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Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Discworld: The Hogfather and Christmas


Many of the Discworld books mirror (or parody) our world (if you’re not familiar with the Discworld see here and here). The Last Continent, for example, is laugh at Australia and some of our history, food and traditions. But that’s OK because we Aussies are so laid-back we’re horizontal and quite capable of having a laugh at ourselves. Anyway, a lot of it is true and there’s no denying the truth, right?

The Hogfather is the Discworld’s answer to Christmas. You might have seen it listed in the 12 Blogs of Christmas: Books. I could also have listed it in 12 Blogsof Christmas: Favourite Holiday Movies because they made a TV movie, but I chose not to, for variety. 

The Hogfather is a big, fat man in a red suit who delivers toys in a sleigh pulled by four hogs. Sound familiar? OK, except for the hogs. Unlike Santa, the Hogfather harks back to more primitive times, when Hogswatch was a sun festival, and he still has some of those trappings. 
Susan, Death's granddaughter

The Hogfather, like Death, is an anthropomorphic personality. That is, people’s belief in him has generated an actual corporeal representation of what is otherwise a natural force. In the Hogfather’s case, it’s the belief of children that keep him alive.  We know from Small Gods, where the great god Om was reduced to a powerless tortoise because he had but one believer, what happens when belief fades. When people stop believing, gods die…

When the Hogfather dies, the consequences are more terrible than disappointed children. 

If the Hogfather dies, the sun will not rise.

In The Hogfather, the Guild of Assassins has been engaged by the Auditors of Reality (kind of self-explanatory really – you could see how the Discworld’s existence might annoy them a tad!) to eliminate the Hogfather. This task is assigned to Mr Teatime, of whom Lord Downey, head of the assassins says:
“We took pity on him because he'd lost both parents at an early age. I think that, on reflection, we should have wondered a bit more about that.”
Indeed….

Mr Teatime’s cunning plan is to kill the Hogfather by preventing children believing in him. This he does by breaking into the Tooth Fairy’s domain and seizing the stash of teeth, which he uses to control all the children. This is a reference to many old beliefs that witches and the like can use a part of you, a tooth, some hair, nail clippings and so forth, to work their will on you. 

And it works. As belief in the Hogfather wanes, spare belief starts flapping around, to the point where even the mention of something, like an eater of Socks or Verucca Gnome, causes a glingleglingleglingle sound signalling the creation of that creature – because someone believes in it, and as we know, belief gives life. And we all believe in the Eater of Socks, right? That’s the reason we can only ever find one sock from a pair. Where does the other one go? We never find it. It must have been the Eater of Socks!

Death as the Hogfather
In an attempt to make children believe in the Hogfather, despite Mr Teatime, Death delivers the Hogfather’s presents, being sure to be seen in a long red cloak and a white beard. Imagine, a skeleton with a beard… I’m not sure it would have the desired effect! The role isn’t precisely one that comes naturally to him:
"ER...HO. HO. HO."
 I suspect that the cheerful ‘Ho Ho Ho’ lacks a little something when delivered in a leaden voice that sounds like crypt doors slamming. Even on paper it comes across as a little grim. 

It falls to Susan, Death’s granddaughter (who wishes she was anything but and would like to be left to live a normal life) to find the real Hogfather. At the Castle of Bones (wow, I think I like the North Pole better!) she meets the Oh God of Hangovers, also created by the excess belief floating around. His name is Bilious and he gets the hangover every time the God of Wine gets drunk. No wonder he runs around saying ‘oh me!’ so much (think about it for a minute if you don’t get it). Poor chap, I have to say I can’t help but laugh at his predicament. He is one of my favourites in this book.  

Bilious, Oh God of Hangovers
While probably not one of my favourite Discworld books, The Hogfather is, like all of them, entertaining and hilariously funny. Susan is an interesting practical figure who takes no nonsense from monsters (Death’s granddaughter, remember?) and Death is always worth a laugh for his awkward attempts to be something he’s not. The Wizards of Unseen University make an appearance with Hex, their ‘computer’, which is always guaranteed a laugh. Kind of like watching a bunch of people who really don’t understand the first thing about computers try and make one work. 

