Friday, March 27, 2015

Hating the Language

I have a historical adventure story in my head that I'm a little bit intimidated over writing.  It's not the story part; I'm getting used to that.  No, it's the language.  I mean, I can barely keep up with changes to the mother tongue in my own lifetime; how am I to handle it 400 years ago?

Now, I grew up in a linguistically unpretentious region in the southern United States.  Back home in Mississippi, we might've used a metaphor or two to make ourselves sound cooler'n a....  Um, smarter'n a....  Well, you get the drift.  Anyway, that was the extent of our linguistic shenanigans, generally speaking.  Words just plain meant what they meant back then.

Okay, I know what you're thinking, and you're right.  There is one rather well-known exception to my previous statement, and it has to do with blessing peoples' hearts when there really isn't any blessing being done to any hearts whatsoever.  In fact, it didn't just mean one thing; the phrase could be used to signal all sorts of sentiments.  The connotation depended -- and still does -- entirely on usage.  For example, the three words at the end of "my cousin's entire mobile home park was taken out by that tornado, bless their hearts," mean something entirely different from the three words at the end of "they found the permanent markers to use in drawing on my kitchen wall, bless their hearts."  Same words, different intention, and if you didn't catch it, you're as sharp as a cue ball.

Back then, though, it should be pointed out that we didn't have an Internet to pass things around, either.  When I moved to California to finish high school, they actually thought I was wishing blessings upon their hearts.  Now, I did, very quickly, stop contracting "you" and "everyone" into the vernacular "y'all," but that was simply because I didn't enjoy the attention that the shortened, more flexible utterance brought me.  Overall, the language was the language.

Now?  Sheesh.  The "mother tongue" has spawned some really strange offspring.  Thanks in part to the rapidity of dissemination and complete lack of grammar checking on the Internet, linguistics has gotten nuttier than a squirrel turd.  I mean, do you remember when literally and figuratively meant opposite things?  Recently they literally changed the dictionary definition so that they're the same word, but only if you mean 'em that way. And then there's gay.  Used to be that word meant happy, lighthearted, carefree, but my generation was pretty effective at redefining it to refer to someone who is homosexual -- because, um, someone who is homosexual is obviously happy, I -- um, guess.  Now, though, it means something completely different.  How gay is that, right?

And what's up with hate?  Growing up, to hate meant something fairly specific.  You knew if/when you were being hated on.  That, though, was before the haters and the haters of haters got hold of it.  Now, if you write a law that somebody disagrees with, you're hating.  Meanwhile, if you disagree with said law, you're hating.  If you disagree with the disagreement--you hater, you! 

(that said, let's please leave the actual political stuff to my personal Facebook page)

I hate it.  Literally.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Origins - Sorscha

Okay, after starting this Origins series, I absolutely have to write about the most awesome character I've ever created.  No, I'm not talking about a Greek/Roman god come to life.  Nor am I talking about his wife, who when she finds out the truth refrains from trying to beat his brains in for making her live a lie.  And although Seph and Keion are both pretty cool to my opinion, they're still not beautiful-woman-who-can-transform-into-fricking-dragon cool.

Yes, I'm talking about Sorscha.

Sorscha the character began as a foil to the poor war god's significant other.  As I explained in a previous episode, the introduction of the S.O. went through a deliberate thought process.  Of course a god should own a fancy palace, right?  And of course he'd have servants maintaining that palace. And the god of war?  Depending on the story you read, he either stole the goddess of love from her consort, or had her stolen from him, and so in either case you realize that he's got quite the eye for an attractive female form.

So yeah, at the end of this line of reasoning was the unassailable conclusion that Matt would have a personal servant who absolutely had to be smoking hot.

That fact, then, leads down another trail of questions.  If the god of war's servant is smoking hot, why should he leave his mansion in the first place?  Why bring a human woman back?  Why would he not, in the grand cataclysm, just say, "you know, you're awfully awesome, but I have smoking hot back there at my mansion, so sayonara"?

That, then, led to the requirement that she can't -- well, give him what he needs.  No, seriously!  Think about this for a moment.  If the gods were creating a race of beings who could serve alongside their deified masters and mistresses for a long, long period of time, yet the gods wanted to ensure a continued interest in human affairs, wouldn't the gods then also be smart enough to make those beings asexual?  I mean, most, or at least much, of the messiness of human existence falls into the realm of sexual issues, right?  Why get involved in that if you can avoid it?

