Monday, August 29, 2011

Fantasy, please, what's up with the menagerie?

Can't go into this without at first admitting I am guilty, and that's what got me thinking.

I know fantasy naturally lends us to what isn't, but what is up with us and animals?  Off the top of my head I can think of emotionally and telepathically bonded horses (but are they really horses?), talking, magical dogs, talking, magical cats, talking ravens, POV unicorns. . . . .it is a tradition that reaches as far back as the original Conan books.  I know it is there, but I can't quite suss out why.  Is it just that fantasy people like animals?  I know that is why I am guilty.

I once noticed, in my teens, this preponderance of sometimes useful, sometimes necc., sometimes unneeded, sometimes spent too much time on, sometimes annoying animals.  In typical teenage fashion, I swore my next book would not contain little animal buddies.  And I did it.  Except for the memory sequence that titles the book:  Sheep that Stray, of course.  I kept rewriting the book, but those sheep stayed the only solid animal time in the book.  As I grew up, I continued my avowal of no cute or over-utilized animals.  The path to hell is paved with. . . . Four books into my adulthood, and animals have crept into every single one.

So why do I do it?  Simple.  I grew up with animals.  I grew up with dogs, cats, 21 gerbils (at one time), guinea pigs, a rabbit, anoles, an iguana, a hedgehog, rats, hamesters, a ball python, cockatiels, fish, aquatic frogs, Bell's horned frog, a five feet long monitor lizard, plus all the animals caught in the wild and kept for a while.  In the words of Jobi, a character in Rebirth, "the air had felt sterile without animals."  I don't understand how to keep animals out of my books anymore than I know how to keep them out of my life.  They have all the characterization to me.  Only, of course, they have animal characterization.

I feel as if that, in some ways, has represented the failure of the books with animals that I consider to have a failed animal element.  The animals acted like humans in little fur suits.  What animals care about, are willing to do in public, how they respond to the threat of violence or the comfort of affection--it all looks, sounds, and feels, smells, and even tastes profoundly different depending on what animal is being written about.

Whether to include animals of course depends on a) whether your whole book is peopled by animals and b) are your characters animal people?  Are the animals either part of the plot or a character trait?

Still, it lingers, does it seem to you as if us various fantasy types have more animals than other genres?  I mean, other than that dog that will be tortured and killed in every Stephen King book.  If so, why do we do it?  Why do so many of us find it so essential in so many books?  Why does Stephen King always kill that dog, anyway?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Role Playing

I began Dungeons & Dragons at a young age.  I was six.  My older brother, Steve, at eight, wanted to follow in the steps of our babysitter, Chris Lock's, footsteps as he regaled us with stories of his campaigns.  This was D & D.  No "Advanced."  No form 3 or 4.  No Call of Cthulu or Star Wars or any other role playing game.  Just bare bones D & D.  The Dungeon Master--usually my brother--didn't use modules (pre set up adventures) because as we understood it, only lazy and non advanced people did that.

We were far enough back that the media touted D & D as a devil game that caused the players to commit suicide or walk through sewers to San Juan.  Lucky for us, our parents saw this as the bull that it was.

Later, we advanced to different generations of D & D and different games with different players as we got to junior high and high school and we played late into the night with Mountain Dew, Nachos, Pizza, and painted figurines as our friends.

However, it started with us at a table with some dice, some books, a DM screen, and a shitload of imagination.

Here is the point I am trying to make:  Role playing is a primer for writing or acting.  Player characters scribble all over their sheets.  The long character histories, secrets, quirks almost eclipse those die rolled scores.  The DM abandons all modules and suggested worlds to create a universe and multiple stories for  characters to follow.

So, wait, let's run that again.  Player characters have just created characters.  They will make those characters face all sorts of twists, turns and challenges while both staying true to themselves and co-operating with the other characters, even the really annoying ones.  Didn't we just create a character in a book?

The DM creates a world.  Flip the words, and the DM world builds.  The DM sets up scenarios for us to go through.  So characters and DM are both forging an impromptu plot.

Our role playing was an oral medium--on line wasn't a blip on our radar.  So everyone thinks on their feet.  It is imagination impromptu and a lot harder than it sounds if you are really working your characters and worlds.  I'm focusing on writing, because that is what we do here, but my brother acts, and so does our friend Todd Babcock.  Both have said the creation of character and impromptu role play formed some of the first basis in their acting.

