Check This Out: Mythos

With me on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. If you’re a follower of his blog, City Jackdaw, you know that he’s a poet who released a collection of poems called Heading North, published by Nordland in December 2015. We talked about that here on the blog. Now, Andy is here to talk about the short stories he contributed to Mythos, the second volume in the Northlore series, published by Nordland in December 2016. (By the way, Andy contributed a short story and a poem to Folklore, the first volume of the series.) Stick around after the interview to learn how you can get your hands on Mythos.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I’m at least six-generation Mancunian. 2. I knew my wife for twenty-six years before we got together. I play the long game. 3. I’m vegetarian. 4. Despite my name, I don’t like tennis!

El Space: What interested you about writing stories for this second volume? When I read the premise, I couldn’t help thinking of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m also reminded of Juliet Marillier’s Bridei Chronicles, in which the author mentions the Picts’ desire to hang on to their religion as Christianity moves forward in the land.
Andy: Well, I knew that the Northlore series was a planned trilogy of books, and being a part of volume one was such a positive experience I wanted to be a part of the succeeding book. Folklore was a great collection of prose and poetry, with something for everyone, and Mythos feels like a step up. They complement each other perfectly.
I’m not familiar with Bridei Chronicles, but I know what you mean about American Gods. The stories in Mythos are arranged in chronological order, in many different locations, and some of them are indeed set in modern America. The premise of the collection is that with the advent of Christianity the old gods knew that their time had come and they withdrew, but they didn’t cease to be. These are their continuing stories.

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El Space: What was the inspiration behind your stories, “Into the Storm” and “Saga”?
Andy: My wife and I used to be foster carers. A private tutor used to visit the house to give extra tuition to a teenage girl who was living with us. Through no fault of her own she had missed out on a lot of schooling and was behind many of the students in her class. In a bid to encourage her English, the tutor decided to set a writing competition for the whole family. My wife was mortified. She stipulated that our stories could be about anything, but had to bear the title ‘Holes’. I came up with a story set in the Somme of the First World War, you know: foxholes, shell holes, etc. But also a depiction of how some people seemed not to be made in the same way as others, as though there were pieces missing from their character and they were riddled with holes. I can’t recall how exactly I put it now, but it was along those lines. Anyway, I had that story lying around, and when I saw the call for submissions for Mythos, I took it and adapted it in a way that fit Nordland’s criteria. ‘Holes became ‘Into The Storm‘.

‘Saga‘ was born on a half hour bus journey from Manchester to my hometown. I was sat on the upstairs deck, daydreaming. This is how I sometimes get lines for my poetry. In my reverie, these spontaneous lines crossed my mind:

She asked me to write a four word love story:
she came home early.
She asked me to write a four word horror story:
she came home early.

I don’t know where this came from. Do we ever, really? But I began to think about it. How ‘she came home early’ could fit both love and horror stories, and what they implied. But, more importantly, I began to wonder about who ‘she’ was who was doing the asking. By the time I reached my destination I had the story finished in my head, but not trusting my memory I jotted down the outline on the Notes part of my mobile phone.

El Space: In a 1957 interview with Truman Capote [photo below] in The Paris Review, Capote said, “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.” How would you respond to this?
Andy: Well, I love Capote, and I know that he was a very disciplined and methodical writer. I’m also reminded of Dylan Thomas referring to ‘my craft or sullen art’. In contrast with these two huge figures, though it may sound simplistic all I can say is that I write the type of fiction and poetry that I would like to read, and endeavour to make them the best that I can.

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El Space: When it comes to short story writing, which comes first for you: a character; a situation/plot; or an image? Any of the above? None of the above? I mentioned image, because C.S. Lewis once explained that the image of a faun with an umbrella came to his mind way before he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Andy: A faun with an umbrella—that’s pretty cool! I wonder if he was on a bus? 🙂 I think for me the gist of the story comes first. I have in mind the kind of thing that I want to say, and in pondering on how to realise this everything else is born.

