Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Unspoken Truths in the Fantasy Genre.

Who here doesn’t love the fantasy genre? (What’s that? You don’t? … Um, you may be following the wrong blog, sir/ma’am.) It’s got everything, doesn’t it? Heroes and villains, epic adventures, luscious romances, battles and glory; in a way, it encompasses nearly everything that entertains us. And with such a massive, widely-known, and widely loved genre as it is, at this point in its history there are, quite simply, certain unspoken (or sometimes spoken) truths and rules to it that are kind of set in stone. I’d like to take a look at a few of them today.

   (The following truths are in no particular order.)

Despite what people say, they’re far more likely to connect with the familiar than something out of left-field.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I’ve mentioned this point briefly in another post on this blog, but it’s worth saying again. People are attracted to those things that are similar to whatever other thing they experienced that made them feel. Yes, just feel. How many of you had a favorite T.V. show that you used to watch ten to fifteen years ago that’s been long discontinued? Ever thought or remarked, Man, I really wish they would make a series like *whatever your show was*. That was a great show. But hold on! Aren’t you saying that they should *gasp* do something that’s already been done??!! What happened to making things fresh and new?? HOW COULD YOU!!!
   But, yeah, that’s exactly what you’re saying, and that’s exactly what people mean in general when they say things like “fresh and new.” At this point in time, there is literally no completely new story that anybody can tell. It will somehow at some point cross paths with another story that has already been told. All we want is for the story to be presented to us in a different way. A way that makes us feel those familiar feels that we’ve felt before, but also makes us see things from a different perspective.
   That is so largely what fantasy fans thrive on. There’re more hero-goes-on-epic-quest tales, assassin/thief-antihero tales, magical-being-and/or-told-from-the-point-of-view-of-what-are-usually-considered-bad-guys-such-as-orcs-or-whatever-serpentine-anthropomorphic-being-one-decides-to-come-up-with tales than there are realms of the earth! But so long as people get the “feels” from the story and it makes them think or see things in even a slightly different light, they’re more than happy.

Your novel ain’t no novel if it’s under 80,000 words long.
Do you think I’m kidding? Check out this list from Goodreads of the “Best Fantasy of 2018.” (https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-fantasy-books-2018) Now click on any of those books, any of them, and check their length.
   It’s basically an unspoken rule these days that one’s fantasy book must attain unto a certain length to even be considered epic in the proper sense. This has had some interesting effects on the author’s community. On one hand, there’s a nice niche for those who prefer to keep their books to a more compact length (novellas are a big thing, you know). On the other hand, those with the pluck to find, wrangle, capture, and subdue 80,000 words or more into a single, flowing narrative find that they have attained a nod of recognition from the fantasy powers that be.
   People like novels of any length, generally speaking, but I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a large swath of fantasy book readers that preferred novels of longer length. Personally, I think that this is due to the fact that since we read fantasy to get lost in a new and intriguing world, we want our experience in that world to be as long as entertainingly possible. Neither of my novels (available for purchase here!) are below 100,000 words. But that’s not because I set out to reach a great and lofty word count, but because the story I wanted to tell required its proper space (and I haven’t heard many complaints about the length so far, just sayin’…).

Fantasy authors are almost never “normal.”

Now before anyone jumps to any conclusions here, hear me out. Name five, no, three of your favorite—key word—favorite fantasy authors. Now answer the following questions: Do they write under their own name, or a pen name? How is their biography worded? How do they present themselves in their bio photos? What are their social media accounts filled with?
   If the answers to at least two of these were unconventional ones (to say the least), then you probably see what I mean. Fantasy authors are the ones who prattle on about ancient cultures and the connections to mythic realms within real ones. Our drinks of choice are either coffee, tea, or wine (take that one to the bank). We say weird things on social media and in real life, and all our friends think we’re…let’s just say odd. But that’s just who we are. We’re the eccentric individuals in a mass of norms, and we output that in our writing. I always say to people who ask, that, “The best way to get to know me is to read my work.”
   Truthfully though, it’s our job to be weird, contemplative, disorganized, and peculiar as authors. It’s what gives us our zing. And what’s so bad about that?

