Tomorrow’s Authors: Briari Hallow

This week’s fantasy author of the future is Briari Hallow, dedicated writer, Fantasy reader and animal lover. I’ve invited her to tell you about herself, what she has in mind for you, the fantasy reader, and her opinions on the future of fantasy.

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Briari Hallow (pen-name) is an aspiring writer living in Chicago with her significant other and their two cats and four ferrets (lovingly nicknamed Shanks Nation) four blocks from Wrigley Field. She began writing almost as soon as she could read, mostly stories of fancy regarding kitten rock stars and the adventures of her plush animals. It wasn’t until she was in the seventh grade and became involved in online roleplaying forums that she discovered just how passionate she was about improving her writing craft, and it was then that she began the first drafts of her never-ending novel. She quickly picked up Fantasy as her primary genre, although she dabbles in magical realism, literary fiction, and poetry (when the mood strikes her). Her day job is as a receptionist for a veterinary clinic where she is able to pursue her other passion, the care of non-magical creatures.

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Tell us about your work-in-progress.

 
When I was twelve or thirteen, I began roleplaying online and with my two closest girlfriends. It was amazing, to me, to be able to create these fantastic stories with others, not having any idea of where they were going or what who would say next. It was in these roleplays, which were centered around magically gifted teenagers, that I first created my male main character due to a shortage of male characters on the forums, and soon after I also discovered my female MC.

 
Eventually, I knew they came from the same world, one very different from the ones I was using them in on the forums. I could picture them sitting beneath a great tree together, eating some sort of overly ripe, bright magenta fruit the size of their hands. So I started writing their story.

 
The original opening scenes went nowhere for many years, but I always knew that these two characters were dearest friends in a world that I had not yet finished creating. It’s been about fourteen or so years, I think, that I’ve worked in this world and these characters, and it was only in 2014 that I finally finished a full draft of the first installation.

 

The series, The Divine Catalysts, is a YA High Fantasy series about a world that was broken when it was still new. Many years after its greatest tragedy, two youths become engulfed in an adventure deemed worthy by their Gods, and they begin a quest to fix what was broken many years ago.

 
I hope to pursue traditional publication for the series, although in recent years I’ve been mulling over the idea of self-publication. I’ve queried in two large rounds, revised many times, and have tried to build up my social media presence on briarihallow.com and through my handles @briarihallow on Twitter and Instagram. After this revision, which I hope is my final one, I plan on moving on to the second installation and do a final round of querying. After, if traditional doesn’t pan out, I likely will more seriously look into self-publication.

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Why do you like Fantasy as a genre?

 
As many of us can do for many of our quirks, I blame my parents for my liking Fantasy. At a very young age, my parents introduced me to fantasy. I became attached particularly to fairies, I think because my grandmother spent a lot of time in the garden and she herself believed in evil leprechauns and other such fairy tales from living in the Philippines, where magical realism was still very much a part of her everyday life.
My tastes have always remained there – I dabble in horror, or modern non-fiction, and have thought of doing some Victorian Era pieces, but at the end of the day stories of children overcoming great evils have always deeply resonated with me. So, too, do the ideas of dragons, or mermaids, or magic.

 
Who do you see as your writing influences?

 
It’s almost a cliché to say at this point, but J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien are some of my biggest influences. Rowling’s stories, especially, have helped me through some of the hardest parts of my life—in fact, I fully give credit to her books saving my life and helping me get out of the psychiatric ward a few years ago. I’ve always imagined that I would like to give readers some of what she gave me—strength and courage to face my emotions. Tolkien’s work is timeless, and I’ll always love the idea of hosting dwarves for dinner and grand quests with little hiccups in them.

 
But, additionally, among my favourite works are by Garth Nix, D.J. MacHale, Phillip Pullman, David-Clemente Davies, and Ernest Hemingway. All of their works influence my writing style – from Nix’s subtle horror themes, to Hemingway’s long, flowing sentences. Having also grown up a huge anime and manga fan, I feel wrong to not mention Hiyao Miyazaki’s work with Studio Ghibli, and Ken Akamatsu’s works, particularly Negima.

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What is the future of fantasy? Do readers still want the same old thing or are they looking for something fresh and “different”? Are there things about the genre you find worn-out or over-done? Is there a particular direction you’d like to see fantasy take as a genre?

 
I see these questions a lot on forums and in writing groups – what tropes are overdone, where is Fantasy, and the such.

 
The future of fantasy lies somewhere between bringing the things we love about the past and creating more idealized worlds like the one many of us would want to see.
I think most true fantasy fans will never tire of dragons, or elves, or dwarves, or elemental magic and so on. I don’t believe you can overdo a thing. You can do it badly. You can do it without making it your own. But you can’t overdo it.

 
However, that isn’t to say that we want the same exact things – we don’t want to see Tolkien’s world over and over. We want new worlds to explore and we want to meet new creatures and magics, even if they’re similar to others.

