Interview: Selah Janel, Author of Olde School

SelahJanelAuthorPicEveryone, please clap eyes together for Selah Janel! We chat about a ton of stuff in this interview, ranging from comics (Batgirl, Sandman) to books (American Gods, Ray Bradbury), to Welcome to Night Vale, along with lots of other interesting bits. Enjoy!

What book should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

First, thanks so much for having me on! I’m an unabashed geek, so there are a lot of books I’d love to see branch out into some sort of interactive play. I really love Neil Gaiman’s work, so I’d have to say that I’d be all for some sort of American Gods or Sandman game. Both of those worlds are so rich in settings, characters, story, and mythology, so you could do a lot with any type of game experience. You could even have different players actively working against each other with either title, so that would be a lot of fun. I’d totally be down to play Death or Delirium in Sandman!

Ray Bradbury is also probably my favorite author, and I have an unhealthy love of carnival-themed stories, so I would absolutely love to spend all evening playing any kind of version of Something Wicked This Way Comes. It would be so cool to play as Jim or Will and go around exploring the carnival, then seeing the town come undone and having to figure out the reason for it, then face down characters like the dust witch, Mr. Cooger, and Mr. Dark.

And honestly, I’d love to eventually see Olde School get that kind of treatment. Kingdom City and The Land in general is a huge area with a lot of great characters and places to explore. I’d love to see people playing their way through the city and Thadd Forest, dealing with characters like Nobody and Addlebaum, and facing off against the Olde Ones. There could be so many fun possibilities there!

JanelOldeSchoolWith the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

I tend to read a little bit of everything, and I like perusing the new section of my library and grabbing titles with no prior knowledge, so I don’t know that I’ve been lured outside my comfort zone without expecting it to happen. I like discovering different work, and even if it makes me feel uncomfortable, I’ve discovered a lot of great titles by being open. So I suppose if classifying a work in different genres helps people who may not go looking for something discover that they like more than what they assume, then it’s definitely a good thing. Anymore, as cross-genre titles become more popular, it’s almost impossible to distinguish a title by one genre, anyway. The genre labeling helps bookstores and marketing, sure, but at the end of the day, I think most books tend to be more than one classification. Sure, there are people who only go after certain genres: horror, paranormal romance, etc., but even those two examples encompass a lot of subgenres.

My book, Olde School, is a good example. It looks like a fantasy book, and it encompasses a lot of those creatures and plot elements. It also has a lot of folklore and fairy components, but lends itself to urban fantasy because of its modernized setting and the fact that there are paranormal/Lovecraft-type horror elements coming into it from another realm. On a shelf it would probably be found under fantasy, but I’ve had all sorts of people get into it and enjoy it – some of whom made it a point to mention that they never read fantasy, but really enjoyed this title!

In that way, I think marketing to different genre shelves definitely helps authors, but it also helps readers expand their horizons and find titles that they might have overlooked. It’s the equivalent of me wandering through the library grabbing whatever’s interesting. If I hadn’t picked up Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez, I may have just thought it was some goofy title playing on the horror genre and not the really clever book and well-written story it is. If I’d walked past This is Gonna Hurt by Nikki Sixx, I’d have assumed it was yet another rock star bio and not a really incredible photography book combined with musings about living a creative life and not judging people (plus I’d have missed out on a book that probably changed my creative life). It all goes back to not judging a book by the cover, and if the various genre filing does that for a reader, then I’m all for it!

JanelMoonerWhat reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?

I’m really (really, really, really) into fairy tales and folklore of all types, as well as myths from all areas of the world, so I can definitely get behind a well-written retelling or a story that uses the characters, settings, or arcs to make them new. The Tenth Kingdom miniseries came at a time when I was starting my twenties and had gotten away from a lot of genre fiction because I was a freshman in college and studying theatre. Although I’d been brought up with various versions of fairy tales, it seemed that only the Disney versions made it into popular culture, so to see something closer to the Grimm versions used in such unique ways blew my mind. I loved the way the story incorporated the “real” world and original characters, and utilized a lot of themes as well as just having the fairy tale characters show up. Diane Wiest is so amazing in that, as is Ed O’Neil. The humor is fantastic, and I love that it doesn’t shy away from slightly bawdy themes and some really dark territory. I really don’t think Olde School would have gotten written if it hadn’t been for that influence – it made me think years later of what was possible and just go for broke, giving me permission to do my own slant on old themes.

As a kid, I also grew up with Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. Those episodes were just mind-boggling and seemed so real. I was mesmerized…and terrified. A local library happened to have the novelization of those stories, and I checked it out so often that I’ve probably still got some of them memorized. I always found it a shame that his fantasy work always gained more of a cult following, because things like that series are exquisite – just perfection, and really show what you can do with puppets, great acting, and fantastic stories.

A few years ago I stumbled upon My Father He Killed Me, My Mother She Ate Me, which is an anthology of fairy tale retellings. Like any anthology, I gravitated to some stories more than others, but The Color Master by Aimee Bender…to this day I am in awe and incredibly jealous of this story. I love any version of Allerleirauh I can find, and to have it told from the perspective of a craftsperson really spoke to me since I sew and design costumes in my daily life. The emotion in the tale brought me to my knees, and the descriptions of making the three dresses really spoke to me. It was such an unusual take on the story and it’s done so well.

Obviously I’m really into Sandman – that series never ceases to make me feel on a visceral level and give me something to think about. American Gods, too – that’s one of the few books where I really didn’t see a lot of the reveals coming. You can really tell that Neil Gaiman knows what he’s talking about. He doesn’t necessarily cram anything down a reader’s throat but uses the revamped characters and themes in some subtle ways. I still catch things when I go back and reread both titles.

