What Makes Good Fantasy?

Taken from Carl Jung's personal diary The Red Book, Liber Novus

Taken from Carl Jung’s personal diary The Red Book, Liber Novus

(Ah, Where Fantasy and Psychology meet!)

I talked to a woman yesterday who had an interest in what I did in my free time, while not at work. I told her I wrote fantasy novels, and she instantly smiled a matronly smile and asked what kind of fantasy. Choosing to talk about the latest WiP, I told her it was High Fantasy, where a bunch of people go on a journey. As an afterthought, I added it was similar in style to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, though not so descriptive.

She sighed. “Ah. Do you write anything else? I’m not much of a fan of Tolkien’s work.”

Continue reading

Book Cover Ideas

 

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So I’ve recently seen some other fantasy writers’ cover art (Aurian and Jin, among others) and it’s got me actively thinking about my own.

I’ve spend the past four years considering this book cover idea, and I’ve had several “THAT’S IT!” moments. To be perfectly frank, if this book were a baby, I’d’ve had two false labors and two botched C-Sections. Yeah. Nothing about this enjoyable piece is coming along smoothly. Actually, I’ve come to think of it more as a Pinocchio than a real boy. I redid that poor boy’s left forearm more times than anything else…

So the title was a really, really long process. The words themselves took half of Mr. King’s so-called million words, and the cover art is no better than anything else. I’m not sure if I have many followers, or watchers, or whatever, still interested in this webpage, but I want to run it by people, and if interested, you could leave your vote on your favorite book cover idea.

The tagline for the book is “Soren has run from his demons all his life, but when a priest begs him for help, he can’t help but take up arms against those in the Astral who would go to war against him. And this time? The demons are real.”

Three sentences. Yeah whatever. Given it’s book one in a series of seven (I like series of seven. I don’t know why.), It’s got a few themes. Titles, for instance. This novel is named “Of Salt and Wine,” because those are the symbols/tools most connected with the evil he fights. Book two is “Of Earth and Blood,” and so on. It’s taken from one of the lines he says in the book, 2/3rds of the way through: “Those of Salt and Wine, I come for you.” Kind of like a war cry, I guess. It was originally called “It Gave Me a Name,” because his darkness, yes, a character, gives him the name of a demon. I liked the rhythm, but it had too many words. People would get confused, I thought, so I strived to be more and more simple in my idea. It perhaps could even end up as “Salt and Wine,” although I absolutely love the “Of” at the beginning, as if it were part of a much larger thought. Which it is.

So the book cover should be as important. I began this project with the idea of a layout of symbols or tools, a la Game of Thrones or Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels. Book one would have a series of thirteen horizontal staves, or several pieces of jewelry, or better yet, a vintage 1800’s tattoo of skulls and vines and whatever the evil looks like. Several experts added their thoughts, stating the best way to sell a fantasy is to depict a scene from the book on the cover, with Magic: The Gathering-esque card art for the cover, similar to the Wheel of Time books. It would most likely have Soren standing in a septagram on the altar of a church while a big read, Diablo-inspired demon pours green liquid into a played priest’s throat. I like those ideas, but I’m thinking a little more traditional. Something I could lay out for all seven books in the series, with small but connective variations. In fact, I’ve already rough-draft finished book two. I’m that serious about this stuff.

So, I’ll run through a handful of ideas. If any single one presents more of a visceral response, please please please say something about it. I don’t mind if you’ve never been here before and are never coming back. I’d absolutely love the feedback.

