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Putting on the Fur

My apologies for being MIA in the last few weeks – let’s just say I needed to replace my laptop.

Over the winter holidays, I chanced across an independent game called Heroine Quest – it’s a puzzle game in addition to having a warrior option for me to muscle my way through it. If you are hankering for something nostalgic and full of Norse-Mythos, I highly recommend it.

One of the characters is not all that she seems – towards the end of the game, you’ll have the option of returning her to original form if you can solve the puzzle. While I’m less familiar with the Norse version, the earliest interpretation of something similar came from a Shetlandic Source – the Selkie. For the sake of this article, we’ll go with the Animal Wife motif, but tons of legends allow for the male versions seducing human women as well, although in my reading experience it tends to be more towards a mythic booty-call then marriage. What this won’t cover is stories of metamorphosis that is not common to the creature. For example: Zeus had a habit of changing shape and turning nymphs into creatures to hide them from Hera’s wrath. Shapeshifting and lycanthropes can be covered in a future article.

The selkie was thought to be a seal that, when removing its animal skin, reveal a typically attractive human beneath. If human men could steal the skin, the maiden selkie would be forced to marry him and have his children. Typically in the stories, the wife would stare longingly at the sea and weep, and it was often her children that would return her skin to her – through a child singing a song telling her where to find the skin, or the child coming across the garment and not knowing the significance. She would then take the garment and return to her home/seal husband. Generally speaking in the story, she would avoid her human husband but go back and play/see her children.

There are numerous interpretations of the variety of animals seen in this motif – I’m familiar with the idea of an otter, but there’s the Icelandic Swan Maiden, African Buffalo-Maidens and Croatian She-Wolf. Some stories even mention faeries and spirits whose clothes are compromised and they become bound to the humans who see them.  An interesting near-subversion would be the Japanese Kitsune, or fox-spirit, who were more dangerous then many of their other counterparts. Often times, if the kitsune chose to marry a human man, she would do so until he discovered her true identity. Given the crafty nature of kitsunes, it was probably a good thing for the poor husband if she merely ran off and didn’t cause trouble – but what kind of stories would those be?

Do you have a favourite story about an animal who shed their fur or feathers to become human? How about a tale of an ordinary human who found the skin – and had some unintended furry consequences?

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Writing Resolutions and When You Start to Falter

I’m starting off with hoping to a brilliant new year and taking considerations for when you fail. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.

A common saying I can’t attribute to anyone specifically at the moment is: “Those who fail to plan plan to fail” – and I think if you can somehow find a time in your day to devote to your writing, I say all the power to you. Making a commitment and sticking to it shows strength of character, and quite frankly, if you don’t make time for something that will one day become difficult, it’s not hard to stop doing it when something else comes up and suddenly your time becomes compromised.

Then there are those of us who have never been able to devote a specific time to writing. Not for lack of discipline – maybe you do try to bang off something at a certain time, but you’re a student or you’re on call with a pager, and you have to be flexible. Been there, done that, don’t want the T-Shirt.

2013 was the first year since I graduated University where I didn’t begin and finish a full-length novel in the year. I can probably finish the WIP in about a week if I put my mind to it, but I’ve got no delusions on this one: It’s not my best thing ever. What was worse: I’ve been editing a different novel for about two years now: it’s still not in a state where I’m happy enough to send it to an editor.

So while I did make some commitments on my blog, I will throw out there that my resolutions in writing are guidelines, and I’m okay with that. Maybe I’d be a little stricter if I’d noticed a pattern of slipping and that I really hadn’t gotten anything accomplished in terms of my writing last year, and a lot of things I was working towards on a personal level were beyond my control. While I’m not a fan of excuses, I think it’s important to acknowledge that eventually, no matter how committed you are, things do come up and the writing will be put aside – whether it’s something short term or life-changing, or even just burnout. And I can come back and the writing will still be there.

I’m also not going to be overly cheerful and state that it’s all the effort that counts – you know, because it’s not at all condescending when you get a review that says, “Well golly, you can tell she put in some hard work!”

What I am going to say is that it’s awesome to be hopeful and set goals. It’s also great to dream big and work hard towards reaching them. Just don’t beat yourself up over it if you find yourself knee deep in some disaster or, if the story you’re working on just isn’t flowing. A million things could keep you from finishing that manuscript – but remember that when you’re effectively out of the race, no chance to reach the goal you set out for yourself, that you’re still accomplishing something by finishing the race. Not every thing you do will be golden, and that failure isn’t forever – until you put down the pen or abandon the project, it’s only over when you’re done with it, and unless you’ve committed to having something done on time, it’s okay to fall behind on that schedule provided you don’t give up altogether. Believe me: I’m that competitive person who thinks they can somehow rush things, and acknowledging that things happen in their own time is one of those things I had to learn when I became a grown up. Still working on most of the rest of maturity, but I suppose that too will happen in its own time.  

So whether you’re great with commitment or you’re stealing time to reach your daily word count, keep yourself grounded and don’t waste time beating yourself up when you fall down. Get back in the saddle and don’t worry about how long it takes to get it right.

Unless you’re committed to the editor. Be on time for that one, folks, just out of respect for other people’s time.  That being said, they totally get it if you’re in a genuine emergency. Believe it or not, editors are human too.

Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s rock 2014.

