Monthly Archives: September 2012

Upcoming Blurb Blitz Blog Tour

 Goddess Fish Promotions will be sponsoring a promotional blurb blitz blog tour for my book, “Drasmyr,” from November 12, 2012 to December 7, 2012. It will be a strictly promotional tour, meaning that eacg visit will consist of an excerpt from my book and a book blurb. The blog tour schedule is currently under construction. Hopefully, it’ll fill up soon. I’ll be posting links to the blog host of the day as they occur. Also, make sure you check out the sponsor of the whole tour–Goddess Fish Promotions–it wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Also, I will be awarding one randomly chosen commenter on the tour (for those who comment on the tour sites—not atoasttodragons) with a small box of Fenryll metal miniatures, specifically, a collection of three Nosferatu vampires. They are excellent for collecting, or to use in gaming.

Fantasy Monster Fight: A Dragon vs. Anything!

In the interest of furthering human understanding on such an important topic, and in an extension of my previous Fantasy Monster Fights, most notably of the Vampire vs. the Werewolf, we must contemplate the result of a fight between a dragon and… well, anything else. Perhaps I display my biases here, but to me, a dragon is the ultimate killing machine. Or at least, it should be. I have always loved dragons. In my early childhood, I was a great fan of dinosaurs, and this naturally evolved into a love of dragons. Dragons rule! Hence, the name of my website: “A Toast to Dragons.”

 

Anyway, back to the discussion. What makes dragons so formidable? Well, I think good ol’ Smaug from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” said it best: “My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!” Truly, a devastating array of attributes. And if we go further, and draw from the AD&D tradition, dragons are also capable of spell-use. As if they needed it. What could possibly stand before one?

 

A vampire? I think not. A full blast of flaming breath would reduce one to dusty ash. A werewolf? Him neither. The dragon has the size and strength to rip him apart with ease. A zombie? Heck, I’ll give you fifty zombies; nay, a hundred, and I’ll still vote with the dragon. Oh, I forgot to mention that dragons can fly. So, it could be a thousand zombies, and as long as they were land-bound (which zombies generally are), they wouldn’t stand a chance. The dragon would just fly above them, and breathe fire, incinerating them in large swathes until all were gone. To be honest, the only creatures that I think would give a dragon trouble, or might actually beat a dragon, would be a demon. Like… like… Lubrochius, the Eater of Souls (hah! I had to get a plug in for my book somewhere! J ) And if you are pitting them against demons, you could just as easily pit them against an angel or a god. But that’s really stretching the monster resource bag. I mean, really? Must we reach into the afterlife to find a sufficiently powerful foe to contend with?

 

No, dragons are the apex predators. They are just too big, too strong, too well-protected, and too-capable with their breath and spells. Oh, again with the AD&D tradition, there’s also things like generating fear and such. But that doesn’t seem to be so much a magical ability, as it is the preponderance of common sense that overtakes a victim once he sees a dragon. It’s a dragon! Run for your lives!

 

And so, the dragon is and always shall be the undisputed ruler of all fantasy worlds. In my humble opinion, that is.

Old Movie Review: Paycheck (2003)

“Paycheck” starring Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman is a pretty messed up movie (messed up in a good way).

 

Ben Affleck plays reverse engineer Michael Jennings in the movie who makes his living by ripping off other people’s ideas and improving upon them. And then there’s a twist. He gets his memory erased each time he reverse engineers something. This is done by his cohort, affectionately called Shorty, who’s in the business of wiping memories. Then, Jennings gets a surprising offer he can’t refuse. He is given the opportunity to work on a project that will reshape the world, and he will be paid with stock options that are “guaranteed” to earn him eight figures, or something like that. The catch is that the project will take longer than usual; he’ll have two to three years of his life wiped away. Cut to the future where he’s completed the project, but his memories been wiped away, and he has no idea what he’s been doing for the last several years.

Then, things start to go wrong and he finds himself on the run, trying to backtrack what he did.

Uma Thurman plays his love interest: Rachel Porter who helps him out.

 

The movie is handled superbly. The clues are plentiful and well-placed. I don’t want to give away too much—in fact, I may have already done so—so, I’m just going to leave it at that. The scientific background to the story was “plausible,” yet, if you really push me it is flawed. But only flawed after a serious analysis, which is not fitting for this movie. It is intended as an intriguing ride, and it provides just that provided you don’t go into analytical overkill.

 

Probably the biggest “flaw” in the movie is that it’s really a one-shot deal. If you watch the movie again, it’s still a decent movie, but you can’t recapture the intrigue from the first viewing. I know all movies are like that to a certain extent, but this one is more so. The mystery is so well-developed the first viewing is an amazing treat. I own it, but I don’t watch it as often as other movies, because the suspense is gone.

