered himself up by sending out spam emails and computer viruses. When Satan comes to collect Tom's soul, Tom is stunned by the surreal presence of Satan in his living room. He focuses on the weird detail that Satan is carrying a Starbucks cup. This makes sense to me. Starbucks certainly pours a hellish brew.

Readers will be surprised that The Devil's Bidding actually has an upbeat ending that was quite heartwarming. Overall, I only have one criticism of this short story. I was annoyed by the detail that Tom had a Saturday morning college class the day after Black Friday. I know colleges have Saturday classes, but not usually on Thanksgiving weekend. Maybe some do? It's just a trifling detail and does not really take away from the enjoyment of the story. Some readers might not even notice it.

Download The Devil's Bidding at Decadent Publishing. I gladly recommend this short story and was pleased to have read it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Halloween deepens community connections

Halloween is a special holiday. It is not confined to private dining rooms and family gatherings. Halloween gets it participants out of the house or at least motivates them to answer their door and smile at people they may or may not know.

Trick-or-treating is the ultimate event for children on Halloween. It is their time to run around to their neighbors' homes, ring the bell, and get candy. Even if the trick-or-treaters are visiting a neighborhood other than their own, they are still welcomed. Trick-or-treating time transforms residential areas into big open houses. Many people await trick-or-treaters in their decorated driveways. If the night is cold, they build little fires and add to the festive air. Children troop up and down the sidewalks from front door to front door in an uncoordinated costume parade. Laughter and joy titter up and down the streets because nothing makes happy energy like passing out candy to children.

This is my favorite part of Halloween. The parties and the scary movies are great, but seeing so many people open their doors and spread some joy renews my sense of community. People come out and talk to each other. Jokes are shared among strangers. The normally quiet streets where people come and go with the tasks of their every day lives fade for a few hours. It is not very often that people get to be so casually happy together. Most of us are closed away concerned about our own problems, but Halloween allows anyone interested in some frivolous release the chance to connect to a larger reality. For those of us who participate in Halloween, even if it is just the easy act of passing out candy, we can see the good in society behind all of the masks. 


Still thinking about a costume? Don't let your budget keep you unmasked. Visit my Halloween website Making Fear Fun and get some affordable Halloween costume ideas.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Samurai movie review: The Sword of Doom

The Sword of Doom is an unapologetic bad guy movie. It might even be the ultimate bad guy movie. This black and white 1966 film starring Tatsuya Nakadai is a classic of the Samurai movie genre.

Every scene in the film is artistically composed. The costumes, sets, and landscapes summon historical Japan with the care and grace of a master calligrapher. All the actors are strong, and Tatsuya Nakadai in the lead role of Ryunosuke Tatsue presents a gripping study in remorseless evil. Ryunosuke is said to have an evil soul, which, for a Samurai, translates into an evil sword. To fully grasp the pitiless nature of this man, know that his own father in the movie begs another Samurai to hunt down Ryunosuke and kill him. This is his father's dying wish.

Ryunosuke is a tremendous bad guy character, but he is not a bad guy for whom I want to cheer, like Darth Vader. No, Ryunosuke is just bad. As I watched The Sword of Doom I felt terrible for the people he killed and the lives he ruined. But what is magnificent about Ryunosuke is that he is such a bad ass. I just had to respect him for that and know that he would not change. As I watched the story, I was hoping for him to be killed but feared for those who would attempt it.

To quickly recount what The Sword of Doom gives lovers of Samurai adventure, here's the speed list:

  • Great acting all around.
  • Super awesome hat for the bad guy. (You have to see it to know what I mean.)
  • Inscrutable Japanese politics.
  • Lots of sword-slashing action.
  • Poetic introspection.
  • Detailed look at many elements of Japanese society, including gangsters, courtesans, and fencing teachers.

I'm still undecided about whether I liked how this movie ended. I'm waffling between hating it and thinking it's brilliant. I do know for sure that the moment it ended, my first thought was that I wanted to watch The Sword of Doom again.