1) Horizontal (or vertical) staves, all of different woods, straight, like prison bars

2) The “O” of “Of Salt and Wine” being Soren’s personal symbol, while the S of Salt is actual salt and the dot of the i in Wine is actually a goblet of wine

3) The wall of masks Soren has in his home, all looming down

4) A tattoo of Soren’s, laid over polished hardwood floor (he has twelve)

5) The Blackwood Shillelagh, his Modus Operandi for the book and most important item he uses, glowing at the bulb

6) Vintage 1800’s art in the form of a tattoo, possibly using a human or demon skull as the focal point, with dandelion leaves spread out (think this, only inked and not so 3D)

7) Closeup of a man in a suit, tightening his tie, with his sleeve cuff charred or burned or even aflame

8) Closeup of a man in a kurta, signing a mudra, the head of a snake tattoo stretching across his wrist

9) “Evolution” type silhouette, with the four demons, Jack, Olivia, and Soren, walking down the street one behind the other

10) Demon symbol for Ferrulous (circular and striking)

11) Soren at the top of the stairs, wailing at a door half-covered in tar

12) Soren in the septagram, hands up pleadingly, in the classical pose like daVinci and other Reformation artists, toward a demon

13) Soren’s childhood door, half-covered in tar, with Soren’s symbol scratched in chalk

14) A goblet of wine, ringed in salt like a Margarita

15) A man in a top-hat, face obscured, standing off-kilter to a backdrop of brick

16) A man playing chess alone in a park

 

That’s all I got. Any thoughts? 

 

Chris

Reality Spiked the Punch

I don’t think I could get any more vague with this title.

So I have an upcoming publication, which fulfills a lifelong dream of mine: to have my own work on my shelf, beside my other favorite writers, and not just in a 3 ring binder with stick figures on the cover. Although that might end up being the cover art, if one more artist falls through. Teach me to go to DA for commissions. (THE DESIGN IS SO SIMPLE! Designs. Plural. Possibilities.)

Anyway, I posted yesterday’s blog on my FB page and a friend of mine reminded me how long ago I started this project. Nearly six years. Now, I’ll be the first to say Real Life reared its ugly head and slowed the production of this work, let alone the nine other books I’m currently (not) writing on. I’ve rewritten the whole book (in entirety) no less than three times (see rule number one in previous post. Practice practice practice), and as a stroke of luck managed to move to St. Louis to beef up location/setting, changing some obvious small-town stupid I injected in the book.

The point of my story is this: time helped. Time changed things. Time developed things. I developed. I’m an extroverted introvert, and I love people. I love learning about them. Knowing them. Seeing what makes them tick. I developed myself (and my characters) from two dimensional stereotypes into complicated, damaged, imperfect people. Not all of them, mind you. Some are just fabulous. And they’ll remain fabulous come hell or high water. Or boiling hell-water. Sounds painful.

I’m simply excited. Several people have extended their surprise that I’m still working on the project, still writing, still proofing. I don’t think a lot of people understand that writing is an integral part of me. Some people’s passions are teaching, or architecture, or volleyball, where they find the most thorough fulfillment in doing what they love they can’t imagine doing anything else with their free time. I’m this way with writing. With the job I’m currently working, I was wholly unable to attend to my passion, my fulfilling grace, my writing, and it nearly destroyed me. It didn’t destroy the passion, mind you: I’d always have it. I’ll always daydream and dream and mentally explode in times of peace and calm. I simply won’t create anything out of it. It’ll fizzle and die, like little tadpoles in a mason jar full of water.

So in this current space, I’ve found the intoxication of St. Louis, my character, and the complicated idea of psychological warfare. I’ve rekindled my obsessive love for the word, and it feels really great. One step closer.

Chris

If you prefer a more personal discourse, you can find me at heissererwriter@gmail.com. I’d love to hear any opinions you have about writing, politics, religion, whatever. 🙂

Book Review: The City’s Son, Tom Pollock

Pollock recreates Urban Fantasy as a tangible, palpable thing. Forget werewolves. Forget Vampires. The city is alive.

A year ago I decided to take some random blogger’s advice (probably someone very important, but I can’t remember who said it) and take an active effort in getting to know the UF market. I had never shot in the dark before, concerning debut novels, so it’s a pretty big deal I stepped out with Mr. Pollock. (Mr. Pollock, if you ever read this, you’re my first first novel, meaning I bought it entirely on faith.)

