Interview: Georgina Garrastazu, Author of Jaguars

GarrastazuJaguarsEveryone, please welcome author Georgina Garrastazu to the blog. She recently published her first book, Jaguars, and even with the whirlwind madness of all that, she still had time to do an interview here. We chat about lucid dreaming, Divergent, dinner menu for dead authors, and a few historical texts.

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

I see modern fantasy definitely affecting human culture. It affords people the opportunity to examine concepts, such as good and evil, outside of the parameters set by religion, nationality, and race. By taking the reader into a new dimension, reality, and mindset, the author gently moves the reader into new and cleaner parameters. Cleaner because ideas, words, and their definitions become imbued with meaning through life and usage. By cleaning these extra meanings out, the reader can start anew with his/her examinations of core concepts without the weight that certain “items” have acquired.

I can give an example of this, kind of. I haven’t read the Divergent books, but I did see the movie this last weekend. In Divergent, you have what appears to be a society repairing and rebuilding itself by classifying its citizens into personality types. The real story, at least to me, is not about some girl who chooses a new more exciting life, but about whether one trait can truly be superior in a person’s life to the exclusion of all other traits. Can intelligence truly be what is best for society without the balance of the others? Without the balance of honesty, joy, action, or compassion? Bruce Lee would say no – “It is compassion, not the principles of justice, which guard us against being unjust to our fellow man.” I would agree. Any story is a simplification, in a way, yet this one successfully forces us to examine the idea of utilitarian intelligence unfettered by compassion and the dangers such a state might lead to.

I also see fantasy as a way to slip certain ideas into modern thought. More to the point, it is a way to reintroduce certain entities in under the radar for the “talented” to rediscover and contact. Not all fictional characters or beings are truly fictional. But this is another matter, entirely.

What fictional world would you like to visit for the holidays? Is there a fictional holiday that you would like to take part in?

I wouldn’t mind spending any solstice with the Elven peoples. Imagine the beauty and magic of how they must celebrate!

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

They are on my t.b.r. list, I swear!
a) Three Books of Occult Philosophy - Agrippa
b) The complete works of Thomas Aquinas
c) The Hindu scriptures

a) & b) – because I want to know the thoughts they had before they repudiated, reconsidered, or recanted them.
c) – because the double is found in the Hindu pantheon. The double is what my own work concentrates upon and revolves around.

In my experience, some of the best fiction is based on facts and history. How do you build your research into your fictional works?

I agree with that, in general, just not in my book. My main aim is to teach people how to reach the double and how to use it. Everything else is extraneous. I use the story to frame this aim and put it into context or to explore other actions related to the double. My own research was in lucid dreaming and I first performed the double in 1996. Since then, I have experimented with it and other aspects of dreaming and related activities, such as gazing. All of these I write down in my practitioner journals. Then I lift them from the journals and insert them into the story. So the lucid dreams in the story are fairly factual, even though some of them are out of order to when they actually occurred.

That’s what I do. I don’t know what real fantasy writers do.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

I don’t know enough about self-promotion and I despise the idea of telling people to read my book. I find it embarrassing. I would like to get to the point where I could talk and discuss the finer points with the readers, especially if they are practitioners of dreaming. All I’ve done is mention my book on Facebook and WordPress.

What were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

When I was real little, I was super-cute with long hair, a happy disposition, a smile, and little patent leather Mary Jane’s. Then I went to school and it was all downhill from there. I became very shy, introspective, and weird. The type of kid who doesn’t care to conform to how their peers think they should be. Since I went to Catholic school, I used to spend a lot of time in church, just sitting there in the early afternoons. So I was a loner at an early age.

I wanted to be a dentist. I had this incredible dentist named Dr. Thompson who had his office building framed with Mayan stone glyphs. He also had a little treasure chest that I would raid after my appointments. There were plastic trinkets in it along with lollipops. Then one day, he disappeared. He was piloting a small plane and was lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Except for that last part, I wanted to be like him. He was kind, compassionate, and a gentleman. That was a real loss to humankind.

If you could sit down and have a fancy meal with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would everyone choose to eat?

I’d invite Kurt Vonnegut, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Anton Wilson, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenski for dinner. Wait, I also want to invite Ovid because he was the catalyst for me becoming a bookworm. So he stays even though he ups the diners to 7 for dinner. As far as I’m concerned, they will eat whatever I put on the table. People who aren’t cooking may not control the menu in my house. There will be fine wines to drink, along with Coke and water. For appetizers, we will have Tortillas de Patata which are Spanish omelettes made with fried potatoes and onions. There will also be chicken croquettes and Papas Rellenas which are fried and breaded potato balls filled with seasoned ground beef. Then for the entrée we will have a dish I make that is a cinnamon and ground almond chicken stew over rice. We can have espresso and flan for dessert.

Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

I’m not the right person to ask about this because I like plain books without cover art, those that just have the title printed on the cover. But those are non-fiction books.

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

I have an article coming out in Affluent Magazine sometime in the summer. I’ll let you know if anything comes up. Oops, the print edition is coming out mid-April, so I guess that counts.

Places to Find Georgina Garrastazu

Blog – The Toltec Arts

Facebook

Amazon

GarrastazuJaguarsAbout The Book, Jaguars

Lonely and dissatisfied with eternity, Zaki Raxa Palo is an immortal seer from the golden age of the Toltecs, the time during the emergence of the great Lord Quitzalcuat. He is alive today because of the arcane secrets he learned. He describes the first twelve days of his instruction in the esoteric as they occurred thousands of years ago, when the tight knot of immortality was unraveled before him and he was taught to wrap it around himself.

Although he is a prince with a questionable birthright, once he hits puberty the learned seers and sorcerers around him seize upon the moment as they groom him for kingship. Suddenly, Zaki is forced to learn and take notice of the world around him; no longer can he be the isolated and lazy boy he was. Accompanied by his pet, Chahel, an orphaned jaguar, he is led into the reality of myth. The lead instructor of wisdom, the Cabicacmotz, introduces him to the frightening practices of the Toltecs. Who knew that awareness could dwell in one’s shadow?

