Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Occult Brain Dump

Photo by tyrantel.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I apologize in advance for the rambling nature of this post. It's a bit of a brain dump. But since I haven't posted to the blog in so long, I figure rambling and off the cuff is better than silence...

I've been thinking about the occult and its penetration into mainstream pop culture (and even what the term occult means in the polytheistic, modern world). I remember back to the 80s when Dungeons and Dragons was considered by many to be a gateway to the occult. It's funny how I regularly play D&D and other adventure games where demons are fairly common, yet I still won't mess with a Ouija board. I'm not sure I can reconcile those two viewpoints. I guess I still believe the occult may be real on some level and don't want to mess with it, while at the same time I know a plastic demon figure in a board game isn't going to haunt my house or something.  Disclaimer: I also knock on wood with a frightening consistency.

The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies that were made in the last decade probably represent the breakthrough of "fantasy" into mainstream pop culture. Now orcs, trolls, witches, demons and wizards are no longer just a part of shadowy tales from Salem, or the writings of Aleister Crowley. In truth these archetypes had been adopted and neutered by geek culture since Dungeons and Dragons emerged in 1979--it just took the mainstream a few decades to catch up. So how does fantasy enchant and frighten when its iconography has been "neutered"? What I've ended up doing with my fantasy writing is to attempt to make every fantasy creature or character a fully realized "person" who happens to have a fantastic form. Reliance on these aging archetypes without doing so is just boring in my humble opinion. It's a road that readers have been down before--many, many times.

I have a persistent thought that there must be new myths and archetypes waiting to be created. These myths should help us interpret our modern lives like the old archetypes helped people in centuries past. But in this age of instant communication maybe the myths and archetypes will have a shorter shelf life. The way we fall in and out of love with celebrities suggests to me that people are looking to these people to serve as their archetypes rather than myths. What they don't realize is that this turns their celebrities into myths in the process. And then fans become disillusioned when it becomes evident that their heroes are really just "normal" people with a lot of wealth.

I think people are hungry for new myths. Even the myths of religion seem to be failing in this modern age of reason and science. But science alone can't do anything but measure and predict. It typically doesn't provide a framework to map our emotional and spiritual lives. No, I'm still convinced that we need new myths.  I have an instinct that if the new myths are done "right" then they will be controversial since they will be challenging established "conventional wisdom".  My hope is that they will be constructive rather than destructive.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Winter Holiday Book Giveaway!!!

Photo by Amie Fedora.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

The excellent fantasy oriented review blog "Indie Book Blog" is hosting a huge winter book giveaway featuring nearly 300 books (mostly e-books, but there are a few physical books as well)!  Be sure to head over there and enter by leaving a comment with your email address.  Ten copies of Hemlock and the Wizard Tower will be featured in the giveaway!

---------- Epic Giveaway Link ----------

Friday, December 9, 2011

News on Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy

Photo by Albion Europe.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
First, a news update on the forthcoming novel "Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy".  I've got about four or five chapters left to write.  I thought I would be cutting it shorter than that, but I have realized that I need to add a bit more content to get a good, smooth plot arc.  Of course there is lots of fighting, scheming, and magic in the story.  I think it pairs well with the original story, and I'm certain it is written much "tighter" than Hemlock and the Wizard Tower.  For starters, much of the world building is already established.  And when I do additional world building in this novel it is all told through action.  There are no long passages with world building exposition or long monologues.  I think it will be a much easier read.  I'm going to try and make a final push to complete the first draft before the end of the year.  Wish me luck! 

Next are some brief observations from a journeyman writer.  If you are a writer then they might be of interest.  Your mileage may vary...

At some point I think all writing falls back on established archetypes and societal norms.  This is true of contemporary writing as well as science fiction and fantasy.  Whether a character is a priest, a star ship pilot or a warrior, a reader will form some basic assumptions about the character based on real life and the pop culture stories and myths that have preceded it.

From time to time I've found myself falling into the trap of relying too heavily on "prefab" character archetypes.  I think this is where an author runs the risk of having a flat plot or a cliche storyline.

For example, I was recently writing a sequence where my protagonists are fighting some enemies.  I immediately settled on trolls for the enemies since they are a good fit for the setting.  But I found myself having a hard time getting through writing the chapter.  I was bored with it and I hadn't even written it yet!  It turned out that trolls were precisely the wrong answer for this.  So I erected my mental scaffolding, and went back to imagineering the sequence.  And what I ended up with was far, far better than trolls.  Now I am really looking forward to writing this part!

Authors can derive some support from the conventions of their genre, character archetypes and societal norms; but I think readers are really looking for novel and distinctive stories and characters.  It's not easy to consistently deliver that as an author, but in my experience the results are very satisfying and much more fun to write.