 

So, I heartily recommend this movie to those who have not seen it. I’ll give it five stars for an initial viewing, but further viewings probably only earn three and a half, or four stars (out of five).

Fantasy Literature: Plotting and Outlining

I read a blog a few months back… it was entitled “Plotting vs. Pantsing” or something like that, and it was on another fantasy web-site (unfortunately, I’ve lost the reference). Basically, it was a blog discussing the various advantages and disadvantages of planning your book beforehand. According to the blog, Stephen King is known for “pantsing,” or writing by the seat of his pants, as it were. Brandon Sanderson is known for “plotting,” or doing extensive world-building and plot development before he even begins to type a single word. Both are exceptional authors, and have no need of advice from me. But I thought it worthwhile to examine my own writing in this light. My first novel, “Drasmyr” (and yes, it is my very first novel—the first draft was completed in 1996 or maybe even 1995.) was basically written stream of consciousness. It started out as a short story about a vampire seeking revenge on a wizard. Then, for some odd reason, I decided to turn it into a book. And I cranked it out in about three months time (or was it six?). Bam. Bam. Bam. That was obviously an example of “pantsing.” And it worked remarkably well, in my opinion, for that first book.

 

Since that first book, though, I have been tending to plot more and more beforehand. Even not counting the world-building, as that was partially in response to the needs of a pen and paper RPG game, I’ve found myself in later years needing to spell things out in advance in greater and greater detail. Maybe I’m just getting older, and my mind can’t perform as well as it once did. Although my skill with stringing words together has increased, my memory and other mental faculties have not.

 

However, it is worth noting that my plotting is sort of done in a pantsing style. I don’t write a complete detailed outline like we were taught in school with roman numerals and letters and all those subparts within subparts. No, I sit down and brainstorm first of all. I gather my ideas and answer a few basic questions: What will be the primary conflict or goal of the book? How does the story begin? How does the story end? And how do I get from one to another? I usually wind up with a skeleton of an outline, with a long list of chapters and roughly one or two sentences to describe each subsection of that chapter. Then, I start thinking about writing the book. But before I write a particular chapter, I sit down and brainstorm for that chapter, so that I have about a half a page or a page of notes for each subsection. I’ve found this works fairly well. From the get go, I have a decent general idea of where the story is going from my chapter list. Yet, I maintain flexibility in case I am inspired half-way through with a tangent I want to explore. It works well for me, or at least, it has been so far for the next book in the “From the Ashes of Ruin” series.

 

Anyway, every individual has their own personal style and I wouldn’t want to infringe upon a person’s freedom to chart their own way. But I think it important to try a few different approaches and see what works for you as a writer. Experiment a little. At this point in my life, I definitely do do some plotting. But I wouldn’t say I’m free of pantsing either. My approach is more of a hybrid.

 

And that works for me.

Book Review: The Way of Kings

I’m going to kill Brandon Sanderson. I purchased “The Way of Kings” a ways back, and started reading it. My initial reaction was kind of ho-hum; it was okay but not spectacular. But it’s 1200 pages long. And once I started, I had to read the whole thing. And I just started liking it more and more the longer I read it. Why am I going to kill him, you ask? Because it’s only book 1 in, what I guess, is a coming series ten books long. Another “Wheel of Time” type series. And the first book was 1200 pages! I’m supposed to read 12,000 pages of story! Good God, no! Although, silly me, I probably will because I like the story. Even though I may be dead by the time its finished.

Well, on to the review.

The story involves a number of subplots. It’s a little too complex to condense into a review; there’s just too much going on. There’s an assassin going around killing everybody. There’s a scholar/thief desperately trying to help her family. There’s a slave, who’s at the nadir of existence and struggling to find meaning, hope, and strength. There’s a high prince who’s trying to save his kingdom. Those are the major players; all their stories interweave in an intriguing fashion. But like I said, I won’t even try to elucidate on the story itself any further.

So, on to the strengths. Sanderson incorporates some philosophical ruminations in his work, and I like that. I was a philosophy major in college, and I enjoy the intricacies of philosophical discussion. Sanderson’s work isn’t quite the same thing as wading through Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” or Plato’s “Gorgias,” but it is still enjoyable. I also find myself agreeing with much of Sanderson’s world view (or what I think is coming across through his books). Particularly concerning the nature of nobility. Yes, the bulk of nobles are greedy, soul-sucking dirtbags concerned only with power and wealth, but there is the occasional truly noble individual aspiring towards higher ideals. Like Elend Venture in the Mistborn series, and Dalinar Kholin in this series (the name of the series is “The Stormlight Archive” by the way). It’s just so easy to disparage everyone who has wealth and power because, well, they have wealth and power. It’s nice to see that there is the occasional jewel sparkling in the slime. I just happen to like that. Also, Sanderson has once again invented a cool “magic” system, and again, I’m not sure I want to call it magic. It’s clever and cool and makes the world unique.