 
And, just as the people consuming these stories are vastly diverse, so should Fantasy become. Fantasy is still largely dominated by white characters, European settings, and sexist societies. Which isn’t inherently bad, as much high-fantasy is rooted in medieval Europe—but there comes a point in all forms of art where we need to start changing it to match the world we are in and the world we want to see. Especially for me who is a person of color, I want to see more positive diversity in our fantasy novels. This includes diversity in setting – the medieval Europe thing is fantastic, but I know a writer who is doing prehistoric fantasy with dinosaurs that looks amazing, and my version of “elves” live in a tropical, tribal village. There are many ways we can expand the fantasy genre so it continues to grow, and I think that’s very important.

 
I see a lot of discussions getting caught up in using the excuse of their own background to limit them – white writers not feeling comfortable writing POC, and POC not wanting to have white characters take major roles. But if, as many fantasy writers do, the worlds we are creating are not of our Earth, this is a moot point. Our skin color doesn’t influence who we are as people if we take away our society. In another society, skin color may not have mattered. In another society, women may never have been thought to be the weaker sex. And the brilliant thing is that we can make these changes to our made-up worlds without even needing to excuse this.

 
There are times and places where these themes have and do contribute to the plot and world of a story, but sometimes they aren’t needed as much. We don’t need a million more red-headed MCs, we don’t need another cover with a cloaked figure in the woods and a raven on a tree. We can create new types of worlds for our favorite magics, and I think it’s really important to see more diversity, even if it’s not in our own works but just by supporting those who are changing the mould of the fantasy genre.

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What have been your struggles as a writer? What have been your personal triumphs?

 
I’m sure mine are the same as many writers, I don’t believe I’ve struggled with “writer’s block” so much as “near-crippling self-doubt.” But I think they are in some ways the same thing.

 
I get down on myself a lot if I’m not physically sitting at my computer with my document open, editing and revising, but I always try to remind myself that just because I’m not revising my book physically doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it—which I often am. Anytime I’m quiet and thinking on my own, while driving or while waiting for someone, I usually am mulling over a detail of my world or a character, or what needs to be changed or improved.

 
I think the time I’ve spent on this first book has also gotten me down—over a decade, after all! But on the other hand, I’m very well-versed on the world I’ve created. I know a lot of history and lore and idiosyncrasies of the world that may not be relevant directly to my story, but are very relevant to the accuracy of the story to itself.

 
Going off of my earlier point, I struggled a lot because I had whitewashed my own characters. All of my characters were white. And I am not. My upbringing itself was very diverse—we never really made a big deal, expect perhaps a well-mannered joke, about the fact that I’m Asian and Hispanic. We never made a big deal about black cousins, or someone marrying a white person. But I struggled to realize that I had subconsciously made the decision to make all of my character white, because that’s what I was seeing when I was reading my favorite genre.

 
It took some time, but I changed up my main characters and the world they live in. And I love it the more for that change, because now when I imagine my world, it’s a world I would be happier to live in, where skin color, sex and sexual orientation aren’t issues. And this doesn’t take away from the world or make it less real. This is just a different world than the one we live in.

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Why is fantasy an important genre?

 
Fantasy as a genre allows us to experience magic in real ways, and humans have always been drawn to magic. You can’t tell, for instance, a Harry Potter fan that they don’t know what it feels like when Harry casts expelliarmus and defeats Voldemort. You can’t convince a His Dark Materials fan that they don’t know precisely how to get into the right mindset to read the alethiometer, or what it felt like when Lyra had to cross the river into Death and could feel her soul being stretched as she left her daemon, Pan, at its banks. You can’t tell me that I don’t know exactly what the biscuits and honey taste like in Bjorn’s house on the way to the Lonely Mountain.

 
Fantasy is an all-encompassing experience. People are so amped about VR experiences in modern day, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of us who already know what it feels like to experience another world, another person, things they can never experience in this life—because for many of us we can read or write these experiences, and feel them truly.

Briari Hollow

Thanks, Briari Hallow. Next week in Tomorrow’s Authors, Alex LeBlanc.

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Tomorrow’s Authors: John Stum.

Today, the fourth in my series on the fantasy authors of tomorrow. Our guest blogger is John Stum, who will be telling you his views on fantasy, why he writes and also about his current work-in-progress.

  • Russell Proctor

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My name is John Stum and I am currently working on a new novel called Prince Phillip. It is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale with a focus on the young Prince who was destined to break the spell. The book will follow his life, struggles, and lessons as he becomes a man worthy of breaking the curse. I thought it would be fun to look at a character that did not have a whole lot of time dedicated to him but was important to a classic story.

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I grew up on the classic Disney movies as well as the stories of knights and epic battles. It helped frame a lot of my views on what a man was as well as provided me with childhood heroes. Those characters, however, were always presented as fully formed and complete. As an adult, I understand that there is a lot more nuance and grey areas to life, a lot of things that have to happen to shape and form a person. Prince Phillip is my way of examining those factors. It is not necessarily a children’s story I am telling. It’s going to get a little dark and adult. But those stories are always some of my favourites.