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So Your Hero is Useless with a Sword – Guest Post by Moira J. Moore

Joining us this week is author of the Heroes’ Saga, author Moira J. Moore. Moira wrapped up her series last year with Heroes’ Reward, and she’s planning on releasing her next novel, entitled Scribe in Shadows, in early 2014. To learn more about Moira and her work, you can check out her livejournal.

So Your Hero Is Useless With a Sword

by Moira J. Moore

Subtitle: A Light Post Turns into a Rant about Alpha v Beta Males

Thank you, Leia, for asking me to write this post. It’s an honour.

Warning: I really, really, really don’t like alpha characters or people.  This is probably because all of the people who have tried to bully or control me were “alphas,” while the people who treated me with respect – the mature, admirable, fun people – weren’t alphas.

Note: We all know the whole world isn’t divided into just two groups, alphas and betas, but for the sake of convenience I’m going to pretend it is.

When Leia gave me a list of possible subjects for this post, I immediately glommed onto So Your Hero Is Useless With a Sword. If you haven’t read my Heroes series, you don’t know that the covers are some of, and I quote, “the worst covers in the world.” Aside from being ugly in general, three of the six covers portray Taro, the main male character, with a sword, despite the fact that he never used one and probably would have cut his own hand off if he tried.

Lots of books have misleading covers, it’s a common lament of many writers, but of all of the misleading stuff on my covers, Taro with a sword bugs me the most. That’s because an important part of his character is that he isn’t a physically imposing man, in any sense of the word.

Taro is five feet eight inches. He’s slight in build. Not only can he not use a sword, he can’t use any weapon, and he’d be creamed in a fist fight.

He doesn’t care. He’s got other abilities. The main character, the female protagonist, doesn’t care. What’s more, I created a society in which no one else cares, either. No one, male or female, thinks less of him because he can’t fight, because he’s of smaller stature, because he can’t frighten anyone. He is brilliant at his job. That’s all that matters.

And now, the alpha/beta dichotomy.

I designed Taro to be what I considered a beta male. His aristocratic title is merely honorary. He’s excellent at his job but is told where to go by his employer. He can’t do his job unless the main female character does hers. What power he has is a matter of charm and his skill. He isn’t in charge of anything and he never tries to control anyone else.

He’s very pretty and he likes to flirt. With everyone. However, he doesn’t sleep with everyone. He’s smart and resilient. He’s willing to consider the advice of others, though he doesn’t always follow that advice. He’s brave. He stands up to people who could break his bones if fists started flying. He has done some stupidly dangerous stuff because it needed doing. He’s had to get his hands dirty.

Before I began writing this post, I looked up alpha and beta online.  I had a quick and dirty definition for “alpha” – a vain jerk who craves to dominate others – but nothing so simple for “beta.”

Well, wasn’t I in for a big surprise? It turns out I was totally wrong about what betas are. Men are either alphas – all powerful, useful, confident, masculine, – or betas – bitter, weak and, worst of all, feminine.

I have to admit that I read only about ten articles before I became so disgusted I had to stop. Also, most of the articles deal with people, not characters. However, while my experience with alphas in real life matches what I see of alphas in fiction, my experience with beta people is … I don’t know … imaginary.

I’m baffled by the traits that are considered positive and negative.

This is a short sample of the many attributes the various articles assigned to alphas and betas.

Alphas are aggressive while betas are passive.

I don’t like aggressive people. They’re trying to force others to do things against their will. How is this positive behaviour?

Passive doesn’t have to mean weak. Sometimes it’s better to roll your eyes and let things slide instead of fighting over every little thing.

There are a whole lot of options between aggressive and passive. One of my favourite tv characters, one I consider a beta, has a wonderful line: “I’ll never strike first, but I’ll always strike back.” Just because you don’t start things doesn’t mean you can’t end them.

On the other hand …

Alphas are always calm while betas frequently lose their tempers.

Apparently this is because alphas’ lives are wonderful while betas resent the fact that their lives suck. Tell that to the very successful, very senior opposing counsel who screamed at me in front of a bunch of other lawyers. My quiet responses, which amounted to “You do what you feel you have to do,” made him nuts. Which is the reason I gave them. And I ain’t no alpha.

And those really successful, well off partners in my firm? The ones who laughed when I called them ‘sir’ that first week? The ones who asked my advice, and took it?  The ones who held meetings with all of the lawyers and the associates got to vote on things even though none of the money was ours? The ones who solicited everyone’s opinions and made decisions as a group? The ones who would find it hilarious if someone told them they were the alphas, the head of the pack? Well, I guess they all lost their tempers at home and survived the ass-kickings their spouses would have delivered upon them for acting like children.

This is my experience; alphas want control, and when they don’t get it, they freak or sulk.

Alphas are secure enough to take responsibility for their mistakes while betas try to hide them.

I can use personal experience to call bullshit on this one, too. I have yet to encounter an alpha who is willing to admit to mistakes and apologise for them. They consider that a sign of weakness.

That lawyer who screamed at me? Unfortunately, I had to deal with him again on another file. Out of the blue, he told me that he was taking heart medication that sometimes made him dizzy. This was not taking responsibility for his actions, this was not an apology, this was him shoving the blame onto something else. He was also letting me know that would be his explanation should I report him to the law society. If he had given me a decent apology, I would have felt some respect for him. He didn’t, so I didn’t.

I’m not saying all betas are mature in this area, but if someone is going to own up to a mistake and do something to fix it, it’s much more likely to be a beta.