Zaki has seen a few games of Bateh, the deadly ball-game, but he has never seen it as it is meant to be played, where intent can propel the ball towards the goal and defeat can be complete. On the day of the Festival of Adults, a private affair within the tribe, he sees the royal team upon the grand ball court. The Cabicacmotz leads him around the festival to receive omens from different groups he must learn from. The Chuchmox will teach him gazing, the sneaky Etamanel Evan will make him smoke a spiky plant, the Balam Ch’Ab will show him how to transform himself into a jaguar, he will learn to play Bateh with The Jaguars, and the strange Ahtoobalvar will show him how to fly over mountains in a new body.

Fate has conspired against little Zaki. His instructor, the Cabicacmotz has the ability to set Zaki’s hair on fire and he just might become his brother-in-law. Worst of all, the Cabicacmotz can read his mind and rifle through it at ease. How does one only think good thoughts? It’s a trick worth learning when one’s hair is on the line.

Being a boy was a luxury, no one paid any attention to Zaki. Now he is counted as a man, it seems, and all of the tribe knows his business. Disappear once while trying to gaze at one’s shadow and everyone hears about it. They even think he might have been transported away by the Xibalbans, the denizens of the underworld. Zaki can’t understand what all the fuss is about. He doesn’t understand that it’s best never to be noticed by those beings. Now he is under constant observation.

The only good thing that has happened is that Zaki now has friends. Only the noble-born children get to learn the arts or those who have been pointed out by omens. Two brothers, Hac and Cham, of the lowest caste are chosen to learn alongside Zaki. Quiet Hac and the cocky Cham are the only boys who are confident or stupid enough to befriend the prince. At least Zaki no longer feels invisible and unworthy. Friends can make all the difference.

Not everything is going well in the tribe, however. Spies have delivered devastating news to the Toltecs. Once, long ago, the Toltecs rebelled against false gods and their followers within the tribe. They thought they had destroyed them all, but now they know that is not so. The idolaters have thrived and they are forcing the tribes around them into subjugation. Do their gods still exist? No one knows. They only know that they must be stopped and war is in the air.

No matter what, though, he is still going to have to learn all that his teachers demand. He’ll have to wear a navel stone, practice dreaming, smoke things that make him think oddly, learn where his sense of self is at all times, live with purpose, and discover that the childhood stories of his tribe contain incomprehensible and esoteric truths. The world is much more mysterious than he ever imagined…

Interview: Eric Zawadzki & Matthew Schick

ZawadzkiSchickPithdaiGatePlease welcome the authors of The Pithdai Gate, Eric Zawadzki and Matthew Schick. These two gentlemen (am I using the term loosely?) agreed to be interviewed together, and they do provide quite an entertaining read. I expect you’ll enjoy them as much as myself.

As a young reader, unspoiled by the realities of this world, what stories and authors drove you to delusions of grandeur, expecting to be swept up into a magical tale or a laser battle?

Eric: There’s no way I could name them all. My childhood was a sort of warm bath of Chosen One fantasy – fiction and film alike. Like many kids my age I grew up watching (and obsessed with) Star Wars. The Neverending Story was an extremely awesome movie in which the hero is sent on an epic quest. As far as fiction goes, Lloyd Alexander was a huge early influence – an ordinary boy who grows up into a king. Tolkien certainly played a role, too – less the hobbits (I didn’t really appreciate them until I was older) than Strider, who was another secret king. Chronicles of Narnia had ordinary kids finding themselves flung into a fantasy world where they soon became legendary heroes. The sort of Arthurian literature kids get exposed to at an early age is in there somewhere too.

How did you and Eric meet? (Feel free to embellish embarrassing details.) And how did you two develop the writing duo the world knows you as today?

Matthew: We had a few classes together our freshman year in high school, and teachers like to sit students alphabetically.  Eric was always the last chair in the room, and more often than not, I was the chair directly in front of him.  You get to talking that way, when you’re sitting near a familiar face a lot.  It turned out we were both interested in creating worlds.  He had an idea but needed some more motivation, I had no projects but a big motivation.  That shifted a lot as we’ve grown up.

For the longest time, we were like a see-saw.  On one 10-day family vacation, I busted out 100 pages of a story, while Eric hardly wrote; for most of freshman year of college, Eric polished a complete manuscript, while I ignored Word as best as I could (for the record, both of those stories have been rewritten so often they’re unrecognizable today).  One of us working hard tended — it still tends — to motivate the other to work hard, but I’m still a knock-it-all-out-in-a-weekend kind of person.

ZawadzkiSchickLessonOfFireWhy Poland? And did that backpacking experience end up twisted and repackaged somehow in your writings?

Eric: As you might guess from my surname, I’m Polish on my father’s side. Moreover, I’m only a few generations away from the old country. My grandmother grew up bilingual, and my great grandmother spoke very little English. As a kid I was fairly proud of that heritage and I endured many a “dumb Pollock” joke as a result. When I decided to do some backpacking in Europe after college it was close to the top of my list of destinations and ended up being the first foreign soil my feet ever touched.

I was woefully unprepared for this journey. I had no phrase book, no hotel reservation, and no local currency. My guidebook (which covered all of Europe) gave me ten words of Polish and a 1-page map of the city center. Had this been France or Germany, it would have been no problem, since English speakers (and foolish American tourists) are common there, but this was Poland about a decade after the fall of the Iron Curtain, so almost no one over the age of 25 spoke more than a few words of English.