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El Space: What was your introduction to writing?
Andy: As a child I loved books, and loved writing too. My primary school teacher expressed concern to my mother one parent’s evening about the type of books that I read—James Herbert, Stephen King. But I later learnt that that same teacher used to pass my stories around the staff room for the other teachers to read. On my last day, before leaving for high school, she wrote in my autograph book ‘I hope you manage to get a book published one day‘. I tried to track her down recently to present her with a copy of Heading North, but was unable to find her. I’ve not given up, though.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I’m actually on the second draft of a novel at the moment, provisionally called ‘Seasons On The Hill‘. It is about life on a northern housing estate, as seen through the eyes of different, interacting characters. The estate in question is actually a fictionalised version of where I live. Although none of the characters are based on real people, many of the situations involved really happened. Maybe with a little embellishment. Part humour; part tragedy. The stuff of life, yes?

El Space: Yes! Thanks, Andy, for being my guest!
Andy: Thank you Linda for this opportunity. As I saw someone comment recently upon one of your posts: you’re such an enabler!

El Space: Aw. I’m just glad people want to stop by here. 🙂

If you’re looking for Andy, head to Facebook and his blog.

You can find Mythos at Amazon. But one of you will find it in your mailbox or on your tablet. How? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner TBA on February 4.

Mythos cover from the Northland website. Other book covers from Goodreads. Truman Capote photo from biography.com.

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Every Dad Has His Day: Fiction’s Father Figures

016Here in the U.S., we celebrated Father’s Day on Sunday. (Happy Father’s Day again, Dad! And I hope all of you other dads had a good one too.) Though the day has passed, in honor of Father’s Day, here’s a list of cool dads or surrogate dads in fiction. This list is by no means exhaustive. I don’t have enough room to list every great dad in the history of fiction books, shows, or movies. Most of these are characters of recent vintage. So please do not yell at me for leaving out an era. I wanted to include dads from various media and eras. While they aren’t perfect by any means, they are beloved. To avoid too many spoilers, I listed their names, rather than elaborate on why most of them made this list. Got a favorite? Who would you add to the list?

Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling (played by Gary Oldman in the movies)
Arthur Weasley, father of Ron, Ginny, Fred, George, Percy, Bill, and Charlie in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (played by Mark Williams in the movies)
Atticus Finch, father of Jem (not seen below) and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (played by Gregory Peck in the film)

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Hans Hubermann, surrogate father of Liesel, in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (played by Geoffrey Rush in the film)
Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), father of Margo, Edith, and Agnes in Despicable Me (2010) and Despicable Me 2 (2013). Even a supervillain can grow to love a child.
Eduardo Perez (El Macho) (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), father of Antonio in Despicable Me 2 (2013). He may be a villain, but he loves his son. And have you seen this dude dance? Me gusta mucho.
Tenzin (voiced by J. K. Simmons), father of Jinora, Ikki, Meelo, and Rohan (not seen below) in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014).

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King Théoden, father of Théodred; uncle and surrogate father of Éomer and Éowyn in The Two Towers and The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (played by Bernard Hill in the 2002 and 2003 films)
Lawrence Fletcher (voiced by Richard O’Brien), father of Ferb, stepfather of in Candace and Phineas in Phineas and Ferb (2007—2015).
Tonraq (voiced by James Remar), father of Korra in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014). He certainly wins a prize for being a hot dad. 🙂

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Korra with her parents, Tonraq and Senna

Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (voiced by Dan Povenmire), father of Vanessa in Phineas and Ferb (2007—2015). Though a villain, he too is a caring dad.
Elrond, father of Elladan, Elrohir, and Arwen in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series by Tolkien
The Great Prince of the Forest (voiced by Fred Shields), surrogate dad of Bambi in Bambi (1942)

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The Abhorsen, father of Sabriel in Sabriel by Garth Nix
Mr. Ping (voiced by James Hong), adoptive father of Po in Kung Fu Panda (2008) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Philip Banks (played by James Avery), father of Hilary, Carlton, and Ashley; uncle to Will in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990—1996)