 
It ties in with my favourite authors. After I started to crave deeper stories than Disney, I read authors like Anne MacCaffrey and her Dragonriders of Pern, Raymond Feist and his stories in Midkemia, and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I still enjoy light-hearted series. The Chronicle of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander is one of my favorites and I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to enjoy Harry Potter or The Hobbit. Those books all influenced me and my decision to get into fantasy writing.

 
Tales of heroes on noble quests with magic and adventure are important for the soul. They inspire thought and creativity. Many genres look at the way the world is, and a lot of them examine it the way the author thinks it should be. These genres are still bound by rules and logical thought. Fantasy throws that all out and looks at the impossible. By stepping out of the realm of reality, fantasy allows us to really see our world and ourselves. It opens us up to impossible things allowing is to truly push the bounds of reality. Fantasy is beautiful like that and one of the reasons why I love it.

 
Of course fantasy does have some baggage to it. It can feel like an old and outdated genre. We live in crazy times, though, full of rapid change. I think audiences want something familiar to cling on to. We are seeing it in Hollywood with how many movies rely on nostalgia to produce feeling and connection. This is where fantasy has an advantage. It is a nostalgic genre, but one capable of producing something new and unique.

 
Already, the trend in fantasy seems to be the number of sub-genres that are coming out. Grimdark, urban fantasy, supernatural, etc. The fantasy umbrella is splintering out to smaller and smaller niches with the rise of self-publishing and the relative ease of indie authors to find their market, at least compared to ten years ago.

 
This does lead to some annoying things about fantasy. The order surrounding fantasy creatures is getting eroded. Vampires and zombies, which may fall more under horror but still share a fantasy link, are no longer morally or existentially terrifying. Anne Rice made her vampires beautiful and desired, but Interview With a Vampire still showed the tragedy and horror of that existence. When lore is not being eroded, it is being clung to with dogmatic obsession. There is the perfect elf that seems to exist only as a Mary Sue or Gary Stu. Fantasy does lend itself more to that problem than other genres.
This is not an indictment of stories like that. I have enjoyed several when they are done right. If the author has found a voice and an audience, then great. I wish them nothing but the best and continued success. I just personally find stories like that sacrifice a lot of potential themes and messages at the expense of these issues.

 
Overall, fantasy is a fun and exciting genre. It offers a lot for potential readers and has many bright horizons ahead of it.

 
You can follow me through most of the normal social media outlets. I am on Twitter @steelstashwrit1, Facebook at www.facebook.com/steelstashwrit1, or my blog at www.steelstashwriting.com. Be sure to like and follow for more information and progress on Prince Phillip or sign up for my quarterly newsletter at http://eepurl.com/diOmdH.

John Stum

 

Tomorrow’s Authors – Aravind Pradhyumnan

Continuing the series of Tomorrow’s Authors, in which I hand over to guest bloggers, the next generation of fantasy writers. These writers are as yet unpublished, but working hard to bring their own version of this great genre to a reading audience. Today our blogger is Aravind Pradhyumnan.

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Recently, I joined a support group for Fantasy writers. It is heart-warming to find there are entire communities of people who want to help their fellow novice writers. I am a Masters student pursuing Aerospace Engineering far from home, and I took to writing as a hobby. Soon, my penchant for the craft turned the hobby into a fierce passion and helped me get back from a dark place. This I did by creating a fantasy world of my own. If not for the incredible support and advice from fellow writers, I may never have turned my outlines into the first draft of my manuscript. On that note, thank you, Russell, for giving me a rub.

 
I would like to say I am the next phenomenon sweeping through the Fantasy genre, and the household name of the next decade. But my name is hard to pronounce, and I am but an aspiring author.

 
But that’s enough about me, let me tell you about my work-in-progress, which has the working title Black Rose Bloodmage.

 
I do not have a cover art or any illustration to give a taste of my work yet. But I do have a song by Opeth in mind that captures the brutal beauty of world I’ve imagined. Listen to it reader and hear what I hear, see what I see. Opeth: “Bleak”.

 
Adrya is a country with a bloody history. Due to the nature of magic, there was tremendous bloodshed and the world saw the decline of powerful creatures that roamed the wild. Men killed one another. This was characteristic of the Magethic Era.

 
However, an ambitious man, Adrian, took the crown along with a coterie of powerful mages at the time, and heralded in the New Era. The country grew more stable as all unaffiliated mages were systematically eradicated. Prosperity was ushered into the years that followed under the rule of the immortal King. However, Enthaumy – the magic system, became forbidden knowledge and was henceforth only shared among a few members of the peacekeeping Justiciary.

 
By the year NE 88, a rogue mage, Gathvel has risen to the upper echelons of the Black Rose Guild. He remains in hiding both from the Crown, as well as his own past. But his life changes when he adopts a nine-year-old girl. After a botched assassination mission, Norman, an Inspector of the Justiciary catches Gathvel’s scent.

 
The first book of a hopeful trilogy deals with this hunt – who will emerge from this ordeal alive? I aim to explore themes of friendship, bonds, and how even men set in their ways can change.

