Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sexism vs. Realism in Fantasy

Fantasy, in particular epic fantasy and historical fantasy, receives many complaints of sexism from some corners. While some of those are quite justified, others are not. To make writing this post easy, from here on, when I refer to fantasy, I am referring to the Tolkienesque genre that I usually refer to as epic fantasy, including all its near cousins, but excluding all modern settings such as urban fantasy.

There is one thing that separates fantasy from other genres (except maybe historical fiction) and that is its reliance on history. Particularly medieval and ancient history. I personally feel we have a somewhat stilted view of history because it is dominated by men when in reality the percentage had invariably been 50/50. However, there are a great many situations, many of them copied by fantasy authors, that were historically dominated by men, in excess of 90%. War, battles, adventure, quests, and the like dominate fantasy. When we use history as our guide, women are uncommon. And let's face it, as a society we know this so there is a perception that women in these situations, without a good reason, reduces believably. Fantasy authors could easily craft their own worlds where that is not the case, but that strays from the medieval model and skirts the edge of the genre.

So rather than judging a fantasy book on how many male characters or female characters they have, we should be judging on the quality of characters to determine if we should judge the writer and his work being guilty of sexism. If we take these historically based settings and look at how the writer has cast the roles, it will tell us a lot about how they view women. A long, hard, military campaign will be mostly men. Historically they had camp followers, something fantasy tends to avoid. But they also had the occasional female fighter and a scattering of other women who might be found, though this was more the exception. Agincourt had no women present, while some were occasionally reported in the crusades. So during a battle it would be unlikely to find any women present so we should not expect this in fantasy. It happens with some frequency, such as Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings. If we take the genre as it has come down to us, as rewritten medieval history where magic exists, then this is to be expected and is not sexist. We must examine the nature of the female characters to determine if the writer is being historically accurate or sexists. Eowyn is a good example. She is not masculine in any way. She is niece to the King and is given charge of the kingdom when he and her brother ride off to war. She is capable so she follows, disguising herself and helping out Merry. When her uncle falls in battle, she is right there, fearlessly defending him against the Witch King of Angmar. It turns out that because she is a women, she can kill the Witch King and she succeeds in doing just that. So while Tolkien doesn't offer us many female characters, both Eowyn and Galadrial are just the sort we'd wish more of.

When you move away from the battlefield, a more normal ratio of characters should dominate. A visiting prince would meet the servants and others of a castle owner's family, but would be there as a guest and the number of occupants of the castle might vary considerably from just a few people in a small family to a huge extended family. In time of war a male owner might be absent and his wife would be in charge. The more people depicted, the more women should be included. Tolkien did not do a good job in this respect. Other writers since have done better. Oddly, even women writers tend to go to the castles and cities to create more female characters.

The one writer I feel excellent at being non- sexists in both composition and characterization was Robert Jordan. He started off with a group of men and women from a small town, his world features female magic users, strong female characters - very much equals of the men, and some romantic tension, but also some solid friendships between genders. When I read his Wheel of Time books, I felt a realism that is usually lacking.

One thing to keep in mind when looking for sexism in fantasy is the gender of the writer and how intimidated they may be by writing the opposite gender. I've noticed that this particularly strikes men who don't feel they can write women. It also relates to their personal experiences. Most men who have served in the military have done so during the time when only men were soldiers. Experience has tremendous impact on how each writers tells a story. Rather than calling sexism anytime the ration falls below 1/1, we should accept that not everyone has had the same experiences, not everyone is comfortable writing both genders, and not all stories take place in settings that call for equal representation of the genders.

What matters is the nature of the characters. Has the writer given us a women who could be their sister, mother, wife, or daughter, or is she a stereotype? Does she have a real role or is she there for sex? Does she have a mind of her own, or is she a puppet? I've read some sexist trash from the fifties and found it quite offensive. What some want to label as sexism is just an unbalance, which does exist in some situations and in some people's experiences. We should strive to attain as much balance as possible, but in a genre so closely tied to the real history of our world and to war, it is inevitable that some stories will not have balance so we must look to what they writer offers us to judge the charge of sexism fairly.