I knew the novel before it was published, back when the old cover looked like a Teen Romance between a shirtless character and a fathomless, powerful damsel. Thankfully the cover changed, and is all the more impressive because of it (I believe someone up the pecking order realized this was a special novel, perhaps a cut above the rest, and they wanted the cover to reflect that).

I don’t do “Fanboy” very well: the book either speaks for itself, or it doesn’t, and while I stepped into the novel expecting Young Adult writing, I also expected it to have flair and connect with me, a 20something writer with his own ideas of good writing. This is a coming-of-age novel.

This novel has succeeded in every way the author hoped, and then some. Yes, I hate to say it, but I am, officially, a Pollock fanboy.

Overview (spoilers): Beth is a spunky, rudderless teen with no parental figures and a flair for graffiti. Her best friend snitches on her (through incredible, violent coersion by a teacher) and Beth, betrayed, runs away into the stormy London night. She falls down the metaphoric rabbit hole to find Filius, a boy that literally lives off the city. He’s strong, fast, violent, and animalistic. He destroys an attacking train with a spear, like some incredible phallic symbol, and they trade macho stories about who saved whom. An instant match.

Beth finds out 1) Filius is the son of a goddess, 2) a great evil god is erupting from the city’s construction sites, and 3) Filius is waiting for his mother to return and kick the god’s butt. Beth takes up the fight, gives him a backbone through trust and courage, and he, in turn, believes in her. Rich violence, passion, fighting ensues to carry the momentum of the book through. Not gratuitous; creative violence.

I generally read a novel and search for the areas of insight, of passion on the writer’s part. I look for areas that the writer thought important enough to flesh out thoroughly, and therefore connect to the writer through this format. Where I found the most connection, and perhaps the author’s point of conception, is in this quote:

“Our memories are like a city: we tear some structures down, and we use rubble of the old to raise up new ones. Some memories are bright glass, blindingly beautiful when they catch the sun, but then there are the darker days, when they reflect only the crumblingwalls of their derelict neighbors. Some memories are buried under years of patient construction; their echoing halls may never again be seen or walked down, but still they are the foundations for everything that stands above them.

“Glas [character] told me once that that’s what people are, mostly: memories, the memories in their own heads, and the memories of them in other people’s. And if memroies are like a city, and we are our memories, then we are like cities too. I’ve always taken comfort from that.”

With that quote in mind, all of this work is fleshed out: from Beth’s best friend Parva to descriptions of the fantastical characters and a very real, very lethal evil. I’ve never visited London but I feel it, truly feel it, in this book. Every scene feels alive. Every character feels motivated, special, passionate. In fact, there are so few flat characters (in opposition to round) that I was honestly quite surprised. Everyone finds a voice, and I can’t say anything besides Pollock was inspired by all of it. Not an easy feat. I’m quite impressed.

The sense of loss in this novel is striking for a YA. Very real, very lovable characters die. Innocent characters are tortured. The expanse of emotion in this novel is, well, expansive. I’ve read several reviews on this book, and every one of them said it was too graphic for a YA. I disagree. Too many YA novels are sparse on details, fluffy, and unrealistic. This novel hits hard, hits often, and the promise of death and pain comes with every decision the characters make–as it should.

There is no notion of good vs. evil in this book, and in that point alone, it is a rare gem of writing. Both sides are complex and ultimately self-serving: they want to survive. It’s literally a jungle. (A more appropriate theme would be fight vs. flight: when does one draw a line in the sand to abide another’s survival?)

The philosophy some of these characters have is phenomenal: many Eastern ideas (reincarnation, buddhist beliefs, and especially those surrounding the “evil” Reach, the Crane God) are melded inconspicuously with Greek mythology (Filius is likened to Achilles, a mortal son of a goddess) and, of course, fantasy elements like elementals, primal animals/totems, and metal-scaffolding-molded wolves. I tasted inspiration from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere throughout, with Pollock’s flair for the light thrown in the mix.

The book never lets up. It builds and flexes, crescendos and crashes and ebbs and flows.

