Tuesday, March 23, 2021

TIME OF THE DARK BY BARBARA HAMBLY

 

THE TIME OF THE DARK series, published in 1981, is one of my favorite fantasy series. Here's why:

Gil, a student of Medieval history, dreams of a strange world haunted by monstrous, shifting creatures called The Dark. She also dreams of the prince and the wizard trying to save this dream kingdom. When the wizard shows up in her kitchen one night, Gil--along with a motorbike-riding young man named Rudy--are dragged into a world in which they quickly need to learn how to survive, with swords and magic. It sounds cliche, but Hambly creates such fantastic, realistic characters, while vividly painting a world you could believe she visited. The devil's in the exquisite details. It's a dark, gorgeous,and intensely human story. Gil and Rudy's journeys are harrowing--he becomes an apprentice wizard and she becomes a soldier, nascent abilities made irrelevant in their modern lives--but they also find family in this terrifying and beautiful world.

THE CHARACTERS make the story. Ingold is the wizard, an old war veteran turned magic user who was a red-headed troublemaker in his youth. Minalde is the young queen and mother of the kingdom's infant heir and she's a Snow White who has to transform into a ruler, fast. Alwir, handsome and raven-haired, a warrior and an aristocrat, is her older brother and becomes a memorable villain. Ice Falcon is a cold-hearted young soldier from the White Raiders,a nomadic people who terrorize the borders.

AUTHOR'S HISTORY: Hambly has a Masters in Medieval History and it shows. She's also written about a band of mercenaries and a group of wizards, set in the same world, as well as a separate series about a free man of color who solves mysteries and another series about Victorian vampires.

WHY I LOVE IT: The interesting characters, pungent details, and tense plot.

FAV SCENES:

When Gil discovers Ingold the wizard sitting in her kitchen and offers him a beer, which he graciously accepts, figuring out how to open the can.

Rudy, learning how to control his latent magical abilities, tries to hide from the White Raiders by appearing as a dung beetle. The White Raiders instantly spot him, and, later, Ingold asks Rudy when has he ever seen a dung beetle in that world.

If you're looking for something to replace Game of Thrones, this rich, dark, portal fantasy is for you.



Tuesday, March 2, 2021

WHY IT'S SO GOOD TO BE BAD: WRITING THE FEMALE ANTIHERO

'Trickster dwells in the realm of shadow, but perhaps that is for our salvation.' C.G. Jung 



The antihero. The trickster. Why are they so appealing? They toe the line between good and bad, but never commit any atrocities that would turn them into the villain. The outcome for them is usually redemption--but not always--and victories come at a cost that's bittersweet. Antiheroes aren't the White Hats, the knights in shining armor. They surprise and delight and sometimes disappoint in delicious ways. They're spiky, unreliable, always have a trick up their sleeve, and we never know what direction they're going to take. The female antihero isn't afraid to walk in the shadows, to do what must be done, and never considers herself to be the hero. She likes that she can be bad and people expect it of her. Or she's flawed and has no desire to be perfect. Being morally ambiguous, she can surprise us. Antiheroines have been dismissed as Bad Girls, but they're more than that. They're not heroes by any means, and would scorn being called one. They aren't in the story for the glory--they're in it for the mayhem. But, occasionally, instead of spiraling towards self-destruction, these ladies can rocket into a crazy noble orbit.



Antiheroism used to seem solely a male domain, but folklore and mythology are peppered with female tricksters: Morgan le Fay, Circe, Lilith, Kali, Hecate, The Morrigan, the Kumiho. And it seems female tricksters are a lot scarier than their male counterparts. These ladies control dark magic and the elements of night or nature. They rule in the world of tempests and moonlight and are often associated with death.


Classic literature brought another Renaissance of trickster girls. The most infamous are Becky Sharp in William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair; Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary; Catherine Earnshaw from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights; Emma Woodhouse from Emma by Jane Austen; Estella Havisham from Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. They are all young, supremely selfish, and devious. The characters who encounter them often regret doing so. But these ladies are fighting against the limitations of their eras, when women were considered useless and frivolous. They aren't going to settle for what society demands.