When looking for a sexual partner, alphas go straight “for the kill” while betas try to get to know the woman first and build a friendship.

Don’t you love the violence inherent in the phrase “for the kill,” that whole predator/prey metaphor?

Trying to be friends first is bad. So. Don’t know what to do with that.

Last one (on my list, there’s actually a lot more):

Alphas don’t give a damn what others think of them (anyone who doesn’t like them is just jealous, anyway) while betas curry favour.

I haven’t noticed betas being desperate for the approval of others.

I agree that being too tightly controlled by the opinions of others is a problem, but so is not caring about anyone’s. Really? You don’t want the good opinion of people close to you? Isn’t there a name for something like that?

If you look up narcissistic personality disorder, you’ll find a lot of characteristics that sound like they belong to the traditional “alpha” male.

 

After all of this, I’ve decided to create my own definition of a beta. In recognition of all the beta people and characters I’ve loved, here’s my list:

          Will put their lives on the line for things that matter and when there are no healthy alternatives, but only for things that matter (ego doesn’t) and only when there are no healthy alternatives

          Are loyal but not to the point of being mindless lemmings

          Are more likely to do things themselves than delegate

          Are perfectly content to be alone

          Don’t need an audience or a posse

          Aren’t afraid to voice an unpopular opinion but…

          Don’t need to shove their opinions down other people’s throats

          Respect the rights of others

          Recognise the equality of others

          Can take charge when necessary and hand back control when it isn’t

          Can work well alone and …

          Can work well with others

          Can take responsibility for wrongs done and apologise

          Can laugh at themselves

          Can handle others laughing at them

          Can sometimes put the needs of others over their own

          Can let others think they’re right even they’re wrong, because sometimes it really doesn’t matter

          Physical attributes are irrelevant

          Respect respect respect

 

I didn’t give Taro all of those fine qualities. That would make him a perfect character, and we can’t have that. Perfect characters are boring. But he’s a beta and proud of it!

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Gnome – Hey, at least it’s a Fun Word

I picked up a present for Christmas the other day for someone who has a bit of a green thumb– part of it involves a very tiny gnome. Now, I’m one of those artsy people who have painted gnomes for their grandparents (mostly so they can have ostensibly red noses and cheeks so they look like they’ve got reason to be so darn cheerful) but when I was deciding what denizen to pick on this week, I thought I’d go with one of the more recent additions to the fantasy fae menagerie: The Gnome.

 I’ve seen tons of beautiful art for elves, faeries, even hobbits and other denizens, but your gnomes are generally speaking the portly, squat, cheerful looking creatures that remind me of brownies. Even though I’d argue that they’ve been cutesied up for the average garden, the interpretation of gnomes isn’t near as varied as other fantasy species. Wikipedia states that the earliest version of the word gnomes were first introduced in the 16th century during the renaissance brought on by an author named Paracelsus, though his rendition was referring to a sort of earth elemental, with the creatures being brought into more solidifying light in works such as The Wizard of Oz, Narnia, and even Harry Potter. Though gnomes have been used in a variety of ways in the fantasy genre, in addition to being diminutive outdoorsy underground dwellers, they also seem to have the knack (gnack?) for being regarded in literature as inventors and alchemists.

To me, the most logical reason for this is that they’re the ‘good’ (or at least, not so bad) offshoot as goblins. Now, I haven’t gotten into goblins (the possibility with them are virtually endless without making *any* reference to David Bowie…) but consider – small, diminutive creatures that live underground, associated with the earth and are known for creating things? The only difference – besides looks – is that goblins traditionally are the more devious, cruel creatures known for stealing.  In a cartoon I watched growing up, they were always at odds with the trolls (Youtube David the Gnome, if you’re curious). Though it is telling that with the exception of the Oz series, I can’t think of a negative interpretation of the creatures. Neutral, perhaps, whereas goblins – well, I know they’ve been painted in a much more varied light but, let’s do a quick comparison, with me using the first images that show up on google:

 Goblin German_garden_gnome

You tell me which one you find more trustworthy – ‘cause quite frankly, I don’t really trust either of them.

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Fairy – or is it Faerie?

Regardless of how you wish to spell it, what this post isn’t about is Fairy Tales – the focus rather is on general faerie lore and a brief history. As with my previous article discussing elves, interpretations of faeries are considerably varied, even within the same culture. I’m not going to be able to discuss every aspects of faerieland – afterall, in many interpretations, elves are fae – the interpretation as to the physical characteristics includes numerous supernatural creatures – ranging from goblins (historically treated as bad trouble-makers) to gnomes (generally treated as good and helpful) to creatures that were devoid of humanoid shape (Will ‘o the Whisp). So for this article – and I generally imagine fae to be otherworldly, more sprite-like beings – we’ll include all potential denizens of fae land and head into specifics into subsequent articles. So whether you like them to be diminutive humanoids with wings or grotesque monsters who steal babies, I think there’s enough creatures for me to discuss in the weeks to come. There is tons of material that depicts the variety of magical creatures in different ways – so, as always, feel free to bring up some of your favorite interpretations.