As far as ones that haven’t worked for me…I honestly don’t get into movie revamps that purposefully take fairy tales and make them “dark.” This doesn’t make sense at all to me…they’re already dark, it’s just that we’ve sanitized them so much in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Just go back and tell older versions of the story and tell them well! You don’t need to work so hard throwing in twenty action sequences and over the top love triangles and things that just don’t fit. I get the fixation, I get wanting to modernize things, but I can’t help but think that there are better ways. I really wish that instead of taking the same five or ten stories and continually showing the “true” version or cramming them into some new subgenre, people would take a look at a lot of the international versions of the stories and work with them. I mean there are over three hundred known Cinderella stories and we regularly use maybe three. That’s a shame, especially when some of them have some great elements like the heroine leaving home to find her own way or man–eating trolls.

JanelInTheRedWhat is your favorite fictional holiday (from books, movies, or tv)?

Speaking of Jim Henson…and probably showing more of my inner workings than is healthy….Refrigerator Day, from the TV series Dinosaurs. I would totally be all about celebrating the glory of the fridge.

JanelHollyAndIvyIf you could sit down and have tea (or a beer) with 5 fictional characters, who would you invite to the table?

Oh, man! Questions like this always get me! I always have to fight the instinct to put a bunch of people together that might become a powder keg, just to see what would happen. Definitely Jareth, the Goblin King, from Labyrinth. I’ve always really been intrigued by that character since you really don’t know a lot about him other than his role (that he seems bored by), and if you believe his interpretation of things in the end scenes, that may be a front because it’s how Sarah expects to see him. Barbara Gordon/Batgirl would be one that I’d definitely want to talk to, but only in her pre-new 52 version. I found her transformation into Oracle so emotional and inspiring, and it did wonders for her characterization in the comics. I really hate that all that got reverted. Salem the cat from Sabrina the Teenage Witch because I am that big of a geek and a cat person and I cannot help but think that it would be hilarious. Cecil from Welcome to Night Vale because I just want to know everything that goes on in that town and he’s probably the best one to get the dirt from. And I’m sure Clyde from Olde School would make me invite him to keep the peace – he’s annoying like that. He was once a magical/possibly evil entity, and now is stuck as a non-magical songbird with a deep, sexy voice who helps the lead character in my book as long as it means he gets unlimited access to red wine and cable television. He wouldn’t want to be left out…plus he’d probably give Salem a run for his money.

Man, only five? I guess I’d have to save the invites to Eowyn, Aslan, Meg Murry from Madeline L’Engle’s books, The Endless from Sandman, Tamora from Titus Andronicus, Loki, Skinner Sweet from American Vampire, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in your Home from Welcome to Night Vale, and half of the standard fairy tale characters for the Christmas party……..Come on. You know that would be amazing!

JanelTheOtherManCare to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

I feel like this happens on a day to day basis for me. I tend to talk prolifically about anything I’m really enjoying, be it a band, movie, book, whatever. I know it gets obnoxious and although I try to dampen that down, I do get really passionate about what I’m into at times. I’m also still not used to people coming to conventions to see me or coming up to me to talk about my books, so I have to really stop myself from going “Me? Really?” and looking around in confusion.

Probably the best example of me overreacting isn’t actually me gushing to anyone, but an incident that happened a handful of years ago. I was in the middle of just a lot of different things going on and I’d recently lost a family member, so I was a ball of tension anyway. I love going to the library and I had found a book of source material written by Ray Bradbury around the same concept of Fahrenheit 451 that either didn’t make it into the book or were written before or after, etc. I didn’t realize until I’d gotten home that it was a limited edition…a signed limited edition.

The thing about me is I’m a huge lover of Ray Bradbury. His work really encouraged me to keep writing, and I could speak about his influence forever. He’s one that I keep slowly going through the list of his works, debating whether to read it all or leave some go, so there’s always something to look forward to. And having that book in my hands that I happened to check out, knowing that it wasn’t available anymore and at the time I didn’t have the money to spend on it, anyway….
….this is so embarrassing, but I lost my ever-loving mind.

There’s a story he wrote in Dandelion Wine called The Happiness Machine, and it involves a husband trying to make his family happy by building a machine that would show them all these different things that they didn’t happen to have. The wife comes out of the machine sobbing and says something to the effect that they were things she didn’t even know she wanted, and now she knew she’d never get them. That’s about what it was like for me, to hold that thing in my hands, running a finger over the signature, knowing I’d love reading it, knowing I’d get attached to it, knowing I had to give it back…

Yeah, definite meltdown. My mother happened by and actually thought someone else had died or some other tragedy had happened until I calmed down enough to explain. After realizing that she’d given birth to a crazy person, we actually sat down and tried to find a way around the situation, but by then most of that edition had been bought up.

A lot of my friends suggested a lot of ways around the library process, but I couldn’t in good conscience do anything with a book that advocated literacy and shared knowledge, so I actually had my mother take it back so I wouldn’t be tempted. I never read a single part of that book because the thought of having it but not having it just tore me apart.

In hindsight, a lot of it was probably me expressing a lot of grief and frustration at the things that were going on, but man that was a huge catalyst that actually got me to express a lot of that emotion. I was also fortunate enough that a dear friend of mine found a signed copy of Dandelion Wine (my favorite Bradbury book) and sent it my way to ease the ache. I’ve never forgotten the gesture and it helped to reorient my headspace at the time. Still, I will admit that I’ve never tried to check that book out again.

