Valkyrie Artwork as Reflection for “Remember Me in the Halls of Valhalla”

When I was working on a story entitled “Remember Me in the Halls of Valhalla” I wanted to portray the Valkyries as true death-maidens rather than generic (and cliched) fantasy figures.

In my search I landed upon some artwork on the Internet. Just wanted to share some of them with you here. I never used them as inspiration. I already had that. But I looked at them closely after I had written the story to see if I could find inklings of that fierce death-maiden aspect I was going for.

Ride of the Valkyries by Miss Velance

Ride of the Valkyries by Miss Velance

 

Valkyrie by Avery Annarose

Valkyrie by Avery Annarose

 

The Dises by Hardy

The Dises by Hardy

 

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I have no credit for this last image, but it brought to mind the tone and darker atmosphere I was searching for in the story.

Assassin’s Gambit by Amy Raby (review)

I am not a big fan of romance. I don’t think much of most fantasy, either, because a lot of it draws too much on what has been done before and comes off as lazy. It feeds upon itself too much, especially when it comes to plot and motivation and the world the characters are supposed to inhabit.

All too often much of romance and fantasy is cardboard characters stomping through yet another two-dimensional background. Popular?15808673 Extremely popular. Do these kinds of stories bring anything new to the literary world? No, not much, or rarely, nor are they expected to. So everyone wins. I guess.

Is Amy Raby’s Assassin’s Gambit one of these kinds of stories? Nope. Not even close.

Not that it’s easy to find new plots and develop them with twists that engage and surprise the reader. As a professional writer I realize there is no such thing as a new plot. Even Assassin’s Gambit by Raby, her first fantasy romance novel, doesn’t do that, nor does it set out to prove otherwise.

In Raby’s novel a beautiful assassin named Vitala Salonius (with a tragic past) is sent to, well, assassinate an emperor and ends up falling in love with him. She’s a Caturanga champion, a game much more complex than chess and one which mirrors the social and political machinations and upheavals of the world she lives in.  As you might guess the lovers battle intrigue and powerful political forces arrayed against them. Shades of From Russia, With Love at least as far as the basic plot line goes. Serviceable and robust.

So far so good. But Raby does something extra here which I find very welcome and wish more writers would take the time to do. She builds a world. More than that, her world and its culture and its unique magic system isn’t copy/pasted from some other novel or cliched background. She did a lot of research and homework for this novel, and it shows. And, boy, does it work.

It’s not often I become so immersed in a novel I stop reading critically and just read and enjoy the novel for what it is. But this is what happened to me with Assassin’s Gambit and it was a welcome change.

I read it in one sitting. You know how often I do that? Maybe once a year. So this novel was my quota for 2013. Seeing as how good this story was, I can live with that.

Amy Raby, author of Assassin's GambitI really like Raby’s magic system and how it all hangs together. Nor does Raby ignore the cultural impact her magic has on social and political institutions or the burgeoning gunpowder tech which is being developed. What’s more, the world she presents is itself multicultural, and within those cultures there are opposing factions. She doesn’t pull any punches, either, given the set up. She shows the racism and fear and hate and distrust you would expect.

It’s a believable world. I like that. As a professional writer….I like that a lot.

But aside from all that, which is considerable, I like how Raby subverts. From the cover of this novel of a pretty lady with wind in her hair, to the blurb (In the struggle for power, nothing is safe…not even her heart) you figure, “Okay, this is a fantasy romance which is maybe kinda heavy on the romance. I’ll test the water with my toe.”

And at first when you start reading it does read like a standard romance. But then Raby pulls a fast one, and this is why I liked the novel so much because not only was it subversive, it was dangerous.

It’s almost like Raby was laughing behind her hand a little and saying, “Do I have your attention? Good. Let’s get to what this story is really about.”

She pulls it off with aplomb. In essence, the novel stops being a traditional romance in an exotic setting and turns into a hard hitting fantasy tale that examines how (and more importantly why) two broken people are able to love and trust one another…while in the meantime killing some bad guys who really need killing.