Wikipedia states that faeries were likely derived of Celtic tradition of the Sidhe, the Scottish lore in particular dividing them into the Seelie and Unseelie courts, or Light and Dark courts respectively. As with elves, as the Christianized interpretations took over the old stories, the fae were thought to be neutral in the war in heaven – those who chose neither good or evil. The general concensus was that they were creatures of otherworldly origins – often times stealing humans, luring them to their world or making them dance until they died from exhaustion. While many interpretations of faery land suggest that their world was one of pleasure, folklore often suggests that humans were tricked into staying – much like how in Greek Mythology, Persephone was condemned to the Underworld for eating six pomegranate seeds, faerie food could kill or trap humans, depending on the story or ballad. There are numerous books that discuss the different types of faerie creatures. Brownies and gnomes that could generally be invoked to do good things (stories such as the Cobbler and the Elves) or were mischievous (The Puck) to downright troublesome (Rip Van Winkle). Some of the more benevolent creatures would worked on a farm, and while some would interpret gifts kindly, others would be offended by such gestures. In a much more sinister light, some traditions hold that the reason for the faeries kidnapping humans was for the tithe – that is, every 10 years, the fae would sacrifice a human soul to hell. Perhaps as we can see evidence in the later literature that faeries were considered more demonic than neutral in nature.

Generally speaking there are considerable similarities in regards to offending the fae as with the Norse tradition towards elves and dwarves. There were areas in Norway that were believed to be elf grounds – to this day, there are areas that the locals refuse to build houses or develop the land for fear of ‘offending the elves’  – to the best of my knowledge, this belief is still common in the country in England to this day.

Iron-Clad Weaknesses?

Within the Celtic interpretation, it was said that the ancient gods of Ireland, the Tuatha de Dannan, were driven into hiding, but they lived in burrows and beneath the earth. This gave rise to the belief of faerie weakness towards iron – that their conquerors came with it. Another legend has it that bells could be used to protect oneself against faeries – in addition to other folklore – four leaf-clovers, or bread. Offerings and superstition abounded to keep the creatures at bay.

So I suppose when it comes down to it, I’m left to wonder… how did we ever get such a cutesy image of faeries in the first place?

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Writing Historical Fantasy – And How to be A Good Athenian Host with Karen Dudley

Joining us this week is Aurora-nominated author Karen Dudley, whose book Food for the Gods, is a greek mythological tale of love, murder, and interesting-shaped pastry. You can learn more about Karen and her publisher by going to Turnstone Books, and learning all about its imprint, Ravenstone.  Kraken Bake, the sequel, is set for a 2014 release. 

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As a writer, one of the biggest challenges to writing historical fiction is how to get certain information across without slowing down your narrative with the dreaded info dump. I’m talking about social conventions, cultural practices, rules of etiquette; the kinds of things that are going to seem quite foreign to contemporary readers. When I sat down to write Food for the Gods  (which takes place around 420 BC), I knew I was going to have to figure out a way to do this—preferably a way that reflected the tone and style I wanted for the rest of the book. Fortunately, I remembered a wonderful kids’ book which I’d read years before. The Greek Gazette was published by Usborne and basically it was Greek history written as a tabloid. It was hilarious! And it was perfect. “Eureka!” I thought to myself.

And so, Food for the Gods—and its sequel, Kraken Bake—have all these great interstitial chapters with stuff like advertisements, recipes, and excerpts from self-help scrolls. I had a blast writing them, and they really do impart some important—and fascinating—information about the society of the time. If you’re having a hard time imagining what such a thing might look like, here’s a wee taste. And yes, number five really was a thing back then…

Excerpt from the self-help scroll Eukrates’s Guide to Wining and Dining in Athens.

Ensure your dinner party is a success by following these Five Quick Tips for Hosts:

1. Hire the best foreign chef you can afford for your symposion. In some circles it has become common practice to demand that a cook and his slaves eat before they arrive so you do not have to bear the expense of feeding them. Although some find this behaviour acceptable, it is, in fact, niggardly and vulgar. By offering to feed the cook and his retinue, you will, in addition to appearing magnanimous, secure his gratitude and through this obtain a vastly superior meal for your special dinner party.

2. Consider carefully any decision to invite Socrates to your symposion. Although he possesses a marked talent for sophistry and will impress your guests with his philosophizing, the man will show up looking like an unmade sleeping couch. In addition, it is said he consumes only barley rolls and water—the better to trough his way through supper when he’s out at parties. Apart from obvious aesthetic considerations, such behaviour will result in far fewer leftovers for the host.

3. When holding a symposion during the month of Pyanepsion, one must ensure that at least one bean dish appears on the menu, as this month is named after the boiled beans which the legendary Theseus offered the god Apollo after slaying the dread Bull of Minos. Do not, however, invite Pythagoras to your Pyanepsion party as he possesses some rather strange beliefs—namely that we live and die over and over again, coming back each time as another living thing. According to this mathematical ‘genius’, we begin this spiritual journey as beans (yes, that’s right, beans). Pythagoras therefore frowns on the consumption of anything that might be considered a (distant) relative. Needless to say, such beliefs are not conducive to a particularly relaxed or festive Pyanepsion evening.

4. Choose a symposiarch to direct the entertainment for the evening and keep the conversation clipping along. But exercise caution in your choice! Do not forget it is also the symposiarch’s job to water down the wine so the partygoers don’t get dung-faced, annoy the neighbors, and generally find themselves unable to converse in a coherent, philosophic manner. Many a dinner party has been cast into ruin by the appointment of an inexperienced or (worse!) reckless symposiarch. Remember, only Persians and other barbarians consume unwatered wine. Your typical Athenian, however, understands that drink enhances desire at the cost of performance.