I’d give this four stars out of five. Now I wonder where I packed it… it is Christmas and I should read it!

This will be my last post of the year. Tomorrow we are moving into the house we just built (which if you are interested you can see here). I have the internet organised, but with the holiday season, who knows when it will be connected. 
 
So have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and hopefully I will see you all after January 1!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Six Sentence Sunday: Slang #3

Here is the final installment in the slang example I've posted for the last two weeks. If you haven't already seen them, you might like to read Part 1 and Part 2 first.

The girl ground the ball of her foot against the dirt street in a squelching motion. ‘Get it?’
Yeah, he got it now. The foot movement spoke volumes her words didn’t. Not just dead, but dead in a spectacular fashion. What he would have called a messy example.
You can find more Six Sentence Sunday writers here.

There is no Six Sentence Sunday next week owing to Christmas Day. There is one on New Year's Day, but at this stage I am not planning to participate as I expect a fair number of you will be sleeping or recovering (or doing both together). Feel free to give me a shoutout if you object to this arrangement.

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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Using Prologues: A Case Study With Brandon Sanderson


If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard the advice ‘don’t use a prologue unless you really need one’. If you write fantasy, you have probably broken this rule at least once (most likely before you ever heard it) and may have been tempted to break it since you did learn it. If you’re a reader of fantasy you have almost certainly ploughed your way through many prologues of varying calibre.  

There are many reasons for not using prologues. The key one for me is they are nearly always an infodump of backstory. That’s two sins right there:
  • Infodump – a massive dump of information that makes the reader’s eyes water and their brain desperately desire to be elsewhere; and
  • Backstory – which should always be trickled to the reader in the exact amount they need as they need it. Kind of like Goldilocks – not too much and not too little, not too early and not too late, just right!
First off, why tell your reader all the backstory in a lump at the beginning when you can keep them guessing? Secrets can drive plot, create suspense and keep the reader turning pages. I am guilty of this one in my manuscript The Fires of Madness. Did I mention it needs a complete rewrite? Yep. Total. Bulldoze it flat and build it up from scratch type rewrite. And there won’t be a prologue. Why would I reveal the reason for my character’s self-inflicted emotional torment and borderline insanity when I can get so much mileage out of teasing the reader with it? I mean, really, when you look at it that way, it’s a no-brainer, right?

So we all know that prologues are almost always a big no-no. But what about the other question? The one that you don’t see answered as much?

When should you use a prologue?

I don’t claim to be an expert on this, but I can point you to one person I believe has done it right. 

Brandon Sanderson in The Way of Kings.

I have nothing but respect for Brandon Sanderson. My favourite editor told me I should read some Dickens because my weakness is at the sentence structure level. When this was pointed out to me, I was reading The Way of Kings. Thinking about what she’d said, I noticed that Sanderson’s writing is very economical and effective. In fact, I have done so much writing and critiquing these days, it’s hard for me not to mentally rewrite the book I am reading. 

But I couldn’t rewrite The Way of Kings. Not for love or money. I suppose there is a reason he was hand-picked and personally invited to complete The Wheel of Time after Robert Jordan’s lamentable premature death. 

I asked my favourite editor and she said yes, Sanderson’s writing is technically near perfect. Of course, there is more to writing than technical perfection, but I'm not going to complain about technical perfection in addition to compelling stories - would you?

The Way of Kings is interesting because it breaks the prologue rule. 

Twice.

I kid you not, this book has a prologue, but before the prologue, you read a prelude. 

I know what you’re thinking. In this day and age, when prologues are frowned upon, why would you write a prologue and a prelude? And how would you get it published? Well, the answer to the latter could be because publishing houses do have favourite sons and daughters who get to break the rules, and while a certain amount of this is going on here (The Way of Kings is so long it’s been broken into two parts) I don’t believe that is the reason the prelude and prologue slipped through.

No, I believe they are there for good reasons. So what are those good reasons?

The prologue and the prelude contain information the reader needs to know. This information cannot be dribbled to the reader throughout the book because the viewpoint characters don’t know it.