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George Banks (played by Steve Martin), father of Annie in the Father of the Bride (1991)
Iroh (voiced by Mako Iwamatsu and Greg Baldwin), father of Prince Lu Ten, uncle to Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender series (2005—2008)
The Samurai Lord (voiced by Keone Young and Sab Shimono), father of Samurai Jack in Samurai Jack (2001—2004)
Ward Cleaver (played by Hugh Beaumont) father of Theodore/the Beaver and Wally in Leave It to Beaver (1957—1963)
Dr. Eli Vance (voiced by Robert Guillaume), father of Alyx, in the Half-Life games (Valve)
George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), father of Zuzu, Tommy, Pete, and Janie in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Honorable mention goes to Homer Simpson (voiced by Dan Castellaneta), father of Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, and Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer), father of Rod and Todd, in the long-running animated series, The Simpsons (1989— ).

Dads Who Seriously Need Parenting Lessons from the Dads Above
Anakin Skywalker, father of Luke and Leia in the Star Wars movies. An otter can teach this dude a thing or two.
Firelord Ozai, father of Prince Zuko and Princess Azula in Avatar: The Last Airbender series (2005—2008)

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See that burn mark on Zuko (left)? Guess who gave it to him.

King Lear in King Lear by William Shakespeare
King Leck, father of Bitterblue in Kristin Cashore’s Seven Kingdoms series. As creepy a dad as ever breathed.
Denethor, father of Boromir (not shown below) and Faramir in The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (books and movies; in the 2003 movie directed by Peter Jackson, Denethor was played by John Noble)

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Someone is not getting a Father’s Day card. . . .

Mac Dara, father of Cathal, in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series
Unalaq (voiced by Adrian LaTourelle), father of Desna and Eska in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014)
Lucius Malfoy, father of Draco in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (played by Jason Isaacs in the films). Though he was a decent enough father to Draco, his unpleasantness and Death Eater status earned him a spot on this list.

If you have a minute, please enjoy this video of an otter who was voted Best Dad.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch found at searchingformymrdarcy.blogspot. Tenzin found on pinterest.com. The Great Prince of the Forest and Bambi found at fanpop.com. Denethor (John Noble) with Faramir (David Wenham) found at councilofelrond.com. Firelord Ozai and Zuko found at avatar.wikia.com. Gru and his daughters from bonclass.blogspot.com. Korra and her parents from w3rkshop.com. James Avery and Will Smith from tuneblaze.co.uk.

Check This Out: A Gift of Shadows

Welcome back to the blog where my guest today is the très fabuleuse Stephanie Stamm. She’s here to talk about A Gift of Shadows, book 2 of her Light-Bringer trilogy, which launches today!

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Woot! Here’s a synopsis:

shadows_promoSome Gifts come in Dark packages.

The Making gave her wings, but two months later, Lucky’s Gift has yet to appear. When it finally does, she’s in Lilith’s Dark world, and the Gift comes as a deadly power that causes Lucky to question everything she thinks she knows about herself. Her only support is her boyfriend’s brother. While Lucky struggles with her Gift and her feelings for Kev, tensions escalate between Dark and Light, and the barriers between worlds start to fail. Can Lucky and the Fallen find their way through the deepening shadows?

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Jordie received a dark package and wonders if his Gift is in it. Or is this just a gift?

Um, moving on, isn’t that cover très cool? But wait. There’s more. You can have this very book, thanks to a giveaway I’ll mention after I talk with Stephanie.

Happy-Release-DayEl Space: Happy Release Day! Though you’ve been on the blog before, I still have to ask you to supply four quick facts about yourself.
Stephanie: I can pretty much live on different kinds of soup during the winter.
I’ve never been able to write a fast first draft without editing as I go.
I’m fascinated with psychology, spirituality, and the inner journey.
I get cranky when I’m too busy to have time to read fiction.