5. Provide the highest quality comestibles and other party supplies for your soirée. Do not omit the bread dildos! In addition to providing pleasure for the flute girls and hetaeras at the party, your wife will appreciate the special treat as she spends her evening in the women’s quarters listening to the sound of your merrymaking. A few bread dildos should help alleviate any boredom she may feel and will therefore help promote marital accord.

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Elves Behaving Badly

I haven’t seen Thor: The Dark World yet – I’m sure I will in the next couple of weeks. I’m never the first person in line to see superhero movies, but my friends and family generally are, and I usually tag along. I jokingly called last year the Year of the Archery at the movies – between Merida, Katniss, Hawkeye, and probably someone else I’m forgetting, but I didn’t mind. I did see the trailer for Thor – that, and the new Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug trailer when I saw Gravity last week. I’ve peaked into Chadwick Ginther’s newest book Tombstone Blues and I’ve noticed a bit of a trend.

This year, elves seem to be downright mean. Even if one can argue that the Bilbo and the dwarves going to bother a dragon isn’t causing anyone any good in middle earth, you can’t help but not like the elves for hindering their quest. I find I’m in that same category. My beautiful immortals are beyond behaving badly – they’re the whole reason for the grand arc and they’ve dragged humanity into it. And even though I never really explain to the audience about my antagonists (Spoiler: They’re supposed to be Tuatha de Dannan, which aren’t elves per say, but lore suggests that there is some similarity) I can’t help but wonder how, given I wrote the book three years ago, I’m in the trend of elves behaving badly.

Growing up with the Disney Princess tradition (it wasn’t a marketing ploy yet, but the mechanism was in place), I liked everything about elves – they were the perfected version of humanity that didn’t grow old and die, were better than us, and for the most part, better looking. Darned if I didn’t want to be an immortal, bow-slinging beauty in some sort of ridiculous dress.  

But I grew up – I mostly realized that dwarves were more down to earth and were probably more fun at parties. And while that Tolkien-dichotomy doesn’t exist in every resulting fantasy work, we see reinterpretations of elves throughout the speculative fiction realm – from the evil drow of R.A. Salvatore and their space counterparts as Vulcans in the Star Trek series, I think we can look at their history and maybe see how we’ve gotten here.

Elves before Tolkien generally speaking were synonymous with fairies. I’ll go into faeries a little more in next week’s post. The earliest recorded evidence of elves in story exists in Norse Mythology, often similar with the dwarves in terms of their handiwork and dealing with the gods and humans – elves could either aid or hinder heroes and other people who crossed their path. Out of the Christian tradition, faeries were thought to be neutral parties – siding neither with God nor with the fallen angels in the war in heaven, hence a moral ambiguity that generally lead to a more sinister interpretation.

Elves behaving badly beyond a certain religious connotation is nothing new though – Terry Pratchett almost exclusively has all denizens of Fairy Land behaving amorally all the time (the possible exception is the Nac Mac Feegle – but I’d argue that while they’re not evil, we can’t say they’ll win any awards for good behavior) and although I’ve yet to read a single book, Drizz’t Do’urden of R.A. Salvatore is essentially the story of a dark elf rejecting his ‘evil’ routes and charting his own path.  Despite all of this, the cheerful interpretation of elves hasn’t gone away either – perhaps it’s aggressive Christmas marketing or the lumping them together with other creatures out of folklore, such as brownie and gnomes which have historically, been friendly and usually kind towards humans.  

Leprechauns, I will note, seem to remain very faithful to their original mythology and I can’t find many interpretations of them. I suppose it’s the continued reverence for St. Patrick’s day, and all the green beer one can quaff.

But let us assume for a moment that we take a classic, traditional high-fantasy elf. Most of us are probably assuming something rather Tolkien. Perhaps they’re immortal, perhaps they’re tied to the earth, or magical in nature. So the next question is, why would we see them as formidable opponents? They’re not monsters in the physical sense. I suppose one needs only look so far as Greek Mythology as to see reason for the gods to squabble. But elves are historically different then most other species – they’re generally not the savage centaurs or the perverse satyrs, and they’re also not the monsters that vampires and giants tend to be. They’re much like us in shape and form – although, perhaps idealized in many ways, they run into the same basic failings as human beings – greed, suffering from pride, and a general disdain of those they consider lesser. It’s easy to demonize the grotesque and thing that’s different from us, it’s quite different to fight something sophisticated and perhaps something we would want to be.

Elves remain part of both historical mythology and our ongoing cultural depictions. What are some of your favorite interpretations of elves?

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Guest Post with T.K. Toppin – 10 Things that would have been Science-Fiction in our Grandparent’s Era

Our Guest Poster today is T.K. Toppin, a science-fiction author hailing from Barbados, here to talk to us a little bit about how the things that were science-fiction a few generations ago have come to pass. You can learn more about her works by clicking on the covers.~L.T. Getty

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My grandparents, if they were still alive today, would be—more or less—in their 110th year. Like, wow, right?

 

I was offered the blog post prompt of 10 things we have now that would’ve been considered science fiction in their generation. In order to do that, I had to do a little research—as in what was around in their time.

 

A quick Google search showed that in the early 1900s, when they were born, already there was electricity and telephones (though, not everyone had use of it), piston-driven engines that ran on gasoline (again, not for everyone and mostly for the affluent), phonographic recording, cameras/film for stills and silent movies, telegraphs, rapid-fire firearms, gas bombs, and the very first airplanes.