The prelude is ancient history. So ancient it has been lost in the mists of time. If I didn’t have this information, I believe a decent amount of the rest of the book would be confusing to me in the context of the bigger picture. Some of the foreshadowing I have identified would be meaningless. Also, one of the main characters has visions of the past. I only know they are true visions of the past because I know some of the past. Everyone in the book believes he is mad. I think it’s important the reader believes he isn't mad, otherwise the visions would have no meaning. And believe me, even with the prelude, my faith did waver at one point and I began to wonder if the poor guy really was mad. Without that prelude, I’d be almost convinced of it.

The prologue deals with more recent events – who was behind the assassination of the Alethi king. The Alethi know a little bit, but they don’t know the full details. The POV character of this prologue also gets his own POV scenes later in the book, but not many. Arguably these details could be dribbled in there, but since he only has two or three scenes, I personally believe those scenes would be getting into the realm of information overload if you tried. The reader just wouldn't grasp all the important information. 

The full details of the situation are important because it lets the reader know there is more going on than the war with the Parshendi, the Parshendi are not the unrefined brutes the Alethi think they are, and there is some kind of villain out there who is carefully orchestrating events for his own advantage and things are so much worse than the protagonists think it is. 

The villain is revealed at the end of book one – but of course you can’t build suspense and tension for a big reveal unless the reader knows there is something to be revealed. The prologue is the first step in building this tension and suspense, and of course the tension increases after the reveal because the identity of the villain is someone the protagonists trust – and they still don’t know he’s working against them. 

So the two key reasons for a prologue?
  • It contains information the reader needs to know; and
  •  There is no other real way to give it to the reader because, for example, the primary viewpoint characters don’t have this information.
The prelude/prologue were written in limited third person, which for me made it more engaging than using omniscient. That said, even though there is a good reason for including both the prologue and the prelude in The Way of Kings, I must warn you, they did still make it hard for me to get into this book. Inevitably, they will slow the introduction down, and I found myself wondering ‘when am I going to get to the real protagonist?’. So even if you need a prologue, be cautious in its use. 

And unless you are Brandon Sanderson, I really don’t recommend you opt for the prelude/prologue double whammy. 

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Sunday, 11 December 2011

Six Sentence Sunday: Slang #2

Here is the continuation from last week's excerpt, demonstrating the use of invented slang. You can read the first part here.
The girl’s mouth dropped open. ‘Ya know, smeared.’ When his blank look persisted, she rolled her eyes. ‘Smeared, wiped, ghasted…’
He shook his head, not getting it.
Killed.
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Author's Note: 'Ghasted' is not a typographical error. However, as we use 'ghosted' to mean killed, I reasoned it was entirely possible a fantasy culture, in which undead ghasts exist, would use 'ghasted' in the same fashion we use 'ghosted'. 

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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Worldbuilding 101 as Taught by Robert Jordan


A month or so ago I attended the Speculative Fiction Festival in Sydney. One of the key things the publishers said they were looking for was a ‘fully-realised world’. What does this mean? Worldbuilding! It’s imperative we get it right. I touched on the issue of world-building again this week in my Six Sentence Sunday post, particularly in relation to slang. 

And the week before last I did a tribute to Robert Jordan, discussing the genius that was Robert Jordan and what a loss the fantasy writing community suffered when he passed away. 

What is the connection between worldbuilding and Robert Jordan?

He got it right

Whatever quibbles you might have with Robert Jordan’s technical writing, his creative genius cannot be denied. His world is rich and varied. It is, in my opinion, a fully realised world. 

Wheel of Time Map
It comes with a map. A pretty coloured map in later volumes. A map, in my opinion, is a vital tool. I can’t work out where the characters are going without a map. That’s your characters and my characters. When I write, I need a map (drawn by yours truly in pencil and Artline with squiggly trees) so I can work out in which direction my characters are travelling and how long it will take them to get there by chosen mode of transport. Yes I can read a map. This kind, anyway. But I am directionally challenged. I can’t imagine where things are in relation to others without a map. I can Google how to get to New York. I cannot Google how to get to Saldaea (top left in the map).

More importantly, though, Robert Jordan’s countries are easily distinguishable. They have different political structures, different appearances, different accents, different clothing, different attitudes to magic… Funny, just like the real world. OK, except the magic part. Moving right along….