Of course, there were some setbacks.  Especially starting at six and always playing with your older brother and older friends.  I was always a priest.  Eventually druids came along and I got the excitement of having a slightly different role that involved collecting animals, as any little girl would love.  My brother is fond of, in prime social occasions, of telling how I once only agreed to play with him if I was allowed to have a unicorn ostrich that was black with a gold stripe down it.  Don't you love older brothers?  He never mentions he was strong arming a seven-year-old to play.

But I continued with druids.  All the way to high school.  Did I love druids that much?  Eh.  They weren't bad, exactly.  They were more interesting than a plan old priest.  So why did I keep with it?

Sean:  "My thief's name is Rathbone."
Steve (as DM):  "And Matt is a--"
Matt:  "Paladin"
Me, spinning a twelve sided die (Steve could even spin a four sider):  My drow elf assassin is named Eldroush."
Matt:  "You can't play an assassin."
Sean:  "Come on, Bets.  We need healing spells."
Me (sinking into my seat):  My woodland elf druid is named Eldroush."

This conversation, and about a thousand permutations of it framed my coming-of-age.  But hey.  I still played that druid in style.

I'm going to tell you something and you aren't going to believe it:  My brother and his friends were the second most popular clique in high school.  Yeah.  It's true.  People even knew they role played.  It was the nineties.  Weird things happened.  I was always just that weird girl, anyway.  But I got to impress the hell out of the boys in my classes that started role playing when they were eleven or twelve.  "Oh, D & D.  Yeah.  I've played for six years.  You really use modules?  Lame."

Let's recap:  Games built almost entirely on imagination kick ass.  Role playing is tailor made to scaffold you into creating complex characters and original worlds.  I highly suggest buying yourself a few manuals and getting to it.  Try to keep it as simple as possible.  Old school.  As few rules and as non-specific a world as you can get.  That leaves you more room to create.  Start a campaign with your writing group.

I promise you will not end up living in your mothers' basement.  Steve lives in Tribecca with his fiancé Evette Rios and has produced an indie movie "Tattoo:  A Love Story."  Todd Babcock is an actor in L.A.  Chris Lock, in his usual mysterious ways, is currently wandering the U.S.

I may have been a druid in a former life.

Do not allow your older sibling to tell you you have to be a priest.

You will not be possessed by the devil.  Probably not, anyway.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tempest and a comment (which is a bit like a teapot)

First off, I've been getting this buzz that the site cannot be commented upon.  It looks pretty easy.  There is this box that says comment that lets you type, but then it gets tricky.  A polite few words ask you to "comment as:" and a scroll bar gives you a little list with Google and AIM and Live Journal and the like on it.  Because we all know nobody is anybody unless that nobody has profiles on line.  I tried to make that sentence weirder, but I couldn't think of a way.  Basically, you have to sign up with one of those web communicating system.  Since I am hanging on blogger, and since it is direly easy, I suggest "Google."  I believe if you hit "Google" on that bar it should lead you forward to get your very own id with just a few questions.  If not, google google, I mean "gmail."  The steps are painless.  Basically pick out a unique name and a password.  Once you have those two items, you may sign into google, and onto my comments.  Click, bling, and post.

Okay, meat of the post:

Tempest Rising, Nicole Peeler.

Summary:  Jane True, 26, lives with her slightly feeble father and takes care of him, despite the fact she is a pariah in the small main town in which she lives.  Her mother was a pariah, so her daughter is a pariah.  Also because her boyfriend drowned trying to save her from the deadly whirlpool, the Sow, she swims next to every day.  But he didn't know that.

So when another body shows up in the Sow while Jane is cavorting beside it, she feels a bit put upon, plus guilty, scared and like puking as she fishes him out.  After that, she figures her weird quotient for her life.

Little knows Jane, that is only the beginning.  The next day Jane heads home from her job at Read 'Em and Weep--the local bookstore run by fabulously butch, Tracy, and lipsticky-porn star, Grizelda, lesbians and some of her only friends and supports in town--when she is chased to meet a gnome and a demented sea pony/seaweed pubes almost human Kelpie.  Short and the long of it, Jane True has splashed into a conspiracy beyond her belief where a world of supernaturals exists within and without the world of humans.  Jane is dragged headlong into it, most of which she doesn't mind since a) she's part of it, since her mother was a selkie, and b) the dragging is done by a really, really hot investigator/baobhan sith, more commonly known as vampire.  But he feeds mostly off emotion and only a little blood.


