Monthly Archives: December 2012

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew

I’ve decided to reread the entire “Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis beginning with the first book in the series: “The Magician’s Nephew.” I read the series several years ago, but remember only highlights. I never read the series as a child, only as an adult. Anyway, I completed this book in three days. All the books are about the same length and are about the right size for a young child. C.S. Lewis is well-known as a Christian thinker and his personal philosophy is woven throughout this book in remarkable and interesting ways.

To begin, let’s start with the players. There are two young children: Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer. There is Digory’s uncle, Andrew. And there are the two supernatural powers: Jadis, the White Witch, and Aslan, the great Lion. Aslan is, of course, symbolic of Jesus of Nazareth, believed by Christians to be the Son of God. The White Witch is symbolic of evil, or the Devil, if you will. This book is a largely metaphorical work designed to make Christianity appealing to children. Christ was big on being open to children, so C.S. Lewis designing an alternative magical universe catering to the spiritual needs of the young is a natural extension of that philosophy. There are other characters in the novel, but those are the big five. As powers, Aslan and the White Witch are the most important. The main character, though, is Digory Kirke. The story is told largely from his perspective, although it occasionally shifts back to Polly, and even less frequently to other characters.

The story is pretty basic. Uncle Andrew is a magician here on earth who has created several magical rings that allow transportation between worlds. Lacking the courage to explore himself, he sends the children in his stead. The first adventure lands the children in the dead world of Charn, a world once ruled by Jadis, but which the horrible woman destroyed. During their explorations there, Digory inadvertently releases Jadis from an enchanted slumber. They flee that world and return to Earth. Fortunately, the children know that Jadis is up to no good and they manage to get her off of Earth and onto a third world at the very day of that new world’s birth. It is, of course, Aslan the Lion, who sings this world, named Narnia, into existence. For those not up on biblical lore, this is kind of a parallel to the notion of original sin: it was man’s fault that allowed evil into the world in the Garden of Eden. Anyway, the story continues from there emphasizing the wonder and magic of Narnia and the great power and wisdom of Aslan. A small mini-quest is set before Digory and Polly, and there are one or two more Garden of Eden allusions in store for the reader.

In any event, I enjoyed the story. It’s a good tale for kids and as such is fairly morally sound. Just because it is oriented toward Christianity it is not necessarily unappealing to non-Christians. It can be a little preachy in some areas, but not to the extent that it ruins the work.

Overall, I’ll give it four stars out of five.

This review originally appeared on Shelfari.com on 12-30-12.

Blogging: Is There Such a Thing as Posting Too Often?

I run a blog (this one, of course) and try to post to it at least twice a week, sometimes three times. There are a number of blogs that post far more often. Some five times a week; others, even several times a day. My purpose for blogging is to gain exposure for my writing. My blog, itself, is not supposed to be my career, but a complement to it. Other bloggers make their living off their blog. I’ve heard, and I kind of assume, that posting only once a week or less is not really worthwhile. Even posting twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, seems to be severely limiting. But, as I write fantasy literature, I’ve only got so much time to work on my blog. Twice a week (with an occasional extra) will have to do. Clearly, there is a minimum number you should post if running a blog, but is there a maximum?

Perhaps it is my technological naïvetee, but I seem to have problems keeping up with some of the more numerous blog posters. I own a smart phone, and for a while, I was following certain blogs and having the messages sent to my phone. Because they were posting so often, my inbox was being flooded with updates for each and every post. I finally broke down and set up filters that sent the blog posts to their own individual folder, so at least the primary inbox would remain clear of everything but the most essential e-mails.

I guess the answer to my question depends upon each individual consumer. For me, I like a more sparse number of postings: two or three times a week. It’s easier to keep up with and it’s easier to work into my schedule. Because keeping up on blogs, is almost as essential to my writing career as my own actual blogging. At one point, I didn’t bother following some blogs, or unfollowed others, because they just posted too much. I’ve had to rethink that strategy. I guess it was naïve for me to think that if I was going to follow a blog, I would be able to read every entry that blogger made. That seems more genuine, at least. But there are innumerable bloggers whose stats indicate they are following hundreds or even thousands of other bloggers. It’s almost like reverse spam. I do see the reason it happens, and understand why—and I will probably begin even doing it myself—but it still feels disingenuous.

