Dinosaur unearthed, inspiration refreshed

New species of giant dinosaur unearthed

I realise that this is perhaps a little off-topic for my blog of late, but I just had to share this wonderful new discovery. They have found a new dinosaur which they have called Dreadnoughtus schrani, and it’s a seriously big beast. As the scientist in the video says – “It had a really big butt.” 😉

New species of giant dinosaur unearthed.

What I love about this is that even now, when we think we know so much about the world, there is still something as gigantic as this to discover. Writing fantasy or sci-fi is really about imagining new worlds for me, and if we start to think that there is nothing left to explore and discover, inspiration can evaporate.

Knowing that there are still 26m long dinosaurs out there to find is a truly wonderful thing. 🙂

Practical advice for the beginning novelist

Today, I’m delighted to be able to host a Guest post by the talented Cheri Roman, fellow blogger at The Brass Rag, and author of ‘Descent’.  A lady who understands how hard it is to fulfil that dream…

“How do you come up with all that cool stuff in your novels? Your characters and settings are awesome. When I’m reading your novel, it feels like I’m right there. And your villains…” (shudders delicately) “…super evil.”

This is a portion of the fantasy conversation I’d love to have with a reader someday. It ends with the fan asking for my autograph and assuring me that I deserve a Pulitzer. For writing fantasy genre fiction. Hey, if you’re going to dream, go big or go home, I always say.

My fantasy also includes a secluded writing spot; four clean, white walls and a huge bay window through which I can see little forest creatures cavorting on a wide, green lawn ringed by ancient redwoods. No phone, TV, or (gasp) Facebook. Best of all – hours upon hours of uninterrupted writing time.

But the operative word here is “fantasy.” These are rare scenarios, unless, of course, you are Dean Koontz or Nora Roberts. (Seriously, have you seen their houses?) For many authors, the writing life looks more like this:

Get up at five a.m., go to your day job. Work all day, constantly distracted by story ideas, terrified that they will escape before you can capture them. You steal the odd moment and write on whatever is handy: file folders, notepads, the desk calendar, napkins. Frustration sets in because you end up accidentally filing, covering, losing or throwing the notes away. You consider getting a notes app on your phone, but you worry that your boss will accuse you of making personal calls on company time.

The work day is over; you hurry home. Ideas are still buzzing between your ears as you maneuver through traffic. You arrive home and the kids/spouse/pets need your attention, so you feed and brush everyone and then, finally, the house is quiet and you hurry to your writing space and….your mind goes blank. You fear you’ve used all your creativity just to get through the day. But you power through. You pull out the crumpled napkin, power-gulp an energy drink and you write. Sometime around four a.m. you stumble into bed where your spouse gives you a sleepy side-eye but you are too tired to notice. You fall into the bed, already unconscious. The alarm goes off at five. Time to start over.

Alternately, you save your writing energy for the weekend and your spouse complains that they never see you, because you spend Saturdays and Sundays behind a closed door with this sign on it:

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The writing life is challenging whether you work a day job or not. Business, family and writing pull you in opposing directions. Plus, you have to sleep sometime. But for authors, giving up isn’t an option. Not writing causes mental and emotional agita. So you steal the moments and write the words that torment you until you put them on paper. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. So do it.

That’s my best advice. Create the space in your life for the passionate art of writing well. Surround yourself with like-minded people who support your efforts and dreams. Explain to your significant other how important writing is. Ask for their support. Be courageous enough to say, “no,” in order to guard your writing time. And write. Every chance you get, consistently, creatively, bravely. Write.

Fantasy Genre – Guest Post by Cheri Roman

Today, I have the good fortune to have a Guest Post by the talented Cheri Roman, who has just released her first novel, Descent. It is being very well reviewed, and you can see my personal take on it here. She writes for us on a subject close to my heart – fantasy, the improbable, and how ludicrous it is to discount ‘genre’ fiction. Enjoy!

earth-ship-clouds-sailing-sailfish-fantasy-otherThe Oxford Dictionary defines the word fantasy as “the product of imagining impossible or improbable things.” That’s not a bad start for defining fantasy as a genre. However, when you have such a name, it can be challenging to get the literary world to take you seriously.