Weaknesses. I’ve previously mentioned this on my blog, but I think Sanderson is almost too creative for his own good. He’s created an alien world that is so different from the Earth in so many different respects, the reader has difficulty keeping track. I read the whole book, and I still don’t know how many moons his world has. He mentioned several in passing, but not often enough for me to really figure them out. He’s got a different calendar, with different names for the days of the week—I think his week may be of different length, too. The weather patterns on the world are different as well (although, that’s kind of cool). He’s got different kinds of plants, animals, and material for clothing.  Although all that is logical—it would be silly for another world to divide it’s year up into 52 weeks of seven days named Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc…–it can leave the reader bewildered. I mean, the logical end of such thinking forces one to give your alien world a completely new language, because they certainly shouldn’t be speaking English. But at that point, who wants to read something that’s unintelligible. The key is to strike a balance. Sanderson’s got 1200 pages to work with, so by the end, I was kind of used to the “rockbuds” and “cremlings,” but other basic things still escaped me (days of the week and moons among them). So, over all, I would weigh that against the book. Additionally, the enormous size of the book, is a point against it. I enjoyed the book, but I will probably never read it again. And the fact that he plans for nine more, I find almost disheartening. Finally, the plot… I don’t want to give away too much, but someone significant dies at the end of the book. He’s used that before, and I assume he’s tying it into his other books and series, but… really? It’s starting to get repetitive at this point.

Of course, despite my complaints, I intend to keep reading the series.

Overall, I’ll give the book four, maybe even four and a half stars. Good read. But long.

This review originally appeared on Shelfari.com on 7/29/2012.

Thoughts on World-Building

A critical component of modern fantasy writing is the process of world-building. You have a story to tell. Where will it be set? What are the unique characteristics of this world that separate it from Earth or any other? What kind of creatures and people live there? What is the culture of each of these? And a host of other questions must be addressed.

I’ve been involved with world-building for a good portion of my life, though for many years, my world-building was limited to a pen and pencil RPG environment. The needs of RPG world-building are somewhat similar to the needs of literature world-building, but I think the RPG environment requires more extensive work. After all, in an RPG game, the players decide where to go, not the gamemaster—no, the GM must be prepared for any eventuality. In writing, however, the author decides on everything. If the main characters of the novel are not heading into the arctic region of the world, there is no need to develop that region. I think this is a lesson I was a little slow in learning. For a while, I was spending one day out of the week on world-building while I wrote my next novel. The problem was: I was generating more material than I needed. I had several evil races and creatures in the area of Drisdak, but as it turns out, I will have difficulty working in just one. I think a more focused approach is called for.

What are the essentials? Well, I think geography is critical. I do have maps of my world (but I don’t have access to a scanner, so I can’t include them in my books yet). In any event, the maps I do have keep me from placing Drisdak north and south of Ansellian at the same time. That will prevent any number of embarrassing slip-ups like that. Additionally, you need to have some thoughts and ideas in place for the cultures of each of the main characters. Details of their religious orders, and what have you. This helps in developing the characters, their conflicts, and their beliefs. However, the main characters will require work beyond that. You shouldn’t limit their development simply to the confines of their culture. Just begin there. Start with culture, move on to religion, and then, ask what makes them unique and go from there. In my own world of Athron, the majority of the characters come from the same feudalistic society based largely on medieval Europe of Earth. There are exceptions, but that’s where I began.

Another critical component of world-building is the magic system. How detailed do you want this to be? Will it be as simple as a single magical talent like in Piers Anthony’s Xanth, or as complex as Brandon Sanderson’s Allomancy in Mistborn? In my world, magic entails an involved study with many different subfields. I began with the standard four elements that appear in a great deal of other literature—earth, wind, sea, and fire—and went on from there. I also have alchemy, and the study of runes as separate, but related disciplines. So, for example, a wizard might be skilled in flamecraft which gives him access to fire spells, but he also might know fire-based alchemy, and fire-based runes. A lot of this is actually crossover from my RPG development and it was intended that way.

So, to sum up, these are the essential elements of basic world-building for a fantasy world: geography, cultures and religions of the main characters, idiosyncrasies of the main characters, and last, but not least, the magic system. Start there and you are on your way.

And remember: you don’t want to befuddle the reader with too many details (I’ve seen that happen in other’s work, and it is something I’d personally like to avoid).