It was terrifying. It was incredible. It was like something straight out of The Hero’s Journey. I was only there for a week, and I have about a hundred stories about complete strangers who helped me or, in one case, took me in for the night. It sounds cheesy, but I learned a lot about the world and my place in it from the experience. The fact that everything still turned out okay in spite of the initial culture shock and some missteps made me more willing to try new things even when I wasn’t sure of the outcome. It also strengthened my faith in humanity, and I think that, more than anything, comes out in my writing.

ZawadzkiSchickKingmakerAs a journalist, how does that real life experience affect your fiction writing? Does it feed into character development or ambiance of the book?

Matthew: God, put a journalism major with an English major and tell them to write something … I hand him a 70K-word draft and get back a 140K-word epic, and it’s been all I can do to not shred it.  I’ve had to learn that yes, adjectives are important.  Yes, we need this seemingly irrelevant anecdote — though I try to make it relevant.  Adverbs have been fantastically tricky, but sometimes they’re the easiest way to present a concept. Recently, as I work on the sequel to Kingmaker, it’s been fun to let go and add in stuff that may be useless for the next draft.

Oh, but you mean experiences!  As I think about it, the biggest impact might be in how people talk about their news.  Politicians often don’t sound truthful; cops often sound guarded.  A really passionate advocate sounds a little crazy.  Reporters and editors sometimes give a bit more background on their sources’ personalities in private, so you can see the difference between the public and private faces.  When it comes to making characters, the news is full of them.

As a published author, what non-writing/reading activities would you recommend to aspiring authors?

Eric: Ultimately, everything a writer does becomes grist for the idea mill. If I could pick one that has helped me most, though, I’d have to say tabletop roleplaying games – particularly GMing games. When you run a game well, you’re basically organizing a collaborative storytelling exercise with a small audience. It comes with immediate feedback, as well. If the players aren’t enjoying themselves, boy will you know it! You also learn that you can’t please everyone, which I think is an important lesson for a writer. We all want so badly to be liked, but every book won’t click with every reader just as some styles of game play just aren’t compatible. Being able to listen to your players during and between sessions and find out what’s working and what isn’t – and then to give them more of what they want and less of what they don’t (rather than getting angry at the players for not thinking all your ideas are awesome) – is the mark of a good GM. As writers, Gamemastering teaches storytelling techniques. It teaches the importance of knowing your audience. It is also a fairly inexpensive hobby that involves getting together with friends on a regular basis.

Writing in the fantasy genre, how do you take the standard tropes and turn them sideways? Or even upside down?

Matthew: I’m looking for something that’s not been done.  Kingmaker was something I’d never seen before: Kids lose their magic as they grow older. It usually happens the other way. I’ve not had an idea that good before.  Eric really ran with that, and in The Pithdai Gate, we got to take if further.

I don’t go out of my way, to be honest.  If I need a swashbuckler, I’m using one.  I’m just putting him in my world, where he’s part of a minority race, he’s a little ADHD, he can turn into a fish, and … well, I’m not going to give it all away.  I do like to have simple characters with one or two traits, but Eric will flesh out the lowliest peasant … which can lead to some awesome twists.

Four Moons Press is a collaboration between you and Matthew Schick and is used to publish your fantasy books, all of which have 4 moons. Why 4? And how do you work that in to your various books, some of which are not connected?

Eric: I find that every generation of writers builds on or reacts against the work of previous generations (and quite often both). Almost all the fantasy we read growing up only had one moon just like Earth’s – quite often with the same lunar calendar. A few had an extra moon or two, but aside from a different color or lunar calendar, it looked like…the moon. Don’t ask me why that little bit of slightly lazy world-building drove us crazy, but we decided our world was going to buck that trend. Three, four, and eight were magic numbers early in our collaboration, and so we settled on three visible moons and one “dark moon” that is only visible as a circle of darkness that passes in front of the stars and other moons. We also decided they’d have really weird orbits – one travels across the sky from west to east, one orbits north-south, and the other two go from east to west.

I cannot begin to tell you how many hours of productivity we have lost over the last couple decades to trying to figure out how these bizarre orbits look from the ground, but it’s probably far more than it needed to be. We used to take great pains to mention each moon and used elaborate lunar calendars to make sure we weren’t describing the moons wrong. We really don’t do that anymore. The moons are important in some books because of their mythological or magical significance. They’re Mar gods in Lesson of the Fire. The yellow moon facilitates communication between the Wen in The Pithdai Gate. They’re mentioned here and there throughout our books as part of the scenery whenever you might expect another fantasy novel to mention the presence of the moon. I’d like to think it lends our world a slightly more alien quality. This isn’t Earth. It’s Someplace Else Entirely. It also gives us a chance to describe moons without using the phrases “pale orb” and “silver crescent.” Yay variety!

Have you ever cosplayed any of the characters of your books?

Matthew: Nope. I haven’t found one I’d like to yet.

It is the holiday season, where we are inundated with holiday marketing and music and food until January 2nd. What is your favorite fictional holiday (from books, movies, or tv)?

Eric: I don’t really have a favorite from a book, but the made-up holiday I like think is the niftiest is Marchoween. It started when a friend of mine decided she really wanted to have a costume party but it was March and she wasn’t quite the kind of person to throw a costume party just because. She settled on calling it Marchoween because it fell on the 31st of March. Instead of dressing up as imaginary people, we wore costumes intended to lampoon each other. I stole the sweater she wears all the time, and she borrowed the laptop I carry with me everywhere. Several others did similar swaps, and we went in-character as other people at the party. It was a lot of fun to see the different interpretations, and it gave us a chance to laugh at ourselves. I thought this was particularly fitting for a costume party held on April Fools Day Eve. Maybe I’ll work the concept into a book, but it hasn’t happened yet.

What does your Writer’s Den look like? Neat and tidy or creative mess? can you write anywhere or do you need to be holed up in your author cave?

Matthew: I prefer a neat, empty space with easy access to coffee and Reeses Pieces.  The fewer things there are to distract me, the better, and that often means no music.  I have a computer with almost no programs on it, and I like to find a place with no Internet, and hash out my rough drafts that way.  I keep a list of things I might need to research later.