One of the things that appeals to me most about fantasy writing is that literally anything can happen. You can have sentient storm clouds and flying houses and mice who fence and speak with the facility of an Elizabethan stage actor, because it’s fantasy. Nothing is out of bounds so long as it fits within the plot line.

That said, fantasy is not fluff. The basis of all fantasy stories lies in the question stem, “what if…” What if a boy found out that he was really a wizard? What if a group of siblings was transported to an alternate universe? What if a group of supernatural beings came to Earth and fell in love with humans? Such questions are interesting, not just in and of themselves, but for the deeper answers they point to about what it means to be human. Heroes and villains in fantasy are experimental models we can mentally climb into for a test drive. In fact, a good book in any genre should be like entering one of those virtual reality games, but with fewer limitations. By immersing ourselves in the world and characters created by a talented author, we are able to safely explore the extreme edges of moral and emotional dilemmas we hope we never have to face in real life. And just like lifting extra weights at the gym, the lessons we learn in those imaginary worlds can strengthen us for the everyday challenges of real life.

The boy wizard begins by searching out who he really is, something all of us must do at some point. The group of siblings must decide whether landing in a new world means finding a new moral center. Their example can inspire us to cling to our own moral code under much more “normal” circumstances. The supernatural beings have to learn that there is a cost to every decision we make; a fact we might ignore or fail to discover on our own. None of these are “light” matters. All of them hold eminently human lessons. The value of fantasy, and indeed of literature in general, lies in its ability to reveal such lessons, allowing us to see the world from a point of view other than our own, and learn from it.

Fantasy is often discounted as “light reading,” or worse, the less than brilliant sibling of science fiction, herself a distant cousin to literary fiction. But don’t sell it short. Considering the lyrical prose and plot complexity created by such authors as Ursula K. Le Guin, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George R.R. Martin in the mix, one should resist the temptation to dismiss fantasy as “light” anything. Instead, we should judge the writing by its own merits just as we do any other genre, and thereby enjoy the ride twice as much.

Cheri blogs at The Brass Rag, which is well worth checking out.

You may also like this post by Sabrina Garie, about her favourite fantasy character: the lovely, practical and not at all ethereal Samwise Gangee.

Kay Nielsen’s Stunning 1914 Scandinavian Fairy Tale Illustrations

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These are too beautiful to miss, so I thought I would reblog them for you.

I particularly like the sense of line, and the carefully chosen colour palettes. If only I could get some illustrations as gorgeous as this for my novel and short story collection: I’ve been thinking for some time that it would be nice to release a version with illustrations. Somehow the lack of time gets in the way – not to mention that my own style of drawing tends rather to Dr. Suess than Errol LeCain. 🙂

You can see more of these lovely illustrations at:

Kay Nielsen’s Stunning 1914 Scandinavian Fairy Tale Illustrations | Brain Pickings.

Book Review: Descent

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Click here to reach the Amazon page for ‘Descent’

Descent is the first in the Rephraim series by Cheri Roman, and I have been lucky enough to read it hot off the press!

I should preface this review by noting that my tastes in fantasy tend to run to the flippant, and also that being an atheist, I was not as comfortable as many others would be with the religious references in Descent, although I’m sure that would be no impediment to most readers.

Descent is the story of seven angels, who under their military commander Fomor, decide to desert and plead neutrality in a heavenly war. To avoid the conflict, they come to Earth, and this is the tale of their exiled adventures and entanglements with humans – and the Fallen.

This is the first in a series of books, and as such Roman does a great job of strongly establishing the characters and setting in motion a chain of events which will make you eager to read the next book in the series.

There is drama here in aptly biblical proportions – birth, death, love and loss, and lots of action to keep you turning the pages into the night. It is moderately gory in parts, which does establish an appropriate level of revulsion towards the Fallen and their offspring.

Overall, a gripping read from Cheri Roman, and well worth a look.

All aboard the Omnibus!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about my next big project, which will be a collection of short stories. I’m probably at least half way through, with planning done for another 25%. I’ve been mistakenly calling it my Anthology, but apparently that term refers more accurately to a collection of works by different authors. What I’m working on is more properly an Omnibus, but that sounds rather cumbersome and lumbering to me.

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Could this be a Steampunk Omnibus?