How this project came to be:
Originally I set out to create a magic system that seemed realistic and had a tangible, measurable cost, with world-changing ramifications. I used my Engineering education to help legitimise the workings of the magic system I came to call Anthaumy. As it grew and developed in front of my eyes, they branched into rather specific fields of “science” of Enthaumy and Alchemy.

 
Along with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the Second Law of Anmodynamics came to be revered in Adrya. Mages were scholars after all. The law states that the Antopy of Miridian always increases, but its saturation remains infinite. I understand this sounds like gibberish, but the book will ensure it makes sense.

 
So as you can see, I spent the bulk of my time creating the magic system and it led me to create a world for it to exist. Over the course of a year, I had created a country with a rich culture and history, a functioning economy, and quirks specific to this world.
My first attempt at creating a plot set in this world however, was a travesty as terrible as the events of the Magethic Era. It was a piss-poor story, that incorporated all elements of the world I created, but the plot itself held no water. I was disappointed, and all but abandoned the project.

 
Enter Brandon Sanderson. Figuratively speaking. The man has lectures on creative writing that breathed a new life into the fading embers of the passion for my tales set in Adrya. In a matter of weeks I had characters and conflicts that produced elements of the plot I described. I streamlined the magic system and the cut out elements of the world that I felt were unnecessary.

 
I found that I was a heavy outliner and in few more months, I managed to create a solid outline to base my manuscript on. With more advice and encouragement from fellow writers, I finally set pen to paper. Now I am 9000 words into my first draft, and I just wrote my first fight scene. Enthaumy was finally on paper and it read better than I hoped. I know exactly where the book is headed and by my ambitious estimate, I should have a completed first draft by March.

The struggles along the way:
Time has proven to be my best friend, as well as my worst enemy. Writing can seem like a chore sometime and there always may seem like something else is just a little more pressing. Getting past that resistance to start typing into the laptop has been the biggest hurdle I personally face.

 
But this is where the support groups on Facebook help. Good people are all around and they provide motivation to resume writing, whether they realise it or not. And once I’ve entered that headspace, it becomes easier to write and harder to stop.

 
Other times, I’m convinced what I’m writing is digital dogshit, but then accomplished authors tell us that is normal and even they feel similarly at times. When you’re in agreement with Joe Abercrombie, it is likely that you may be on the right track. This hasn’t been a debilitating struggle for me though and I’m confident to a degree that my writing isn’t all that terrible. And hey, that’s not so dreadful, right?

My influences:
It’s hard to point to an author as an influence. I think I just read the right books at the right time which encouraged me to develop my own magic system. These were the popular debut works of authors from the last decade – Pat Rothfus, Scott Lynch, and Lord Grimdark himself, Joe Abercrombie.

 
I like to think I have learnt from each of these authors, and I might have to actually build a shrine for Brandon Sanderson. What I’m writing may be considered Dark/Hard Fantasy and I certainly will not be pursuing my passion if not for these authors.

Fantasy – Its importance and what it means to me:
The human mind is fascinating. We can see with our eyes closed. We can see even without them, in fact. With our mind’s eyes we see into the past and more importantly, into the future. I heard a psychologist lecture that it was this ability to peer into the future that made us the intelligent species that we are today.

 
But this also opened other doors for our mind’s eye. We can look at things that aren’t, we can see things that could be, and we can even see things that couldn’t be. Our mind can create entire worlds where we are gods. We take literary fiction above and beyond its limits, and this is why Fantasy and Science Fiction are here to stay.

 
We humans started out as hunter-gatherers. Adventure and exploration is a part of us. So no wonder we as readers and writers want to explore new worlds and possibilities, and there are few things comparable to being immersed into a fantastic world. People say fantasy is a means to escape reality– yes, that can be the case. But to me it is a means to explore beyond reality.

 
As a reader, this is what I want. As an author, I hope to provide others the same. And if you give me your time, I have a story to tell. Follow me on twitter at @pradhyumnan503.

– Aravind Pradhyumnan

 

Tomorrow’s Authors: Debdip Chakraborty

 

Today’s post continues the series of interviews with unpublished writers of fantasy. While they are still struggling to finish their works or await publication, they represent the fantasy we’ll be reading in years to come. The interview on this post is with Debdip Chakraborty.

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I was born into a world of books and writing, so I guess I was fortunate enough to be born in a family which had tremendous love and nurture of literature and art. My granddad was an avid reader, which he passed on to her daughter, my mom, and she is the woman who has given me every thoughts and ideas and made my life much more interesting with books.

As I kid, I liked isolation, and my ideas were always too weird or laughable to share, so I used to enjoy more of the characters that I read than the company of people. The interactions with characters in my head made me to pick up writing my own fan-fiction, which later changed into my writing.
Years turned, and after drifting through books, of all genres, shapes and sizes, I felt fantasy is the genre which speaks the most to me, and resonates with me.