ZawadzkiGodMachineChronicleI see that you have a connection to Onyx Path Publishing, an RPG press. What magic and mayhem have you concocted with the folks of Onyx Path?

Eric: I’ve been doing rather a lot of work for Onyx Path in the last year or so. I wrote the introduction for The God-Machine Chronicle and a short story for its accompanying anthology. I’ve also done a bit of work for the 20th anniversary edition of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – mostly world-building bits, which I can pretty much conjure at will after 20+ years writing fantasy. Most of the work I’m doing now is for the newest Onyx Path game Demon: The Descent, which concerns the cloak-and-dagger lives of biomechanical fallen angels on the run from the God-Machine that created them for its own inscrutable purposes. I hope to be able to do some more work for Mage: The Awakening in the next year, which is still probably my favorite game as a player.

ZawadzkiGodMachineAnthologyWhat upcoming or future projects would you like to share with the readers today?

Eric: The big news right now is the 12/20 release of The Pithdai Gate. This book involves characters and a part of the world we’re really excited about. Kingmaker is a bit of a bittersweet coming of age story. Lesson of the Fire features a hero who has fallen from grace and is on a collision course with tragedy. For The Pithdai Gate we decided we wanted to do something light and fun. We took as inspiration old Robin Hood stories, The Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes, The A-Team, comic books, and all sorts of other stories about clever, larger-than-life heroes working together to thwart the plans of villains.

Looking into the future, we’ve never had a shortage of ideas for new books. Matt’s currently finishing up the first draft of the sequel to Kingmaker (the first book of our YA-ish series), so I’ll be doing the second draft of that soon. We hope to have that ready to publish in late 2014. After that, maybe a sequel to The Pithdai Gate. I’ve also been slowly working on the first draft of a rather elaborate multi-book project I jokingly call How I Destroyed Civilization. That’s years away from being ready for Matt to revise because there are letters in the first book that are being written by characters during events in the last book, so we can’t write those letters until we know what happens in the last book.

Places to Stalk Eric and Matthew

Four Moons Press

Eric on Goodreads

Matthew on Goodreads

Smashwords

Eric on Goodreads

Gentlemen, thank you so much for venturing into my little corner of the blogosphere. I really like that idea of Marchoween. Maybe I can make it a local holiday! Goodluck in all your endeavors!

Interview: Mysti Parker, Author of The Tallenmere Novels

MystiParkerProfileDab of Darkness welcomes Mysti Parker, author of The Ranger’s Tale, Serenya’s Song, and Hearts in Exile. Mysti was kind enough to subject herself to my nosy and prying questions. Enjoy!

1) In your writings, what makes a complex character an essential part of the story? 

Thanks so much for having me here!

To answer this question, it really boils down to my love for character-driven stories. I love writing and reading stories in which the main characters have several options they can take when faced with a challenge. Should they choose option A as opposed to B, it becomes a whole different story. Remember those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?

When characters have to make choices, you really get to know them and what makes them tick. They may even make a choice that goes against their beliefs or morals, but the motives behind it add to their complexity. Their faults and hang-ups get in the way too, adding more layers to their personality. For example, Jayden Ravenwing, one of the leading males in my series, has a weakness for women, and sometimes married women.

‘Mary Jane’ (perfect) characters are boring. Give me a character who’s uncertain, unwilling, bitter, scared, or lonely. I want to see imperfection—moments of selfishness, jealousy, rage, and lust—and then you’ve got a complex character who may or may not rise above the challenges. That doubt keeps you reading (and rooting) for them to succeed!

ParkerRanger'sTale2) The Tallenmere series strongly features elves and romance, so I have to ask: Did you read Tolkien and wonder what was going on behind the scenes with the elves? 

YES!! Those elves were just too perfect, don’t you think? Better than everyone at everything, like those perfect soccer moms who attend every PTA meeting with J. Crew sweaters draped over their shoulders and a Starbucks latte in hand. Ahem…

Tolkien’s elves, though I dearly love them (my God, don’t get me started on Orlando Bloom as Legolas *drool*), they were all so whimsical. I just knew they had skeletons hiding in those tidy closets of theirs, so I decided to expose some of those bones once and for all.

In Tallenmere, elves put on a perfect show for the world around them, but as soon as you step inside their private chambers, you’ll see a whole different act. Pure elven women can give birth to a maximum of three children, but if you listen to the gossip, you’ll find out about all the half-siblings there are, many of whom come from Leogard’s nobility. All the elves tend to be xenophobic and intolerant of every other race, even other elven races. Half-elves like Galadin Trudeaux (A Ranger’s Tale) are especially looked down upon.

In reality, elves are just as imperfect as the rest of us, suffering from petty jealousies, inflated egos, self-doubt, and wanton desires. But, I did keep one aspect of Tolkien’s elves: they’re still very good-looking!

3) In writing your bad guys, do you want the reader to enjoy hating on him/her, or do you want the reader to be waiting for that magical moment when they redeem themselves?

ParkerSerenya'sSongThis really depends on the story. Complex villains are best—those who show more than just a 100% evil attitude. They have to have motives for their actions. Not just “I want to take over the world”. Ok, so maybe they do, but why? Did Mom abandon him? Did Dad get drunk and beat everyone in the family? Did one of their siblings steal all the attention?

Take Sebastian Crowe from Serenya’s Song, for instance. At the beginning of the story, readers just hate him, but as the plot unfolds, we start to see a completely different side of him, one that’s much more than just a big, mean brute.

Just like the main characters, I want to make it obvious that the villains have a choice in their actions. Sure, they may have someone in the background driving their evil deeds, but ultimately the choice is still theirs whether to continue on their path of destruction or not. I think just leaving that question in the readers’ minds is best. Give the villains a little bit of heart, some hints that they could do a 180, but keep the readers wondering (and hoping) until the very end.