 

By the time my grandparents hit their twenties, there were more cars, airplanes had most of the kinks ironed out, and World War I. In the 1940s, World War II came about and they too would’ve been in their forties. Google notes that Velcro was invented then, and I suppose in their generation, that was akin to sci-fi.

 

Jump a mere twenty years, and you have the 1960s. It seems the 60s brought with it incredible leaps and bounds in the technological arena. From TVs in almost every home, Polaroid cameras, air-conditioning, robotics, the first computer, pocket radios, lasers, video, and rocket science. Fast forward another twenty, into the 1980s, and personal computers were more accessible, CDs, VCRs, Walkmans, cable TV, camcorders, answering machines, portable and cordless telephones, and the very first cell phones were emerging (Remember those bricks? Literally.).

 

And now? What do we have? Here’s my list of 10, just a few of many, and what these items would mean to, and do to my grandparents.

 

  1. Computers

Let’s face it, every house has one, every workplace, even your car. We in live an abundantly obscene techno generation. These days, what doesn’t have a computer chip inside it? My grandparents would’ve goggled at seeing words typed across a screen as you type it, or witness real-time live motion, graphics created at your fingertips. I remember my mother marveling at the very fact of realizing what an email was all about.

 

  1. Handheld Devices

From portable credit card machines to scanner, cell phones to iPods, which are really computers squashed into extremely small packages. In the age of convenience and on-the-go necessities, we have all these little gadgets. Were my grandparents to witness these, things only once seen in movies or read about it in books, they would be gobsmacked. For one thing, they’d have no idea how to work them, let alone know what they did. I vividly remember trying to teach my father how to work the VCR. Up to his dying day, I doubt he fully understood what all the buttons did, let alone how to work the remote control.

 

  1. Organ Transplants/Medical Advancements/Emergency Medical Services

I think that all speaks for itself. Death, while it cannot be averted, can be delayed or the inevitable prolonged for a very long time. The advances we’ve made in medical sciences are incredible and everyday, new advancements and discoveries are made. Emergency response teams can arrive and deliver medical care in even the most remote areas on the globe via fast vehicles on land, air, and sea. My grandparents grew up in the generation where new vaccines were still being discovered for diseases and viruses that are now curable. Even X-rays were still primitive and more harmful than good. If I were to explain to them about heart transplants and pacemakers, genetic research or even stem cell growth, I’m pretty sure my grandparents would disbelieve every word I said.

 

  1. Digital Imaging and 3D

Come on, we take all this for the norm now. What movie isn’t out there that isn’t in 3D? (Personally, it makes me feel slightly barfy. I suppose I’m from a slightly older generation. Shh.) The very concept of digital imaging (from moving pictures to special effects, oh, and those holographs!) would boggle my grandparents mind. To think they were around when honking huge TVs made it from black and white to colour and the first VCRs were just emerging. If they saw all the flat screen TVs from the wall units to the tiny ones in your cell phones they would be mesmerized, you know, like how those babies are with watching TV. In this age of digital, it has also brought with it a vast array for different imaging systems, from video chatting, home and public security monitoring to movie magic.

 

  1. The Online World

This techno-generation, we live straight out of a SF imaginings. The online world has birthed a multitude of amazing and sometimes scary manifestations. We don’t think twice about Skyping with friends and family, having video messaging, instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, Google hangouts and the numerous other social networks. The entire world brought closer at the touch of the ‘send’ button. I doubt my grandparents could even begin to grasp it in its entirety. As I said, even my mother marveled at the idea of emails, and fax machines. Theirs was the age of snail mail and long distance telephone calls, where one shouted down the speaker and the receiver had to strain their ears to hear. Where costs to make these calls were horribly high and no ‘long-distance-dialing’ discount numbers to call beforehand existed. The idea of ‘free’ chatting would be mind-blowing. Sometimes, even I wonder about the magic of it all because I am really living IN a SF world. It’s really sad when even my brother, who lives far, far away, can share an amazed laugh that we can instant message each other while he goes cross-country via train as if we were in the same room. Like, wow! This IS science fiction. And it even has its own language. Talk about alien-speak.

 

  1. Instant Food, Convenience Items

We live in a disposable world and nothing lasts as long as it used to. Food being one of them. Gone are the days when the average person spent laboriously long hours conjuring up a masterpiece feast that could be savoured for days. We now have the option to make instant food from frozen dinners to ordering take out. From the instant gravy packets to the dehydrated bouquet garni that comes out of the shaker, nearly half of everything in our cupboards are convenience items. I can name a number of items in my very own kitchen: dried Italian herbs, Bisto gravy mix, Ramen noodles, frozen desserts, frozen hamburger patties, pre-sliced packaged deli meats, corned beef and baked beans and soup tins, frozen veggies. Wow, I have quite a bit more but am too embarrassed to keep going. In my grandparents time, they would’ve carefully selected every single food item and used it wisely, making whatever delicacy from scratch, from flavour to next week’s sandwich from the same hunk of meat.

 

  1. Solar Cells

It speaks for itself. But considering in their generation wind technology was used (and still us), I’m pretty sure the idea of ‘trapping’ the sun’s rays to create energy would be a marvel. But think about it. Solar technology has and is changing the world. It not only can provide electrical power to light up the universe, when you look carefully, it can power anything, from your watch, calculator, hot water systems, even cars.