 
1. Tell us about your work-in-progress.
Being an unpublished author is hard. You’re stuck in a boat, sailing in a vast sea, your destination is nowhere in sight. And you don’t want to go back to the land you just left. I guess that’s what I feel right now. More so, because I’ve miles to go before I finish my first draft. The dreaded first draft.
Currently, my main project, a planned fantasy trilogy named Ode to the Fallen, is stuck in the first draft.
It is about an Imperial Prince, who never dreams of power for himself but only kills and conquers in the name of his father, the Emperor, even if it means killing his kin. There is also a sorceress, who is seeking to revive a High God, fallen and broken; however, she knows that time is running out. A cannibal and barbarian veteran soldier seeks to wreck vengeance for cleansing the sins of the past. All their paths will cross once the world will be opposed by a far greater and ancient threat that’s beyond their comprehension or power. Hopefully, by 2018, I can end up finishing with the draft of the first novel of the trilogy.
Apart from that, I do have a sci-fi in work, still at the nascent stages, a few ideas of comic books, and a host of poetry.

 
2. Why do you love fantasy as a genre?
The boundaries of this genre are limitless. While most of the other genres do get tamed by having a “realistic boundary”, fantasy (sci-fi is considered as a sub genre within fantasy) provides an author with the concept of endless loops and probabilities.

 
3. Who do you see as your writing influences?
I was a four year old when my granddad introduced me to the world of literature and arts. It all started with the Hindu and Greek epics. Around the age of twelve I discovered my passion of writing and “Papa” Tolkien’s books. Those shaped my genre of writing: fantasy. Over the years, two other primary influences came into my life: Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker. Both of them are towering geniuses when it comes to the genre of fantasy and literature. They’ve pushed the aspects of fantasy and set a new bar where I feel few can reach.

 
4. What is the future of fantasy? Do readers still want the same old thing or are they looking for something fresh and “different”? Are there things about the genre you find worn-out or over-done? Is there a particular direction you’d like to see fantasy take as a genre?
The future of fantasy as a genre really does seem bright. With the old guards of the genre going strong with their new series, fantasy as a genre since the post 2000s has seen a host of new and emerging authors who’re fit to carry on the battalion. Fantasy as a genre has much gained the hype and deservingly so, with the adaptation of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by the HBO popular show A Game of Thrones. George R. R. Martin does deserve every ounce of credit for popularizing the genre.
There are readers on both ends of the spectrum. There are some who want the fantasy with tropes, the known tropes, just to get a familiar setting. There are also readers, who want fantasy to be with new ideas/ thoughts. Both does have its pros and cons.
While having the known fantasy tropes does possess the readers with familiar grounds, and not to scramble too much and being clueless, the author does have a fear of being a “Tolkien” or any other author imitator.
However, present things too fresh and new, and the readers may feel clueless as well. Having everything original doesn’t mean that it is going to work as well, and that itself is also a trope.
I feel a proper mixture of good old fantasy tropes, and originality always does the trick. While the fantasy trope will give the reader a familiar ground to focus, the author can show his/her versatility/creativity by planting the original thoughts along the way.
The worn-out processes of fantasy are the same Tolkien rip offs of the genre. For me, as much as I’m a huge fan of Tolkien, I do think the author prevented (for sometime at least) the genre growing. A farmer boy goes out to defeat the dark lord, whose sole person is to conquer the world, guided by a mentor (who dies halfway through the book). Those need to stop. The same old repetitive formula of light versus dark doesn’t really work out these days. Characters should be gray, no shades, multi-layered; not all characters have to be likable.
Also, as much as I love this new wave of grimdark fantasy that’s up and coming, I don’t understand grimdark, gore, and violence, just there for pleasing the masses.
There is a host of fantasy series that I’d love to see come up as shows or movies. So that definitely is a direction where fantasy should head.

 
5. What have been your struggles as a writer? What have been your personal triumphs?
Struggles to cope up with my depression, loneliness and suicidal thoughts have been my real obstacles towards getting my goals done. Although it does help me to project my thoughts on the characters, the plots, and the settings across the writing, it can at times come out as nihilistic, grim, and give a reader an overall sense of bleakness.
The triumphs do include when I try to get my thoughts on the page. The scenes or the characters which were so fleshed out in my mind when they take life in the page in front of me do seem a major satisfaction.
The idea is to keep pushing till you’re exhausted. A blank page sits in front of you, and even if you’ve to write a scene spanning only ten minutes of the story time, you can take at least a lot of time, to think, process and write down in real-life time.

 
6. What fantasy books or films have you enjoyed and why?
Favourite Fantasy Books (In no particular order):
Deadhouse Gates, Midnight Tides, Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson: This is a series which influenced me to take the risks, to go beyond the genre classics that are out there, and makes me want to take risks.
The Darkness that Comes Before and Warrior Prophet by R. Scott Bakker: Such an exquisite piece of literary fiction. A work of such original nature has never been seen in the genre of fantasy.
A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin: The depth of character arc and treatment, has been seldom seen in this scale.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy has to be one of my favourite fantasy film series. The visual aspects of the film, and the grandeur make me become a twelve year boy again, sniffing through the pages of the Tolkien’s epic series.