4) You’re a gamer, so tell us your addictions: Oblivion? Titan Quest? Assassin’s Creed?

Big fan of the Elder Scrolls series. Currently, it’s Skyrim. Before that, it was Oblivion, and before that, Morrowind. Before all of those, it was Everquest & Everquest II. I’ve also had moments of addiction with Zoo Tycoon 1&2, Webkinz, and several others.

5) If I stumbled in to your Super Secret Writer’s Cave, well, you would need better security, but what would I find? 

My son has some sort of Lego construction on my desk. Some papers are strewn on the floor near the printer. There’s a messy book shelf. Make that two. A few instrumental CD’s scattered by the CD player and a too-full bulletin boards covered mostly with children’s art. A coffee cup with a ring of dried coffee in the bottom (better make more while I’m thinking of it). And copious amounts of dust and cat hair. Crap, now I need to clean…be right back!

ParkerHeartsInExile6) In the Great Mighty World of Fiction, what are 5 creatures you would want to avoid and why? 

Flitters: These are native to the Eastwood Mountains of Tallenmere. Butterfly-sized creatures with cute little pixie faces and pretty patterns on their wings. Just don’t look them in the eye for too long, or you’ll wind up in a paralyzing trance, while they shred you to pieces and have you for dinner.

Vampires: Yeah ok, so they’ve become sparkly lovers in recent years, but seriously—what’s so romantic about a guy biting your neck and drinking your blood?

Were-anything: Same here. If a guy can eat me for breakfast should he so choose, I’d rather not sleep next to him. No offense to the Jacob-lovers out there.

Zombies: This should be obvious. All instinct, some are very strong and fast, and always ravenous. And they smell bad, too.

Angry dragons: In Hearts in Exile at least, they’re usually not a threat unless you cross them or they think you’ve crossed them. There’s an old Haddo saying that goes something like this: “Never break a promise to a dragon; ye won’t live long enough to be braggin’.”

7) In passing nuggets of wisdom on to aspiring writers, what are some non-writing, non-reading activities that you would suggest to improve writing? 

Play roleplaying games like Skyrim. They’re like visual novels in themselves, filled with massive worlds and storylines. They can really get your imagination flowing.

Watch movies—not just for the special effects, but for the stories. See how the plot unfolds, how suspense is built, how the characters react to different situations. You’ll catch some brilliant ideas and some not-so-brilliant ones that will teach you both what to do and what not to do in a story.

Also, travel and visit as many places as you can, even if it’s local, like different restaurants, zoos, museums, parks, etc. You’ll gather all kinds of visual and sensory information that could provide new settings and help spice up your stories!

ParkerHeartsOfTomorrowAnthologyThanks again for letting me be Chatty Cathy for a while. These questions were really fun!

Mysti Parker (pseudonym) is a full time wife, mother of three, and a writer. Her first novel, A Ranger’s Tale, was published in January, 2011 by Melange Books, and the second in the fantasy romance series, Serenya’s Song, was published in April 2012. The highly anticipated third book, Hearts in Exile, has already received some great reviews. The Tallenmere series has been likened to Terry Goodkind’s ‘Sword of Truth’ series, but is probably closer to a spicy cross between Tolkien and Mercedes Lackey.

ParkerChristmasLitesAnthologyMysti’s other writings have appeared in the anthologies Hearts of Tomorrow, Christmas Lites, and Christmas Lites II. Her flash fiction has appeared on the online magazine EveryDayFiction. She has also served as a class mentor in Writers Village University’s six week free course, F2K

Mysti reviews books for SQ Magazine, an online specific publication, and is the proud owner of Unwritten, a blog voted #3 for eCollegeFinder’s Top Writing Blogs award. She resides in Buckner, KY with her husband and three children.

Contact the Author:

Blog: www.mystiparker.blogspot.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mysti-Parker/103786449704221 

Twitter @MystiParker

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A Ranger’s Tale, Tallenmere #1

Serenya’s Song, Tallenmere #2

Hearts in Exile, Tallenmere #3 Available June 3 @ www.melange-books.com

Giveaway & Guest Post: Mythical Creatures

CalcaterraDreamwielderWelcome everyone to this fantastical guest post by Garrett Calcaterra. Yep, he was one a few weeks ago in an interview, chatting about his dogs, good beer, and his books. Please give him a warm welcome again, and sit back and be entertained by his take on mythical creatures in literature. Oh, and yes, we have a lovely giveaway at the end of this post. To enter, leave a comment and for extra points check out the rafflecopters.

Mythical Creatures: Loving Them Means Sometimes Leaving Them Alone

by Garrett Calcaterra

Several readers, after having read my new fantasy novel Dreamwielder, have asked me why I don’t like fantasy creatures. They point to the fact that there are absolutely zero dragons, elves, dwarves, trolls, and orcs in it, and take that to mean I don’t care for them. As it turns out, I do in fact like fantasy creatures, so much so I purposely did not include any of them in Dreamwielder. Let me explain.

As you might expect, I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, and like many others I feel the myriad of creatures Tolkien incorporated are a big reason why Middle-earth is so rich and rife with peril for Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf, and their companions. Many of the creatures, of course, were inspired by Norse mythology, a topic Tolkien was well versed in. Dwarves, elves, frost giants, and dragons are all part of Yggdrasil, the tree that represents the nine worlds of Norse mythology. Smaug was also likely based partly on Fafnir, the dragon Sigurd kills in the Volsunga. Other creatures Tolkien created himself. Orcs, for example, were wholly his invention. Balrogs, I’m uncertain of. And really, it’s unimportant what inspired them. Tolkien did such a good job of making them his own, and giving them each their own sense of history and place in Middle-earth, that they became fantasy archetypes in and of themselves. And that’s exactly why I avoided them.