JanelLostInShadowsWhat is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

I feel like this happens once a week, so it’s really hard to choose or remember a specific incident. I get involved in the Marvel vs. DC debate a lot, and I end up getting way more detailed in any Batman discussion than I probably should. People tend to rope me into a lot of discussions about fantasy or fairy tales. Sometimes I’ll play devil’s advocate about titles I’m not really into or things I love but don’t think need endless sequels, just to make sure everyone keeps an open mind. Lately, since I’ve become a regular listener of Welcome to Night Vale, the most recent geektacular discussion involves deciding out of my friends and family, who would be a resident of Night Vale and who would belong in Desert Bluffs. I got talked into moderating a fanfiction panel at a writing convention a few weeks ago. Whatever your feelings on it (and I have many different ones), as I’ve gotten older I’ve developed this secret theory that fanfic is the new oral tradition and a lot of the “new” archetypes specific to it are downright Jungian, but for slightly different reasons and goals. I’ve had a lot of moments lately traumatizing people with that more intellectual take on fandom. It’s always something – if I can inject people’s daily lives with a little bit of geekiness and get them to appreciate all the fun stuff out there, then I’ve done my job,

HartnessLeverettBigBadFinally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

Most of my upcoming stuff is still in the development stage at the moment – I’m finishing up some standalone manuscripts to shop, working on a few proposals, and plotting out the next Kingdom City book. I’m discussing a few other projects, including an issue of Tales of Indiscretion dedicated to my short fiction, but as of yet I don’t have any official dates on anything. I’m hoping to make an appearance in the Columbus, Ohio area on October 25, but that’s still being finalized and I’m still working on my 2015 schedule, as well.

I will have a story in The Big Bad 2 anthology, which focuses on characters traditionally seen as “evil” getting the spotlight. “A Family Affair” will be a prequel to my vampire story “Real Wild Childe” in the first Big Bad anthology, and deals with cold war era vampires and a fairly interesting housewife.

There’s a lot to discover on my blog, though! After a short break I’m trying to get back to regular posting, and a full list of my available releases, as well as magazines and anthologies I’m in is there. There’s also a full page of different Kingdom City fun, including little shorts featuring Clyde the bird. The main link is http://www.selahjanel.wordpress.com and the rest can be found by clicking at the subheadings. I always welcome people to message me on my FB author page or tweet me or leave a comment on the blog. I love hearing what people have to say!

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My Book Loves of 2013

GaimanStardustHere is a post in which I gush about my favorite books of 2013. Out of the roughly 133 books I read this year, these are the ones that really stand out on reflection for one reason or another. Feel free to scroll until you see something interesting.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

A reread, and a read along. I love this book and the movie. Fantasy, a quest, coming of age. Loads of fun and happy ending.

MathesonIAmLegendI Am Legend by Richard Matheson

New-to-me author. Vampire/zombie book, but starts off 1970s California, a simple virus. Loved the science, the survivalism, the societal twist at the end.

Squatch with Turning Point

Squatch with Turning Point

Turning Point by Robert P. Snow

Murder mystery set in northern NM. Lots of fun, recognize lots of the places in the book.

CooperGhostHawkGhost Hawk by Susan Cooper

New-to-me author. A historical fiction about the early settling of America told through a Native American’s eyes. Done really well, fully engaging.

HaldemanForeverPeaceThe Forever War & Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

New-to-me author. Great military SF. Awesome characters.

BearUndertowUndertow by Elizabeth Bear

Amphibious alien natives used as a workforce. Plus assassins. You can’t go wrong with that combination.

FremantleQueensGambitQueen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

New-to-me author. Tudor historical fiction told from Katherine Parr’s point of view.

WatersPayingPiperPaying Piper by Ilana Waters

A children’s book, beautiful illustrations, excellent story.

Pico consented to pose with my book.

Pico consented to pose with my book.

The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish

This was a reread for me, and a read along. Still a damn good book even the 2nd time through, and dissecting it. High fantasy, swords & sorcery.

Smudge Cat as a book stand!

Smudge Cat as a book stand!

Shadow Chaser by Alexey Pehov

Book 2 int he series. Thieves, elves (black pointy teeth!), dwarves, gnomes, a quest.

FahyFragmentFragment by Warren Fahy

New-to-me author. A fun, modern-day beastie flick. The biologist in me loved this book.

Pico resting before dinner.

Pico resting before dinner.

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

New-to-me author. Epic fantasy that is different, heavy on the economics, various humanoid races.

SakurazakaAllYouNeedIsKillAll You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

New-to-me author. A short, excellent military SF with a twist.

HassonEmoticonGenerationCoverThe Emoticon Generation by Guy Hasson

New-to-me author. A fun collection of Hasson’s short stories. Some humorous, some creepy. All interesting.

ReichsBonesOfLostBones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs

New-to-me author. A later book in the series following the forensic anthropologist. Addictive.

CollingsBillyMessengerOfPowersBilly: Messenger of Powers by Michaelbrent Collings

New-to-me author. A kid’s book, but a good one. Adventure, magic, a quest. Lots of fun.

HearneHuntedHunted by Kevin Hearne

I love the whole Iron Druid series. I think I am all caught upon this series. Luke Daniels does an incredible job of narrating the books.

Pico was chasing the little green got my camera flash makes.

Pico was chasing the little green got my camera flash makes.

The Reason for Dragons by Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely

New-to-me author. A graphic novel, modern-day, a nod to Don Quixote.

Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.

Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.