A few things I’ve discovered so far:

  • It should be about the same word count as a novel (70K+)
  • Arguably, it should follow a ‘tent’ structure, leading and finishing with the strongest stories, and with another strong story in the middle like a tent pole.
  • The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts: stories should be organised to complement and bounce off one another.
  • Variety is a good thing, but there does need to also be some kind of unifying theme.

All well and good so far. The theme issues does bother me a little, in that my stories are sometimes scifi, sometimes bordering on fantasy, and sometimes just plain quirky (as you may know if you’ve read any of the free published works out there – see my Publications page for links). At the same time, I don’t particularly want to force the production of stories in a particular area to make them fit some contrived theme, so I think I’ll just keep writing the stories which I’d like to tell, and then perhaps discard those which are the sore thumbs of the collection.

I’d love to discuss with anyone out there their thoughts on short story collections.

Do you find it necessary to have a theme? Do you agree with the ‘tent structure’ theory? When reading short story collections, do you dip in, or read them from start to finish (the album vs. the single I suppose, in music terms).

Book Giveaway!

To celebrate some lovely reviews I’ve had lately (which I will reblog for those interested after this post), I’m holding a Goodreads Giveaway! There are five paperback copies of ‘The Artemis Effect’ up for grabs in many countries around the world, so if you’ve been tempted to give it a go, here is your chance!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Artemis Effect by Kasia James

The Artemis Effect

by Kasia James

Giveaway ends January 29, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

If you’re not yet a member of Goodreads, don’t despair. It’s free to join,and you may just meet some other people with similar reading interests. 🙂

One Against Many: Sacrifice, and A Passion For Overcoming Impossible Odds

Here is the latest in the series of Guest Posts from fellow bloggers on the subject of Passion, whether literary or personal, which I’ll be posting regularly on a Thursday. If you would like to contribute, please drop me a line at kasia_oz (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Today we have a truly inspiring post from W.E.Linde at The Weathered Journal, who blogs about writing, and his passion for fantasy worlds. He is the author of the novella Prince of Graves, and is working on the Desolation War Saga. Having read Prince of Graves, I can highly recommend it! Tolkien fans will particularly enjoy it I think.

Hope you enjoy W.E. Linde’s Passion Post.

“We must walk open-eyed into that trap, with courage, but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dûr be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is our duty.”
Gandalf, The Last Debate, The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien

“Never tell me the odds!”
Han Solo, The Empire Strikes Back

Writers are, quite literally, troublemakers. They spend a great deal of time fomenting conflict, and then they place characters right in the middle of whatever sordid mess they had concocted. Of course, that’s exactly what readers expect. Conflict, whether as the central point of the novel, or simply the propellant to force the characters along a plot line, is arguably one of the most vital aspects of a story that makes it relevant to the reader (and therefore interesting). Regardless of the genre one enjoys to read and write, conflict of some sort will always play a central part. I’d go far as to say that the conflict is one of the main reasons the reader is even interested in a given character. How many people would really want to read an entire book about a Hobbit that likes to eat and to entertain? But throw him, against his better judgment, into a quest to defeat a dragon, and now suddenly you’ve got a reason to pay attention.

Initial sketch for artwork of Smaug by Corey Godbey, at http://lightnightrains.blogspot.com.au