It isn't sexism if it is realism. Realism is what all the good writers strive for. Solid, real, female characters are what we are after. Role models for readers. Women we'd all be proud to know in real life. I'll take well written female characters in a good story over just trying to crunch numbers. Now if you can do both, that is the best of all worlds, but not all authors can do that. I'd rather we continue to strive for more balance and have good stories by great writers who can give us good female characters. Quality over quantity. Above all I want realism. Historical realism does not always lend itself to casting a story with an equal number of male and female characters. So let's be practical in how we judge sexism in fantasy. Let's strive for realism and get as many good female characters in as we can given the setting. If we do that, sexism in the genre will continue to recede to obscurity.

The Hobbit - A Movie Epic

I've read a lot of reviews for this last installment of The Hobbit and I've found that not one of them had justifiable complaints. But, rather than review just this last part, I have to look at this as one movie in three parts.

Epic movies don't come to the theaters very often. It seems to be a lost art that most often comes to us on the small screen in the form of miniseries. We get the occasional movie that stretches to 2 1/2 hour and the rare one at 3 hours, but making a 4 hour movie is a lost art. Instead we have movies that come to us in parts. Several movie series have seen their final installments arrive as two part movies.

In The Lord of the Rings, we had the three separate volumes of the story as three separate movies. Much was cut out for the theatrical release and was restored for the Extended Editions. The extended edition of Return of the King is over 4 hours long.

When adapting The Hobbit, it went from one, to two, to three movies and when you see them you understand why. Not much was added in the way of material from the book itself, but we are treated to backstory and the side adventure of Gandalf that are not in the book, but found in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings. Plus we get to see the entire Battle of Five Armies, which the book only presents from Bilbo's perspective. The result is a second epic saga that has been just as successful as the first. Yet many criticize it for taking one book and making it into three.

I feel I first have to address this criticism, and that Jackson let the scripts get bloated. First, the nature of the way J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are very different. The Hobbit was written as a children's story and is light and playful, even though it deals with some pretty dark events. Plus it is only from Bilbo's perspective. Tolkien even rewrote the Bilbo/Gollum scene so that it would fit with how the events are related in The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo's adventures are told quickly and it flies from one to the next. The film includes all these events and the theatrical versions even seem rushed as we go from Bag End, to Rivendell, through the Misty Mountains to Mirkwood and at last to the Lonely Mountain. Even the bonus material lifted from The Lord of the Rings appendices are brief, leaving most of the films to focus on the main story.

Too much emphasis is placed on the size and page count of The Hobbit without regard to how much story there is there. The old 70's animated version managed to cram all that into a single short movie, but it does so by leaving things out. After crafting the brilliant epic movie trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, it is no surprise that Jackson tackled The Hobbit with the same attention to detail and depth. This is no longer Bilbo's telling of the tale, but a narration of all the events that transpired. As with The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit comes alive with the addition of the missing material in the Extended Editions.

But you do have to wonder why a nearly half a million word epic like The Lord of the Rings could be so brilliant in three movies (long movies I would like to note) and a less than 100,000 word children's novel takes three movies (of not quite the same length) to achieve the same thing. A lot of it is what is found between the covers. I already mentioned how The Hobbit was written, but I have to now come to The Lord of the Rings. This is no longer a book for children. It is a literary epic containing within its pages a deep description of the world in which it takes place. In the Hobbit, Bilbo travels through the lands, but relates little. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo travels further and we are given the full details of the locations, history, culture, and depth to the characters in a writing style that I initially found hard to read. Reading The Hobbit, you are zipping through Middle Earth, while when reading The Lord of the Rings, you are savoring every step of the journey.