Good fantasy always makes better books than movies.

This might be a hard one to accept for some people, but it is so truly the case. Good, solid fantasy, stories that pull us into new worlds that we believe in, whose characters speak with voices that we can hear, whose adventures keep us up late at night turning pages, never measure up the same way on the big screen. Why, you may ask? I’d say two reasons.
   One is that no matter how true a director tries to stay to a story, the creative license that is taken to turn a book into a workable film is always vast. As awe-inspiring and tremendously well-done as the Lord of the Rings films were (we are NOT talking about The Hobbit films), so much creative license was exercised over the source material that it’s not funny. It worked and succeeded so well, however, because the director did his best to stay true to the original story. But the changes were made, and even though most of them (most) were done for reasonable reasons, there were still a surprising number of people who actually were not happy with said changes.
   Which brings us to reason number two: No matter how well done a movie made from a novel is, it isn’t going to make you feel the same way that the novel did. Why? Because with the novel, the author guided your mind with his or her writing to see the story for yourself. All of the joys and triumphs, sorrows and failures, love, hatred, and departures with no return were seen through your own mind’s eye. With a movie, you are watching a director’s interpretation of the story. One of the greatest examples of this truth is just how many people complain at whatever actor is cast to play a main character from their favorite stories. “That’s not what Sheila Hammerfist looks like! Her hair is red, not blonde!” “Why did they cast a kid to play Kerrin? He’s seventeen in the book!” “I can’t believe the guy they chose to play Tarr the Warrior. Tarr’s got muscles on his muscles. That actor looks like he couldn’t lift a sandwich!” And so on and so forth.
   But this is one truth that I, for one, quite like. Let the books, the original creations of the authors, stand proud in the strength of their tales and love of their fans. It is the things that affect us the deepest that we remember the longest.
   Anyway, those are some of the more prominent unspoken truths and rules of the genre. Do you guys agree or disagree? And what do you think are some others?

Keep Strong!

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Coldest Heart of All (Part II)

Well, here a day after Valentine's, comes the part two and conclusion of our tale. (For those of you just joining us, drop by HERE to read part one. I think you'll like it. (Or, at least, I hope so...?))

                                                Thus it was for many night-cloaked days.
                                                Once a time she bore to him trays
                                                Laden with fare and water that eased
                                                All his hurt. Not long it was that the wounds that seized
                                                His battered body slowly mended.
                                                And the fire kept, though to its flame she never tended.
                                                Nor, though her steps he saw and doings he heard,
                                                Unto him did she ever utter a word.

                                                To him her silence seemed wrought in pain,
                                                As though she knew of naught but that domain.
                                                At last he asked: ‘Why movest thou so, as one who sleeps,
                                                Or one who oft lonely sits and weeps?’

                                                She turned upon him silver eyes,
                                                Like starlight seen through clouded skies.
                                                “The answer to thy query I need not to show,
                                                For ‘tis something thyself in truth doth know.
                                                Why went you and your company out at all?
                                                Was it not at the summoning and the call
                                                Of thy greedy hearts that, seeking praise,
                                                Lost thee in the wild as a fool that strays?
                                                Thou would have done well to keep thy house. But there!
                                                There lies all thy heart and all thy care.
                                                Is it not vain to rise and vain to sleep?
                                                Vain thy mind and body to keep?
                                                Is it not vain to name aught as foul or fair?
                                                Is it not vain to harbor a single care?
                                                Life to death, not life to life, is the way of all.
                                                Are not all these things in the end to thy gall?”