As a reader, I adore the creatures of Middle-earth. Sadly, too many authors over the years have adored them so much they wholesale ripped them off from Tolkien. Now they’ve become cliché landscape of the fantasy world. Fantasy novels with generic elves, dwarves, and orcs are a dime a dozen and unmemorable even when they’re a fun fantasy romp. The writers who have been successful are those who have taken creatures of mythology and literature and made them their own, just as Tolkien did. Anne McCaffrey took dragons and reinvented them by giving them a telepathic link with their human rider. James P. Blaylock took the standard fantasy races of dwarves and elves and made them his own by making them whimsical, witty, and simply hilarious to read about in The Elfin Ship. George R.R. Martin reinvented vampires in Fevre Dream; and in A Song of Ice and Fire he’s taken the overused zombie and recast it as the white walker, a creature far more shrouded in myth, and far more frightening because of it.

CalcaterraBaldairnMotteSo do I like creatures? Absolutely. It’s just as a writer, I  respect them enough to only use them when I can remake them with my own unique vision. I’m a huge zombie fan, but have written only one zombie story, “The Sway of the Dead,” which casts zombie as humans stricken by complacency in a materialistic, consumer-driven world. (The premise was jarring enough to incite the anger of several magazine editors, one of them who went so far as to call my protagonist a vile murderer. I took that feedback as a sign I’d successfully challenged the reader’s expectation of zombies.)

I’m also a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, but as of yet I’ve not had any brilliant ideas to do something innovative with The Great Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth. (My good friend and frequent collaborator, Ahimsa Kerp, did though. Check out Cthulhurotica from Dagan Books for a great story where he puts Nyarlathotep in a hippy commune during the late sixties only to get caught up in free drugs and free love.)

The other notable creatures that are near and dear to my heart as a reader are Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tharks and the white apes from the John Carter books, as well as the dinosaurs and saber tooth tigers from his Pellucidar series. But again, these were Burroughs’ take on Martians and prehistoric beasts. As a writer, I have to rely on my own imagination. In Dreamwielder, that meant sticking primarily with humans, but also a couple of my own twists on mythological creatures. The scent-hounds are part human, part dog, part machine contraptions created by an ancient magic to sniff out sorcerers—as much steampunk invention as they are fantasy creatures. The sinister Wulfram is a shape changer, but nothing like your typical werewolf. He has been transformed by magic to have the ability to take other forms, but the shape changing process for him is gruesome and unnatural.

It’s out of respect really that you’ll find no prototypical fantasy creatures in my writing. I love them, so I leave them alone. And when it comes down to it, human characters offer plenty of strife and conflict all by themselves, just like in real life.

But what are you favorite creatures? What authors have reinvented them and made the fresh and wonderful for you? What authors have defanged them and made them lame?

Places to stalk Garrett Calcaterra

Facebook, twitter, Website, Blog

For the giveaway, Garrett is offering ebook copies of Dreamwielder to 3 winners and then a paperback copy of The Roads to Baldairn Motte. Leave a comment to enter the random drawing – leaving a way to contact you. The ebook giveaway is open international and the paperback copy is open US/Canada due to shipping. For additional entries, enter the rafflecopters below. Good luck! Giveaways close on April 26th.

Giveaway of 3 ebook copies of Dreamwielder (International)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Giveaway of 1 paperback copy of The Roads to Baldairn Motte (US/Canada)

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

JordanEyeOfWorldAudioWhy I Read It: Participated in a read along.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: Epic fantasy aficionados (with reservations, see chit chat below).

Narrators: Kate Reading, Michael Kramer

Publisher: MacMillan Audio (2004)

Length: 29 hours 32 minutes

Series: The Wheel of Time Book 1

If you haven’t heard of this series, then you might be living in a small hole in the ground. Not a nasty hole, but a comfy, hobbitish hole. Yes, I have already started with the jokes. But let me set that aside til a little later. Rand al’Thor and his friends Mat and Perrin live in Two Rivers, a small community of farmers and merchants. They are young and inexperienced in the greater ways of the world. But then Moiraine and her friend/guard Lan turn up asking questions about the history of the place. What follows are creatures out of tales and a chunk of Two Rivers is left burnt to the ground. Moiraine convinces the three young men they must away with her and Lan for not only their safety, but for the safety of the folks of Two Rivers. Soon they are joined by others on a quest to save the kingdom, if not the world, from the Dark One.  The Eye of the World launches the 14 book series that Robert Jordan started and Brandon Sanderson finished this past January (2013).

I read this book back in college when I was 18/19. I had forgotten nearly all of it in between then and now, roughly 1.5 decades. In order for me to review this honestly, I have to get the Tolkien aspect out in the open. I do remember feeling a bit cheated the first time around at how much Jordan took from Tolkien. Tolkien himself borrowed heavily from European myths and hence, much of the fantasy genre has borrowed from him in a typical trickle down effect. Still, the similarities between The Eye of the World and The Lord of the Rings are some of the closest I have found in the fantasy genre. With that acknowledgement, I still found myself getting attached to the main characters and wrapped up in their quest. And yes, grimacing a little every time some character mimicked an Ent line, or an altercation resembled hobbits vs. nazghul, or there was smoking of the leaf.

So all that aside, Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene are all very real, young, and in way over their heads. Moiraine and Lan are mysteries that only unravel a little by the end of the book. Nynaeve, the Wisdom of Two Rivers, was one of my favorite characters – she tracks, rides, heals, and grumbles. I am capable of one of these skills, and I will let you guess which one. The world building was detailed and happened bit by bit, growing as the Two Rivers folks ventured further and further from their home. There were moments of humor or reflection mixed in with the action, making the pacing quite good for a lengthy first book to a lengthy series. Most of the tale is told through Rand’s eyes, which was adequate, but I often found myself wishing for more points of view, especially wanting to hear the inner thoughts of Moiraine.