Entire books and countless web sites have parsed apart various types of conflict, and how to apply it to specific genres. As a writer, I’ve set my characters against many kinds of obstacles, but as I look over my previously written stories, my current works in progress, and my planned writing projects, I see a pattern that does, in fact, demonstrate the type of conflict that I am quite passionate about; namely, conflict that forces the protagonist to sacrifice for something loved, something cherished, or an ideal that transcends him or her.
Stories that present a protagonist, whether a hero(ine) or anti-hero(ine), devoted or reluctant, who must face obstacles that are seemingly overwhelming and impossible to conquer, almost always draws a reader in. Such stories speak to a shared reality for every human who has ever lived; namely, in life, we all find ourselves facing an antagonistic world, and often we feel alone as we have to face challenges without end. Sometimes, in the face of overwhelming aggression or injustice, the only thing we can do is to stand up for what is good, and hope that by sacrifice we can ultimately overcome whatever evil powers have darkened our world.
I believe that the fantasy genre is wonderfully and ideally suited for the idea of what I’ll refer to as the sacrificial hero. Paradoxically, fantasy allows for a more literal rendition of the protagonist who must somehow find the means to stand fast against the forces of evil (dragons, dark lords, etc). And while I’ll admit that such stories can be formulaic and predictable, this is where the skill of the writer is key. Often, but not always, you can rest easy knowing that the hero is going to prevail somehow, one way another. The key to a great story is how this “somehow” is delivered. See, in the story of the hero who is willing to sacrifice everything to stand for what is right, the hero doesn’t have to win. Delivered properly, the hero or heroine who gives up everything in their efforts to do what is right will always somehow be victorious, although quite possibly not in the way originally intended.
So the characters I love to read and write about, whether they know it or not at the outset, will ultimately find themselves having to choose to stand up for something in the face of overwhelming adversity, or to capitulate. Since I tend to like a certain grittiness in my writing (and a certain realism), these characters will not always make the right choices. But underneath it all, the greatest heroes will be ready to sacrifice something dear in order to do the right thing. And when a hero is willing to stand up for what is right, despite the odds, there is little that the forces of evil can do to take that victory away. That is the essence of heroic fantasy. How can you not be passionate about that?

A Halloween treat (this is not a trick!)

Today, Ether Books are publishing a whole host of Halloween short stories for your delectation.

One of them, ‘Balancing Darkness’ is by yours truly. It tells the story of what happens when a suicide bomber meets an all consuming alien, disguised as a sweet little black cat. Silly? Well, yes, possibly. Hopefully enjoyable. I’d love to know what you think of it! 🙂

If you have an iPhone, iPad or other device by which you can download Apps, Ether Books is free, as are all the Halloween stories, and many many more. There are actually a few of my other stories up there too – Perpendicularity, Transparency, and The Observer.

Please check them out!

 

Stardust, Neil Gaiman – Book Review

Stardust‘ is a classic fairytale, told by one of the great fantasy writers of our time.

I confess that I probably wouldn’t have picked this up had it not been written by Neil Gaiman, since I’ve enjoyed the book he wrote with Terry Pratchett, ‘Good Omens‘ time and time again.

However, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It fits perfectly within the fairytale genre without resorting to any of the clichés, or to sloppy sentimentality. None of the characters fit within the traditional moulds (except for a few witches), and I found that truly refreshing.

It tells the story of Tristran Thorn, who does not know that his mother was from Faerie – the land beyond the stone wall which his town guards, and which bears its name. Every nine years, a fair is held, where ordinary people from Wall can meet the traders of Faerie. At these fairs, you can buy:

‘Eyes, eyes! New eyes for old!’ shouted a tiny woman in front of a table covered with bottles and jars filled with eyes of every kind and colour.

‘Instruments from a hundred lands! Penny whistles! Tuppenny hums! Threepenny choral anthems!’

‘Everlasting lavender! Bluebell cloth!’

‘Coats of night! Coats of twilight! Coats of dusk!’

‘Swords of fortune! Wands of power! Rings of eternity! Cards of grace! Roll-up, roll-up, step this way!’

There were wonders for sale, and marvels, and miracles; there were things undreamed-of and objects unimagined (what need, Dunstan wondered, could someone have of the storm filled eggshells?).

A young and foolish Tristran, besotted with a beautiful village girl, promises to bring back a star they see fall, in return for his hearts desire. What Tristran doesn’t realise is that when he reaches the star, it will be a real girl, not just a diamond or cold lump of rock. And she proves to be surprisingly sensible…

“Adventures are all very well in their place, he thought, but there’s a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain.”

There is a lot of ‘throw-away’ imagination in this story, such as the short sojourn Tristran spends with the airship ‘The Free Ship Perdita’, which fishes for and catches lightning bolts.  Another writer would have laboured over these flights of fancy more, but in ‘Stardust’, it is only a short interlude in the larger story.

There are also brief moments of quite horrifying violence, such as when the Queen of the Witches deals finally with the unicorn. However, any cursory study of fairytales will tell you that some horrible parts are par for the course. Without them, we might start to sympathise too much with the baddies.

So, if you’re looking for some refreshing escapism, I couldn’t recommend ‘Stardust’ highly enough.

Five stars from me.