On top of that, why would you want a race of dragons to be self-propagating?  After all, the premise behind the series is that Matt et al created the dinosaurs first, got bored with them for lack of interesting interaction, killed them all off (well, a pair of them did, as explained in Cataclysm), and then created humans.  Sort of, anyway. 

(Matt et al are actually not powerful enough to create life, but that's not brought up in any of the books so far)

No, no, the dinosaurs and the humans were the playthings.  The dragons were the servants.  Period.  One set could self-propagate and dally around with deities and so on, while the other could not.

So anyways, long story short, I realized that if I were creating a race of long-lived beings who could serve beside their gods/goddesses with maximized serving intent which in turn calls for minimized drama, I'd make them asexual.

The initial idea, actually, was to make them not only asexual, but also devoid of emotion.  Thus they can serve, but they can't do anything more than that.  Problem is, the non-emotionality isn't really possible in any reality I imagined.  Heck, I can't even imagine living on Vulcan, to be honest, no matter how much I like the worlds of Star Trek and the character Spock. 

The thrakkoni, then, can have emotions -- but -- BUT!  As long-lived beings who have been forced to watch their gods and goddesses play the fools, their emotions would of course play out differently.  You know, smoother.  Wiser. More musical.

Yes, more musical.  Hey, that chapter -- and if you've read Cataclysm you know which one -- came out of nowhere.  Initially I just wanted Matt to take everybody through some sensory overload set to music to prove how powerful he was.  But then as I wrote and experimented with it, it developed and grew, and I ended up having Sorscha sing Mozart, writing it as I was while listening to Mozart.  Thus I breathed life into a chapter that I still love.

Incidentally, the name of the race -- thrakkoni -- comes from an old spelling of dragon.  Used to be that th and d were the same character, the thorn thing.  It also used to be that doubling up of consonants was just something you did when you felt like it.  So, yeah -- thrakkon, and thrakkoni for plurals.  I Googled the name to make sure it wasn't already in use, and it wasn't.  It is now.

So all that said, Sorscha ended up taking over a major part in the books as I continued revising.  My editor, Debra Ginsberg, said in the beginning how intrigued she was by Sorscha.  By the character's position, she deserves that kind of intrigue, having stood beside the god of war for a very, very long time.  She's the one who takes Crystal in while the wife is completely lost.  She's the one who helps prepare Crystal for her first trip to Olympus.  She's the one who helps not just Crystal but also the twin girls in the second book, while Crystal is going through her quests.

In fact, were I to write the first few books over, I'd no doubt give Sorscha even bigger parts, even more to do.  That's kinda what Debra told me to do, after all, but at the time I didn't really have the skills or knowledge to follow through. The fourth novel, though?  Watch out, man.  This one's gonna zing Sorscha into the action a lot of a lot, while playing with some of the initial characters and creating some others. 

Oh, and did I mention what an awesome editor Debra is?  Go see her page.

So all that said, hope you enjoyed! 


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Saint Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patty's Day!  Pass the beer, would ya?

I think all major holidays and celebrations have a twisty-curvy bit inside them if you hold them up to the light long enough.  Saint Patrick's Day is an example that doesn't require all that much light, to be honest, being the weird sorta-religious, sorta-nationalistic, sorta-besotted global party that it is.

But hey, when else can ya drink the beer that's green, eh?

Edna Barth, author of Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of the St. Patrick's Day Symbols, puts it pretty well: "For most Irish-Americans, this holiday is partly religious and partly festive.  St. Patrick's Day church services are followed by parades and parties, Irish music, songs, and dances.  To other Americans, the festive side is the one that is known the best.  Cheerfully noisy, greener than spring itself, the Irish holiday on March 17th is a welcome harbinger of the coming season."

Ahh, greener than spring itself -- a great way to describe the festivities, isn't it?

Growing up, even before I was old enough to enjoy the imbibing, I always loved St. Patty's Day for the greenery, the pinching, the horribad fake Irish accents, and so on.  Turning 21 (well, ish) just made it all that much better. And then, I learned that there are people who resent the holiday.  What...?

Yeah, there's more to it.  In fact, there's a long history of more to it.

Saint Patrick, as most people know, became famous for driving all the snakes out of Ireland.  Yay!  Who wants snakes, anyway, right?  Though, hold on a sec -- if you're talking about literal snakes, you have to agree that some are useful to have around.  They keep rodent populations under control, for one thing.  From a non-religious-metaphoric, non-ophidiophobic (fear of snakes) standpoint, then, why would the guy who de-snaked an island be a hero?