This means that to tell the two tales in the same way, you must take those words in The Lord of the Rings and change many of them into the images, costumes, sets, landscapes, and feeling of history that drip from the pages while with The Hobbit, you must pull those details from The Lord of the Rings to flesh things out, including the missing parts of the story where we at long last get to see what Gandalf was up to. So that results in a single novel ending up as three movies. In particular the epic battle at the end of The Hobbit, which the book so glossed over because it was only from Bilbo's perspective (and he is unconscious for a good chunk of it).

That criticism out of the way, the next I found was that the effects looked cartoonish and the action was outrageous. Having watched The Lord of the Rings many times, I found the effects in each installment of The Hobbit to be better and more realistic. The action was incredible and much more realistic than that of The Lord of the Rings. I read complaints about Legolas's antics, but they were tamer than those in The Lord of the Rings. I think a big issue people have had with The Hobbit has had nothing to do with the visual choices or the writing, it has had to do with shooting it at 48 fps. It has a tendency to strip away the illusion that 24 fps gives film and makes the images look like television and cuts the ability of the human mind to accept the illusion being offered. So I really don't recommend seeing these in 3D first.

The last complaint that I found really tiresome was that motivations were not given for some actions. Well, this is likely either a fault in the original material or a fault in the viewer's ability to pick up on clues. I found no issue with motivation. Most was given in the previous parts of the story. And with a multi-part epic story like this, there is no reason to expect every detail to be laid out in each film. It pretty much requires viewing the previous movies first, and in this age of television series that demand the same thing, it is idiotic to expect the third installment of a film series to lay out elements that have already been laid out.

Now to my more direct feelings on each of the films. I enjoyed all three, but Battle of the Five Armies is my favorite. While An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug felt rushed and almost flew through some sequences too fast, this third film did it right. I'll be interested to see what they add for the extended edition, but I can't imagine how it could make it better. I found the story wrap up to bring the saga to an emotional close. The deaths at the end (with a story that was first printed 3/4 of a century ago I wouldn't think this would count as spoilers) were emotional and the ending was satisfying. The character journeys were well developed and nicely wrapped up.

When it comes to rating these movies with the three part of The Lord of the Rings, I would have to say that The Battle of Five armies comes in second while An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug were just below the older trilogy. That is not to say they were bad, they are just the least of a set of six outstanding movies. And I don't think this was Jackson's fault, but due to the material in The Hobbit. He told it the right way in the right amount of time, but the story is not quite as compelling when the big baddie gets away here. I can't wait to have all six extended editions and watch them in the proper order.

Jackson's choice of bracketing segments is genius. He placed it somewhere between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (the events in the film) so that you can either watch this new trilogy first, or the older one, and enjoy it either way. Very brilliant and a fantastic way to end this trilogy and bridge to the next. And then there is Billy Boyd's song. Absolutely fantastic.

The Hobbit trilogy is a fantastic addition to the fantasy film genre and it will take its place as an outstanding piece of cinema.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review - Emperor of Thorns

This book triumphantly completes the story of Jorg Ancrath. Continuing the pattern of telling parallel stories set in two times that meet at the climax, we continue to follow Jorg at the same two ages as King of Thorns. The young Jorg, of five years ago, continues on from where we left him in King of Thorns, as he takes a journey, not to find himself, but to learn of the world in hopes of one day becoming Emperor. The elder Jorg makes his way to the seat of the Empire, a journey fraught with perils that Jorg handles in his unique way.

The two Jorgs are worlds apart. The younger is learning what his goals are, he still burns with fire, is touched by death, and carries a box on his belt. He is led on his journey by the mysterious builder ghost, Fixler. The elder is married with a child on the way, and is journeying to try to convince the Hundred to vote for him as emperor. But nipping at his heals is the Dead King, who has chosen this moment to strike. Jorg continues to surprise us. At time he seems reasoned and the elder Jorg has new motives for his actions, but they are still the bloody, brutal actions we have known of him since page one.