Under such conditions, where people are seeking to maximize followers and maximize the blogs they follow, it seems that the best strategy is to maximize the number of posts you make. Each post has a chance of picking up more followers for your blog. But I think there is a certain innocence lost. I must wonder what happened to the blog-followers who just kept up with one or two blogs that interested them. Have they become a vanishing breed? If so, is that a good thing, or not? I honestly don’t know.

What do you think?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

It’s Christmas Eve. Pretty much my favorite time of the year (excepting maybe Thanksgiving). Time to hang out, light candles, listen to endless Christmas Music, and decorate the Christmas Tree. Although I briefly considered doing a monster mishmash of a vampire Santa, I decided against it–in honor of the holiday there will be no regular post today. So, Merry Christmas everybody. Have a great holiday!

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (pt. I)

I’ve always been a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. I read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” for the first time when I was like nine or something. They were the first real series I ever read. I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” considerably, so I had high hopes for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” I saw I the other night with a friend of mine. Overall, we both liked it. We weren’t blown away by it, but we did like it.

 

For those that don’t know, “The Hobbit” tells the story of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Frodo’s uncle), and the great adventure of his youth when he accompanied the band of thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield on their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon, Smaug. Smaug is, of course, a classic western-style dragon. Big, mean, and nasty. He’s got claws and teeth and breathes fire. He even speaks. Once, years ago, the Lonely Mountain was the seat of a great dwarven kingdom filled with wealth immeasurable. It is this wealth that attracted the dragon, and in one terrible day of fire and death, the dwarves were driven out and Smaug took over management of the mountain. 🙂

 

Thorin, who is heir to the throne under the mountain, is set on getting his kingdom and his treasure back. So, he sets out with twelve other dwarves and a solitary hobbit “burglar” to help him. Of course, in the beginning adventure, Bilbo has very few skills beyond maybe cooking and is an all-around sorry excuse for a burglar. Oh, there is also the great wizard Gandalf the Grey who kind-of comes-and-goes as he pleases—but he’s there to help the dwarves out here and there.

 

The company of dwarves plus a hobbit plus a wizard set out from Hobbiton in the Shire. They encounter numerous nifty creatures along their journey. First, there are trolls. Then, there are orcs and wargs (I think this first encounter with orcs and wargs is an addition by Peter Jackson), elves, stone giants, goblins, and a goblin king. Oh, and we can’t forget the legendary Gollum from whom Bilbo acquires the One Ring of Power. Overall, the Hobbit is an excellent modern fairy tale.

 

Like in “The Lord of the Rings,” Peter Jackson does do a remarkably good adaption of “The Hobbit.” Still, I have a few complaints. One, I did not like Radagast the Brown very much. He came across as too odd and jerky; his sleigh pulled by over-sized rabbits struck me as simply silly. It might entertain a five year-old, but I would hardly recommend Peter Jackson’s version of “The Hobbit” to the age group. Second, perhaps in some misguided attempt to appeal to the five-year-old age group, there were a couple ironic asides that I could have done without. Still, overall the movie was good. I liked the Pale Orc and his White Warg—I thought they were clever touches. I liked the scenes from Dol Guldur with the Necromancer and his minions even though Radagast was annoying. I’m still withholding judgment on the dragon. We get a few glimpses of him—not in his entirety, but a snatch here or there. I’m not quite sure if I like what I’ve seen yet or not.

 

Anyway, I’ll give the film four stars out of five.

Fantasy Literature: Writing and Revision: When is too much?

Writing fantasy literature, or any kind of literature, is hard work. And as it is often said, the secret of writing consists of “Revision. Revision. And Revision.” Any piece of original writing can be improved with revision. No piece of writing will come out perfect on the first draft, that’s a fact. The human brain just doesn’t work that way. You might get a few choice one-liners in the first draft, but on the whole, it will require reworking it to produce the polished gem you want.

 

However, in my experience, any piece of writing can be improved upon ad infinitum. This leads to a question: when is the revision process complete? If you insist on perfection, it won’t ever be complete. There must be some point at which the writing can be regarded as “good enough.” Does that mean we are settling for second best? That we’ve given up, because the struggle is beyond our capacity? I don’t think so. It is just a pragmatic way to deal with reality. As one revises over and over again, the manuscript will improve by a smaller and smaller degree each time. At a certain point, the reward (the degree to which the manuscript improves) will be insufficient to justify the effort (all the editing, proofreading, and rewording that goes into it). Determining this is, of course, a matter of skill and experience, and not a function of variables you can plug into some computer or some odd calculus you can do in your head.