They weren't literal snakes, though.  They couldn't have been.  People who have studied fossil records have concluded that there were never snakes in Ireland.  The explanation I've read seems legit; way back when, those islands north of continental Europe were way too cold for cold-blooded reptiles.  As they warmed and the seas rose, a few snake species were able to migrate over to jolly old England herself, but none made it all the way to the Emerald Isle.  So, no snakes in Ireland for Saint Patrick to remove.

So if Saint Patrick didn't drive out the snakes, what did he drive "into the sea"?

Druids, the answer goes.  His charter mission from the Catholic church, after all, was to convert the pagans to Christianity.  That was what he was sent to do.  Basically, it was his job, and who better to do it than the bishop who, according to what I've read, actually grew up, up there? 

I can only imagine a similar thing today, with the performance statement saying something like, "Congrats and good job on exceeding goal on pagan-conversion rate.  Based on metrics, your annual performance raise will be 4.2%.  Advise increasing 401K participation in order to take advantage of new increase to matching funds."


So, pagans.  Druids, in other words.  The pagans in Ireland called their pagan priests druids (well, the Irish dialect version of the word, but you get the idea), and it was those folks who had to convert or leave in order for Saint Patrick to succeed in his mission.

So why snakes as a metaphor?  Well, the story is that the druids used a serpent as their primary symbol, and so "driving the snakes to the sea" is a less-metaphoric-than-usual metaphor for ridding the nation of druids.  Right?

Right, except that I'm struck by one question, that being the case.  Why would pagans, a group whose "religion" involves a close attachment to the world around them, choose as their symbol an animal that doesn't exist where they are?  It's kinda like how the University of Southern Mississippi chose "Golden Eagles" as their mascot when there isn't an eagle within hundreds of miles of them.  Granted, USM has the Internet to look up cool stuff about golden eagles, while the Irish pagans had -- um....  Yeah.  So what -- how -- when....?

Frankly, I don't get it.  Except, I have to point out, the poor snake really has gotten short shrift in Christian literature, hasn't it? 

Ah, well.  Anyway, that's the religious side of the holiday.  Then there's the green side.  Which is weird, too, because apparently Saint Patty's color was blue.  Oops.  But as tensions rose over the past couple of centuries (like they were ever low) between Catholics and Protestants, Irish and non-Irish, and so on, it's said that a great nationalistic wave swept over the holiday.  Green is the Irish color, and Saint Patrick's Day is the Irish holiday, and so therefore the holiday's color is green, begorrah!

All right, so green it is.  I like green.  But what about all the drinking?  Not that I don't like drinking -- far from it -- but why that on a sorta-religious mostly-nationalistic holiday?  Well, keep in mind that March 17th happens to fall, no matter when the moon cycle actually phases, somewhere deep within the vast expanse of Lent.  To folks like me who aren't Catholic, Lent generally means "hey, time to pretend to give something up for 40 days, and oh, look at all the purple cloth."  Many Catholics, however, view Lent in a much more serious light.  It's their 40 days to fast, to pray, to abstain, to contemplate -- in short, to really get serious about the whole religious thing. 


Hey, every deeply serious process needs a moment or two of levity, right?  This one is particularly important, too, since it celebrates what can be claimed as a major accomplishment for the Catholic church.  Thus, many Catholics lift the Lenten rules just a tad--a wee bit, laddie!  Many bishops, from what this non-Catholic writer has heard, even make the lifting of rules official policy, thus creating what is effectively another Fat Tuesday right smack in the middle of the thing. 

Hey, not casting stones here.  It's a celebration.  Humans need celebration.  Ancient pagans recognized that, creating as they did the four solar and four mid-season holidays spaced out so nicely through the year.  The Catholic church agreed, doing much the same and even adopting many of the same time frames. 

No, no aspersion intended.  Quite the opposite, actually.  I love Saint Patty's Day, myself.

It's just -- interesting.  Ain't it?

Enjoy the celebration!  (just consume your green beer safely, and no driving afterward, okay?)


Monday, March 9, 2015

The Dragon Queen Needs A Break

Hey, y'all!

I've been so happy to be getting my writing life back in order.  If you didn't notice, I managed to kick-start the blogging efforts once again (yay, blog!) and I've been working toward getting some of these Works in Progress off of my "To Be Completed" list.  Part of that has included my excited announcements and notices that The Dragon Queen, Book 2, is coming right along and will be out soon.

So, yeah....  Scratch that bit.