El Space: Tell us about this next part of Lucky’s journey. Nonspoilery of course. 🙂 How has Lucky grown?
Stephanie: Lucky has gotten stronger, tougher. She’s impatient to learn more. She has more agency. In the first book, she was more reactive, doing what she had to in response to what happened around her and to her. In A Gift of Shadows, she acts as well as reacts and makes more independent choices, some of which cause problems for her.

El Space: How has your world expanded in this book?
Stephanie: Lucky spends some time in Lilith’s world in this book. There, she learns more about Lilith and Luil and makes some friends and some enemies. Kev gets to explore more of the Dark and Light Realms. Some events still take place in Chicago, but the larger world Lucky now knows she’s a part of starts impacting the city as well.

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El Space: This is the middle book of your trilogy. What did you find challenging about writing a bridge book?
Stephanie: Recapping enough of the first book to refresh the reader’s memory without restating too much, and at the same time setting up for problems to come in the third book, while still wrapping up enough to give a sense of an ending. It really was a challenge. Whenever I found myself struggling, I took comfort in the comments I’ve read or heard from other trilogy authors about the difficulty of writing that middle book.

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El Space: In an interview with urban fantasy authors Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn here, the interviewer asked them to respond to the accusation that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy. How would you respond to that allegation? Remarks like that make my blood boil, by the way.
Stephanie: I’m picturing a “No Girls Allowed” sign tacked on a tree house.

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I’m not sure what it even means to “destroy” a genre. I would assume the people who make those accusations are referring to the growth of paranormal romance novels. I would call that an expansion of the urban fantasy genre, not a destruction of it. And the popular novelists in both urban fantasy and paranormal romance have both male and female fans.

men-vs-womenSome male writers have long complained that women can’t write science fiction—leading to the distinction between “hard” and “soft” SF, a not-so-subtle gendering through adjectives. The claim that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy is just a continuation of that argument, and it rests on an unquestioned evaluation of the “male” or “hard” version of SF as somehow better than so-called “soft” SF. The supporters of that claim seem to me to be fearfully clinging to their particular idea of what the genres can or should be, instead of allowing those genres to encompass whatever authors can bring to them. Frankly, I don’t even understand how one genre—or sub-genre—can be threatened by another. Each sub-genre will have its own readers and fans, some of which may cross over to the other. Seems like a win-win to me.

Incidentally, I loved Kelley Armstrong’s YA Darkness Rising series.

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Dont Stereotype MeEl Space: I agree with you! What stereotypes, if any, bother you in sci-fi/fantasy? How does your series challenge those stereotypes?
Stephanie: I’m bothered by the helpless or over-sexualized female. That’s changed in a lot of contemporary writing, with the kickass heroine becoming more of a norm. While the strength of that kickass heroine is a move forward, she can become a female version of the male idea of toughness, where any show of vulnerability is “feminine” or “weak.” The willingness to be vulnerable actually exhibits a different kind of strength. I tried to write female characters who are both tough and vulnerable. And I tried to write male characters who are both as well.

I’m also troubled by female characters who see other females as rivals instead of friends. I wanted to show strong female friendships in this book too. Romance is more central in Shadows than it was in Wings, but those female friendships are also very important.

El Space: What’s next after this series for you?
Stephanie: I’m incubating the seeds of a standalone fantasy novel based on figures from two different ancient religious traditions. I’ve got some research to do to figure out exactly where that book could go and how it will be shaped.

I also want to spend some time working on poetry, polishing some existing poems for submission and writing new ones.

Thanks, Stephanie, for visiting! You’re always welcome.

And thank you to all who dropped by. Since you’re here, check out this book trailer for A Gift of Shadows:

Looking for Stephanie? Look for her at her website and on Facebook. A Gift of Shadows is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Also, the eBook for A Gift of Wings is on sale for $0.99 to celebrate the holidays and the release of Shadows. You can get A Gift of Wings at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You can be entered in the drawing to win one of two prizes Stephanie is offering—a paperback or an eBook of A Gift of Shadows—just by commenting below. And just because Christmas is around the corner, I’m offering a second eBook of A Gift of Shadows to a commenter. If you like, share with us your favorite female science fiction or fantasy author. I’ll start with some of my favorites: Lois McMaster Bujold, Juliet Marillier, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, and Robin McKinley. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, December 16.