Is the novel without fault? No. There are too many adverbs, too many exclamation marks (one per novel, please and thank you) and I personally would have liked it to be darker. But then again I wasn’t writing it so what do I know. I also thought Vitala made a crucial decision in a bean field that wasn’t true to her original motivation. (Although I do understand and sympathize with Raby’s limitations regarding Vitala’s decision.)

Finally, the novel actually ends on the penultimate chapter, and quite strongly, too. But, once more, Raby is playing with us a little here and it’s as if she says, “Okie doke, this is supposed to be a romance, so here ya go, one last chapter.”

I liked this novel a lot. It was damn good. Yes, it is a romance. A very good one. The characters are memorable and I found myself lost in the world. You can’t ask for more than that.

Give it a peek.

Fishing the Styx: Moby-Dick and Dante’s Inferno, with horror and revenge served cold in Hell….

As a writer I like all my stories. I would not submit them for publication if I felt they had nothing to give readers. But I have to admit there are some stories that are very important to me for one reason or another. “Fishing the Styx” is such a story.

I have always loved reading Dante’s Inferno and Melville’s Moby-Dick. They are my favorite classics ever. But I got to thinking about what might be living in the River Styx…and what would happen if you actuallywent fishing for it….

I don’t want to say much more about this unusual story. I will leave it for you to discover what it’s all about. It scared me when I was writing it, and I hope it make you feel the same way after you read it. It’s being put out by Argo Navis Publishing and is available on Kindle. I do hope you give this story a read and leave a review. I honestly hope you like it a lot.

 

Fishing the Styx: A new short SF story from Argo Navis Publishing!

Product Description: “If you can imagine a mashup of Dante’s Inferno with Melville’s Moby Dick, with a little mathematical horseplay along for the ride, maybe you might come close to imagining “Fishing the River Styx”.

“Kisa, a former Russian mathematician is in Hell because that’s what happens to nearly everyone, ferried there from earth by the great Leviathan that swims the mobius strip that is the river Styx, which borders the infnity that is Hell. Enraged by the blatant injustice of it all, Kisa decides to do something about it, and that something is to hunt and kill the Leviathan itself.

“But as the demon Talon points out, “Hell isn’t about punishment. It’s about learning.” So maybe Kisa has something yet to learn. Or not. You have to decide that for yourself. After all, demons lie.” —Richard Parks, fantasist and SF author

Yay! Free Argo Navis Bookmarks!

Argo Navis Publishing will be adding new content over the coming months and years. Please bookmark them and follow them on Twitter @ArgoNavisMedia for  the latest updates.

In the meantime here are bookmarks for you to share and link with. Thanks!


Huh. So this is what relaxation is like? I like it.

Last night I played a little bit of LOTRO. I haven’t played any computer games for months and months. I have had no time. I’ve spent so much of my energy lately into writing (and all the facets that go into that) I have had no time for anything else.

It’s hurt me, I think. I have been so focused on writing I have lost track of other things and been unable to relax. It took an hour and a half of online gaming last night to make me realize that. For 90 minutes I didn’t have to think about writing, or marketing, or publishing, or editing, or story content, or…well, you get the idea. I could just put it all behind me and relax.

It was kind of nice. Maybe I should make Sunday night a regular thing to play some online stuff if for no other reason than to get my mind off all this writing stuff that, let’s face it, is beginning to feel like an anchor around my neck.

Other writers know what I mean. We get to a point, it seems, where everything we do is related to writing. I can’t remember the last time I read something for pleasure. No matter what I read I am always approaching it as a writer and wondering why the person used this tone, or did this certain thing with the characters and whatnot. I read critically, but I very rarely read for pleasure anymore. I miss that. I miss that a lot.

So that’s why I enjoyed my little time playing my Hobbit character Wobblefoot on LOTRO last night. Just messing around, not doing anything specific, but being able to put all the writing concerns on the back burner and get away mentally and physically.

I guess the trick is if I will remember to do this in the future or will I get stuck back in a writing rut and let the anchor drag me down farther….?

Halloween Haunt w/Pics (Update)

Here are some more pics of what we have waiting for the TOTs. Still a work in progress but our main goal is to scare the hell out of them  give them a thrill!