The Hero and the Crown & Sunshine by Robin McKinley

While Sunshine was a reread, The Hero and the Crown was my first read through. Both are excellent. Female leads, magic, companion war horse, and Death by Bitter Chocolate.

LynchRepublicOfThievesThe Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The 3rd book in the Gentlemen Bastard series does not disappoint. Read this as part of a read along. Great series.

GabaldonOutlanderOutlander by Diana Gabaldon

A reread, but it had been nearly 2 decades. Excellent historical fiction with sex. Yep. Not just silly, light kissing.

Chilly day = Cat Nest (Pico, Heldig, Waffles, Smudge)

Chilly day = Cat Nest (Pico, Heldig, Waffles, Smudge)

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

New-to-me author. This was an excellent audiobook. Kid’s book. Adventure, masks, goblins, theater.

CoorlimSkyPiratesOverLondonSky Pirates Over London by Micheal Coorlim

New-to-me author. These are fun, short stories set in a steampunk England. I’ve read 4 of the books so far and enjoyed this one the most.

ShowalterAwakenMeDarklyAwaken Me Darkly by Gena Showalter

New-to-me author. This is one of my naughty book secrets. Simple plots, fun characters, erotica element. Aliens, assassins.

Stout snuggling with the Nac Mac Feegle.

Stout snuggling with the Nac Mac Feegle.

Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky)

All four were read this year as part of a read along, rereads for me. I love these books. They are my favorite Terry Pratchett novels, having a more serious bent than other Discworld books I have read.

BowmanTornFromTroyTorn from Troy by Patrick Bowman

New-to-me author. Another kid’s book and a great one for exploring Ancient Greece.

CoreyLeviathanWakesLeviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

New-to-me author. Well, I had read Daniel Abraham before this book, but Abraham writes this series with Ty Franck under the James SA Corey pen-name. Epic science fiction has never been better.

SchoonZennScarlettZenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

New-to-me author. My inner biologist geeked out the entire time reading this YA SF.

HillTheHatchingThe Hatching by Liesel K. Hill

I know it’s a short story, but it was one of the best I read all year. Dragons. I won’t spoil it for you. Go read it.

Pico & Chupa

Pico & Chupa

Makers by Corey Doctorow

New-to-me author. Quirky, insightful, and fun. It follows these two tinkers for a few decades. Cutting-edge SF.

BensonBlackStilettoThe Black Stiletto books by Raymond Benson (The Black Stiletto, Black & White, Stars & Stripes)

New-to-me author. Addictive. 1950s superheroine, New York. Need I say more?

LornHopeForWickedHope for the Wicked by Edward Lorn

New-to-me author. I also read his Life After Dane, but I like the Larry Laughlin character quite a bit. Horror. Illegal substance level addictive.

BracewellShadowOnCrownShadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

New-to-me author. 1001 AD Normandy, royal families. Excellent, excellent historical fiction.

Heldig will steal anyone's body heat...if they'll hold still for it.

Heldig will steal anyone’s body heat…if they’ll hold still for it.

The Wild Life of Our Bodies by Rob Dunn

New-to-me author. This nonfiction was incredibly fun. The odd, slightly embarrassing things I learned from it to sprinkle party conversations with…..

MimsHidingGladysHiding Gladys by Lee Mims

New-to-me author. A cozy murder mystery that I didn’t want to put down.

Tofu being used as a bookstand.

Tofu being used as a bookstand.

The Human Blend by Alan Dean Foster

More SF modifications for my inner biologist to geek out about. Excellent mystery, excellent SF, excellent characters.

Heldig & Tofu

Heldig & Tofu

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

Book 6 in the Wheel of Time series, and part of the massive read along of the series. Incredible ending to this particular book. Robert Jordan gets better with each book.

Waffles is always bathing. A very clean cat.

Waffles is always bathing. A very clean cat.

The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson & crew

A very fun historical fiction set in the time of Genghis Khan. Luke Daniels was amazing as the narrator.

ScalziRedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

Haha! A fun Star Trek parody. Wil Wheaton as the narrator was perfect!

Typical morning cat cuddle pile on the bed.

Typical morning cat cuddle pile on the bed.

The Legend of Broken by Caleb Carr

Another awesome historical fiction. Sorcerers, hunters, midgets, a pox, and a crazed ruler who needs to be taken down.

This is Heldig's 'nice kitty' face.

This is Heldig’s ‘nice kitty’ face.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

New-to-me author. This is Book 1 in the trilogy, and my favorite of the series. Steampunk, Austria, airships, a woman in disguise and in service to the crown.

I didn't catch Pico in a good mood.

I didn’t catch Pico in a good mood.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

Only Jeannette Walls can pull on my emotions as she does. Modern-day tale of two sisters trying to find some stability.

Chupa and Streak with a good book makes a decent cat pile.

Chupa and Streak with a good book makes a decent cat pile.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

New-to-me author. WWII female pilots and spies. One of the best WWII books I have ever read.

IgguldenBloodOfGodsThe Blood of Gods by Conn Iggulden

The 4th book in Emperor series tells what happens after Julius Caesar fell. Excellent series.

BernheimerPrimeSuspectsJim Bernheimer books (Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, Prime Suspects, Horror, Humor, and Heroes)

New-to-me author. Uh, yeah. You might of noticed that I listened to 3 of Bernheimer’s books in ~2 weeks. Yeah, addictive. Mostly SF. Go, read, enjoy.

I meant for this to be a more dignified pic, as I so enjoyed this book, but Pico refused to put his bath on hold.