The cons are few and far-between. I wished for consistent narration: switching from third person limited past tense for Beth to first person present tense for Filius created jarring stop-motion for me. Maybe it’s just a personal pet peeve, but I didn’t like its execution. The Lord of the Rings freak in me wanted thousands of unique creatures. I wanted a city teeming. It was filled, yes, but the number of perhiphery creatures/characters were too blurred for my tastes.

Like most writers, myself included, scope is difficult to expand past a certain point, namely when explaining war between two armies. All in all, in the end, the war between Reach and Filius had, give-or-take, around 300 souls on Filius’ side and, if I read it correctly, around 150 on Reach’s side (although Reach’s armies had reconstructing capabilities, so some of them were used repeatedly). For a place as large as London, this war seemed small.

I wanted more involvement from the Mirrors. All I’ll say about that. They seemed to be a clever twist that Pollock didn’t quite know what to do with, even though (or possibly because of) Reach’s compound was wall-to-wall mirrored surfaces. The war could possibly have been won simply by marching the Mirrors on Isengard, I mean, St. Pauls.

In many places this book read almost like a Sci-fi novel: in retrospect, I can’t imagine how it couldn’t, given London is modern and filled with tech. For Pollock to leave that detail out would be to sever one dimension of the story. This isn’t a gripe, moreso a warning. The descriptions can be a little complex.

This is the first book of 3. I can only speculate as to where the next book will take the reader.

Overall I give it a 5 of 5. An incredible debut novel from an incredible writer. I have no doubt he will be around (if he so chooses) in the writing world for a long time to come. My nitpicks are tiny compared to the overall story, and I can’t recommend this book enough.

Genre-Hunting

I’ve been watching a lot of Supernatural on Netflix lately. It’s hokey and only the arc episodes are properly thought-out, but it’s quite enjoyable, nonetheless. Obviously it’s successful, or else it wouldn’t have 126 episodes. What makes it successful?

The genre requires “sexy” (gag me, anyone?) guys jumping around, doing sexy things while saving “sexy” (anorexic, anyone?) girls from violent supernatural things. Like ghosts. And demons. And Wendingos. And water wraiths. Anyway.

This brings me to my topic: genre-hunting. If you’re not writing about dragons besieging a castle, or vampires making out with werewolves, or private investigators invoking Solomon’s Ring on some demon, your genre might be a little more vague than you’d think.

I, for one, am rewriting a Supernatural-esque book. In fact, the closest I’ve seen my book come to, in comparison, is a movie I recently watched (but has been out Forever) called The Skeleton Key. Well thought-out (except for the ending), very well done.

This makes me happy. Why? I’ve spent a lot of time (too much, to be honest) trying to figure out what kind of genre my latest book falls under. I’m proud to announce it’s not Urban Fantasy, or Modern Fantasy, or Religious Fantasy… but Fantasy Thriller. Oh yes. That genre exists, too. Who thought this would be so mind-numbingly complicated? My MC is not an antagonist, though he’s pretty screwed up in the head (NOT ‘punk’), he’s not a private investigator though he does have to unravel a mystery (NOT ‘mystery’), and the story doesn’t walk the streets of a big city, though it involves an MC that accrues a lot of foot traffic (NOT ‘urban’). And it is a fantasy series (NOT religious fantasy), even though it focuses strongly on the religious, and the main enemy is le demones. What IS it? Strongly psychological (read: screws loose) mind-puzzle, filled with conflict and danger (and sexy girls all around him), and a race against time.

What does this mean? It means I have myself a thriller. “Race against time” is the clincher: my MC has to save people when he realizes things will constantly get worse until he stoppers the faucet, so to speak. People die. He fights himself as much as, or more than, the enemy.

Whew. I’d still file it under Fantasy. He talks to ghosts too much. He walks the Astral paths. He bows and says, “Namaste” even when he doesn’t have to.

What’s YOUR genre? Is it cut-and-dry? Or is it oddly obscure?

And a follow-up: What genre does Harry Potter fall under? Kid’s book? If you couldn’t use that as an identifier, would you go Modern Fantasy? Or High Fantasy (alternative world of magic/hogwarts/etc)?