No, don't worry, I'm not not going to get the book out.  It's not the end of the series; I love the story and the characters too much for that.  It's just that what I've got isn't working.  I mean, last time I did this with Book 1, I spent hours reading aloud to the family, then I went and spent hours revising based on that reading, and then later they'd beg me for more reading.  This time, with Book 2, I've spent hours reading aloud to the family, and they haven't asked me for any more, and I also haven't gotten to the revising yet, days later. 

"It's not bad," my beloved bride (with whom I celebrated our fifth anniversary yesterday--yay, us!) said.  The cool thing is how honest she can be when it comes to my work, and I appreciate that.  "It's not bad" is actually pretty good, coming from her.  It's just not -- well, it's not good. 

I'm not even considering putting "not bad" anywhere close to my beta readers.  Sorry.  Thus, it's back to blank pages for this one.  Oh, I'll keep some of what I've got, but I'm gearing up for my first large-scale rewrite since Cataclysm. 

Again, it's not bad.  The plot lines, both main and sub-plots, have been pretty well thickened in, and it's a story line that I think everyone will like.  I've got an overwhelmingly pleasant array of characters, some returning from the first installment and others brand new.  It's not a problem, then, with the plot arc, or with the characterization, or with the scenes.

It's the tone.

Dragon Queen is told from the point of view of an 18-year-old girl.  She's jaunty, she's naive, she's snarky.  It's supposed to read in a fun, fun way.  Oh, it'll have dark points in the story, coming soon -- y'all have no idea of the level of evil I'm planning on putting her and her subject elves through later in the series -- but not yet.  Not in Book 2, at least; she's still just figuring out the depth of the resistance against her.  In Book 2 she's supposed to sound like the same person she was in Book 1.  Even later in the series she'll sound like a stressed-out, almost-defeated version of the person she was in Book 1. 

Problem was, I wasn't the same person writing this manuscript as I was for Book 1.  Or, to be accurate, I was the same person, but I wasn't in the same place, either physically or mentally.  I'd gone from having a day job and a house and a community that I loved to--well, kind of the opposite of that.  Some day, perhaps, I'll tell the full story of what we went through while I wrote Book 2, but now isn't the time, so you'll have to just take my word for it that my mind was in a dark, dark place.  Thus, my writing has a dark, dark tone that might make Poe proud.  It's not jaunty at all.  It's not snarky at all.  In fact, when the humor comes, when it comes at all, it's mean and biting, not snarky.

I realized in the reading aloud that all my characters sounded like Prince Charming on a bad day, in fact. 

So--yeah, Alyssa needs a break.  I'm gonna work on another project for a few weeks while I follow my beloved's advice and re-read Book 1, and then it'll be back to Scrivener for me. 

Sorry for the delay, but the end result will be worth it!


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Origins - Matthew and Crystal

I've been asked quite a few times where the story of Matthew and Crystal (main characters in Return of the Gods) came from.

First, I must admit that I daydream.  I'm not alone, as the Secret Life of Walter Mitty (the book, not the movie) shows.  I don't do it as much anymore now that I'm happily ensconced in both a family and a career that I adore, but over the years I've imagined myself a lottery winner, a captain of industry, a ninja, and many other things.  Other things, including a god.  I mean, who wouldn't think it cool to one day up and tell your boss, "I'm outta here now, going back to doing what I do best--being worshipped"?

Along the way, I started wondering what might happen should the god of my imaginings have a wife or girlfriend.  Would he take her along to--wherever he lives (which in turn brings up the question of where a god might live)?  If he offered, how would she likely respond?  If she went along to his palace in the sky, or on Olympus, or wherever it was, how would she fare?  Gods have servants, right?  What if his personal servant was a stunningly beautiful female--how would his girlfriend/wife react then? 

(is this starting to sound familiar?)

Meanwhile, many years ago I toured the Biltmore Mansion and saw a magnificent tapestry that depicted the interesting love triangle between Ares, Aphrodite, and Hephaestus.  In that story the latter two were married and the god of war stole the goddess of love away from the god of hammer-time.  Hmm--interesting story, that.  It's not the only version, of course; Greek myths, like most mythologies, have some variations in the telling.  Still, I wondered, would gods and goddesses really wed, or become consorts, or whatever you wish to call a pairing up?  How might an immortal being speak the words "till death do us part"?  What would happen, then, when they sleep around on each other?

At some point I realized that the wife/girlfriend was more interesting than the guy in my original story.  Guy tells boss "Seeya, I'm outie!" and then tells girlfriend/wife "you're coming with!" and then goes back to being a deity....  Meh.  Not much interesting stuff there. 