Both stories converge on the Imperial throne room, but with much different results. The tale is beautifully woven and even has a surprise third point of view, that enhances rather than detracts from the tale. Secrets abound, only a few are easy to guess, and hold the reader tight.

Definitely a fitting conclusion to the story. Jorg grows and changes, yet is shaped by the violence that lies at his core. In many ways it seemed in the previous stories, that much of Jorg was thrust on him by interfering magicians, but here he reveals a bit of truth, that it was always within him, thanks to his father, and it took very little to bring it out. While at time Jorg seems tempered, his methods have not changed since page one of Prince of Thorns. It has been a seamless journey and I look forward, sometime down the road, to taking the journey again.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review - Dust and Light by Carol Berg

Carol Berg is one of my favorite authors so there is little surprise that I loved her latest book. Dust and Light returns us to the world and the events chronicles in Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone, but from a completely different perspective. I must confess that because I have been so busy with other things in life, such as family, work, and my own writing, that I haven't read those two which puts me in a unique perspective to see if one of Carol's goals for this new duology, that of completely avoiding spoilers for the older duology, has been successful. That, of course, means I must wait for her next book before I can read the older ones. But it should prove interesting.

This story starts out with a young magician, Lucien, who got in trouble a while back and recently lost most of his family to a tragedy. But something more is up because abruptly his contract is ended and he is given what can best be described as the worst contract imaginable - preparing portraits of dead people to help identify them. But the change does something to his magic. Normally his magic lets him paint a true picture of the sitter, but now that truth has a historic context.

As if things couldn't get worse, he is suddenly arrested by the lead sorcerers and imprisoned. This starts a spiral that leaves his world out of control. There is something not right and if he can find a way he is determined to uncover what is going on. Things do not work out as he, or the reader, expects.

Carol crafts and excellent story. Rather than the first half of a single story, she manages to stay focused on the main points and craft a single story that can stand on its own, yet leaves tantalizing things hanging for the sequel. This book focuses on the mysteries of Lucien's paintings while leaving a larger mystery barely touched on. I was fascinated at every turn of the page and thoroughly enjoyed it. Definitely 5 stars.

The world building was as good as the story. For a world she has already written in, some writers might assume their readers would be familiar and skip some details. Nothing was skipped and it is a fully realized world that really developed me and drew me in.

After reading this book, I am anxious to find out what happens to Lucien and his sister, especially after how this book ends. I suspect there is a lot of things that are even more incredible and magical in store for these characters. Carol Berg definitely has a hit with this one.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cover Reveal - Jack of Troubles

With by book due out on Friday, I think it is about time to reveal the cover. This one has taken a while because I have gone through several ideas, only to come back to one that is close to the original concept. A patient cover artist is a good thing. Once I settled on this layout, it was a matter of getting it done and tweaked. As it features a pivotal scene form later in the book, I won't say much about what is going on, just that this is the perfect cover.

Get it on Friday from Amazon.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Fantasy Genre

I can't help thinking that Game of Thrones (the TV series) is going to herald the comeback of epic fantasy in a big way. I really appreciate the large wave of urban fantasy that has dominated the fantasy genre in a big way for the past decade, but my heart is really with epic fantasy.

The fantasy genre was not born with J.R.R. Tolkien, but I would say that he breathed new life into it. Something like that has to happen from time to time to keep things fresh. For a long while, The Lord of the Rings WAS fantasy to many people. It formed the basis for Dungeons and Dragons (with some tweaks to avoid copyright infringement) and hence all the works derived from it.

But it has never been the full genre. There has always been room for other types of supernatural stories, particularly those based on legends like Merlin and Dracula. In fact those are the tropes of pretty much all of the fantasy genre as a whole. It is the setting which distinguishes the subgenres.