 

  1. Recycling

As I said before, we live in a disposable world and we’ve filled it with the excesses of our disposable junk. Thankfully recycling emerged and now practically anything and everything is recycled and spat out again for us to consume like vultures. Gone are the days when things were made to last for generations, from canning jars to furniture, toys to buildings. If it breaks, if it stops working, if it tears just a little…we throw it away. But now, what was once unthinkable, all the parts used to make these disposables are sucked back in and remade, maybe into the plastic dinner plate at your next picnic (Eww, just had an image of an old toilet seat made into a plate…)

 

  1. 3D Printers

Well, I’m still trying to wrap my head over that one. But they are here, they exist, and they are very real. I’m sure my grandparents will tell me to “git outta here!” (or the Japanese equivalent of it).

 

  1. Nanotechnology

Now, I know this is a term that really is science fiction, popularized by scientists (click here), but let’s face it, there are things being created—some in use—that a few decades ago were unheard of, because of nanotechnology. Now that is science fiction! Check out this article, and I am pretty sure my grandparents would have those cartoon question marks over their heads. When you really think about it, without this technology, a lot of the items I listed would not be around.

 

Well there you have it, a bit long and wordy. I’m sure my grandparents would feel utterly out of place, like fish out of water. But had they lived through all these new developments, I’m pretty sure, like everything, they would’ve learned to adapt. I know I am…still.

 

Cheers!

T.K. Toppin

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5 Mythic Norse Beasts

Norse Mythology is full of incredible supernatural creatures– though there are creatures ranging from the giants (jotunn) of Jötunheimr to the conflict of the two types of Norse gods, the Vanir and Æsir, the inhuman monsters found in Norse Mythology reoccur throughout the heroic legends of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. Here are five creatures you might stumble across if you were to look up Norse Mythology :

5) Fenrir – a monstrous wolf, the Æsir decided to bind up Fenrir before he grew to full size. When he was chained, he bit off the right hand of the god Tyr. In the events of Ragnarok, it is said Fenrir will kill Odin, however, in turn will be slain by one of Odin’s sons, Víðarr. Fenrir is claimed to be one of the trickster god Loki’s descendents, as well as the father of wolves.

4) Sleipnir – an eight-legged horse. Before the building of Valhalla, a builder came and offered to build the Æsir a city in which to keep out tresspassers – if he completed the task before a set time, in payment, he would be given the goddess Freya, as well as the sun and moon. The gods agreed, but he had to do the work alone. The stranger asked for the help of his horse – which the gods allowed. The horse proved to be a great help to the builder, and the gods still decided they didn’t want to pay for the work. So Loki changed himself into a mare, and seduced the horse away, thus the builder lost the payment, and Thor ended up killing him anyway. Sometime later,Loki gave birth to the eight-legged foal Sleipnir. And Odin thought to himself, “Yeah, I could ride that.” Sleipnir is often depicted with Odin in art.

3) Draugr – I took many liberties in my own book with draugr, and the warriors that try to destroy the tower are far different then the beings I researched. Draugr are similar to ghosts, they are animated corpses that lie in their graves, able to change size at will and have super-human strength. They were said to be extremely hard to kill, typically, the average hero would have to cut off its head, burn the body, and throw the ashes into the sea to ensure that the draugr was gone.

2) Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) – two ravens, that flew the world and reported back to Odin all that they saw. Ravens have a special place in numerous types of mythology – in the Greek tradition, it was said that they were the god’s messengers to the mortal world, whereas in many aboriginal legends from North America, the raven typically takes on a trickster role. In the Norse tradition, it tends more towards shamanistic practice. Ravens still have a huge impact on modern fiction – just ask Edgar Allen Poe.

1) Jörmungandr  – The Midgard Serpant – The offspring of Loki and the giantess Angrboða. Loki is said to have three children by Angrboða; of which he threw his giant serpent son into the ocean. It grew so large, that it could consume it’s own tail. It was said that when it let go, the world would end – there are three legends, including Ragnarok ,where the god of thunder, Thor, would battle this snake. Effectively in the last tale, Thor would kill the great serpent, and then Thor would walk nine paces, and fall dead himself.

These are just five beasts you can find in Norse Mythology – we can find great beasts and monsters central to other mythologies the world over. What are some of your favorite mythological creatures – and, any favorite spins on the not-so-harmless?

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Interview with Barb Taub, author of ONE WAY FARE

This week’s guest is co-author Barb Taub of One Way Fare, an Urban Fantasy novel brought to you by Taleisin Publishing and was published just this past September.  Barb’s co-author is Hannah unfortunately too busy to join us this week – but we wish her all the best as she’s busy in school. 


What makes your fantasy world different from ours? 

My daughter and I have this tiny little life-altering addiction to superhero movies. Okay, we’d probably starve to death with chocolate only a room away if a Marvel hero was in front of us. (Except Hulk, of course, because that movie was just too painful.) But in general, give some guy a spandex outfit and a mask and he owns us.

One night we started talking about superheroes with awkward powers. Let’s say you are the Man of Steel, but you don’t dare have sex with Lois Lane because your LittleMan of Steel would probably split her in two. (And we’re not even going to discuss the havoc your Swimmers of Steel could wreck on Woman of Not-So-Steel…) 

The point is that when you think about it, most people with special powers would be lining up to get rid of them and get their normal lives back. That’s where Null City comes in. After one day there, those with extra gifts turn into their closest human counterparts. For example, imps become baristas. (Of course, they’re now ex-PhD candidates in literature or classics who claim to be experts on third-world coffee blends and obscure world music groups. But hey – there is only so close to human that hellspawn can get…)

So the point of Null City is that it takes our fantasy worlds and turns them into normal life.