A definite five sword rating for this Samurai masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Review: The Pendant by Mirella Patzer

Canadian author Mirella Patzer delivers an intense emotional experience in her historical romance The Pendant, published by the Eternal Press. Set in A.D. 1270 in the region of Genoa, Italy, The Pendant opens with Amoro Dragone learning of his father's murder. His father was the Duke of Genoa. Much to Amoro's surprise he is told by a trusted advisor that his father's wish was that the Dragones end their long feud with the House of Monterossa. Specifically, Amoro's father wanted Amoro to marry the sole Monterossa heir Contessa Morena Monterossa of Portovenere.

Amoro commits himself to this course, but first he must break up with his mistress, Laria. This is a powerful scene that left me very much disgusted with Amoro and sympathetic to Laria's anger. Amoro then journeys to Portovenere and kidnaps Morena. The plight of Morena very much drives home the historically accurate situation faced by women of that wholly patriarchal era. Morena is not valued as a person. She is simply a means of seizing control of her castle, which is supposed to contain a lost Roman treasure.

This small excerpt is quite telling about Morena's vulnerability:

Morena recognized the truth and trembled. Her father's absence left her unprotected. If he should die before she married, she would become quarry for any warlord who sought to take her wealth and fief.

Although Amoro takes possession of her with great arrogance and presumption, he is immediately entranced by her beauty and spirit. He works hard to seduce her and earn her love, which involves many passionate scenes of pitching woo. Morena resists him with varying degrees of fierceness as she grapples with her emerging sexual desire for Amoro.

The plot of The Pendant is not limited to only this sexually charged courtship. Morena is officially betrothed to Ernesto Duke of Savona, a wholly loathsome degenerate gambler with a taste for violent sex. In need of a new source of wealth, Ernesto is determined to claim his betrothed. Serious conflict arises as the two men vie for possession of Morena.

To avoid revealing any spoilers, I'll describe the other merits of this novel. Patzer's fiction reveals a loving mastery of Medieval Italian history. The Pendant is rich with sumptuous detail as lavish feasts are described and the landscapes between castles unfold in picturesque Mediterranean beauty. From the servants in the kitchen to Amoro preparing for the joust, I was deeply drawn into the setting of this brutal and feudal world.
One detail I particularly appreciated was embodied in the character of Smerelda. She is the old medicine woman who conducts Morena's virginity examination. I like this excerpt:

"What would transpire if the examination revealed otherwise?" Morena asked.

Smerelda responded with a wink and a grin.

I liked the historical detail of Smerelda's role in society. She is a healer and herbalist. Such women were widespread in ancient and Medieval times before the rising profession of male doctors persecuted them as witches in the early modern era.

Although packed with thoughtful historical details, The Pendant's greatest strength is its main character Morena. I felt for her keenly and would think about her and worry about her when I was not reading the novel. Amoro is also a powerful character. My opinion of him would shift between dislike and respect, but, like he did with Morena, he did win me over. I enjoyed participating in Morena's inner turmoil in regard to Amoro.

My only criticism about this novel is that at least twice some characters did very stupid things that irritated me. Like when Morena leaves Amoro's castle without an escort of guards. This action annoyed me, but I was soon so caught up in the unfolding drama that my irritation was fleeting.

For readers looking to be swept away into a romance of passion and danger I recommend The Pendant. The novel is an emotional powerhouse that will relentlessly claim your attention. The events are so intense that I lost hope right alongside Morena. I consider it a great accomplishment of any writer to make me care about a character.

Find complete ordering information for The Pendant here.

Also find out more about Mirella Patzer. I interviewed her about her incredible blog History and Women a while ago.

Monday, October 11, 2010

See my guest post: Independent publishing reveals our long neglected mass creativity

I wrote a guest post for Chris Kelly's blog that went up today.

Excerpt: Because self publishing, or indie publishing as it now styles itself, has become a feasible outlet for many writers, the talent is escaping from the confines of a traditional and orderly literary universe...

Please visit his blog to read the whole article.