Some of my favorite antiheroes in books and film:

    


    Harley Quinn (DC Comics)

    Villanelle (Killing Eve)

    Faith Lehane (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

    Beth Harmon (The Queen's Gambit)

    Lada Dragwyla (And I Darken by Kiersten White)

    Jude Duarte (The Cruel Prince by Holly Black)

                                         Jame Kencyr (Godstalk by P.C. Hodgell)

   


 Mia Corvere (NeverNight by Jay Kristoff)

  Morgaine (The Book of Morgaine by C.J. Cherryh)

  Miranda (Maledicte by Lane Robins)




We need more female antiheroes, more tricksters from people of color, women and girls whose venture into chaos shakes things up. Who are your favorites?

Sunday, January 31, 2021

HOW TO KEEP YOUR SANITY AS A WRITER



Here are a few things that help me to avoid the depths of despair:

NEVER forget why you write: Because you LOVE it.

INSPIRATION. This is the driving force. What gave you the IDEA? Another book? Pinterest images? Films? TV series? A song? Revisit what inspired you. For me, my inspiring idea usually becomes the book's THEME.

IMAGINATION. You have to feed your brain dragon. As above--books, films, TV series, magazines, music.

READ. Read writers you love so that you REMEMBER WHY you love to write. But also read books outside your comfort zone. Expand your interests. There are compelling non-fiction books. There are exquisitely realistic fiction books.

BLOGS. Visit blogs about writing for strategy. Visit author blogs for advice.

SELF-PUBLISH. Remember self-publishing and small presses are an option. Make sure you invest in the two most important aspects of your book--a professional EDITOR and a gorgeous COVER. Then you need to invest in a marketing campaign.

FUTURE PROJECTS. always have a list of books you're looking forward to writing. This means you'll finish the story you began and you'll already have a few plot lines and characters for future fun.

SUPPORT. Connect to other writers via social media or writing groups.

TAKE A BREAK. Take a nap. Take a walk. Get some tasks done. Get away from the story so that you can THINK about the story.

JOURNAL. Keep a journal of future ideas. This keeps your creative fires burning. Write down everything. Cool character names. Weird little sentences. Fabulous words. Gorgeous descriptions.

That's it! Happy writing:)

Sunday, December 6, 2020

YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN: WRITING A QUEEN

 


Real queens' lives were chained to womanly duties and a future hinged on producing a male heir. So, writers of fictional queens probably don't want to follow the real-life rule book. Here are ten things a bad-ass queen does:

1.POLITICAL NAVIGATOR: Diplomacy. Monarchs deal with ambassadors and emissaries from other lands, as well as local leaders, guild lords, and the common people.

2.COMMANDER OF ARMED FORCES: She doesn't have to actually lead an army into battle, but she should know tactics, geography, strategies. Keep in mind she'll also have fleets, whether on the sea or in the air. (You know, airships).

3.PROTECTOR OF THE PEOPLE: She's the one in charge of disputes, local and foreign. Her word is law, unless she has a body of fellow politicians to advise her. Or keep her in check.

4.HEAD OF STATE: The Law. The queen decides who goes to prison. Who is executed or released. What laws are passed.

5.MISTRESS OF SPIES: The spymaster should report to her. Your queen can also be a conniving force if she is wed to a king and mingles with other royals, which brings us to . . .

6.SOCIAL BUTTERFLY: She'll attend events that will solidify alliances. Balls and celebrations. She'll circulate only with those she's interested in. She can love this role or dread it.

7.SPIRITUAL FIGUREHEAD: Whatever religion is most prevalent in the realm--that'll be hers. She should be attending church/stepping into temples/performing rituals in the forest. She doesn't need to keep her spirituality a secret unless you want her to.

8.FASHIONISTA: She'll be inspiring fashions. So will her companions. Even kings are considered fashion plates, with the court echoing their rulers' wardrobes.

9.MISTRESS OF THE HOUSEHOLD: Mostly, your queen will be in charge of the staff who run the staff. But she'll know where all the secret places are, the hidden passages, concealed rooms, and oubliettes.

10.SPORTSWOMAN: Horseback riding, croquet, tennis, hunting. Whatever gets a queen out of the castle.

So give your fictional queen her duties. Present her with obstacles and goals that will enrich her character and drive the plot.



Sunday, November 8, 2020

10 DYNAMICS OF CHARACTER


 
I find these 10 rules helpful when I'm creating characters. Even if I don't use half the stuff that I journal, having these little bits and pieces helps with plot development, as well as character development.

1.HOBBIES: What does you character like to do in their idle time? Study butterflies? Play Scrabble? Listen to obscure music? Collect mouse skeletons? 