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A Gift of Shadows has the Supervillain Seal of Approval.

A Gift of Shadows cover courtesy of Stephanie Stamm. The Rising cover from Goodreads. Book release image from mywrittenromance.com. Books from bellschool.org. No girls sign from whispermumstheword.com. Men vs. women sign from diniprathivi.wordpress.com. Christmas ornaments from ezdecorating.blogspot.com.

Do You Believe in Magic?

I wasn’t going to post today, but the thoughts were fresh in my mind, thanks to a conversation with a friend, and couldn’t be ignored. I’m in a rather soapboxy mood, so feel free to tune in or tune out.

Remember in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion discovered the “wizard” hiding behind the curtain? This “wizard” tried to play it off by his warning to them to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

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Too late. He’d already been exposed as a complete sham—a humbug, according to the Scarecrow. He didn’t have a drop of magic within him, and couldn’t really give them what they desired—a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man, courage for the Cowardly Lion, and a trip home for Dorothy—except through nonmagical means. But there was magic in Oz. The witches proved that. Later, even the humbug wizard gained magic. You have to read Baum’s Oz books to learn how. Yet the man-behind-the-curtain notion is still pervasive in our day and age.

We live in a cynical age. We’re used to reality TV and news reports that take us “behind the curtain” by debunking magic acts or exposing as frauds politicians and authors who claim they’re telling a “true” story while making up key facts. We’re tired of the lies, aren’t we? If there’s a man behind the curtain, we want to know!

Sometimes we take this mindset to the books we read. As adults we learn to “put away childish things” like believing there are fairies in our backyard or that dogs can talk in order to embrace reality. That’s why we categorize fairy tales and other such stories as stories of childhood, rather than for adults. If we happen to pick up a fantasy book, the use of magic is severely scrutinized, slapped with a deus ex machina label, or written off as “convenient” if it doesn’t seem “realistic” enough to suit our adult sensibilities.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanYou know what? I for one have had quite enough of the search for the man behind the curtain. This doesn’t mean I plan to bury my head in the sand and totally ignore reality or reality-based fiction. It means I’m going to continue to unabashedly cherish those stories that take me to magical places or to ordinary places that seem magical, and then try my best to offer that kind of journey through my own writing. The stories I loved as a child I still love as an adult. Grimm’s Fairy Tales has a prominent place on my shelf, not hidden underneath the bookcase out of fear that someone will check my bookshelves and ask about what I’m reading. I’m a firm believer in story magic. I love miraculous escapes and magical derring-do. And many of you do too. I wasn’t the only adult reading Harry Potter’s adventures.

I love the fact that authors like J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Holly Black, Juliet Marillier, Jaclyn Moriarty, Charles Yallowitz, Caroline Carlson, K. L. Schwengel and many others are unapologetic in the use of magic in their stories. If you haven’t already, you might check out Moriarty’s Colors of Madeleine series; Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere series; Carlson’s The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series; or K. L. Schwengel’s Darkness & Light series.

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Or consider stories like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, The September books by Catherynne Valente, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and other books that remind you of the magic (and sometimes sadness) of childhood. Be willing to suspend your disbelief and leave your cynicism at the door as you take a journey through these pages.

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Do you believe in magic? I do. I still believe in the power of stories to transform us and transport us to unforgettable places. Do you?

Oz photo from takaiguchi.com. Book covers from Goodreads.

Three Is a Magic Number?

Hope you had a joyous Easter!

Before the snow I wrote about in a previous post came and went like a drive-by shooter, a friend’s mom gave me these from her garden:

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Pretty, huh? But would you say this arrangement is more satisfying than it would have been had there been only two daffodils?