I meant for this to be a more dignified pic, as I so enjoyed this book, but Pico refused to put his bath on hold.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

I really should read beyond Book 2. Both Books 1 & 2 were excellent. Historical fantasy, or just straight up epic fantasy.

SilvermanGardensOfAmpheiaGardens of Ampheia by Joshua Silverman

A novella set in his Legends of Amun Ra series. Think Ancient Greece set on an alien world. Magic, armor, SF.

MunteanuOuterDiverseOuter Diverse by Nina Munteanu

New-to-me author. SF detective story. Lots of fun.

Stout wouldn't hold still for a pic!

Stout wouldn’t hold still for a pic!

The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock

New-to-me author. Magic, steampunky, England, detective. Intrigued?

Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand...again.

Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand…again.

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Historical fiction, Elizabeth of York, the War of the Roses. Very good, easy to get into.

WillisBlackoutBlackout by Connie Willis

New-to-me author. Excellent time travel, WWII SF-Historical Fiction. Great characters, great plot.

AcevedoNymphosRockyFlatsThe Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo

Vampire detective, nuclear weapons mill, and nymphos. Intrigued?

PoznanskyTwistedTwisted by Uvi Poznansky

A collection of her short fictions. Offers a darker twist to such things as the story of Job, working with clay, and elderly cats.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell

GaimanCraigCoralineWhy I Read It: Love Neil Gaiman’s work.

Where I Got It: The Library

Who I Recommend This To: Perhaps other Gaiman fans would enjoy it.

Publisher: HarperCollins (2008)

Length: 186 pages

This is the graphic novel based on Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline, the kid’s book that was turned into an animated movie (which was my first introduction to this tale). The gist of the story is that Coraline and her parents move to an old, large mansion that has been divided into multiple living quarters. It is a rainy summer and she wants to adventure around while her parents are immersed in their desk & computer work. She finds a secret door through to an alternate reality.  Her parents and her neighbors are there, but different in so many ways – creepy, creepy ways.

Quite frankly, I found this rendition of the tale a bit boring. I haven’t read the original Coraline, but I assume this graphic novel, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig  Russell, follows it pretty closely.  All the colors are pretty muted in the artwork and it definitely lacks the intensity of other Gaiman graphic novels (I’m thinking the early Sandman Chronicles). Now I love Gaiman’s work, so it is a little hard for me to say this: Coraline lacks magic. Yep. There it is. Perhaps I am, in part, saying this because I have seen the animated movie Coraline with all it’s colors and odd beauty. So, I went into this graphic novel expecting something similar. Still, with that honesty, I still say it lacks. I almost did not finish it.

OnceUponATime7What I Liked: Alternate reality; lead female; crazy, quirky neighbors.

What I Disliked: Boring; dull; lacked magic and vibrancy.

Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the fantasy celebration of the season in the reading event Once Upon A Time. Come join us for the fun.

Stardust: Book or Movie?

StardustMovieAs you know, Stainless Steel Droppings recently hosted a read along for Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (Part I, Part II). With that complete, some of us thought it would be fun to watch the movie and do a comparison post of the two. What follows are my babblings. There are spoilers with rude manners and no sense of when to keep themselves to themselves. You have been warned.

I love how the movie start’s with a kid’s letter questioning the stars’ interest in Earthly affairs. it really sets the whole mood for the book. Small English town, science still young and full of wonder, magic still roaming free in some parts of the world. The book took a little longer to grasp me in this way; we had to explore the market before I got the sense of magic like I do with just the opening scene of the movie. Add to that the dark humor that pervades the movie, and I am hooked.

StardustMoviePfeifferPart of the reason I was hooked right away is the costuming. Yes, this movie dressed to impress. When we explore the small village of Wall, folks dress rather simply. Lots of natural colors are used to give it that small town feel – like your grand auntie made your vest and your ma darned your socks. Then as we get to the market, crazy clothes, rich clothes, colorful clothes are everywhere. Next Stormhold – so proper yet with lots of small embellishments such as embroidery. Then the sister witches – at first all run down in clothing and hair. That scene with Lamia (the star-hunting witch) checking out her recently rejuvenated arse always gets a giggle from me.  The sky pirates, with their goggles, and Ferdy’s Office (the lightning buyer) with his crazy fuzzy hat. Each costume was well thought out in this movie, providing distinct edges to the characters.

StardustMovieGoatsBernard has been a side character that has intrigued me since I first saw the movie. We first meet him tending a goat as some woman, perhaps his mum, yells at him from inside the little house. You get the feeling that this happens far too often. Next thing, he is a goat, enchanted by Lamia to pull her little 2-goat chariot. Truly, who doesn’t want to see Michelle Pfeiffer in a gorgeous dress in a chariot being pulled by two goats? then later he is the captive of Septimus, the last Stormhold brother searching for the Stormhold jewel. He gets dragged off with Septimus and his men to finally confront the Sky Pirates! When that doesn’t go as planned, Septimus, all his men dead, takes Bernard’s horse, abandoning him there. Of course, he eyes the pirate ship and I have always hoped that Hollywood would see their way clear to making a film about Bernard and his adventures from that point forward.

The sky pirates, or lightning collectors, were a big change from the book. Oh, in the book we get roughly 6 pages of time in the air with some gentlemanly lightning rustlers. During that time, a lot is suppose to happen. This is an interesting topic of discussion in the read along if you want more on it. In the movie, we get the real sense of Tristran and Yvaine gaining life skills (piano, sword play, and dancing of course) and the first glimmers of them falling in love. Of course I love Robert Di Niro as Captain Shakespeare, a somewhat flamboyant, gay man in private who has to play it strong and straight for his crew. This of course offers a lesson about not being yourself later on in the movie. I really enjoy the sky pirates, with one caveat: the repeated references to sexual violence to women. Yes, it is done in a joking manner. No, the pirates aren’t ever seen harassing any women. Still, it is the only point throughout the movie where I get a little frowny face. This aspect was not in the book.