I started off with Jane True a while ago before the girl was the shit.  I read her quietly as I did not review then.  Heading into Jane True's small town world in Rockabill, Maine, and her book store life made me warm and fuzzy inside, as a pleasant two years of my life were spent shelving books.  Tracy and Grizelda were at once my favorite part of the book as they were well drawn characters and brought the life out of a bit annoyingly cowed Jane.  At the same time, I felt a bit guilty as I did not see why they had to be the butch and lipstick lesbian cliché.  True, Peeler took it to the hilarious max as Tracy carried herself like she played rugby and Grizzy dressed like she was David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days.  Couldn't one of them have just been an average woman, not screaming one form of lesbian or the other?  So that irked me a bit, but they were also fun, dynamic characters, so I gave them a pass.

I found the first three quarters of the book rollicking good fun.  I really enjoy Peeler's sense of humor.  I like that our heroine isn't a supermodel, thought I was annoyed this busty, curvy girl turned out to be a petite six--for all us REAL big boned grrls out there.  One of the only things I liked about Ryu is that he liked her despite Peeler often points out she is imperfect.  Jane does a great job of fainting, reviving, taking on faith, and slowly owning the supernatural world.  The progression of her emotions feels quite real and valid.  And she does it all with a saracastic vibe I adore.

Peeler does the type of world building I think a lot of people don't much notice.  She creates a small main town, used to be fishing, now tourism of the Sow.  Her people reflect this vibe.  The attempt to draw attention by the businesses by naming everything after pigs is laughably, painfully realistic.

I love mythology.  I love putting mythology in books.  I love reading about mythology put into books.  So I am bound to have some strong opinions, right?  Ahem.  Ryu, the vampire, as I have said, calls himself  baobhan sith, and claims to mostly feed off emotions.  I'll give it to her.  The feeding off emotions, with a little blood, is an interesting concept that allows her to have the seductive vamp act without the fear of death or becoming a vamp, since he is alive and supernatural, not undead human.  But I'm a bit of a stickler on my vampires.  I can't help it.  I was raised a vampire purist.  Many a night up past all reasonable hours I watched all manor of vampire flicks with my dad.  See, as a kid, I had horrible, screaming nightmares of vamps.  So I took control when I got older.

I'm still beating myself, kneeling down and screaming "Why??" did I make up two good vampires in Weaver's Web.  No matter I followed other vampire dictates to death and it made an interesting story and twist on an old one.

Enough with the divergence into me-land.  The fact is baobhan sith means "fairy woman."  She doesn't come out in the day.  She doesn't touch iron (being fairy).  She wears a green dress to cover what were either hooves or very sharp nails with which she sliced and then drank to death unwary travelers.

This man has not one of her traits.
He is barely a vampire.

Obviously part of what makes using mythology cool is seeing the ways in which you can use it, but slightly change and revitalize it.  But, Come on!  She made up a whole new creature, which is fine, but don't tell us vampire freaks or mythology lovers that you are doing anything else!

Plus, I love sex as much--actually apparently more--than the next girl.  So I am split here.  I love Peeler for down and dirty sex with only a few embarrassing euphemisms.  Her heat actually gets me hot.  Plus, give the girl props for not being afraid to swear.  Gut I get really bored of Ryu exuding sex.  Giving him a funny laugh and a love of Manga does not hide the fact you are creating someone, other than some emotional unavailable traits, the perfect guy.  It's annoying.  We know that in the long term of the series we are all rooting for the dog, anyway (that makes sense later, don't worry).

I'm hip to the book, despite my mythology whining, until they get out of my beloved Rockabill and go to a very fantasy-fantasy court setting.  I'm not giving away the (plot) climax, but it is lame.  Even given the fact she can't light off her big finale fireworks since this is obviously a series.  I hope this isn't saying too much, but as much as Jane was new and couldn't do the heavy lifting, I hated that after all the feminist sounding Jane (and Peeler), Jane is saved.  I just wish Jane could have saved Jane.

Well.  That concludes this catch up on fantasy.  I made an attempt to read the second book but I got turned off by the repeated perfect, turned on, and down and dirty Ryu references.  Ask anyone who knows me.  That's saying a lot.

Who knows?  Maybe I'll give it another go and let you know how we like each other this time through.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Big Magnetic Board!

First off, I have an article on fusion fantasy on a great website--Mythic Scribes--that both supports writers in their writing and explores fantasy issues and reviews.  If you want to take a gander at my article or just the site, the link goes as follows:

However, we really need to take a look at the big magnetic board.  I can't take credit for this one.  My English Methods instructor, Katrin Roberston came up with this one.