2.HISTORY: Scatter a few memories throughout. Preferably significant memories that made your character who they are. Landmarks that shaped them. Did her mom teach her how to use a Polaroid and now she's a photographer? Did he once run over a toad with his bicycle? On purpose? Accident? If, on purpose, he's a budding serial killer. If, by accident, maybe he becomes a herpetologist. Did she witness something terrible near a row of lilacs and now the fragrance of lilacs sends her into a downward spiral? 

3.HABITS: Gestures and dialogue. Does he use a certain slang? Does she scratch her nose when she's laying? Does he crochet while he's thinking over a case he's trying to solve? Give your character at least one habit out of type (but not too many, or they'll appear twitchy.)

4.DESIRES: What the character wants. What do they yearn for? Does she want a beautiful cottage by the ocean? Does he want to rule a kingdom on Mars? Does she dream of becoming an author of a mythical atlas? It has to be something that will change their lives. Something they're willing to sacrifice everything for.

5.ACTIONS: Is your character a hero or a villain? A trickster or an anti-hero? What path do you want this character to follow? Succeed or fail? Be solitary or have friends? His actions must always strive toward your ultimate goal for this character. She has to take action in every scene she's in. This ishow she carries the story, how she swims forward against the obstacles flung at her. She has to cross that bridge of teeth. He has to steal that rare book written by his grandfather.

6.LIKES: What are your character's favorite things? Mint jelly? Men in powdered wigs? Charlotte's Web? Peacock blue lipstick? Give them likes and dislikes.

7.ECCENTRICITIES: Strange habits, weird thoughts, odd things that have happened to your character throughout their history. He only reads leather bound books. She picks her teeth with peacock quills.

8.SECRETS: Everyone loves a good secret. It doesn't always have to be a tragic one. But a character's secret can result in a grand betrayal or an unexpected alliance. He lived in a haunted house when he was young. She grows poison plants. He's a doppelganger searching for his missing original.

9.OBJECTS/CLOTHING: What they own. What they like to wear. Set decoration. A Margaret Keane painting of one of those big-eyed kids. A maple leaf with a name inked on it in gold. A corset embroidered with blue doves. A naga-handled kris dagger.

10.FAMILY/FRIENDS: The people who surround your character. Your character's support system. These can be actual family and found family, who are usually friends. They can follow the roles of advisors, allies, adversaries, troublemakers, comrades-in-arms, sibling substitutes, parent substitutes, etc; These are the people who reflect your character's strengths and weaknesses.

Monday, October 19, 2020

10 Scary Books Halloween 2020

I've included some classics, non-fiction,YA, mystery, and dark fantasy for this year's Halloween Reads Post:)

1.The White People and Other Stories by Arthur Machen

A classic of eerie horror. The title story is told to one man by another, and concerns a green book, the journal of a girl whose nanny had a connection with malevolent spirit folk. That nanny's influence might have sent the girl spiraling into madness. The Great God Pan is another disturbing tale with lovely bits of mythic darkness.

2.The Call by Peadar O'Guilin

This was YA horror? Set in contemporary Ireland, it's a Hunger Games with Very Bad Faery Folk, the type that make living skin suits out of the teenagers they hunt for five minutes in faeryland. If you survive, you win. Very few survive. Death is preferable.

3.The World of Lore: Dreadful Places by Aaron Mahnke

An entertaining collection of urban legends and haunted places examined by Mahnke, whose podcast of the same name is also fascinating. There are two other books in this collection--Wicked Mortals and Monstrous Creatures.

4.Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

Ksenia has to save her foster sibling Josh from Prince and his tribe, glamorous creatures disguised as teenagers, who lure young people into a mirror world to feed off of their emotions. Ksenia plays along with these soul-sucking creatures until she can find a way out--and the sacrifice she must make is heartbreaking. Also, the never-contented things are creepy.

5.Coldheart Canyon by Clive Barker

An action star's plastic surgery leaves him disfigured, so he isolates himself by purchasing a mansion once owned by a Romanian actress who may have been a witch. He soon learns she and her disciples never left. The ghosts are disturbing, a crossbreeding of the phantoms of Hollywoood stars and the wraiths of a menagerie of exotic beasts kept by the witch.

6.Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Alex is given a free ride to Yale University because she can see the dead. She becomes an apprentice to Darlington, the young man who teaches her the ways of Lethe House, which polices the Houses of the Veil--the secret societies like Skull and Bones, who actually practice magic. The ghosts are terrifying, as is Alex's stumbling alone through this world when she loses Darlington.