StardustMoviePirateThe final great thing that does it for me with this movie is that it has one of the best sword fights ever. Yes, I am talking about that scene at the end where Tristran must swordfight the already dead, broken, voodoo-drowned Septimus. The choreography for that scene must have been challenging to say the least. With a broken arm and leg, there was not the normal set of sword fight movements. I enjoy that scene every time.

While Una lacked kittycat ears, and there was no little hairy man to teach Tristran about crapping in the woods, and Dunstan went on to join Tristran and Una in the land of Fairie, I still greatly enjoy this movie for all it’s differences from the book. If anything, this one of those rare examples of a movie that I enjoy slightly more than the book.

 Now I will leave you with a few tidbits that made me laugh, quirk an eyebrow, or guffaw.

The innkeeper goat Billy was perfect! I have goats, and they rarely hold still, especially in a new environment or if something odd is going on. ‘Odd’ is defined by the panicked goat and could include a landing duck, a human with a wheelbarrow, or the sudden start of a sprinkler.

Remember that scene with Primus soaking in the tub and he sees the Stormhold jewel on Yvaine? But he stays in the tub, demanding she bring it to him. Really? Dude, if that was my stone, I would be up and out of that tub and across the room. But full frontal nudity probably would have gotten a different rating on this movie.

Una gives them a Babylon candle at the end of the movie. Of course, everyone else only gets to see an oblong box. She tells them it is for you both. Now this big affair is kind of like Tristran’s coronation and his announcement to the world of his commitment to Yvaine (wedding perhaps?). So, the little devil in me always snickers at this scene because everyone else, at least those with little devils of their own, are probably guessing, based on the shape of the box, that Una just gave them a ‘marriage saver’.

OnceUponATime7Some favorite quotes:

‘Murdered by pirates, heart cut out and eaten, meet Victoria. Can’t quite decide which would be worse.’

‘You look great. You’ve had your feet done.’

‘…You smell of pee and you look like the wrong end of a dog.’

‘You want to grow up and get over yourself.’

Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the reading event Once Upon A Time, a celebration of all that is Fantasy. Come join us!

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

GaimanStardustWhy I Read It: Stainless Steel Droppings was hosting an awesome read along.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: Looking for an inordinary fairie tale? Check this one out.

Narrator: Neil Gaiman

Publisher: Harper Audio (2006)

Length: 6 hours 27 minutes

Tristran is a fairly average young  man on the surface of things. He lives with his family in the small town of Wall, works part time at the local catch-all shop, and moons after the loveliest lady in town, Victoria Forrester. She has next to no interest in him, but can’t help but toy with his affections. So, when a star falls one night as they stroll together, Tristran makes the vow to find it and bring it back to her, in exchange for her hand in marriage. She laughingly accepts, expecting he will fail at the task. Off Tristran goes, through the man-sized crack in the wall to the land of Fairie.

There he meets many half human and non-human beings that help or hinder him as is their want. He also discovers he has this ability to tell what direction something is in, allowing him to never truly be lost. When we first meet the star…well the star isn’t what we expected – a cussing young lady with a broken leg. There’s also the Stormhold family, having recently suffered the death of their patriarch and the surviving brothers having been tossed into a competition for the jewel of Stormhold that denotes rulership. Witches also abound, each desiring a star’s heart to restore their youth and strength. Yeah, creepy.

Each time I tink Neil Gaiman is going to follow a well traveled story arc, he deviates here and there until you end up with something original and magical all on it’s own. He doesn’t disappoint with this book. In some ways, it is a coming of age book, both Tristran and the star growing and changing by the end. There’s trickery, ships of the sky, and a unicorn. The tale is also sprinkled with every day stuff, such as Tristran taking a shovel with him into the woods to make a little deposit. Such little things help to make the characters, and the experience, real.

As much as I love Gaiman’s work, I do have 2 small issues with this book. Obviously, they don’t break the book for me as I have read it multiple times. It’s good to love some flawed things in your life – aunties, vases, yourself, and books. So much growing up happens between the lines, and much of it within 6 pages where it isn’t really described. So, while I get to know Tristran as a young man bumbling through life, and then I see him as a young man having made up his mind about several things and gained the confidence to follow through, the in between stuff was left out. The second point is a mild SPOILER: the star goes from being captured by Tristran, to being obligated to be by his side for an unforeseeable amount of time to loving him. I never really got the sense that she fell, totally, utterly, head over heels in love with him. Rather, what started as an intolerable obligation later became a tolerable arrangement. END SPOILER

Neil Gaiman was a fun narrator. You could hear his enjoyment of reading his own work, or making his characters come alive. While his female voices weren’t particularly feminine, his pacing was good and his enthusiasm infectious.

What I Liked: Magical story full of odd and interesting characters; things die (Gaiman doesn’t cut any corners on that); the characters were flawed, making them real; the unicorn; the odd market full of curious things.

What I Disliked: Gaiman’s female voices lack femininity; the scenes where ‘growing up’ happens kind of lack the description of growing up; the star’s motivation for certain choices weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked (see Spoiler above).

OnceUponATime7Tis the season for fairies, goblins, and dragons. To meet that end, I am celebrating everything fantasy with Stainless Steel Droppings during the Once Upon A Time reading event. This even ends in June, so there’s plenty of time for you to join the fun.