 
7. What fantasy books and films have you not liked and why?
The Twilight series were pretty dull, and it seemed like a romantic thread, with nothing in it.
The Mythica series didn’t also do much justice with the genre. It took the same old tropes, and there was no purpose in the overall story.
Neither did I like the later Harry Potter films. They scrapped and changed a lot from the books for my liking.

 
8. Why is fantasy an important genre?
The feel of fantasy is that, it speaks to everyone, regardless of caste, creed, sex, orientation. It binds all the readers, under one umbrella. The feeling of awe, and the creation of something original can only be derived by this genre.

 

 

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I wish Debdip all the best for his future writing. His work-in-progress certainly sounds interesting, a combination of different and unusual characters. His insights into the future of fantasy also show someone committed to keeping the genre alive and well. Keep an eye out for his Ode to the Fallen series!

Russell Proctor   www.russellproctor.com

(Featured picture courtesy of Dreamstime and Creative Commons.)

 

 

The Yes and No of “Wonder Woman”

WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS REGARDING THE FILM “WONDER WOMAN” (2017). 

I’m not a fan of superheroes. After all, I’m 60 years old and what is a 60 year old doing in a fan-world made up (on the whole) of people much younger? I don’t deny they can be a lot of fun, and it’s not the genre itself, it’s the idea of the superhero I just don’t “get”.

But that has nothing to do with this blog. I’m not here to trash the superhero genre of fiction. I can see why many people love the concept, and that’s great.

So ordinarily, I wouldn’t watch a film like “Wonder Woman”. Just not my thing. But I did decide to watch it because I’d heard a lot of people saying great things about Gal Gadot’s performance in the title role and I also wanted to see what DC would make of a female superhero. (Or is that superheroine?)* I watched it on DVD, which I actually purchased over the counter, so I invested not only time but also money. I also knew the film was set during World War One and since I am fascinated by that historical event I also wanted to see how “real” the war would be slotted into a fantasy film.

Let me say I really enjoyed the film, probably more than I thought I would.

I thought Ms Gadot did a wonderful job. Her Diana was suitably regal, tough, naïve and just plain likable. She could do humour well and the character served as a great role-model for women. Her reaction to the historical era, which clashed so much with her own upbringing and world outlook, worked really well. I also found the supporting actors did a great job. I have no beef with the special effects, the production itself or the performances.

That’s not why I’m here now.

All that I just said above was the “yes.” The “no” comes at the end of the film, the last half hour or so. Actually it may be longer or shorter than that, I was so absorbed in the film I lost track of time.

Halfway through the movie there is a brilliant sequence where Wonder Woman steps out of the trench alone and walks into No-Man’s Land carrying nothing but a sword and shield and proceeds to remove the heavily-armed Germans occupying the village of Veld. I loved this sequence. It had excitement, action and danger. The moment when Diana is cowering (yes, cowering) behind her shield as it takes the full force of a machine gun aimed directly at it is superb. The look on her face shows the doubt that has started to creep in that she might not make it out alive. She is rescued by her merely mortal friends–this, too, is superb and shows even superheroes need help occasionally. It was a wonderfully “real” moment in the sequence. The silly gymnastics and slow-motion FX didn’t jar at all (as they usually would with me). The idea of a woman (almost) single-handedly taking on hundreds of enemy with nothing more than her own battle skills and lightning-fast reflexes was the highlight of the movie for me.

Another very effective moment came after the battle when Diana and the others were having their photograph taken by a villager. The exhausted look on Diana’s face shows the liberation of the village had a personal emotional cost for her. The overcoat thrown over her superhero outfit is a magnificent touch that demonstrates deep-down she is just another person, scarred by war and thankful she is still alive at the end.

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And then there’s the battle at the end, when she’s fighting Ares. This is the “no”. This battle between a god and the daughter of a god (a demi-goddess) is far removed from the “real” and frightening combat we witnessed earlier. Here, the SFX take over, the immortality of the characters intrudes itself and I lost interest in the plot.

Until then, it all worked. Diana was fun, kick-ass and had a touch of humanity about her. Of course, the Amazons weren’t exactly human, they were specially created by the gods as superior warriors. They could, however, be killed by ordinary bullets, something I’ll get back to. In this last sequence between Diana and Ares, we sit back for a long info-dump by the bad guy who gives us some background as to his motivations and explains Diana’s origins. (Meanwhile all hell is breaking loose with the ordinary soldiers trying to destroy a gas laboratory before the rest of humanity is destroyed, but never mind that–this is important stuff and the gods are going to force us to listen.) And here’s the important thing: at this point in the movie Diana casts off her last traces of humanity and becomes a goddess in her own right.

And I lost interest.

Gods are hard to write. They are just so damn powerful. They start throwing tanks around, creating explosions, defying the laws of physics and proving even more than your usual superhero that we humans are utterly weak, worthless crap. Sure, Diana’s friends do succeed in destroying the gas laboratory and Steve Trevor (played admirably by Chris Pine) sacrifices himself for the cause, but that’s stuff any suitably brave and committed mortals could have handled. The battle between Diana and Ares is what disappointed me.