I would say the most classic subgenre takes history and adds myths, legends, and magic. The Arthurian tales are the classic example. The works of Mary Stewart and Stephen R. Lawhead are prime examples. This has gone by many labels over the years, including High Fantasy or Historical Fantasy.

The next that I find is what would be termed Urban Fantasy. Bram Stoker's Dracula is an excellent (though more to the horror side) early example. It was set in the present (when it was written) and features vampires and other creatures. This type of story has become very common, with most revolving around vampires (Sookie Stackhouse series, Twilight series) and a few (like Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series) centering on werewolves. As a rule these mix ancient beings of legend into the modern day.

The last big one is Epic Fantasy. Rather than a journey to the past or bringing creatures of legend to the present, it resets everything to another world, a world where anything is possible. Legends, folklore, myths, dreams, and nightmares all can find a place. It gets the name epic from the scale of the conflict as much as from the scale of the books. This kind comes in two forms, either wholly in the other world, or using people from our world transported to the other world. In either case, the stakes for the world (or at least the nation in question in this other world) are huge. Often the supreme evil is nearly all powerful and little can be done to stop them, except by our heroes. J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Carol Berg, Mark Lawrence, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin and many others have lifted this subgenre to an art form, often with books as big as the stories they tell. In most genres, a 100,000 word novel is long. In Epic Fantasy that is unusually short, with most exceeding 150,000 words if not 200,000. And they often come in series of three or more books. This gives the writers many pages to play with different characters and different aspects of the story.

If you can't tell, I much prefer Epic Fantasy other subgenres. I find the scale of the world building draws me in and the breath of characters makes the adventures more enthralling. So this is what I write. I do not look down on the other subgenres, I just prefer this one. I have always enjoyed reading it and now I very much enjoy writing it. It is not the entirety of the genre, in fact it has been much neglected in recent years. I am hoping it makes a comeback as viewers of Game of Thrones turn to books and look for things in the same vein to immerse themselves in.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What Goes Into Fantasy?

Yesterday I found a wonderful post with writing tips for fantasy authors for George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb taken from things they said at a recent event they were at. You can find it here. Some of the things are rather funny if you know their work, but most are very insightful.

Reading those quotes as well as thinking back to Terry Brook's book on writing has made me ask "What goes into Fantasy?" Fantasy writers seem to have a spark of imagination that takes them in a different direction. The horror and science fiction genres also have something, but it isn't quite the same. Fantasy authors (and I am thinking specifically of writers of epic fantasy) tend to create a world of magic and great good and great evil on a scale that dwarfs what you find in most other genres. Science fiction and Horror have to stay grounded in our world in various ways, where fantasy can take flight and leave our world behind.

What I've noticed in common is a big imagination. By necessity, that has to show up in childhood. Martin and Brooks both describe taking their toys, and going beyond the original purpose and creating their own cast of characters. I'm happy to say I did much the same. I had an eclectic collection of action figures. I think from Star Wars, GI Joe, Battlestar Galactica, and Indiana Jones, and few, if any, retained their original identities. I still remember one world I created, toward the very end. It was based on this line of florescent clear plastic swords for spearing olives in drinks. Well, they were the perfect size for the action figures and between the colors and the features out in the yard, a whole world was born. I remember drawing maps of it and planning something grander than the more intimate stories my action figures had. I think that world transitioned me from figures to writing because I still have a few and they are frozen at that time. One is one of the few minority GI Joe figures (Native American I think), wearing an Indianan Jones figure's coat, with a sword (very carefully painted with silver and orange florescent paint at the tip to look like it is glowing) tucked in the coat's belt. I have no recollection of who the character was any longer.