Dun Scaith: Independent publishing reveals our long neglected mass creativity - Tracy Falbe Guest Post

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Sword and Sorcery influences of Chris Kelly author of Matilda Raleigh: Invictus

Tracy graciously invited me here to write about my sword and sorcery influences, so I’d just like to say thanks, Tracy.

I’ve been struggling with this post for a while now. It has been giving me some trouble. I know which books influenced me, sure, but what I’ve been struggling with is a definition of sword and sorcery. I consider David Gemmell’s Deathwalker to have been my introduction to the genre, but that book is considered by publishers and booksellers to be “heroic fantasy.”

As opposed to un-heroic fantasy, presumably.

Conan, another great influence of mine, is sword and sorcery, of that there can be no doubt. Again, with Lankhmar, or the Hawk and Fisher series, there is no doubt. With Stormbringer things get unclear, however. This is not about a strong hero facing a strong-minded sorcerer villain, and the question arises: at what point is a new sub-genre created. Elric turns sword-and-sorcery so much on its head that the question must be asked. Is it still sword and sorcery?

I asked the modern world’s Gandalf (Wikipedia) for a definition of sword and sorcery and was given this answer. Epic fantasy is about the world being in peril, and sword and sorcery is where the hero battles for more personal reasons. To save his skin, usually.

This isn’t a perfect definition, but it works for The Legend of Deathwalker.

When I was younger I had an insatiable appetite for fantasy books. My dad used to keep it stoked with second-hand fiction, and one day he brought Deathwalker home. I wasn’t impressed with the cover, and the whole thing looked naff. I mean, a quest for magic crystals? Come on.

A few days later I ran out of reading material, and sat down to my first sword and sorcery romp. Within a week I’d read every Gemmell book the library stocked. I was hooked. Even now, about seventeen years later, David Gemmell’s books have had an awesome effect on me. If you consider his first, best, and most famous novel: Legend - it is not hard to draw parallels between that book and mine.

Druss is an old man. He knows if he goes on this last “adventure” he will die. He is famous, the greatest hero of any age. His allies are dead or now stand against him. New allies must be made.

Matilda is an old woman. She knows if she goes on this “adventure” she will die. She did a lot of evil in her youth, and became a hero by default, searching for redemption. She was once famous, but is now forgotten. Her allies have betrayed her. Her enemies now stand beside her.

Clearly, Druss made a lasting impression. There are similarities (and differences, I wasn’t writing a gender-swap novel) between the two. Another lasting impression was made on me by Conan. My very first introduction to Conan was the Robert Jordan novels. I don’t know if the novels were based on the films, or the films were based on the novels. However it was, neither was particularly good.

And then I discovered the Robert E. Howard version, and loved it. Here was a Conan who I could relate to. A strong man who lived by the sword and took what he wanted; despite his many faults (self-centred, arrogant, sexist, possibly abusive) he never came across as evil, or even as an anti-hero. He was Conan the Cimmerian.

Of all the Conan stories, there were two that influenced me the most. The first was the Frost Giant’s Daughter, a beautifully mythic story that doesn’t show Conan in a good light at all. The sole survivor of a battle in the frozen north, Conan is approached by an almost naked woman called Atali. She is wearing a diaphanous veil, and he lusts after her. He chases her, his mind set to rape. Her father saves her with a lightning bolt that knocks Conan unconscious. When Conan awakens, he thinks it was all a dream, until he realises that he still holds her veil.

The second was Red Nails. I’m not going to sum it up here, since Tracy did a fantastic job of that recently ( )

These two stories are completely different; one is a myth, the other is as sword and sorcerous as it is possible to get. What I took from the first one was that a battle can be against nature – in Invictus, Matilda rides an ornithopter (a pedal-powered flying machine) in a storm, and I described that as I would describe any fight. What I took from Red Nails... well, the story is told from the POV of one of sword and sorcery’s most kick-ass females, Valeria the pirate. Matilda might be 72 years old, but in Invictus she goes up against clock-powered robot assassins, vampires, demons, Germans, golems, an unstoppable, immortal monster and more. So she’s pretty bad ass.

I have the omnibus volume of Stormbringer, the 12th omnibus in the Eternal Champion series. It holds six different Elric novels. It took me a while to get into Elric, but now I’m a big fan.