Number-3-iconAccording to the Rule of Three, the answer is yes.

The rule of Three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. (Wikipedia)

Want some more on that? Here you go:

The Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three. (Wikipedia again)

You’ve seen this rule played out in literature: for example, stories have a beginning, middle, and an end; the three-act structure of a work (setup, confrontation, and resolution); three tasks someone has to perform in fairy tales; stories from the Brothers Grimm like “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes,” “The Water of Life,” and others involving three characters in specific situations (usually a quest); “God in three persons” (from the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy”); and trilogies like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell and many others.

Number-2-iconYet in regard to book writing, the magic number for me is two, rather than three. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against trilogies. I’ve read dozens of them. But I’m writing a duology.

How many duologies have you read? Probably not many, right? I can only think of a few duologies off the top of my head: one by Sherwood Smith, another by Robin McKinley (I’m still waiting on the second book of McKinley’s duology to debut), and a third by Juliet Marillier. (See, the rule of three still comes into play, even in a discussion of authors of duologies.)

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Many series I’ve read involve an uneven number of books, namely three, five, or seven books. Some dare to be even-numbered series, like Stephenie Meyer’s four-book Twilight series. But three is the popular choice.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked why I’ve chosen to write a duology, rather than a trilogy. I know. I’m violating the rule. Though I haven’t yet written the second book, the story arc as planned seems complete not with three books or five, but two.

7873172Sorry, trilogy lovers. I can’t stretch the story over three books just to satisfy a rule. If I might borrow the words of Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring (though he referred to himself), the story would

Feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. (Tolkien 54)

See what I mean? Bilbo understands.

My hat is off to the many, many writers who can pull off three good books. I’m not one of those writers. That’s why I’m glad to know that good things also come in twos. Think about it: two arms, two legs, two eyes. Do you feel incomplete because you lack a third eye or a third hand? My guess is, you don’t.

Are you a firm believer in the Rule of Three? Would you prefer to write a trilogy or a duology? What is your favorite trilogy? Duology? Sandwich? (I threw in the latter to see if you were paying attention.)

To show that there are no hard feelings between me and the number three, check out this Schoolhouse Rock video, “Three Is a Magic Number.”

Another good post on the Rule of Three: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleOfThree

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Ballantine Books, 1955. Print.

Numbers 2 and 3 images from iconarchive.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins photo from middle-earthencyclopedia.

Worth the Risk

Welcome to the blog! You might be eager to know who won the Shadowfell series. If that statement confuses you, check here and here for the interview with the always gracious author of the Shadowell series, Juliet Marillier. Book 3 debuts on Feburary 25 in Australia! (The U.S. debut is July 9. Check Juliet’s website for more details.)

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Without further ado, the winner is . . .

Sue Knight!

Congrats, Sue! To prove you’re a real person and not a Spambot, please confirm below, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide the email address attached to your Kindle, iPhone, iPad, or other eReader, and the country in which you live, since that will determine to which Amazon I will head. Because these are highly coveted books, if you haven’t at least confirmed by the end of February 25, I’ll have to choose another winner. Thanks again to all who commented.

On with the subject of this post (and it is a fitting one, since I was just discussing a great author like Juliet): blockbusters.

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Um, I don’t mean these . . .

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The other day, while reading the March 2014 issue of Game Informer, I stumbled upon a discussion of blockbusters in an interview Matt Helgeson conducted with Anita Elberse on her book, Blockbusters. Who’s she? I didn’t know either until I read the article. (I didn’t read the book.) She’s a professor at Harvard Business School and a marketing expert.

One of Anita’s comments jumped out at me:

[I]n order to be successful, it is probably best for content producers to make blockbuster bets. They should spend a disproportionate part of their budget on what they see as a handful of the most likely winners. But, the alternative strategy also feels intuitive to many people—a strategy in which content producers say, “It’s so incredibly hard to predict what’s going to work in the marketplace, we’re going to make a larger number of smaller bets and spend our resources equally. Then we’ll see what sticks in the marketplace.”