For more detailed info on the book, check out the read along posts:

Part I

Part II

Stardust Read Along Part II

GaimanStardustWelcome back everyone. This week’s post takes us through the second half of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (Chapters 6-END). Make sure to swing by our wonderful host Carl’s place over at Stainless Steel Droppings to read his thoughts on the book and catch everyone else’s link. From here on out there will be spoilers folks.

1.  In the first part we saw a naive, wool-headed and self-involved Tristran.  What are your thoughts about Tristran and his personal journey now that the book has ended?

I thought Tristran’s transformation only went so far, and not just regarding his boyish affections for Victoria. Just simply taking this journey he learned life skills, like taking a shovel with you to crap in the woods, be careful hitchhiking, and that clouds are great fluffy things but can’t provide much in the way of sustenance. While he comes to realize he doesn’t truly desire Victoria, I found his sudden switch to Yvaine to be a bit boyish. On the other hand, they did spend lots of quality time afterwards traveling around, adventuring together, before settling down into a domesticated life.

2.  The star, who we now know as Yvaine, also experienced a transformation of her own.  So I ask the same question, what are  your thoughts about Yvaine and the journey she took?

I don’t think she was use to being ignored, or chased with a big knife either. But somehow I think she took the magic-induced ignoring by Ditchwater Sal harder than being threatened by the Lillim. This was character building for her. Then there was the part where she removed the unicorn’s horn from the Lillim’s pack and that must have been a bit heart rending. That unicorn gave it’s life for her. She also showed wisdom by not stepping into the middle of a son-mother argument.

3.  The villains of the story came to interesting ends, but not necessarily expected ones.  How do you feel about Neil Gaiman’s handling of the Stormhold brothers (who had remained at the end of Part 1) and the two witches, the one Lilim and Ditchwater Sal?

I had remembered from my previous reading some years ago that the one Stormhold brother had his throat slit by the Lillim, and I was a little sad as I had hoped to have him duke it out with his remaining brother or Tristran/Yvaine. The second brother, Septimus, I had forgotten his ending and it struck me as surprising yet again. After revenge only to be taken out by a snake’s poison – it took him hours to die. I really liked that Ditchwater Sal was going to have to empty her own chamber pot and give it a good scrub from now on. hehe. Then the Lillim turning into an old, old lady, having spent her magic and youth on nefarious deeds that came to naught. Yvaine made a good decision in leaving her to live out what was left of her life. I hope the Lillim gets to experience ailments of age, such as hemorrhoids and goiters.

4.  Were there any descriptions, characters, settings, plot threads that stood out to you personally during this second half of the book?

Oh my! Tristran’s mother, Una was very funny. She needed a whole, royal procession to escort her back to Stormhold. On one hand I can understand wanting to travel in comfort, maybe even style, but elephants? She definitely showed quite a bit of ego and vanity once released from her enslavement. Oh, and Victoria and her little bun in the oven. I can assume it is Mundy’s child, but that could be completely wrong. She was ready to marry Tristran, so maybe she just wanted the security before she began to show.

5.  At the very end of the book we see that Tristran and Yvaine’s relationship and fate echoes that of Aragorn and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings.  If this question makes any sense to you (lol), what comparisons and/or contrasts do you see, especially in the fates of Yvaine and Arwen?

Well, Yvaine never really did take up faerie, or even human ways, like she never ate or drank and I assume she didn’t need to excrete. Also, she never could have children. So, her very nature remained a star’s nature, which means sooner or later she was going to have to return to the night sky. In some ways I felt sorry for Tristran not being able to join her, but then again, he had love and deep satisfaction from his good deeds. I can see the correlation of their lengthy love affair and it’s ending with Aragorn and Arawen. However, I just can’t picture Aragorn as a numpty young lad. (thanks to Lynn for teaching me a cool Scottish word). Additionally, we all know that Arawen ate and could have children. Oh, and Arawen and Aragorn were blood related – like isn’t Arawen his great aunt or something? Tristran and Yvaine were not blood related, so they spared the audience from shaking their heads in the mild incest grimace.

6.   What are your overall impressions of the story now that it is done?

I like that the end impression is that life goes on….well, except for those who are dead. But the point is that there are fairy stories going on all the time. Also Tristran and Yvaine did not kill anyone to gain their rule of Stormhold, which I found to be interesting and quaint at the same time. Reality is hardly ever so generous to rulers. I like that our ‘heroes’ were flawed and therefore, real.

7.  If Gaiman were to return to Wall/Faerie, would you take another journey there?  If so, are there any adventures hinted at in Stardust that you would like to see Neil expand on?

The lightning collectors of course. I want to know what their lives are like up in the sky, going from cloud port to cloud port, trading, living so high up. They probably have very efficient, strong, and large lungs, just to be anatomical. Also, I would like to know more about unicorn society, or the lack thereof. Are they popular in faerie? Do they go about muddling in other people’s business all the time, sticking their horns where they shouldn’t be? Do they live in groups or are they solitary, wandering about, hoping for that awkward brief chance encounter that leads to little unicorns (just like pandas)?

Other Tidbits:

The Lillim’s use of the dead reanimated unicorn was chilling. Remind me not to inhabit a body that is of such use to witches.

The Air Captain and the little hairy man are of the same fellowship…..a fellowship that uses a castle symbol. Hmmm…well, since this is a story that involves Stormhold, one can infer that is what the Captain meant. But what if that is not so? It would be like Gaiman to through that out there and then in some future installment have the symbol mean something else entirely.