But from them on, I had more adventures on paper. Few went anywhere (a problem I shared in common at the time with Martin). Most of those lie forgotten in notebooks that fill boxes in one corner of my basement. I remember very clearly finishing my first story in Junior High. I think it was all of 9 pages. I have to confess that writing fiction took a backseat to school and career after that. I kept feeding my imagination. I felt the draw to write, but I wanted to write something that wasn't just a pale copy of someone else's world. I have to give credit some some of the Anime friends foisted on me for turning my head away from the standard European tropes that dominate most fantasy. When the idea came, it came full force and I had to write it. That's not to say that there are not several finished drafts that came before, but they were not of the epic scale. I had spent time polishing my writing and improving my ability to think ahead and avoid some of the rewriting that I find a chore, but Counterpoint to Chaos was my first epic novel. It was the first thing that was unique, like those stories I crafted while playing all those years before.

So I think the one thing you need to write epic fantasy is an epic imagination. There are many ways to build it. Playing with toys isn't the only way, but it is one way I see cited over and over. Many science fiction writers create their own universes, and many horror writers create figures to terrify, but epic fantasy writers put both of those together with magic, languages, mythology, and history to craft our stories. And I by no means mean to imply that science fiction or horror writers are lesser in any way. They have their own unique challenges that require their own unique skills. I only mean to say that what is required for each genre is unique and different from the others. Some writers stick to one while some have the skills to do multiple genres.

So the single thing that I think separates writers of epic fantasy from other genres, is that epic imagination that can craft wars, adventures, and dangers on an awesome scale and still craft characters that readers can relate to.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review - King of Thorns

Jorg Ancrath stared out as a murderous teen. The opening of Prince of Thorns made this abundantly clear, but that book went on to give us a reason. In a similar format, but interestingly different, King of Thorns continues that journey. In Jorg’s present, he is now 18, getting married, and facing an impossible siege. The success or failure of that endeavor hinges on events from four years earlier as Jorg, new King of Renar leaves his castle on a journey. The journey takes many stages, as does the attack on his castle in the present day.

The story weaves back and forth, but hinges on a single event, but the memory of it is locked away. It is revealed piece by piece along with the two other story lines in a masterful feat of story telling. Mark Lawrence knows his stuff and gives us a fantastic sequel filled with action, bloodshed, and character development.

The world is further explored with magic and the remnants of technology. Scenes of nightmares and wonders push the boundaries of the world to give us an even better picture of this future. Jorg meets a variety of people on his journey and everything ties into the siege that the present Jorg faces.

But this story is more than world building. Jorg as a character had just begun to change at the end of Prince of Thorns. Now, through the weaving of the three tales, we get to see where he went from there. Little by little he ceases to be a rogue and becomes a King. Where the previous Jorg felt little compunction about offing one of his brothers, this Jorg finds them all important and, while he passes off their deaths casually, it is obvious he feels the losses. The boy has become a man and in the climactic battle, we see all those pieces forge Jorg into a true King. Not perfect. I don’t think Jorg could ever be perfect. Yet definitely grown from that young ruffian we first met.

This is a more than worthy continuation of Jorg’s story. This is a must read for anyone who liked the first book.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review - Prince of Thorns

Sometimes nice things happen. I stumbled on Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns a while back and immediately put it on my reading list. The first pages were enticing. I also read the related short story, Sleeping Beauty, a very powerful story that was an excellent introduction to the world I was about to enter. So yesterday, during a break, I loaded my Christmas gift card into my Barnes & Noble account and purchased Prince of Thorns and its sequel, King of Thorns. My Barnes & Noble apps (android and Windows desktop) gave me some fits, but they eventually loaded. I started Prince of Thorns and soon passed as far as I had previously sampled and I could not put it down. I finished it shortly before going to bed. It was a wild ride that I highly recommend.

The main character, Jorg Ancrath, is a piece of work. We quickly learn that he was traveling with his mother and younger brother when the carriage was attack. In the process of throwing them all from the carriage, Jorg ends up in a thorny brier patch and watches as first his brother, then his mother, are murdered. The thorns hold him tight making him unable to help. Needless to say, this scars him. Through the course of the book more pieces fall into place to further explain the horrible path he ends up on.