While Elberse’s statements might inspire a “Duh” from you (or not), they emphasize what I already guessed: participation in the entertainment industry is a gamble no matter what. As Elberse later said, “It’s incredibly risky to make entertainment products in the first place.”

Many experts try to find ways to predict whether a book, videogame, or a movie will be a blockbuster. Don’t we all wish we had a golden formula that would guarantee a product’s success, especially if that product is ours?

While reading the interview with Elberse, I felt discouraged at first. The discussion of blockbusters led to thoughts like this: How on earth do I make my book blockbuster worthy??? and Arrrrrggggggghhhhh! Such thoughts in the past have resulted in my uttering, “What’s the use?” followed by a period of non-writing. I hurt myself once by a three-year, no-writing decision. So this time, I decided not to try for such a needle-in-a-haystack goal as producing a blockbuster (and no, I don’t know the steps for doing so), and instead shoot for a measurable goal: quality. I can produce the best book within my power to do so. Maybe that’s your goal too.

car images clip art-6I don’t need an expert to tell me that life is “incredibly risky” at times. If you don’t believe that, take a look at the statistics for traffic accidents. (Then again, maybe you don’t want to see them.) Does the risk of an accident mean I should stop driving like I stopped writing? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? The risk factor actually spurs me to work toward being a better driver. I can’t control what another driver does. I can only do my part to ensure safety on the road. Such is the case whenever I read articles on the search for the next blockbuster. I can only do what I can do to make myself a better writer.

Theories about how to produce the best product always will abound in times of economic hardship. Such theories might tempt us to panic or doubt our ability to produce anything anyone else might want to read. But we have to believe that what we produce is worth the risk of producing it. Like many other things, producing it begins with love. Do I love what I’m doing enough to keep making the effort to do it, despite setbacks?

Are you willing to take the risk? Do you agree with Elberse, or do you have your own “blockbuster theory”?

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Quality, like this hamster, is only a step away . . .

Helgeson, Matt, “The Blockbuster Rule.” Game Informer March 2014: 14-15. Print.

Blockbuster logo from telegraph.co.uk. Blockbusters cover from Goodreads. Game Informer logo from gameinformer.com/blogs. Cat from LOL Cats.

Check This Out: The Shadowfell Trilogy (Part 2)

JM_with_Harry_smallerHey! Welcome back to the blog. The incomparable Juliet Marillier is here for day 2 of our discussion of her current trilogy: Shadowfell. In case you missed part 1 of the interview, you can find it here. Take a look at these covers. Beautiful, aren’t they? (In series order.)

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I’ll be giving away a set of these books. But you’ll have to wait till the conclusion of the discussion for more details. So fasten your seatbelts, and let’s get this show on the road.

El Space: Are you an outliner or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer? Please walk us through your writing process, Juliet.
clipboardJuliet: I’m at the planner end of the spectrum. I usually sell a new novel or series on the basis of a proposal, which means I have to write a complete synopsis, including the ending, before I start. There’s no wandering in and letting the story take its own course. I like to know where I’m going. My process goes a bit like this:

  • Get an idea for the plot, setting, and main characters. What is the theme? What/whom is this story about? What is the journey for the main characters?
  • Make some decisions about voice, point of view, and structure. How do I want to tell this story?
  • Write the proposal, including a full synopsis.
  • Develop the synopsis or outline into a chapter plan.
  • At the same time as the above, do the required research for the book/series.
  • Start writing. I generally write about three chapters, then go back and revise them. I tweak the chapter plan as I go along. No plan is set in stone—I make changes if I find something’s not working, or if I get a great new idea. However, the overall structure—the architecture of the story—usually doesn’t change.
  • Repeat the last step until the manuscript is finished. Every three chapters I go back and revise all of the previous chapters, so by the time I reach The End, the manuscript has had a lot of refining.
  • All that revision means (a) I work quite slowly and (b) what I have at that point is close to a final draft. I would generally do one or two complete passes through the manuscript to tidy things up, then it goes to the editor(s) at the publishing house. She writes a report, and I attend to her suggested revisions. Then it’s more or less done.