 

Ideally, every writer should have at least one, preferably several, practice readers for their work. For my book “Drasmyr,” I had basically my sister—she’s got an English degree, but spends most of her time taking care of her kids—and a high school buddy who not only has an English degree, but some experience in the field of journalism. I would have liked to have hired a professional editor, but alas, I do not have the finances for that. The book has received several four star and five star reviews, so I think the process was ultimately thorough enough. Still, if I had to do it again, I would hire the editor… even if I had to scrounge for the money. The rule of thumb is: “If you got the dough, hire an editor.” Anyway, it is important to remember that even with the professional editor, the person with the final word on the document is you. You can only make so many changes to a document before you will start getting sick of looking at it over and over again. At this point, you have a choice to make: either publish it as is, or put it aside for a month or two, or even a year, then look at it again with fresh eyes after the allotted time has passed. Regardless, at some point, putting it aside will just turn into wasting time for meager improvements. At this point, just publish it. In today’s day and age it is very easy to do so… well, easier, anyway.

Winner of Blurb Blitz Blog Tour Announced

I am pleased to announce the winner of my recent blurb blitz blog tour. It is MomJane for her post on Tamaria Soana on December 5th. She has won a collection of Nosferatu metal miniatures. Congratulations. And thanks for participating.

Fantasy Literature: Writing Groups: On the Web or Face to Face?

So you want to be a fantasy writer? Good. The two most important rules of writing are: 1) write, and 2) read. Do lots and lots of both, as often as you can. The third rule is 3) join a writing group. Nowadays, anyone can be part of a writing group of some kind. The Internet has opened up whole new avenues of expression. There are a plethora of writing groups on the web; just do a search, and you’ll find lists of groups filled with fellow writers striving to improve their craft. Here’s one from the top of a google search: Critters.

 

The question, though, is which should you rely on? An on-line writing group? Or something off-line where you can meet face to face? There are advantages to either.

 

An on-line writing group opens you up to more potential criticism (this is actually an advantage). You can get lots of feedback from a great many knowledgeable people. In this day and age, every writer should be getting feedback from somebody; you don’t have an excuse to write alone, except maybe timidity (of course, that’s what I’ve been doing lately—so, I’m pretty much a raging hypocrite here). And if you want to be successful as a writer, you have to get over your timidity. Get your work out there and get some eyeballs on it. The more you do this, the more you accustom yourself to criticism, the better you will get at accepting and dealing with such criticism. Responding to constructive criticism is how a writer learns to grow. There is a disadvantage to an on-line writing group, though, or any writing group, for that matter. There is such a thing as too much criticism. Any piece of work can be criticized from some angle. And if you are striving to reach a point where your work can no longer be criticized because it is perfect… you will never get there. At some point, you have to decide the work is ready and you have to start submitting to editors.

 

On off-line writing group is a slightly different animal. There is a significant difference in receiving feedback face-to-face. There is more of an ebb and flow. You can respond to the criticism as its happening and you can learn to more effectively defend your work. For myself, I like the more personal touch of a face-to-face writing group (at the moment, I’m not in one, I’m getting all my criticism done via e-mail by my sister). But again, there are drawbacks. I get put off whenever the writing group gets too large. I prefer a group with maybe four or five other writers of comparable or superior skill; this gives you quality feedback from which you can learn a great deal. And not so much that you’ll be overwhelmed.

 

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject.

Book Review: The Emperor’s Soul

“The Emperor’s Soul” by Brandon Sanderson is a much shorter book than many of Brandon Sanderson’s other works. The copy I have is only about 170 pages long. To me it came across as kind of a long short story, instead of a novel. Maybe it was intended that way; I’m not sure. Anyway, the story is set in the same world as Brandon Sanderson’s first novel: Elantris. However, it’s hard to tell that on first blush. The magic system seems different—which it shouldn’t be, as it is the same world. There is no mention of the Dor at all in this book, but there are a few references to some of the countries from Elantris, like Fjordell, but that’s about it. It says in the postscript that it is set in that world so I’ll have to take Brandon Sanderson word on that.