Winner of Blog Tour

Drasmyr Blog Review Tour

Congratulations to Lysette Lam, winner of my recent blog tour contest. As a result, she will be receiving a small collection of Vampire Wars metal miniatures: specifically, two Counts and two Slayers, plus three Drasmyr bookmarks. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Old Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Hulk was pretty much my favorite superhero as a kid. I used to watch the old TV program religiously. Loved the haunting melody they played at the end. I’ve been waiting for an Incredible Hulk movie for years. The first one, “The Hulk” with Eric Bana (I think) was disappointing. This one, with Edward Norton, was not. A much better movie. And the cool thing is, the way the set it up, it doesn’t supplant the first movie, unless you want it too. If you liked the “Hulk” with Eric Bana, then you can choose to view this as a sequel, just with a different actor. That movie ended with Dr. Banner in South America. This movie begins (although there is a brief recap of Banner’s accident in the opening credits) with Dr. Banner in South America. So, is it the sequel to the Hulk or not? You decide.

 

Anyway, Dr. Bruce Banner was a scientist working on a gamma ray project when he was exposed to gamma radiation (of his own accord), and altered. Now, whenever he gets angry, he transforms into a huge green hulk, a beast of all muscle, and incredible strength. Of course, a certain general in the military wants to take the Hulk, find out what makes him tick, and replicate it for military purposes. Hence, poor Dr. Banner is constantly on the run, throughout the world, trying to avoid capture and potential vivisection. He’s also looking for a cure. One scientist in the U.S. is secretly helping him, and it is through that connection that he is drawn back into the United States. Of course, a superhero is nothing unless he has a supervillain to square off against. In this case, one of the general’s men, agrees to biological manipulation and ultimately turns into a horrible monster known as the Abomination, a beast so powerful, he can even give the Hulk a run for his money.

 

That’s the story in a nutshell. Basically, the Incredible Hulk is a Smash-Fest. But a well-done Smash-Fest. When I was a kid, I always watched the TV program waiting for the Hulk to appear. He usually appeared once in the beginning, then once again at the end. In this movie, the Hulk appears three times. And each time is pretty great. Satisfies the inner anarchist in all of us. If you are looking for dramatic plot, serious discourse, and well-scripted dialogue… you might like this movie. The dialogue was good, there were some clever lines, and what can be more dramatic than an unstoppable Abomination ravaging Harlem. But it’s the slug-fest that defines this movie. That was the whole point of the movie; that is the whole point of the Hulk. “Rawr… Hulk… SMASH!” If you are looking for chaos and mayhem and a big green fella kicking tail, then this is the movie for you.

 

I’ll give it four stars out of five.

Vampire, Werewolf, or Zombie? Which Would You Rather Be?

I haven’t done a completely ridiculous post in quite some time (excepting, of course, on my recent blog tour), so I figure I’m overdue. So, here goes.

 

The question of the ages. You are condemned to live the rest of your life as a monster, but you are given a choice: you can be a vampire, a werewolf, or a zombie. What is your decision?

 

For myself, I’m going with the werewolf primarily because that is the one where you retain the most of your humanity. I mean, a zombie, really? All you have to look forward to is shambling around the countryside, rotting from the inside out, or from the outside in, and looking to feast on brains. Your intellectual capacity is reduced to virtually zero, and you’ve come to accept monosyllabic grunts and groans as the pinnacle of communication. No reading philosophy for you! A step up from that is the vampire. Here, well, you’re dead. According to most traditions, you are incinerated by sunlight so it’s the nightlife for you. You sleep in coffins, and drink human blood. Gone are the days of feasting on hot chicken wings and beer; nope, just blood. Day in. Day out. Although you do have some funky powers, and you have retained your remarkable intellect, you also suffer from a variety of weaknesses, like the previously mentioned sunlight. But also, you can’t enter a building unless invited. You can’t cross running water. You are repelled by holy objects. And most importantly of all: you stink. No matter where you go or what you do, whenever you set up house, you are haunted by that ever-present, hideous odor of the undead. The stuff of rotting corpses and graves. A small price to pay for immortality perhaps, but not an easy one.

 

Compare the above, to the werewolf. Once a month (okay, maybe three evenings a month, one on either side of the full moon, if we are generous), you transform into a hideous beast and roam the countryside looking for someone to rip to shreds. You have little memory of these events, let alone control. The rest of the time, you are basically a human, often with extraordinary strength and keen senses. You can go around in sunlight; you don’t rot; and you don’t stink… although you might have a bad case of fleas. Some traditions hold that you are immortal; others, that you will die in your own time.

 

For myself, immortality does have something of an allure; I could learn a lot in limitless time, but eventually, I think, I’d get bored.

 

I think all three of the above constitute curses. Vampires and werewolves are usually associated with losing your soul… not so sure about zombies. If God is understanding and lets you into heaven after your zombie body is destroyed, then perhaps that’s the way to go. But ignoring afterlife concerns, I’m sticking with the werewolf.