Can I deny the effects of the MelnibonĂ©an prince on my fiction? Possibly, but this wouldn’t be much of a blog post if I did. And he’s had an effect – in a sense, Matilda’s demonically possessed revolvers are Elric’s sword, Stormbringer. In another sense, they’re not. Nothing’s that easy.

Consider again the definition of sword and sorcery. It might fit every book described above, yet according to that definition Invictus is epic fantasy. Except it’s not. I’ve read enough sword and sorcery to know when I’m writing it, and Invictus is certainly sword and sorcery, as were most of the books that influenced it. At some point, the question of genre becomes meaningless. It really is little more than a marketing device. In my opinion, Invictus is as every bit a sword and sorcery book as Red Nails, and who cares if there’s not a single sword in it? It doesn’t matter that Invictus is set in Edwardian England, less than a hundred years ago (but in an alternate reality of Britain).

I think it’s sword and sorcery, and I wrote it. If you want to make your own mind up about it, you’ll find it here:

I’m doing a three week blog tour, and at the same time I’ve let guest bloggers run riot through my blog. Tomorrow I’ll be interviewed at Jess C Scott’s blog, whilst today Rachel Thompson is on my blog as is a constantly updated guide to my blog tour.

The blog tour is going to be great, and the only valid reason for missing it is that you opened Invictus, and couldn’t switch it off.


Thank you so much for the great guest post, Chris. Welcome to the addictive world of fantasy writing and publishing. Anyone with at least one functioning eye and an internet connection can start reading the generous sample of Invictus at Smashwords.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Movie Review: Public Enemies starring Johnny Depp

John Dillinger is the sort of outlaw born to have movies made about him. The 2009 film Public Enemies directed by Michael Mann takes this folk hero, killer, and "public enemy number one" and skillfully presents a story about much more than a notorious bank robber.

The super actor, legend in his own time, Johnny Depp takes on the role of John Dillinger, and, as expected, produces a nuanced performance that is both low key and cocky. John Dillinger was famous in the 1930s for daring bank robberies in which his gang would burst into a busy bank, well dressed and armed with machine guns, empty out the vault, and roar away in a fast car. Dillinger made for great newsreels with his public relations ploys of giving bank customers their money back. But his fame was assured by his skill at busting out prison and jail.

Dillinger in his day enjoyed folk hero status because he was looting and embarrassing banks that were institutions much reviled during the Great Depression. He lived openly in Chicago enjoying fancy clubs and the silent protection of a sympathetic public.

As if a movie with Johnny Depp in it is not enough to guaranty quality, Christian Bale, another wondrous talent, plays the role of Melvin Purvis the federal lawman put in charge of hunting down raucous law breakers of the era like John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. Purvis is promoted to this position by J. Edgar Hoover who is the director of the Bureau of Investigation and very keen to expand the bureau's influence by taking out these high profile outlaws.

The script of Public Enemies makes the point that the media hoopla about bank robbers, especially John Dillinger, was being leveraged by the federal government to expand its law enforcement reach with the passage of a new crime bill.

The story also emphasizes the technological advances that were changing society. Purvis makes a big deal about using careful methodology and evidence collection to track Dillinger. But the point is not limited to the law enforcement side. Larger technological advances are taking place in the criminal world. Telephones have allowed crime organizations to set up elaborate multi-state gambling operations that bring in tens of thousands of dollars every day. This new advance in crime systems is shown as the reason John Dillinger and his kind became obsolete. Their high profile bank robberies and constant shooting of people bring law enforcement heat down on the crime bosses. In contrast, the switch to the back office telephone operations only requires paying off a few local officials. These quiet crime systems make way more money than robbing banks.

John Dillinger is cast out from his own criminal world. He is a working man replaced by machines and left to fend for himself in a hostile world.

On the law enforcement side of the story, Melvin Purvis is quietly dismayed by the tactics to which he must resort in order to trap Dillinger. Suspects are openly tortured, and Purvis's morals must yield to larger forces. His technological approach to crime fighting ultimately proves insufficient and only the medieval giving of pain and various other threats deliver the results he needs.