This is hanging in the entrance to the Skeleton Wedding Feast room. How many brave TOTs will walk past it? And yet they must if they wish to get candy!

This Scarecrow outside is part of the graveyard theme. Trust me, he’s awesome at night with his glowing lantern and his tattered black cloak blowing in the wind.

The Scarecrow is holding a silver vampire head. Come on, how cool is that?

The TOTs also have to get past this ghoul. Good luck with that! Imagine it at night, with lights placed for best effect of illumination and shadow, and with strobes here and there.

This is just the beginning of the Spider Graveyard. I will have the entire tree webbed up with big spiders crawling around it. Many, many more headstones to come, too. This is just the beginning.

I’ll have more pics up for you soon. Keep checking back. Thanks!

Theater 13 Radio Broadcasting OTR Horror, Mystery, and Suspense on 100 Channels!

Theater 13 Radio has upgraded. We are now broadcasting Old Time Radio programming on 100 channels. We hope this will alleviate any bottlenecking issues listeners experienced when they tried to log on with our old 50 channel system. We are still broadcasting at 24K and are considering an upgrade there as well.

Do you like Old Time Radio? We are your one stop for vintage Horror, Suspense and Dark Fantasy radio programming. Please, check us out and don’t forget to bookmark our site. And please tell your friends! :)

Come join Mistress Zarella for the finest in Old Time Radio programming!

Ginger Snaps: Not the Cookie, the Werewolf

I like werewolf movies.  No, let me rephrase that.  I like good werewolf movies.  My favorite is The Wolfman (1941) with Lon Chaney, Jr.  And from a writerly perspective it gives me a tickle to know the writer of that film, Curt Siodmak, made most of thGinger and Brigittee werewolf tropes out of whole cloth.  But they’re as accepted today as any legend.  And it’s hard to pass up a late night showing on TCM with Chaney’s tour de force  performance in Frankensteim Meets the Wofman (1943).  That final scene of the dam breaking and flooding Frankenstein’s lab while the fur flies is one of the best in the genre.  Not to mention the fact Maria Ouspenskaya appears in both films; she’s always a treat to watch with her heavy accent and sorrowful, brooding manner.  Great fun.

But some years back I came across a trilogy that I immediately fell in love with, and, boy, are they great.

It’s the Ginger Snaps trilogy.  Never heard of it?  I’m not surprised.  They were indies shot in Canada which gives them a different feel both in tone and emotional texture than the slickly produced cartoonish efforts we see out of Hollywood.

The first movie, Ginger Snaps, dwells on two sisters who decide that if one of them dies the other will kill herself.  There’s the usual teenage angst and sexual awakening you would expect to see in a film about  a 16 and 15 year old sisters.  But Ginger Snaps ties those deep and powerful emotions into a stWhat's a girl to do when she has to hide her werewolf tail from the kids at school?ylish reworking of the werewolf mythos.   So when Ginger gets the bite, her sister, Brigitte, must do everything she can to protect her.  It’s a stylish film with a look and dialogue that really pushes the limits both in context and what we thought we knew about werewolves.  And you won’t need a silver bullet to whack one, because as Brigitte observes, a big knife will do since “they aren’t superheroes.”  Classic.

Of course, things start going downhill fast for the sisters.  Dogs start disappearing.  Ginger suddenly has a huge craving for meat.  When a tail appears she and Brigitte have to duct-tape it to her leg.  Well, no one ever said being a wolf-girl was easy.

The second movie is called Ginger Snaps: Unleashed.  Here’s where the trilogy takes a very unexpected turn.  Ordinarily, there would just be much more blood-spattering and chomping in a sequel like this.  Not so with the Ginger movies.  Now Brigitte is in an insane asylum, waiting for the curse to take hold of her while she wrestles with a horrific decision she had to make in the original film.  This movie dwells more on the psychological aspect of wolfdom than the usual crunching of bone by the light of a silvery moon.  Oh, and there’s a male werewolf out there who  wants to mate with Brigitte if she would just hurry up and let the transformation take its natural course.