What inspired this book?

Hannah and I spent months telling each other the stories. Her gift is world-building and she’s got a real flair for characters. I’m the responsible grownup who worries about little details like plot and whether we have an actual big-enough, bad-enough wolf. And I write things down, which turns out to be an important element of making a book. Who knew?

 


Are your characters human? What talents do they have?

Gaby starts as a human. Her OCD need to see pattern and structure in everything around her is tied to her family’s heritage. They are harmonia, gifted with seeing hidden patterns in the actions of others. Leila, an orphan adopted as an infant into a loving human family, has a tougher time coming to terms with her demonic heritage. Both young women struggle to integrate their gifts within their developing relationships – Gaby with the human Luic, and Leila with the Nephilim (descendants of angels) Thomas.

 


Is this part of a series?

Yes, One Way Fare is the first book in the Null City series. Don’t Touch, a non-series book in the Null City world, comes out in December. Book Two of the five-volume Null City series is due out in March. A different character takes the lead each time, the stakes get higher, and the overall story takes on much darker overtones. At least that’s the plan.

 


What’s your process like when it comes to worldbuilding? Any tips for other fantasy authors?

So you want our worldbuilding tips? Get an obsessive co-author, spend every free moment of her last year of high school discussing what each character would do/say/look like, where they would live, what surrounds them. Have said co-author keep a huge notebook full of her drawings as you refine characters and settings. Have her hold imaginary conversations with the characters on random topics. Research the time-travel bits and keep enormous files of photos, historical notes, bookmarked links, etc. Send your co-author off to college – with that damn notebook – and then start writing. [Insert many, many Skype/FaceTime/GoogleTalk sessions] And voila – you’ve built a world.

 

 

Superpowers suck. If you just want to live a normal life, Null City is only a Metro ride away. After one day there, imps become baristas, and hellhounds become poodles. Demons settle down, become parents, join the PTA, and worry about their taxes.

Null City is the only sanctuary for Gaby Parker and Leila Rice, two young women confronting cataclysmic forces waging an unseen war between Heaven and Hell. Gaby and her younger brother and sister are already targets in the war that cost their parents’ lives. Should they forsake the powers that complete their souls and flee to Null City? Meanwhile, Leila has inherited a French chateau, a mysterious legacy, and a prophecy that she will end the world. Gaby and Leila become catalysts for the founding and survival of Null City.

It just would have been nice if someone told them the angels were all on the other side.

 

 

Excerpt

Some days it just didn’t pay to be dead.

“It’s not fair,” Gaby panted as Leila pulled ahead on the hillside. All those hours as the victim of Bill-the-Hun on her BodiesByBill exercise tapes and she was eating Leila’s dust? Of course the hole in her side wasn’t helping things. And—was blood squishing into those over-priced new running shoes Leila had insisted they buy?

Behind them, she could hear the disciplined beat of pursuit. Well, sure they can concentrate on chasing us; they don’t have to worry about how to get blood out of $240 sneakers.

“Do something,” begged Leila.

“I’m an accountant,” gasped Gaby. What does she want me to do? I could give the IRS an anonymous tip, but satisfying as it might be to contemplate those guys having to cough up receipts for our murder during the audit, I don’t think it’s going to get us out of this.

Leila was several yards ahead of her by now, the trees giving way to the sheer drop of the cliff ahead, with the roar from the falls just beyond.

“I’ve got you Leila.” The voice echoed from beyond the cliff face. “Trust me.”

“Thomas!” Without breaking stride Leila ran straight for the cliff edge and leaped.

Come on. Who trusts someone enough to leap into space?

“Gaby-mine.” Luic’s smoky velvet voice called out as the first shots kicked up the dirt beside her. Without thought, Gaby dove for the cliff edge. She almost enjoyed the moments of free-fall before his arms surrounded her.

“Hell agrees with you,” he grunted. “I think you’ve gained weight.” He went into a swooping glide before his wings pumped, pulling them upward.

“If you do that again,” Gaby warned, “I’m going to be lighter after I throw up. And, come on, Luic. Wings? That’s just so wrong.”

“I got them when I was commissioned.” He spread them for another showy glide. “What do you think?”

“I think the puking sounds better and better.”

His chest shook with laughter under her cheek. “You’re taking this a lot better than I expected. I’m surprised you jumped to me.”  

“Two reasons,” she muttered into his neck. “First of all, I’ve been dreaming of falling for the past five years. And usually I die in those dreams. Again.”

“And second,” Gaby pointed out, “if you can’t trust the angel you killed, you might as well give up.”


Where can readers find out more about you and your books? 

One Way Fare is out from Taliesin Publishing and available on their website. There are several distributors, but here is a short list of links where One Way Fare is now available for download:

·Taliesin Publishing

·Amazon (Kindle)

·Barnes & Noble (Nook)

·OmniLit

·Kobo

 

You can also find more about both the book and the series at the following sites:

 

·Website

·Facebook

·Goodreads

·Twitter: @barbtaub

·YouTube: (book trailer) http://youtu.be/6pkRsXD9vZQ


Thanks for joining us this week Barb! 

 

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