Thanks for reading.

David and His Shade

Not the cover of the book, but thematic nonetheless. I did it. On Sunday I wrote 10k words. Yesterday I finished my book: 225 pages, 120k words. It’s rough, as in rough draft, as in not anywhere near ready to be sent out to editors. So, I’ve been running through it in my head, and I will attempt to write a jacket cover:

David Price doesn’t sleep too well. He never has: nightmares and night terrors fill his mind, and he’s haunted during the day. He accepted an internship at Cliffsedge School of the Mind to escape the boredom of summer and possibly figure out what’s going wrong with him.

At this school, the classes are tough, the teachers tougher, and complex dangers lurk in corners best left undisturbed.

David’s nightmares make studying nearly impossible, and when a well-meaning professor separates Cold Man from David for a night, instead of restful slumber he stumbles into a hole into reality while dreaming. Perhaps his shade is being spiteful for his efforts to remove it. Perhaps he inadvertently fell himself. He’s quickly learning being haunted at a schoo lof magic is anything but simple. Whatever the case, his nightmares just got much more dangerous, and seem to be spilling into the real world in the form of 200 year old children that had spent their lives in a world much like Peter Pan.

Coupled with getting to know a hundred other thirteen year olds; dealing with a magical school filled with ghosts, mythical creatures, and political intrigue; and learning material way above his grade level, David must confront some of his darkest fears by learning the name of his shade—and finding a way to undo what he set in motion—while passing internship to get into 8th grade.

David’s life is anything but simple.

Anyway, that’s the gist of it. Only other major point (that has nothing to do with the plot itself) is that it’s not Earth as we know it: massive, mile-high magical trees grow in different places in the world: New York and Colorado, for two. They are major sources for magic. There’s a lot more going on, but that’s the main plotline. I’m excited, but not overly much. This marks the fourth finished novel I’ve written. Three are collecting dust after I’ve worked/reworked them to singing perfection (obviously not, since nobody wants them). Hopefully this doesn’t ring too “Harry Potter Ripoff” (I don’t care for the HP books whatsoever, but I love the idea of teaching the reader about magic).

I might have to go to a writing workshop or something. Four books seems to be overdone for some kind of publication. But maybe not: this might be how a lot of people do it.

Antagonist Birthday Book

My title is the first three words on my “tag cloud” widget or whatever scene word one uses to describe such a thing. It’s beast.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying the tropes of an antagonist, and somewhere in the recent past realized I can’t make a good antagonist to save my life. I can make an incredible zealot dedicated to opposite goals from the protagonist. I can make an army of them mechanically acting to a set of action/reaction.

But to write someone that exists only to be evil, or only to aggravate the MC eludes me. I’d assume it’d boil down to a psychological issue, or a defense mechanism (like a pathological liar), but I haven’t yet been able to drop into that mindset. Either the bad guy is a force of nature or he’s entirely redeemable and not nearly “bad” enough.

Some of my favorite books have had antagonists that were simply in the way of the protagonist. Like Ender’s Game. While the threat was the buggers, or whatever they called them, and the safety of humanity was at stake, Ender fought off several bullies and bucked a system some guy upstairs broke to break him. It was awesome. Ender literally fought the system, which is cool. Yet some of the antagonizers were the bullies that tried to force him down.

Yet that’s not entirely my point of this post. I want, desperately, to write a good antagonist MC. I’ve written Discordant Protagonists (my Urban Fantasy, for one: a cry to the darkness of all things literary to please birth an antagonist out of the Dresden-esque fantasy soup… nope), and I’ve written Sarcastic Protagonists that get into a lot of trouble and redeem themselves.

But antagonists as MC? I don’t know if it’s in me. Satirical, system-changing vigilantes? I’d love to. I really would. Some brooding figure so mired in his own unhappiness he ignores all the warning signs of a healthy, logical individual? Yes, please.

I don’t think I have enough disgruntled, misdirected anger for that. Maybe if I work hard enough I’ll start to hate.