 

 

Stardust Read Along Part I

GaimanStardustHowdy! Yes, I am a little too chipper this morning. And it is because we are talking about Stardust. Hooray! Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting this read along, along with the reading event of the season – Once Upon A Time VII. So make sure you stop by his place to see what he and others think of Stardust and the fantasy genre.

This week, we cover the first half of the book, Chapters 1-5. The questions do contain spoilers, so if you have not read Neil Gaiman‘s Stardust, I suggest you avert your eyes…..now.
1.  We have spent a little time with Tristran and even less time with the star.  What are your initial thoughts/impressions of our two protagonists?

Tristran is a little odd, and really only his father and foster mother have an inkling why. He grows up not really knowing about his past, so he probably doesn’t understand why home might not always feel like home. Poor dude. Then he goes and pins all his hopes and desires on one young lady, one who hardly pauses to give him the time of day. Tristran is polite, but single minded in his pursuits. I think him leashing the star shows this well.

The star is a very real character for me, primarily because she cusses when initially trying to use her bad leg. Indeed she has been watching human behavior, and not just the proper and polite kind (AKA Boring Human Behavior). No, she has it down by instinct when it’s appropriate to let a good cuss out – such as when you are alone, lost in the woods, with a severely injured limb. And perhaps you have to pee too. Though, I don’t know if the star in human form does need to pee. Perhaps we’ll find out, because Gaiman is that kind of writer.

2.  There are some very interesting potential villains introduced in this first half of the book.  Do any of them particularly stand out to you? If so why or why not?

At first the Stormhold Gang – dying father and living sons – struck me as having a very cutthroat take on life and a bit villainy. But then we meet the Lillim – the three witches. I live on a small farm and we occasionally butcher an animal for our own consumption. But these ladies, they keep wild animals for augury – pulling out their entrails in a form of drawing straws. Yes, these ladies will be formidable. they want a heart to keep them young for centuries more to come.

Perhaps I would feel differently if they then consumed their augury beasts….hmmm….and hunted them in the wild instead keeping them in cages for weeks on end. Maybe.

3.  In Chapter Three, just after the section with the brothers in Stormhold, Neil Gaiman gives us a description of Faerie that includes “each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn’t there…”.  What imaginary lands do you then hope are a part of Faerie?

The lands of the Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson, Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching’s Chalk, including the Feegles. Peter Dickinson’s Flight of Dragons. Jacqueline Carey’s The Sundering.

4.  We do not get to spend a great deal of time in the market but while there we are given a number of interesting descriptions of the wares being bartered or sold.  Which if any of them caught your eye, either as items you would like to possess or ones you would most certainly hope to avoid.

Coats of Dusk and Bottles of Dreams caught my eye. Of course, the coat would have to wrap me in dusk anytime I wanted and not just at dusk and the bottled dream had better be a good one, full of high adventure, fantastical creatures, and just a smidgeon of danger. Dunstan mentions storm-filled eggshells which I would do my utmost to avoid knocking over their display.

5.  If you have read much of Gaiman’s work, particularly his short fiction, then you have come across some rather graphic and disturbing portrayals of sex.  Gaiman offers up something very different in the way of a sex scene early on in Stardust.  What are your feelings of the scene either in general or as a contrast to other Gaiman-penned scenes involving sex?

In general, sex in literature does not bother me. I don’t mind it being detailed as I find that how folks treat each other in bed really reflects on how they treat each other the rest of the time. The sex scene in this book was mild compared to some of Gaiman’s other work. I have read most of his books and two collections of his short stories. Really, there is only 1 short story that stands out as disturbing in regards to sex. I forget the title, but I think it was in his collection Fragile Things. Gaiman let’s us get to know and even connect with the main protagonist before he drops the bomb – the guy likes young girls in the bedroom. Most folks are disturbed by scenes and references to pedophilia, and I really hope that Gaiman was trying to teach some lesson about human behavior – perhaps along the lines of you really don’t know someone until you know their sexual inclinations. Anyway, that short story has been a bit of a puzzle to me since I read it – few authors would risk having their readers get attached to a character that turns out to be a pedophile.

6.  I suspect Neil Gaiman is influenced by a number of fairy and folk tales in Stardust.  Are there any elements of the story that made a particular impression and/or reminded you of other fairy stories you have read or are familiar with?

Of course the classic trope of Tristran going off to fetch some valuable item for his beautiful lady, hoping against hope for her favor – very chivalrous knightly of him. Then the fallen star treated as a highly valued object and not as a person makes me thing of other stories where we have the misunderstood figurehead of state/kingdom/church who has no say in their immediate future. Then back to Tristran and his mysterious parentage – how many stories out there are about some young man or woman who is secretly the long lost heir to a wealthy merchanting business, a witch’s secret lair, some lordship, etc. So, yeah, Gaiman has pulled in furniture from all sorts of fairy tales and then used that furniture for unexpected and sometimes unintended uses, giving us a fresh take on the fairy tale genre.

7.  And finally, which of the many side characters introduce have caught your eye and why? Or what else about the story thus far is of interest to you?

Quite frankly, I have always wondered about the unicorn. I have read this book more than once, and seen the movie several times, and it is always the unicorn who I wonder about. In the movie, I believe it is a gelding. So, what does he think about all this nonsense? Does he mind being put into service – carrying a fallen star around? Does he want the star for himself, or perhaps was just seeking high adventure himself and what better way to do that than to attach yourself to some heavenly creature. The unicorn obviously does some thinking on his own, so I simply always wondered what his motivations were.