Just when you think you’re safe, the thirThe faimily that howls together stays together. d movie, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning is actually a prequel to the other two.  Better yet, you aren’t sure if this is a parallel universe, an alternate history, or the beginning of an eternal curse involving these two young women.  Maybe it’s all three.  It doesn’t matter because the sisters are together again in 19th Century Canada in the dead of winter and they’ve come upon a fort while packs of hungry wolves roam the frozen countryside.  Hang on tight to a friend when you watch this one because it’s a doozy.

The Ginger Snaps movies.   You should check them out even if you’re not a werewolf fan.  It’s great story arc filled with pathos and sharp humor and biting (pun intended) dialogue. Enjoy!

Suspension of Disbelief: Not the Rubicon You Thought It Was

The more I study opera the more I learn about suspension of disbelief at least as far as writing goes, and the human propensity for engaging in it.

Suspension of disbelief is a big thing in opera.  It’s a natural given you are to suspend a lot of disbelief so the opera can move on.  So what if the woman singing the role of a Viking is Asian?  So what if two characters meet and fall in love in five seconds to set up the tragic ending?  So what if a brother and sister, from the very same parents, are black and white?  So what if Brunnhilde’s horse, Grane, NEVER makes an appearance during Gotterdammerung, even when she sings an aria to him and leads him into the funeral pyre at the end?

It doesn’t matter.  You take it on faith Grane is there even if you don’t see him.

Now I’m not saying you can get away with this sort of blatant disregard in fiction.  You can’t.  But you can get away with a hell of a lot besides.  Fantasy is chock full of stuff like this: magic, dragons, elves, demons, etc.  SF is, too: time machines, faster-than-light spacecraft, stellar empires.  All that stuff is garbage.  The physical limitations the universe imposes upon these tropes are real and immutable.  You can’t travel faster than the speed of light because it violates causality. Period.  But we happily accept FTL spacecraft and other nonsense elements like telepathy for the sake of the story.  That’s suspension of disbelief on both the part of the writer and the reader.

And that’s what fascinates me from a human perspective.  Our willingness, or innate need, to want to believe things that are manifestly and demonstrably not true intrigues me.  Okay, you can kind of understand why someone would want to do it in order to be entertained.  They are entering a contract with the writer when they pick up a story. But you can’t cross that line in such a way the story jolts them out of that prepared place they’ve put themselves in.  Opera gets away with a hell of a lot, more than written fiction can, and I’ve yet to understand why, though I suspect it is because reading is entirely mental and opera has dependent qualities of visual and aural cues married to imagination.  But both depend on the audience willing to put aside some degree of skepticism so the story can continue in a logical way. That’s the important thing to remember.

I guess what I’m trying to say is people can be manipulated a lot easier than I originally believed.  That’s a pretty strong lesson for any writer to have learned, and I’m glad I have learned it.  Though there are still boundaries you can’t cross, suspension of disbelief is not the Rubicon I once thought it was.

Tangled – Animated Hair Fetish by Disney (movie review)

The story of Rapunzel is one of my favorite Grimms’ fairy tale. The original story and many of its variations are quite dark. In the original story the prince calls for Rapunzel to let down her hair and sees her on the sly. One day she lets slip that her dress is getting too tight around her waist. (She’s pregnant.) Gothel, the woman who kidnapped Rapunzel, traps the prince when he returns. He falls from the tower and lands in thorns, either blinding him or killing him outright depending on which cultural interpretation you read.

Now I don’t expect Disney to tell a story like that. It is Disney after all and the lost princess must remain virginal – while at the same time having an unusually close relationship with the animals around her. And, yes, the guy she loves in Tangled undergoes a life-changing (literally!) experience in the end. But for all that, I didn’t like this movie as much. And I wanted to like it because as a writer I see a lot of potential in the basic story of Rapunzel. Rapunzel empowered

First, this movie came apart for me at the level of the story. There were good parts to it, but overall the story didn’t do it for me. I liked many elements but once again I felt as if I was watching another formulaic effort from Disney. Captured/lonely princess. Check. Evil grandmother/stepmother. Check. Funny and helpful animals. Check.  Handsome single man comes into her life. Check. Beautiful background and story boardinng. Check. But there has to be more than that. We’ve seen all this before. There has to be a story that grabs us. We’re not all eleven year old girls, Disney. Come on. Get out of the rut.