Michael Kramer narrated like 90+% of the book, as we only had a few short blips of POV from the female characters (narrated by Kate Reading). Both did an excellent job, providing a variety of voices for the multitude of characters in this novel. I look forward to hearing their voices in the next book. This case, I think I found the audioversion more enjoyable than the print simply because I didn’t get hung up on the Tolkien-isms as we were moving right along to the next scene and I couldn’t physically linger over the similarities.

What I Liked: The world building provides depth to the entire world and in turn, each character; even the side characters had histories, etc; the ladies are equally as developed, flawed, and dangerous as the men; Bela the horse gets a spotlight throughout the tale.

What I Disliked: Lots of Tolkien similarities; the dream sequences were a little nebulous for me.

If you’d like a more detailed discussion, check out the Read Along posts. Also, we will be continuing along with Book 2, The Great Hunt (schedule HERE) if you would like to join us.

Part I          Part II

Part III       Part IV

Part V         Part VI

Part VII      Part VIII

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Heldig and The Hobbit in her basket.

Why I Read It: Participated in a great Read-Along over at Snobbery.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: Fantasy buffs, classic lovers, folks with hairy feet fetishes.

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Company (1997)

Length: 256 pages

Part of me feels like this timeless classic hardly needs a review. But I am going to do it anyway. First off, say ‘Bilbo’ three times fast without snickering. Go on, I will wait over here for the giggles to subside.

I enjoy J. R. R. Tolkien’s works, but I am not a fanatic. For those of you who take him seriously, you may want to avert your eyes from this review.

I really enjoyed The Hobbit. I had not read it since the 6th grade some 20+ years ago. I found all the singing silly and clever at the same time, which I think is appropriate for a children’s book. Gandalf seemed to be a little more tricksy in this novel than in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He did put that secret mark on Bilbo’s door, marking him as a thief and burglar (just what the Dwarves ordered). The Dwarves show up unannounced, in bright, differently-colored cloaks, demanding 5-star hotel service (meal, drink, bed). In some ways, it is the Dwarves that are thieves, stealing Bilbo off to adventure with them. It’s not as simple as ‘get past the dragon that is sitting on our gold’. No! they have to actually make it to the mountain.

There are trolls, and elves, and werebears, and goblins and dark, spooky forests, and spiders of unusual size (SoUS) to over come. And once all that is done and the treasure recovered, the Dwarves have left a long list of ticked off folks and few enough friends. Hence, the War of Five Armies commences. Messy.

All in all, I greatly enjoy Tolkien’s simple plot and expert word play with character and place names. For the linguists out there, Tolkien’s works are riddled with ancient myth and cryptic language references. If you get some of these, you can sit around and feel extra superior as you read your special hardback edition at the cafe while drinking your spiffy fancy tea .

What I Liked: Hairy feet; brightly cloaked Dwarves; talking birds; dogs that can set the table; play on words; the Wargs; the singing; Smaug the dragon; Bard of Lake Town.

What I Disliked: Not a single female anywhere in the book – no female Hobbits, Elves, Wargs, Goblins, birds, ponies…. you get the point. It’s a 256 page long sausage fest.

The Hobbit Read Along Part III

The finale to The Hobbit has arrived (this last section covers chpts. 13-19). While I had remembered the basics, I was still surprised how much this last section pulled at my emotions. Perhaps I am getting to be a little more human with age.

Once again, Snobbery has a great post up with a summary of events from this section along with her entertaining commentary. And she has provided the discussion questions below. Make sure to wander over to her bit of the blogosphere to see what she is up to.

First time readers/non-fanatics:  Did you catch the bit about the Necromancer at the end, and did you figure out who he was?

Yes, I read that bit about the Necromancer. But, no, I haven’t figured it out. I would like to think it is related to the later books (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), so possibly Sauruman. Which would mean that he had gone bad years, decades really, before the whole trilogy got started. I wouldn’t guess Sauron (the big Evil Eye) because I am under the impression that this entity was tied to his power base of evil-doers. Is this referred to in The Simarilllion?

My fellow read and re-readers:  Was the Arkenstone one of the lost Silmarils?  What leads you to that belief?

Ooooo! Now that is a fantastic thought. So, in the trilogy, we get to see 2 Silmarils, both dark spheres. Unless Lady Galadriel’s looking glass is also one, which would mean that a Silmaril could be a number of items. Yet, while folks wanted the Arkenstone, no one had visions with it.

How about we launch an expedition to Middle Earth and Laketown and from there to the foot of the mountain where we can dig the pesky thing up and run some tests. We will need at least 2 Silmaril experts, in case of…..misfortune. Attach resumes and references below.

Now that we’ve finished this book, if you haven’t read Tolkien before – how are you feeling having accomplished this much?  Are you planning on continuing through the rest of the books with us?  For those of you who’ve read it countless times – how is reading this time different than the first (or even the last) time you read it?

There was so much I forgot since my first reading back in the 6th grade – Beorn, the first appearance of the Wargs, the talking Ravens, the Arkenstone, and the auction of Bilbo’s belongings. So this was great to reread it (something I had been meaning to do before the movie came out). Also, reading a book with adult eyes is quite a bit different than reading it with kid eyes. I love that this book was still exceptionally entertaining.

I have read The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the past 10 years, and with farm work in full swing, I think I will have to sit out continuing on with Tolkien for now. But I can definitely make a habit of stopping in over at Snobbery to post a snarky comment or two.

Other Tidbits:

Was there a single female character (even a pony, or eagle, or goblin) in the entire book? Sausage Fest.

In one single line, Tolkien has the word ‘guns’. I had always been under the impression that all these books were staged in a world that was pre-gun technology. So why would the characters know what one sounds like?

The War of Five Armies – was it: A) Dwarves, Goblins, Wargs, Men, Elves or B) Dwarves, Goblins + Wargs, Men, Elves, Eagles?

The Hobbit Read Along Part II

So much, and incredible amount, of stuff happened in chapters 6-12. It’s been well over a decade.. uh.. maybe 2 decades since I read this and I can’t believe some of the things I forgot about.