Public Enemies is a real top shelf movie. It never drags. Every scene is captivating. The lead actors are commanding. The settings and costumes are authentic. The personal stories are woven skillfully into the larger political and social forces. As for the character of John Dillinger I appreciated how the story did not take the trite approach of making him out as some misunderstood person who wished he could be good. He liked robbing banks. He liked the easy money. He liked being famous and chatting with reporters. He thinks it's never going to end and he can do anything. Of course it's not true, but it's great while it last, just like this movie. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Inspired by Celtic heroes, Chris Kelly takes to the indie publishing field

Author of the upcoming fantasy adventure Invictus: Matilda Raleigh, Chris Kelly proclaims that the fiction produced by Scathach Publishing gives readers entertainment that's not necessarily mass market. The name Scathach comes from warrior maiden of Celtic myth who instructed men in the martial arts and the "friendship of thighs" which is also good to know.

Fresh from the embraces of his shield "maiden" muse, Kelly is working to drum up interest in his upcoming novel.

From Kelly's blog Dun Scaith, he said of his fiction:
My books exist on the fringe, publishing the interesting things, the fantastic things, the edgy, passionate, gritty things that are just a little unmarketable for the mainstream publishers.
Kelly is conducting a blog tour through the independent writing and reading scene, and he will be writing a guest post for Her Ladyship's Quest on Thursday October 7th. He'll explain his sword and sorcery influences. As long as he does not conjure some sinister internet wyrm that crashes our computers, his guest post should be interesting. I'm looking forward to publishing my first guest blogger.

I read the previews that Kelly has offered of his upcoming novel and they proved to be immediately captivating and creative. Read previews from Invictus: Matilda Raleigh at Smashwords.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why dressing up in Halloween costumes is so much fun

Of all the holidays on the calendar, Halloween is the one most about having fun and expressing yourself. The Halloween costume you choose represents a decision to liberate yourself from your regular persona. Inevitably your Halloween costume expresses something about your personality or taste or opinions. Halloween offers both children and adults a safe and fun way to experience the world from a different perspective.

This act of liberation triggers excitement. It is like that first day of vacation when you experience freedom from your daily routine. When a group of people in costume gets together, their shared excitement enhances the feeling for every individual, resulting in a heightened sense of fun.

A little dash of anxiety adds to the excitement as well. When you dress up in a costume, especially something daring, you will feel some nervousness about presenting yourself to your peers. There is always that little nagging insecurity that makes you wonder if people will disapprove. But of course you go ahead with the costume anyway because it's all right on Halloween. The anxiety melts away once you see how much everyone enjoys the costume. Even if it was daring, or gruesome, or risque, people who know you will likely admire your daring and enjoy the fact that you are not truly one hundred percent a boring person who never takes risks.

Beyond the people who know you are the people who do not know you. Parading yourself to strangers on Halloween steps up the fun. Because you are in costume, people unacquainted with you have only your Halloween costume by which to judge you. You are a clown, or sexy nurse, or axe murder victim. That's it. This delightful anonymity coupled with costume weirdness accelerates the Halloween fun. When you are party hopping and bar hopping on Halloween, people laugh and comment happily on all the costumes they see, speaking to strangers as they go. This delightful energy is unlike anything on any other day of the year. People like seeing society transformed into a wonderland of alternative individuals. People who dress up for Halloween fill every town and city with a parade of avatars, and, for a few hours, release society from the grinding imperative to conform.

We all have many aspects inside, but society requires us to mostly be a predictable and conforming member. But on Halloween, the rules are thrown out. You can express your identity in any fun or creepy way that suits you. The power of costumes to transform the energy of a group has been known since the first shaman pulled a wolf's head over his face. Costuming on Halloween brings people from all areas of society together to share this ancient form of identity release. Most of us are glad to take off the costumes at the end of night, exhausted by the fun yet renewed by the experience and ready to return to a socially normal state. 

Learn more about Halloween and consider some ideas for Halloween costumes at my website Making Fear Fun.