Perfect example. In the beginning of the movie Rapunzel’s mother is ill and needs a magic plant to heal her so Rapunzel can be born. But in the original fairy tale the mother needs lettuce (sometimes it’s parsley) and the king makes a deal with Gothel in which he hands over the baby to save the life of the queen. Now that’s pretty dark right there. Even if he is motivated by saving the life of his queen, and must be forced to make that choice, Disney doesn’t tell it that way. In this retelling, Gothel steals the baby from its crib. We lose whole subterranean plots and motivations in this one move. Gothel kidnaps the baby because she’s evil and greedy. It’s Disney. Of course she is evil and greedy.

Finally, for the prince, in which this case it’s a lovable thief, well, he serves the same function as all other love interests in Disney animated films. He’s a plot point. Albeit a funny one in this case, and one in which Disney worked to flesh out — but still a plot point. After all, Rapunzel has to eventually give her virginity to somebody, and it’s not going to be that chameleon that rides her shoulder or Maximus the palace horse. Thus, we have the prince/thief/substitute-male figure who comes into her life in order to round out the story.

As far as the character of Rapunzel herself, I did like her a lot. She went through the motions we expect her to and we’re on her side. The sight gags of her doing things with her hair were funny and the running gag with the frying pan was cute. We like her and we want her to win her freedom and her love in the end. But the story that surrounds her doesn’t click. It’s not the story that allows her to find true happiness, it’s Disney that makes it come true. Just like always. And so the movie loses a lot of its impact right there because we are never frightened for Rapunzel. Come to think of it, we are never frightened by any Disney movies anymore. Which was not always the case. Disney used to have a reputation of showing some fairly dark things on screen. Or at least stories that demanded, and gave, emotional investment and experience.

We don’t get that at all with Tangled.

Part of the problem, I think, is the animation. Sometimes it is absolutely gorgeous…and sometimes we are taken aback by how bad it looks and the jerks and stopRapunzel gets tangled in Tangleds between scenes. To be sure there are many nice scenes (from an artistic perspective) in this film. The scene where the dam bursts, the dance in the market square, the flight of the paper lanterns all stand out. The clothing and texture of trees and stone and water are phenomenal. But the characters themselves…well, sometimes they look kind of rubbery. Like walking dolls made out of wax. I was disappointed in that. If you’re going to go the limit to make clothing have proper texture, and move correctly upon the frame, then why not make the skin and shading on the characters more realistic as well?

The music was another big let down. None of the songs were memorable. Even Rapunzel’s healing song doesn’t stick with you, and that song, more than any other, ties the arc of the film together. Most of the humor works and some falls flat. But that’s Disney and that’s their trademark and they’re not going to let it go no matter how much we groan. At least we see some effort at background and characterization for many of the secondary characters. That helps round out many of the other flaws.

Not surprisingly, the one character that really stands out (and takes the stage away from Rapunzel when they’re together) is Gothel. This is where Disney shines.  If there’s one thing Disney knows it’s “evil stepmother” and how to represent her as a multi-facted and three-dimensional character who is cruel, cunning, and manipulative. As much as I like Rapunzel, and the idea of story potential about Rapunzel, as a professional writer I am here to tell you that a story about Gothel is much more interesting. But, once again, we are limited by Disney and the parameters they set up for every film they make. We will never see a story about Gothel, or Rapunzel for that matter, the way it should be told from Disney. It’s not what they do.

As I said earlier I really wanted to like this film. But there’s too much missing or awkward about it, or worse yet, formulaic. Tangled was billed as the 50th animated film by Disney. In all that time they have made groundbreaking strides in the technical department. But the story of Tangled is like every other Lonely Princess story we’ve seen from Disney and that, more than anything else, is why I can’t recommend it.

Gothel shows off her deep seated hair fetish

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