                                                “But what of life?” said he aghast.
                                                “How canst thou discount that which has not yet passed?
                                                True, all mortals are mortal indeed.
                                                But for this thou would loose thy bonds and be freed?
                                                Death cometh swiftly, but while it be at bay
                                                Should one not enjoy the sunrise of a dawning day?
                                                Should one not share in the joy of a song?
                                                Or even a smile to bear along?
                                                Ah! To know faithful comrades to see one through.
                                                To know love, blissed love, tried and true.”

                                                Suddenly he fell silent, and she was still.
                                                For a time naught stirred in that house on the hill
                                                Save the fire that flared and fanned.
Soft as a whisper she out-stretched her hand,
                                                Seeming to wish his cheek to clasp.
                                                But when his palm found hers in soft caress a gasp
                                                Escaped her lips, and back she drew.
                                                Within her something stirred anew.
                                                A feeling slow yet overpowering wormed
                                                It’s way deeply, and there it burned.
                                                Again she rose and again she fled,
                                                Again left him lying upon the bed.

                                                Still more time passed, and more strength he gained.
                                                And he nurtured a new thought, and himself ordained
                                                To be a light within her darkened world.
                                                Visions new and sights that swirled
                                                He caused to dance before her silver eyes,
                                                For he spoke of all that under heaven lies.
                                                Of the Springtide sun that shone with glee,
                                                And of the white breakers of the boundless sea.
                                                He spoke of the glades of endless flowers,
                                                And mist of the valleys after gentle showers.
                                                But most of all he spoke of men, whose hearts
                                                Were not always so easily read as jottings in charts.
                                                Yea, there were those who would destroy without cease,
                                                But others there were also; seekers of peace.

                                                “But what availeth all this,” she said at last,
                                                “If, when all is spoken and done and passed,
                                                Death awaits like a clinging net?”

                                                He answered: “Death awaits, and none forget.
                                                Life is as a passing mist and dew.
                                                Yet all things in it may seem bright and new
                                                If hearts walk together to bear on and through.
                                                If instead of being lived by one, it is shared in love by two.”

                                                To this she made no reply.

                                                The day came at last, by and by,
                                                That his wounds and weariness was healed.
                                                With humbled heart at her feet he kneeled.
                                                “Behold,” he said, “here is thy due,
                                                The costly jewel that I swore to you.”
                                                But when she reached out to take his band
                                                He a-sudden clutched her pale hand,
                                                And, looking into her silver eyes, declared:
                                                “Many ways and many evils have I betimes fared,
                                                And I perceive my suffering has been small to thine.
                                                Therefore, do not shirk to accept this that was mine,
                                                But I beg thee to accept yet more.
                                                But for you I would have passed through death’s black door.
                                                Little and small my offering may seem for its part,
                                                Though it is the greatest thing I can give: My heart.”

                                                She gazed on him and indeed it seemed
                                                That in her eyes there boiled and steamed
                                                A fierce desire, but this time true.
                                                She looked on him with sight anew.
                                                His tender words, his warming soul,
                                                Warm as a glinting ember coal,
                                                Had reached down deep and taken hold
                                                Had wrought a wonder in her heart of cold.
                                                Yet the availing of this was due to him only in part,
                                                This wonder that worked within her heart.
                                                The fire that had burned e’er since he came,
                                                The glittering, fanning, dancing flame,
                                                Had wrought on her also. And slow as a coming tide,
                                                Had thawed the chill that lay inside.

                                                Therefore, she marveled at the warmth that spread in her,
                                                The coming of Spring to her forced Winter.
                                                She took in her grasp his trembling hand,
                                                Pressing thither his silver-golden band.
                                                Then she touched his cheek in unbridled embrace,
                                                As tears of delight bathed his shining face.

                                                Now fate is a thing most strange indeed,
                                                For it both caters to want and ignores need.
                                                It is kinder than joy, the master of bliss,
                                                And it is crueler than death’s blackened kiss.

                                                Scarcely had she caressed his cheek
                                                Than the support of his strengthened knees grew weak.
                                                He quivered once, then down he fell,
                                                Lifeless as a withered, hollow shell.
                                                Death had locked him in its hold
                                                From the instant he had touched her couch of cold.