Snobbery once again is our wonderful host and she has a great synopsis with snarky commentary over at her place, so make sure to check that out. She has also provided the following discussion topics:

Do you think Gandalf is always this impatient with everyone, or does he subscribe to some of the prejudices against dwarves that everyone else in Middle-Earth seems to have?

I think Gandalf is eager to be off on to his ‘other business’. While Thorin is the leader, the dwarves seem to be more of a comity than a chain-of-command lot. I can see why Gandalf has to push them along at times and in some ways pull rank as the All Powerful and Wise Wizard.

For those of you reading the first time, what do you think Gandalf’s “other business” is?  What could be so important that he keeps leaving our party?

Ha! i think Gandalf is bored with the little folks and wants to go visit friends and relatives in the area. Like he mentions a necromancer (perhaps spying is considered ‘other business’) and his brother Radagast. He could also be off collecting herbs and medicinal mushrooms, or dungeon prowling. He is a wizard and part of being a wizard is maintaining a aura of mystery and importance.

Let’s talk about Bilbo’s character.  He’s come a pretty long way from his hobbit-hole and seems to be rising to the various challenges set before him fairly well.  At what point did he (in your eyes) go from being a fraidy-hobbit to the dragon-challenging character we see at the end of this section?

This actually occurred for me in Part I, when he challenged Gollum to the Riddle Battle and in the end had to put on the ring and follow Gollum and then do this brave and challenging thing by leaping over him to get away. But we see more instances of him coming out of his shell. Even simple things that being the sharpest eyes in the party put him in a role of responsibility he wasn’t use to.

Other Tidbits:

I can’t believe I forgot about the Wargs and everyone nearly burning the trees. I did remember the Eagles though.

I can see how the Little Kid Me forgot about Beorn. But I find his character interesting this time around, especially how he treats his animals well. Though having goats and dogs set the table might be a bit much.

Gandalf’s reference to finding a Giant door stopper to plug up the Goblins int he mountain had me laughing.

When the Eagles feed the dwarves and Bilbo, they bring them a small sheep, rabbits, and hares. What is the difference between rabbits and hares? Ear size? Do they taste the same?

The Hobbit Read Along Part I

Heldig in her basket. Yes, those are kitty nibble marks on the corner.

First off, a big thanks to Snobbery for inspiring this reread and letting me join in the fun. She has a most excellent discussion of the first 5 chapters, with pictures. Pretty snazzy. So make sure you make your way over there for the bulk of the fun in sharing this book.

I first read this book when I was in 6th or 7th grade and I am shamed to say I have not read it since. Yet it was such a vivid book that so many parts have stuck with me over the years. Oh, and that silly cartoon that I watched over and over again as a kid with all the singing really reinforced the book.

Last year I listened to this great lecture series (Modern Scholar: Tolkien and the West by Michael D. C. Drout) on iTunes that talked about the influences on Tolkein in crafting his stories and went on to discuss Tolkein’s influence on future generations of writers. It was really enlightening about how Tolkien pulled so much from the old European tales, legends, and pantheons of gods. He crafted The Hobbit and his publisher had a young relative read it to see it was worthy. It was . It took Tolkien decades to come up with a sequel, which became much larger and more serious than a child’s book (The Lord of the Rings trilogy). I find it fascinating that he never did stop writing in this world he created, coming up with languages and complicated histories for each of the races.

Snobbery has supplied us with some insightful questions.

1) Songs.  We’ve had a few already.  Did you read/sing them to yourself, or did you skip past them?

I read them. Singing in bed to the cat seemed silly and she has a tendency to whap my lips if I make too much noise while she sleeps on my chest. I enjoyed them as I felt they helped move the story forward or gave background info/motivations to the characters. Though I will admit the dishes songs (where the dwarves are testing the limits of Bilbo’s hospitality) were a bit silly.

2) For those of you who haven’t read The Hobbit before, what are your first impressions based on these initial chapters?  For those of you re-reading, how has your opinion of these chapters changed since the first time you read them?

To this day, I can still remember that The Hobbit was my first book that featured dwarves. It was such a puzzle to me as I had never met anyone really short up to that point and I found it awesome that a revered book featured these folks that were not the standard tall, bronzed, athletic hero types. We got the Geriatric Hero in Gandalf (this name translates as Elf with Stick, I think), our short, Awkward Bearded Heroes in the dwarves, and the Hesitant And Befuddled Hero Bilbo Baggins. This is definitely not your standard adventure story.

Shortly after reading this book, I watched Willow with Warwick Davis. Awesome movie. Still one of my favorites to this day.

3) How do you feel about the way Bilbo escaped from Gollum/the Goblins?  Was he cheating?  Or did he do what had to be done?  This isn’t a question about the narrative aspects (because we know there would have been no story if he’d been gobbled up right away), but rather do you believe he could have clarified?  Stopped Gollum from trying to guess what he had in his pockets?

Definitely a cheat. But his life was on the line, so I cut him slack. I would have done the same thing myself. Did Gollum truly expect to have his opponent loose and then simply lie down and expose his throat for a death bite? If I ever end up in a Riddle Battle, and I loose, and I am about to be eaten, well…. that is the perfect occasion to pull out the hidden knives. Totally socially acceptable.

Other tidbits:

I have had a hairy feet fetish since I was young. I think it started with this book. (Hey! I can see you looking at me sideways!)

Good thing trolls are an argumentative lot and not that bright. I was really worried that the adventure party number was going to decrease right from the beginning.

At Elrond’s place I loved the description that every kind of hospitality could be had depending on what you liked: songs late into the night, good eating, work. Huh, work? Labor as a source of distraction and fun on your vacation is not something I understood as a kid. But now as a farmer, I get it. I would rather be helping friends/relatives with home repairs, gardening, animals on my little vacation than site-seeing.