Basically, I'm talking about exactly what it sounds like:  In my office I have an enormous piece of sheet metal nailed to the wall.  I suggest it for any brainstorming project--writing or otherwise.

So when I'm first coming up with a project, I am a pretty random thinker.  Meaning, I walk into my office, stare at the board, sit down and twirl in my chair till I'm sick, and then take a small piece of paper, scribble an idea for my project on it, and stick it to the board with a magnet.

Eventually, the sucker takes shape.  I move and remove, and scatter and gather the little idea pieces until they make patterns, sense, and eventually an approximate outline.

So then I move on to one of my other fav brainstorming tools, since I've usually run out room on the board by that time.  I need something on a smaller scale to examine scenes and elements one by one.  So I go to Inspiration.  Inspiration is a brainstorming and organizing program that I also learned about in my education program.  Of course, no matter how great a tool they showed us it was in teaching, which is what it was originally designed for, I quietly switched to working on writing.  Unless a teacher stood over my shoulder.

I know, I'm learning to be a teacher, and I'm still a bad student, right?  But I will guarantee that I am a kick ass teacher.

Back to Inspiration.  You can buy it online for the Mac or PC and if you have a student ID they will so hook you up, so be sure to have it in your hot little hand when ordering.  Inspiration allows you to cluster map, concept map, organize those by their systems or your system, write outlines, switch from map to outline to map again.  All and all, it is a great program.  Anyone who has to think should look it up.

Between the two methods, I can completely map a book, rather than having to rely on outlines, which are so not how my mind goes.  So go get our sheet metal (make sure you cover the edges.  They are sharp).  Pick up that Inspiration.  I'll leave graph paper and colored pencil madness for a tantalizing other time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lost Boys

Let's step into the way back machine, once again.  We are traveling back to a movie theater in 1987 and prove how old I am.  Though I will admit that as eleven, with the movie at a PG-13, I had to wait till it came out in video.

True, Lost Boys falls under horror, but it is all in the family with genre.  Lost Boys is important because it flawlessly combined a number of elements seamlessly.  And they did it with never hitting R.  True, that's because they lacked nudity and swearing, not gore, which has always confused me, but there it is.

This hip movie featured a scary ass Keifer Sutherland and both Corys.  What made it amazing was that it had  solid vamp horror base (though they did play fast and loose with some rules, it didn't ruin the movie) with scalps being ripped off and blood spurting every which way.  But it created so much more.  The backdrop created a solid world building beauty with the town of Santa Carla, which, having been there looks a hell of a lot like Santa Cruz plus vamps.  But that seaside, border walk and hills made for that eclectic, hectic world where Jim Morrison somehow fits into everything.

They didn't leave it there.  The quirk goes deeper.  Humor slides in seamlessly without hurting the fright.  If fact, the off limits double stuffed Oreos and lines such as "I don't know, it's not like you got a bad grade or something" when Michael asks his brother to hide that he is becoming a vampire, heighten character creation, make you love the characters, and so the fear increases as we actually care about whether or not the characters die.  Of course, two words:  Frog Brothers.

And of course what is a teen vampire movie without a romance, right?  Rather than Michael and Star's romance feeling like it is stuffed in because it is par for the course, their romance drives Michael into the plot, and her situation as a half vampire as he is, it helps his resolve to drive them all back out of their messed up situation.

Every element builds into each other to wrap us up within the world of the movie.  If you just told me about the movie, which hopefully I have done a better job of, I might have assumed it horrible.  I have seen other vampire movies try to pull off this mix of humor, character, and horror and in general fail miserably.

Lost Boys is a testament to fusion.

When my students were reading Twilight, I would tell them to watch Lost Boys.  Luckily, with the PG-13 rating, I could get away with that.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

So, I'm published (and back)

On the eve of my book, Weaver's Web--a fusion fantasy novel--publishing in paper and kindle, I chose to go to Canada, miles away from internet access.  Though, of course, I still had to bring my laptop and a pile of editing.

Here is the important and stunning thing to me:  I'm out there.  All of my life I have written, and all of my life its been family, a few friends, and of course instructors that read.  Writing this book brought me a whole range of emotions and experiences.  All I want is to share them.

I had a great team of people to back me, and I need to send mad props to them.

Meantime I waded in Lake Superior.  I was lazy about my hygiene.  I hung with my uncle's family and went to galleries with my aunt.

Now I am back, I am published, and I am ready for the next step.  Give me a shot.   Click below the cover picture for links to paper and kindle editions.