                                                And even as she stared in silent grief
                                                At the man death had stolen as a thief,
                                                She felt within her a subtle pain,
                                                And her own strength began to wane.
                                                A moment later she lay at his side,
                                                Lifeless as the sand washed by the tide.
                                                For death was assured to her the moment he came
                                                And bid her rouse a warming flame.
                                                For the power to weather such things had been lost
                                                To she who had hemmed herself in with frost.

                                                And there they two lay for evermore,
                                                Corpses behind a frozen door.
                                                For none found them, and even now none know
                                                Whither lies that house, moon-cloaked with snow.

                                                And thusly runs this tale of woe,
                                                A story that a self-tortured heart did know,
                                                When she gave of her love long ago
                                                On an endless night of whiting glow.

Keep Strong!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Coldest Heart of All (Part 1)

Greetings, everyone.

   So, those who know me (the number of which I hope is growing *ahem*) will know that I quite like good poetry. I am, of course, partial to the olden style of it, such things as the beauties scattered throughout the Lord of the Rings novels, some of the works of Robert Frost, and the Lays of Beleriand (a special favorite!). I am also partial to rhyming verse. I mean really; if one is going to work so hard at a language as complicated as English, one may as well exercise the full use of it. In the long labors of my own writing, and the numerous talks I've had with other writers and poets, I've come to realize that good rhyming verse, really good rhyming verse, is often much harder to produce than non-rhyming verse. In a way, you set bonds about the realm of your creativity, because you must establish a discernible flow and keep to it, you cannot continuously use the same ending words line after line, and what's more, it is often the case that the last word in a line that you really wish to jot down simply doesn't flow with the last word in the line above it! But in my humble opinion, there are few things as rewarding as sitting back and reading over a well crafted rhyming poem. It lifts the mind when read silently, and lightens the tongue when read aloud.

   I have decided to share a rhyming poem of mine with you all today. I am going to split it into two parts (did I mention that I am also a fan of lengthy poems that tell stories? Epics, some call them, but I rarely use the term.). Unlike others I've shared in the past this one does have a title. Now, beware, it's a bit long, but I put a lot of work into it, and it rhymes! (How about that?) Hope you all enjoy.

The Coldest Heart of All

                                                Hear now a tale of woe.
                                                A story that a heart quite old did know
                                                When she gave of her love long ago
                                                On an endless night of moon-swathed snow.

                                                A house there was upon a hill,
                                                Which sheltered a woman most strangely ill
                                                Who warmed by a fire of ice and snow
                                                In a land that was, so long ago.

                                                Enchantment she wove about her domain
                                                To fend off sunlight, wind and rain,
                                                To stay the beasts, and to keep a chill
                                                Within this house upon a hill.
                                                A chill that suffered no warmth of breath,
                                                A chill that promised naught but death
                                                To those shrouded beneath its folds. And so,
                                                We shall hear what tale from long ago.

                                                Enchantment the more this woman had,
                                                For though in mortal form she was clad
                                                She ensnared age, the decay of years,
                                                And locked it in a bottle of silver tears.
                                                And though all seasons might come and go
                                                Neither dim nor failing durst her eyes grow.
                                                Neither bent of back nor gray of hair,
                                                But tall and slender; cold and fair.
                                                Fair as a hilltop crowned with rain;
                                                Fair as white mist in a darkened plain;
                                                Fair as a stream of calming flow,
                                                But colder than the coldest night may grow.

                                                Now on a night she gathered food for meat
                                                She heard, as it were, the sound of faltering feet
                                                And, turning about, she beheld a form,
                                                Stumbling upon her hill where was no thing warm.
                                                ‘Twas a man, haggard, grim, and worn;
                                                In his eyes a look most forlorn.
                                                Scarce a moment later he staggered and fell,
                                                As though smitten by a sudden, crippling spell.