This book is a mixture of Jorg in the present, and the Jorg of four years previous as he starts the journey that he finishes in this book. Now, I don't want to give away too much of the story because that is part of the charm of this book. It is better to read about it yourself. But I will say that he grows and manages to pull several different goals together in a magnificent finale that is perfectly in keeping with his character. Fantastic storytelling.

I will, however, go into a bit more on the world that Mark Lawrence has created. This is our future. How far in the future isn't know exactly, but it is just over a thousand years after an apocalypse destroys the world sometime in our future. From the maps, the sea levels have risen and the world has reverted to a medieval culture. But something about the cataclysm has let magic lead into the world. Not a lot, mind you, but between radiation poisoning and mutation, and the barrier between our world and the world of the dead being weakened, plus some remaining bits of technology, the author has woven a fantastic image of a future where things are more strange than they are in real life. It is a fantastic idea and a combination I have not seen before. As a fantasy author myself, I really loved seeing his world building and found it seamless to the story.

Next up in my reading is the sequel. I actually started it already and am 3 chapters in. It is a little longer but already promises to be just as good.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Recharging Your Batteries

Last year I was rolling along on the sequel to my first books, Counterpoint to Chaos. I made it about a third of the way before I encountered issues. I passed it off to a couple of my loyal beta readers to test the waters. They both loved it, but I'm not sure they see the problems I do. I have poured myself into editing my second book, Jack of Troubles and into a related collection of short stories about a warship captain in that magical world. I am nearing completion. I have a day or two left in writing the fourth short story (which will be the first in the collection) and my editor is almost finished with her edits on Jack of Troubles. I need to get back to that unfinished book, but I have realized that my creative batteries are running low. It is time to recharge them and for a writer that means reading.

That might delay the sequel to Counterpoint to Chaos, titled Masque of Revenge, but I think it will yield a better book. With Jack of Troubled due out later this year and its sequel, Queen of Darkness, written and ready to be edited, and with my need to craft short stories to fill in the blanks, there will be no shortage in my writing output. I hope to take some time and get caught up on some reading, may be write a review or two, and put out a few short stories to whet your appetite, and then be ready to go all out come this fall. National Novel Writing Month in November has always been a good motivation for me and the 50,000 word goal is usually about a third of a novel, so I either write faster or longer... probably longer this time.

So I likely will be quiet, except for some reviews, most of 2014. Be patient, the stories in my head just need to find the right pieces to come out. I have 3 1/3 novels written and 4 2/3 trapped in there. Just the little bit of refresher I have done so far has yielded some good ideas that bring the followup to Queen of Darkness, already titled King of Dragons, better into focus. I hope delving into some of my long reading list will re-invigorate my creativity. I need to make time for this on a regular basis.

It's one of the hazard's of being a writer. I get inspired by the strangest things. Often it is some throw away scene or character that I read about and I imagine how I might tell their story. No two writers approach things the same way and the kernels I find and assemble in my head from various and sundry sources, more often history or real life, gain a life of their own as I plan and again as I write. I don't know just why, but I can plan things out and have things set in my mind, but when I go to write the story, things flow out differently. This great scene in my head (namely the concluding battle at the ruins in Counterpoint to Chaos) changes to fit the characters and setting (and probably my mood on the day I wrote it) and comes out to be quite different, but hopefully no less great, from what I had originally envisioned. So it can be a strange road from inspiration and idea to final product. But without that inspiration, the whole system falls apart. I think that is one problem with Masque of Revenge. I need to recharge a bit and then tackle it again. I'll have to see what I can salvage of what I have written (hopefully most of it) and then go from there. The story needs to be told, I just need the inspiration to make it come alive.

So, watch for Tales of Lord Carvin and Jack of Troubles later this year and a few reviews along the way. I'll be doing a lot of reading before I delve into finishing Masque of Revenge.