 

Like I said, the magic system seems different than before; I had to think about it to find a similarity. And, as far as I can tell, it is this: writing. The magic systems introduced in Elantris all involved some form of writing to invoke their power. This book introduces a new form of writing to invoke magical power. The main character, a young woman named Shai, is a master Forger. And the term Forging here, is more reminiscent of the term meaning copying something than it is heating steel and shaping. That had me confused on the back copy. When I originally read it, I thought she was creating a whole new soul for the Emperor from nothing… something I find, if not impossible, at least philosophically unsatisfying (although it is, of course, Brandon Sanderson’s book). Her actual task in the story is slightly different. The Emperor’s true soul is still there, it is just suppressed and inactive due to injury. She must, through the art of Forgery, construct a new history for the Emperor and his soul, allowing him to function. Because it is a Forgery, it won’t be a perfect method of “healing”—there will be gaps in his knowledge, etc…–but it will give the Empire its ruler back and allow him to function similarly to the way he did before he was injured. Hence, it will be as if he has a new, slightly faulty “copy” of his original soul. At least, that’s how I understood it.

 

There isn’t a lot of action in this book. It consists mostly of Shai being in prison and talking to/figuring things out about her captors. A considerable amount of effort is also spent developing and explaining the magic system.

 

I was having certain issues while reading the book, so that I had some difficulty concentrating on it. As a result I’m not comfortable giving it a precise rating, so I will give it a range. I’d say it is somewhere between three and a half, and four stars out of five. It seemed worth reading to me, but I won’t swear by that testimony.

BBT Drasmyr Banner copy

End of Blurb Blitz Blog Tour

As of today, the Blurb Blitz Blog Tour for my book Drasmyr is officially over. Initially, we planned on having twenty stops, but we were forced to remove one because it involved a strictly adult site… and I don’t feel that is a good fit for my book.

So, the tour is over. We will be awarding the prize sometime this weekend, and we will announce it on Monday. Have a great day and a Merry Christmas.

BBT Drasmyr Banner copy

Fantasy Literature: One Main Character or Many

The fantasy literature genre, like any other genre, evolves over time. The standards of good fiction of yesteryear are not necessarily the standards of today. One of the elements of fantasy literature that has evolved through the years, and one that I’ve touched on, if only slightly, in other posts, is the number of characters. No, I’m not talking about the tendency of characters to multiply as you write—I’ve written about that directly before—instead I want to explore the issue of whether or not there should be just one main character or many. Of course, I say that, but I think in most pieces of fiction there is just one main character, but there may also be a whole bevy of support characters with very detailed backgrounds and interactions.

 

Take Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time,” for example. The main character is unquestionably Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn. However, there is a whole host of “lesser” characters (Perrin, Mat, Nynaeve, Egwene, Elayne, Aviendha… just to name a few). Most of these “lesser” characters warrant an entire story thread all to themselves. And, at a certain level, it seems these “lesser” characters are almost as important as the main character. We come to care about them as much as we do the main one, and we learn much of their stories. In fact, I don’t feel comfortable calling them “minor” characters, because there is just too much time and development devoted to each one individually. I don’t know what to call them. Maybe “major” characters? That seems to work. And I have used that term elsewhere: actually I’ve gone further, and distinguished between major major characters and just major characters. I think, in the above, Perrin, Mat, and Egwene would be major major, and the others merely major (are you confused yet?). Basically, there are more shades than just “main,” “major,” and “minor,” so those can serve as general groupings, not discrete categories.

 

Anyway, every writer must make a decision about how many main/major characters he or she is going to write about. As I’ve said elsewhere, there is an upper limit here. One cannot write an intelligible piece of fiction featuring fifty major characters. It just won’t work. “The Wheel of Time,” as noted above, has somewhere around seven major characters. I think that is pretty close to the max. The problem is, of course, the resulting story is invariably incredibly long. “The Wheel of Time” is currently on the fourteenth (or is it the fifteenth) and last book. So, I guess the point of this post is to warn starting writers about the critical decision that they must make concerning the number of characters. And I’ve found, through my own experience, that it is best to answer this question sooner rather than later.