                                                Then she arose and went to his side.
                                                ‘How came ye here?’ she asked. ‘By tide
                                                Of magic? Enchantment’s grace?
                                                Whither came ye from your own place?’
                                                In her words was neither anger nor scorn,
                                                But rather likened to a murmur borne
                                                On a wind that drifts without a care.
                                                A wind that warmth may never share.

                                                His eyes uplifted. He beheld her face.
                                                ‘By magic?’ said he. ‘Enchantment’s grace?
                                                Nay. But cut off from my company have I been,
                                                By a storm that ravaged, but was not seen.
                                                Many days have I wondered, seeking aid,
                                                Stumbling ‘neath the trees whose casting shade
                                                Has hemmed me in. My hope was lost and I was ill,
                                                Yet from afar I descried this house and hill.
                                                And with the last of my strength up I strode,
                                                Seeing no path or walking road.
                                                And help, most truly, I would now ask of thee,
                                                For death has sought, and is seeking for me.’

                                                ‘And death shall find you,’ she, answering, said.
                                                ‘Even here, where thou layest thine head.’

                                                ‘Those words are cruel. Cruel indeed.
                                                To withhold help from one in need.’

                                                ‘Perhaps,’ she said, ‘to those who know
                                                Whither to walk and where never to go.
                                                For none venture here and none return,
                                                Though for warmth and day they may ever yearn.’

                                                ‘In truth I tell you,’ he bestirringly said,
                                                ‘That when first my eyes opened, I thought myself dead.
                                                For I looked on a sight of beauty unbound,
                                                A loveliness most profound.
                                                But your heart is cold and without regret.
                                                This is not the aid I thought to have met.’

                                                ‘Perhaps, perchance, but your thoughts are not mine.
                                                Little good will it do thee to beg and pine.’

                                                ‘A barter then, a covenant true,
                                                An unfaltering oath shall I swear to you.’
                                                Then reaching weakly to his breast,
                                                As though it were some enfolding nest,
                                                He drew out with care a band of gold
                                                That flared to silver in his hold.
                                                ‘Lo! My greatest treasure ever won,
                                                Gained in battle under scorching sun.
                                                To thee I offer it in return
                                                For the help I asked that you did spurn.’

                                                As she looked upon his band of shifting hue
                                                The desire to possess it swiftly grew.
                                                For many things could she do with silver-gold.
                                                ‘If in truth you make me an offer so bold
                                                Then enter now my delicate home.
                                                Fear no longer in pain to roam.’
                                                Into her abode she led him by hand,
                                                Her eyes ever lighting upon his band,
                                                And there she tended him in his pain,
                                                She who had nigh afore been his bane.

                                                She laid him upon a couch of cold,
                                                But he cried: ‘Nay! Even now the hold
                                                Of death draws nigh.
                                                Do not chill my blood with beguiling ply.’

                                                ‘How then shall I warm you, o weakling dire?’

                                                ‘Bestir a flame. Rouse a fire.’

                                                At this bidding she drew swiftly back.
                                                ‘That alone of the arts I lack.’

                                                ‘I doubt not that such a thing would be lost
                                                To she who hems herself in with frost.
                                                But I cannot weather such clinging freeze.
                                                I shall keep my band you think to seize
                                                If you will not hearken to me in any wise.
                                                I shall bear it beyond the boundless skies.’

                                                But lust overcame her wavering.
                                                The lust for so small and precious a thing.
                                                And with commanding voice but head bowed low
                                                She bid her fire of ice and snow
                                                Become a flame. And a reddened flame indeed up-started,
                                                And from it the chill swiftly departed.
                                                His limbs were heated, his blood was warmed.
                                                But in her there arose and a-sudden stormed
                                                An agony burning, and with it a dread.
                                                And, raising herself, the room she fled
                                                And afterwards returned not, save to visit his bed
                                                To soothe his wounds and provide water and bread.

Keep Strong!