It’s those damn bullets, you see. Diana proves herself almost invulnerable in this sequence. So why was she worried about bullets earlier? Ares kicks her butt several times and she just stands up again and keeps fighting. Not a scratch. A goddess. Her fellow Amazons aren’t immune to bullets, and for the bulk of the film Diana spends a lot of time knocking them aside with her arm braces (and hiding behind her shield from a machine gun). So why now does she seem utterly impervious to any form of mistreatment?

In my opinion, the final battle between deities became “unrealistic”. I use that term not because I thought the rest of the film realistic, but in the sense that I lost my concern for Wonder Woman. I no longer feared she could be killed or even hurt. She absorbs the power of a god and redirects it back at him. At least, her arm braces do, which isn’t quite the same thing. We know, and she knows, they can do that sort of thing from a sequence early on in the film, but the realisation still doesn’t quite ring true.

Gods are hard to write. Gods fighting each other even harder. Had Diana remained “mortal” and still kicked Ares’ butt I would have stood up and cheered. But making her a goddess just levelled the playing field and suddenly I didn’t care anymore.

Still a great film. I’ll watch it again, but maybe skip over that last fight scene. The earlier one recapturing the village of Veld knocks the later one out of the ring. The Veld sequence belongs at the end of the film as the climactic battle, not half way through.

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  • A lot of occupations these days are gender-neutral. “Actress”, for instance, is not a word often used these days. Actors are “actors”, whatever sex. “Poetess,”, “Aviatrix” etc are out the door. They are poets and pilots. So I’m not sure if superheroines are legitimate anymore, or if they are all just superheroes.

Russell Proctor  –  www.russellproctor.com

 

 

 

Child of the Night Guild – Andy Peloquin

Today, another review, this time of the fantasy novel Child of the Night Guild by Andy Peloquin.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00060]Andy Peloquin isn’t afraid of a challenge. He likes his fantasy to explore the darker side of human nature, and with his book Child of the Night Guild (Book One in the Queen of Thieves series), he has certainly done that. His story about an innocent girl transformed through brutal training into a thief and killer is a gripping read all the way. This is partly because it’s a damn good story. The other reason is that, like his heroine, Peloquin successfully tackles a number of challenges many authors would quail at. In the hands of a lesser writer, much of this story could have gone tragically wrong.

The first of these challenges is the fact that his protagonist is a thief. She steals without remorse or compunction in order to survive. We like to think of our heroes as the good guys, but this girl is no noble-hearted Robin Hood, robbing people for a higher cause; she’s a crook. Making a criminal into someone we admire is a hard ask for a writer.

Secondly, he writes from the point of view of a pre-teen, and later teenage, girl. From Peloquin’s promotional photograph, I assume he isn’t one (the beard is a bit of a giveaway). As a writer of female protagonists myself, I understand how hard it is for an adult man to think like an 8 to 18 year old girl.

The final challenge he sets himself is that the premise of the book is based on child abuse. There’s no polite way of saying this. The dark side of humanity that he chose to write about in this book is the brutal, unforgiving—and unforgiveable—abuse of innocent children. There are publishers out there who refuse to deal with such stories, and so basing an entire series of novels on the idea takes guts. At times reading the book was a little disturbing, even for a seasoned horror and fantasy writer like myself.

Fortunately, Peloquin comes out on top with all three challenges.

The book is a bildungsroman, the story of an individual’s growth physically, mentally, morally and emotionally. We follow the heroine as she learns about the world in which she lives. There is no long introductory world-building in this book. Our view is as limited as the lead character’s for most of the first half. It is only later that the view opens out and we find out more about the world of the book. We adapt with her, suffer, eat, train, win and lose with her. I found within a few pages of the book that I desperately wanted to know more about her, empathised with her, cried for her. The reader learns along with her to hate the Night Guild as much as she depends on it to survive.

Peloquin has done his homework. The detailed descriptions of how to pick pockets, how to fight, how to climb walls, how to acquire other people’s property without their knowing add verisimilitude to this already character-rich book. I’d love to have dinner with the man sometime to find out more about him.

I look forward to the second book in the series, Thief of the Night Guild, out in mid-2017. I also will avail myself of Peloquin’s other books.

So I conclude with a heartfelt thank you to Andy Peloquin for writing probably the best story I have read in the last year.

Check out the excerpt below for a taste of Child of the Night Guild. And go to the links and buy a copy. If you don’t, the Night Guild might pay you a little visit when you least expect it, and you wouldn’t want that to happen.

Want to buy his book? Go Here for Amazon Kindle or here for Amazon Canada.

Peloquin

Writer Andy Peloquin. The beard is a giveaway: he ain’t no girl.

Andy Peloquin’s website here.

EXCERPT from Child of the Night Guild:

“Are you sure you’re doing it right, Seven?”

Seven scrunched her face, concentrating hard. “I’m doing it just like he showed us, Three. See?” She attempted to snatch the purse.