Her side, though: normal housewife (who's certainly not just average; she was, after all, chosen by a god) gets swept out of her normal life with her normal kids to a fantasy world, by said god -- hey, not just any old god, but let's make him the god of war.  Yeah, now we're talking.  Ares, after all, wasn't exactly everybody's favorite deity.  He was known for being a tough guy to live with, after all.  I mean, the Greeks often built the temples to Ares way out away from their towns, as a way to say, "please stay out there and protect us, but -- well, you know, kinda stay out there, if you don't mind, um, away from our women." 

Yeah, Ares.  He was arrogant, he was brash, he was immature at times.  In short, he was all those qualities that are great in the swordmaster fighting by your side but might kinda take some getting used to in a lifemate.  He'd hide them just fine in a normal, civilized role, but give him back his mojo and see the battle glory in his eyes. 

Now, Mars was seen a little bit different.  That's unsurprising, really, since his role in the pantheon -- warfare -- was seen a little bit differently by the Romans than by the Greeks.  So how, I wondered, should I tie him into other notable pantheons?  A little bit of artistic license and suddenly he became the mischievous one -- not playfully and sometimes disobediently mischievous like Loki/Hermes, but selfishly so instead.  The Norse legends uphold him as a glorified god of justice because, well, he helped write those legends.  And so it began.

Thus was the main story behind Cataclysm: Return of the Gods born.  In hindsight, I probably should've titled it differently, as the cataclysm is just the vehicle I used to kick the story off.  The main plot, as I'm sure you already know from reading it, is about Crystal, the wife of the god of war (who is for the most part modeled after my own dear beloved bride) and how she deals with all of the loss in the cataclysm as well as the kinda major surprise that she's married to the immortal guy who's the ex-hubster of the goddess of love.  "Oh, sure," she says inside.  "Forgot to mention something, Matt?"

To add some extra-special spice to the story I decided that the goddess of love would be wanting her old fling back.  Come to think of it, I don't think I ever said why, but then again, that's a story for another Origins post.

Hope you enjoyed!


(PS--you did already know that from your reading, didn't you?  If you haven't, and you'd like to, then head on over to my author page and get a copy.  And then please do me the favor of recording your thoughts on the book in the form of a review)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Live Long and Prosper

I'll never forget hearing the news that he'd died.  I was sitting in the food area of a mall, having just been to a bookstore of all places, and the TV ran the news that he'd passed away.

No, I'm not talking about the equally devastating news we heard this week about the passing of Leonard Nimoy.  That news hit me in the gut, but it wasn't the first time.  The instance I'm referring to was in April of 1992, a month before I was to leave the Army and seek my fortune as a civilian, and it was Isaac Asimov who had taken his last breath.

Both men were inspirations to a bold new world, weren't they?  Asimov repeatedly hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head with his science fiction, but what a lot of people don't realize is how prolific a nonfiction author he was, or how other writings of his made actual science more accessible to many of my generation.  I still cherish my copies of Asimov on Astronomy and Asimov on Physics, in fact.  In both books the giant of a writer crafted tales of conundrums of the world around us--true tales, in fact--in a scientific yet descriptive manner.  He, or more specifically his writing, is, in fact, the reason I went on to study physics as an undergrad.

I look up to Leonard Nimoy's work similarly.  He's best known, of course, for his portrayal of a half-human, half-alien character on that most seminal of sci fi TV shows, Star Trek.  The character and its fellows on that serial are arguably part of the foundation (hehe--I worked "Foundation" into this!) of modern science fiction.  But much more can be said of his character itself, what with his continual, explicit grappling between the forces of logic and emotion.  He was the half-alien with super-human strength and a paralyzing pinch who nevertheless generally set his phaser to stun.  Spock really could be said to be the alien who made us reconsider what it means to be human.

While Spock was his hallmark, his other contributions shouldn't be forgotten.  His narration of the Ancient Mysteries series was spellbinding (and is still available on Youtube if you didn't see the shows when they initially came out).  Later, Our 20th Century continued to fascinate.  Honestly, the man could probably find a way to make a tale about a rock in your back yard entertaining. 

"Live long and prosper" is a phrase we owe to Nimoy, thanks to his portrayal of Spock.  Both men did that, really, living past their 70th birthday and, in Nimoy's case, his 80th.  Both men gave the world incredible, boundless vision of what the future might become. 

To both, then, I say Rest in Peace, and may our world truly become the magnificent place you saw in your creative vision.