402045El Space: Your books are historical fantasy, some of which are based on fairy tales. Please tell us what excites you most about the genre and why you chose to use real settings as the basis for your books.
Juliet: I didn’t make a conscious choice to write in a particular genre. When I started out, I wanted to use a particular story I’d loved in childhood (“The Six Swans”) as the basis for a novel about a real family. I wanted to explore what the personal cost would be for the sister and brothers who had to deal with the catastrophe of a magical curse. At that stage I didn’t read fantasy, in fact I was hardly aware of it as a genre for adult readers, though I had read some of the classics—Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart’s Arthurian books. The way I write is connected with my lifelong love of traditional stories, and my style is rather like oral storytelling. I believe those old stories have a great deal of wisdom that is still relevant even in our time. They were and still are wonderful tools for teaching and healing. Only three of my sixteen novels are actually based on fairy tales, but the tropes and motifs of traditional storytelling are woven through everything I write.

Most of my novels are set in “real world” history and geography—the Shadowfell series is an exception. Some contain more accurate history than others. I made some beginner’s errors with the history in my first series, because at that stage I didn’t realise readers who were happy to accept uncanny characters and magical happenings would at the same time expect accurate historical detail. I became more meticulous with the research as I went along. I find real history endlessly fascinating, especially the “grey areas” about which few contemporary records remain. I seized on a snippet of story about a Pictish king being tutored by a druid as the basis for the Bridei Chronicles. I wrote that series using a combination of known history, informed guesswork, and pure imagination. The uncanny elements in my novels are usually based on what the people of that time and culture would have believed in.

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The Bridei Chronicles

El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Juliet: Authors whose work combines great writing craft with compelling storytelling. I have too many to list, so here are just a few, all of whose work I read and re-read:

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El Space: An eBook of The Caller, book 3 of Shadowfell, will be released by Pan Macmillan Australia on February 25 with the print edition debuting in Australia in June and in July in the United States. I saw on your website that you’re working on a book called Dreamer’s Pool. Please tell us a little about that.
Juliet: The series title is Blackthorn & Grim, and it’s an adult fantasy series, quite a bit darker than my previous work, with older, more damaged protagonists. The first novel is Dreamer’s Pool, coming out from Penguin U.S. and Pan Macmillan Australia in November 2014.

Here’s how the story of Dreamer’s Pool starts: The embittered healer Blackthorn is incarcerated and awaiting a hearing when she is told she’s to be summarily executed. Then a mysterious visitor offers her a lifeline—she can be freed provided she promises to live by the visitor’s rules for the next seven years. Each time she breaks a rule—there are three all up—another year will be added to her term. Blackthorn knows she hasn’t a hope of keeping any of the rules, especially the one about not seeking vengeance against her archenemy. But with the fey involved, she’s not going to get away with lying.

In each novel of this series, our two protagonists are faced with a mystery to solve. The setting is early medieval Ireland. I’d describe the Blackthorn & Grim books as dark fairy tale + mystery + struggle for personal redemption.

Well, that about wraps it up. Thank you, Juliet, for being my guest! I’m so glad you came by. I’m looking forward to Dreamer’s Pool! 

And thank you to all who visited today. If you’re looking for more information about Juliet and her books, head to her website or to her official fan page on Facebook. Be sure to check there for publication dates for her books.

The Shadowfell trilogy can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s Books
iTunes Books

One of you will win not just Shadowfell books 1 and 2, but a preorder of book 3! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. (TODAY ONLY!) The winner will be announced on Monday, February 23! Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Author photo and Shadowfell series covers courtesy of Juliet Marillier. Other book covers from Goodreads and Wikipedia. Clipboard from www1.imperial.ac.uk.