Three patted the oversized waistcoat Master Velvet had given him.

“I could still feel it. So you’re doing something wrong.”

Frustration mounting, Seven tried again, doing exactly as Master Velvet had taught them. Walk toward the mark. Bump into him. Dip two fingers into his pocket to hook the purse. Apologize to the mark and touch him with my free hand. Hide the purse in my palm and hurry away.

He shook his head. “That time, too. I can feel you pulling the purse out when you move away. Maybe you need to do it faster.”

“I can’t do it faster, Three. Not yet, at least.” Seven clenched her fists in frustration.

He held up a hand. “It’s okay, Seven. Give it time. You’ll get it.”

“Here.” She threw him the bulging, cloth-stuffed purse. “Let me try again.” Even as she tugged the purse free, the look on Three’s face told her she’d failed.

Her friend shrugged. “Still felt it.”

Seven ground her teeth. Master Velvet said this is supposed to be easy. So why can’t I get it right?

Three tugged the vest over his head. “Let’s give the bump a break for a moment.” He pulled a dun-colored cloak around his shoulders. “What say we give the snatch a try?”

Seven nodded. The snatch required timing and dexterity, but she’d grown adept at it. She walked toward Three, brushed against his cloak, and lifted the purse from the hidden pocket, all without breaking stride.

Three’s eyes widened. “Damn, Seven. I didn’t feel a thing!”

She beamed. “Well, at least there’s one thing I’m good at.”

Master Velvet strode up behind her and took her small, muddy hands. “You’ve got good finger-work, tyro.” He ran his calloused hands over her fingers. “They’re quick and nimble. With the right training, you could become quite the purse collector.”

“Thank you, Master Velvet.” She flushed at his praise. It was the first full compliment she’d ever heard pass his lips.

“Keep it up, Seven. Three.” With a nod, he moved to the next pair of tyros.

Three slapped her on the shoulder. “Look at that! You’re getting there.”

“Yeah. Now if only I could get the bump down properly.” She held out her arms. “Here, give me the vest and cloak. You’ve got to practice, too.”

As Three passed her the clothing, Twelve’s shout echoed through the Menagerie. “Damn it! You’re doing it wrong, you stupid sack of shite.”

Two met Twelve’s glare without a trace of fear. “How in the Keeper’s name can I be doing it wrong, Twelve?” Two was taller than Twelve, though not as broad. “I’m standing here in this vest. You’re supposed to be pulling the damned purse.”

“Well…” Twelve faltered, his face reddening. With a snarl, he threw the purse in Two’s face and stormed off.

Three snorted. “Looks like he’s not doing much better than you are, Seven.”

Seven glared at her friend. “That’s not saying much for me, you know. With those fat sausage fingers, he can barely fit his hands in the pocket.”

“There you go.” He gave her a broad grin. “You’ve got the advantage, at least over him. Just give it time and you’ll get better at it.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, let’s see how good you are.”

“I’ll bet you a peach I can do the bump better than you.”

“You’re on!”

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More about Andy Peloquin:

I am, first and foremost, a storyteller and an artist–words are my palette. Fantasy is my genre of choice, and I love to explore the darker side of human nature through the filter of fantasy heroes, villains, and everything in between. I’m also a freelance writer, a book lover, and a guy who just loves to meet new people and spend hours talking about my fascination for the worlds I encounter in the pages of fantasy novels. Fantasy provides us with an escape, a way to forget about our mundane problems and step into worlds where anything is possible. It transcends age, gender, religion, race, or lifestyle–it is our way of believing what cannot be, delving into the unknowable, and discovering hidden truths about ourselves and our world in a brand new way. Fiction at its very best!

Road Beasts

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I stand on the corner and watch the

Cars rush by.

 The drivers, in cocoons of metal and glass,

Windows up, the world shut out,

Air conditioning on, radio LOUD,

Listening to the drive-time DJ

Serve his daily dose of stereo bubble-gum.

 Where are they going, these car junkies?

What is so important

They risk their lives to bet there?

 See the drivers:

A man, his face set in anger,

Huddles over his steering-wheel

Like he has to hold it on,

Fumes the traffic is too slow,

Mouths his frustration:

“For God’s sake hurry up!”

To the other drivers, who cannot hear.

 A woman, her back-seat driving child

Swaddled in safety harness, safety seat,

Safety-nappy, dummy,

Thumbs a text message on her phone

As the car inches forward at the lights

Like her child’s life was merely incidental.

 A young man, out to impress,

His penis-exhaust throbbing,

One arm propped out the window,

The other reluctantly, insolently,

Resting lightly on the steering-wheel,

A cigarette set in the corner of his mouth

At just the right angle to make the girls notice.

 Road beasts, the cars, pass by,

Spewing, roaring, rushing, purring like cats,

Chugging, crawling,

Deep-chested booms and stutters,

Carrying cargoes of the helpless.

 What would we do without them?

No way to get from here to our next bit

Of mindless triviality.

 I stand on the corner and watch the cars rush by,

And I wonder to myself

Oh, why? Why? Why?

 

Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com