7.HeartBeast by Tanith Lee

A werewolf story. Like all of Lee's writing, it's strange, lyrical, elegant, and brutal. Daniel, a beautiful young adventurer, becomes the victim of a horrific curse while traveling the world in what seems to be the early 19th century. and then he comes home . . . Striking imagery and fascinating characters.

8.A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

A reality show is following a teenager who is soon to be exorcised. The events are told in flashback by her sister, now a writer haunted by what took place. It's a chilling and absolutely disturbing story of what might be a demonic possession or horrific episodes of schizophrenia.

9.In The Woods by Tana French

A pair of Irish detectives investigate the terrible murder of a young girl in the woods--the same woods where one of the detectives, as a child, became lost with two of his friends. He was the only one who returned. His friends were never found. and he has chilling flashbacks of an antlered man. Saturated with bits of what could potentially be supernatural--or not--it's a story of a damaged man determined to find justice for a murdered child.

10.The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan

A contemporary dark fairy tale/ghost story about a young woman named India, who suffers from schizophrenia, and whose relationship with a mysterious hitchhiker--who might be either a werewolf or a mermaid--leads to tragedy for one, and healing for the other


Sunday, September 13, 2020

10 Classics That Aren't Boring


 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Poor girl tells off rich gentleman. rich gentleman is brooding and has a dark secret. Jane is fierce. Rochester is a moody playboy. It's a Gothic tale with lovely dialogue that sizzles with innuendo. Jane Eyre herself is a changeling creature, challenging Rochester's dominion.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

A gorgeous rendering of historical France. It's the swashbuckling tale of young d'Artagnan, who wishes to join the Musketeers, an elite group of guardsmen. The Three Musketeers are noble rogues. The villain is unforgettable--Milady de Winter. Though an aristocrat, Dumas's grandmother was an enslaved woman of African descent, and he served in the military, which lends this tale an interesting history.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Mary Yellan is sent to live with her aunt. When she arrives at her aunt's inn,she meets her aunt's brutal husband and his young rogue of a brother, Jem. She realizes her uncle is in charge of a gang of wreckers, who deliberately cause shipwrecks to drown and rob the crew. Things get grimly Gothic from there.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Perhaps one of the first horror tales written by a woman. the monster, a reanimated corpse, is described by his creator, Doctor Frankenstein, as beautiful--before the monster escapes into the world to wreak havoc because he's bitter about being rejected by his young creator. Some scenes from the monster's POV are terrifying.

A House in the Country by Jose Donoso

The Venturas are a wealthy South American family whose lives are touched with elements of magic realism. The adults are distant. The children are the main characters and exist in a realm of their own, one that disturbingly mirrors that of the adults. they are oppressed by the brutal, cruel servants. It's a political allegory, but also a beautifully written tale, where even dandelion fluff becomes sinister.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

A Gothic romance set on the British moors, a ghost story as well. Heathcliff is fascinating at first, described as a changeling when he's brought to live with young Catherine Earnshaw's family. they grow up together, but Catherine becomes less fey, and more drawn to the real world, as Heathcliff twists into someone monstrous due to mistreatment and bitterness. It's a tale scattered with bits of the supernatural.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

A surreal fable about Macon Dead, a young man growing up amidst an eccentric cast of characters with fabulous names (First Corinthians, Guitar, Hagar). Macon 'Milkman' searches for identity and his longing to fly is symbolic of his life.

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima

A disturbing tale with gorgeous prose, the story follows the intelligent, but delinquent teen Noboru in the early 1960s and his obsession with his elegant mother's sailor boyfriend. The themes of honor and glory provoke a downward spiral for the teen protagonist and a grim fate for the sailor.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

With a young hero named Pip attempting to succeed in grim Victorian London, and Estella, a girl raised by a bitter woman left at the altar (a girl raised solely to destroy boys), this is a coming of age fairy tale with a cast of eccentric characters, told from the hero's POV.

One Thousand and One Nights (Various translations)

A lovely collection of Middle Eastern fairy tales (any edition illustrated by Maxfield Parrish is a must-have). The framing device concerns Scheherazade, the bride of a ruler who kills his wives. She's attempting to distract him to hold off her death by telling stories. This is the origin of Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sinbad the sailor, among others. It's also a great example of foreshadowing and thematic patterning, a story within a story.