There is no good reason why all your countries should be feudal kingdoms who oppress women, who wear the same clothes and speak the same language, and are all white. Different religions are nice, too, but in fantasy there can be good reasons why everyone worships the same gods – for example, their gods regularly visit them. Yeah even I might convert for that trick. 

Robert Jordan was clearly paying attention for the worldbuilding lesson. His people range from fair to dark and everything in between. Light eyes to dark eyes. Blond to black hair. Religion is more or less universal, but yes we have different people putting different spins and interpretations on it (see the Whitecloaks for an extreme interpretation!) We have different political structures – kings, and queens, and councils, and both together. Different attitudes to magic – hate it, outlaw it, secretly embrace it, openly support it. Different trade items, different currency. Different fashions. Facial hair or none. Women’s hair braided or worn loose. The details are endless. Here’s a few examples to drive the point home:
Saldaean woman
  • Hair – Shienaran warriors wear their hair in topknots. Cairhien ladies wear theirs in elaborate piles. Arafellin men have braids with bells. Taraboner men have moustaches. Illianer men have beards but no moustaches;
  • Clothes – Tairen men wear coats and turned down boots. Cairhien dress in dark colours. Taraboners wear veils (both sexes). Domani women are known for dresses so thin they are barely opaque and leave nothing to the imagination. Ebou Dari wear dresses with deep, narrow necklines.
  • Skin colour – Tairens are dark, the Sea Folk are darker. Cairhien are very pale. Domani have coppery skin.
  • Hair – Andorans have dark hair, Taraboners are blond, Aiel are red or fair-haired;
  • Eyes – Saldaeans have dark tilted eyes, Aiel have light eyes, Taraboners are brown-eyed, Cairhien are dark-eyed;
  • Political structure – Andor is ruled by a queen, Illian by a king and a council, Tear by the High Lords, Tar Valon by the Amyrlin Seat, the Sea Folk by the Mistress of the Ships. Some roles are hereditary and some are not;
  • Political attitude – Cairhien are always playing politics, Borderlanders have no time for it because they are fighting off the Blight;
  • Attitude to magic – Andor openly has an Aes Sedai adviser, Mayene has one secretly, Aes Sedai are not permitted in Tear and in Amadicia they are burned as witches;
  •  Trade goods – Andor is known for tabac and steel, Saldaea for furs and ice peppers, Arad Doman for having the best merchants.
  •  Coinage – Andoran coins are the heaviest, Tairen the lightest;
  • Words and language – Myrdraal are also known as Halfmen, the Eyeless, Shadowmen, Lurks (in Tear), Fetches (in Illian) and Fades (in Andor). 
Myrdraal - also know as the Eyeless, Fades, Fetches, Halfmen among others.
A couple of other points:
  • Robert Jordan’s bad guy ‘The Dark One’ is a Sauron-type evil for the sake of evil bad guy. He is essentially the devil (his name is even an obscure name for Satan – you can think that’s lame or clever. I kind of liked it). Often this type of bad guy is not recommended because we can’t understand his motivations. In this case, however, I think it works because the Dark One has a horde of human minions, of varying degrees of power, who are really the key players on the board. And their motivations are very understandable.
  • Magic – Robert Jordan has created an entirely new system of magic. It’s not even called magic, although of course we recognise it is. He calls it ‘channelling’. Both men and women can do it, but in the present time men go mad because the Dark One has tainted the male half of the Power that men channel. I am so jealous. So far, despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to be so creative. Brent Weeks does something similar in his Prism series.
  • Don’t forget slang and profanity! Robert Jordan has created his own profanity (think about what your characters hold sacred, and that’s usually the basis for your profanity) though I don’t believe he has slang (unless you count some of the names for Myrdraal e.g. 'Fade' might be slang). A bit of invented slang can add to depth and colour to your world. See my example here.
As you can see, the variety of details you can use are endless. 

You may have come across the concept of ‘character sheets’ where you record key details about each main character. I do something very similar for each of my countries. 

First, I draw a map. I name each of the countries and identify key landmarks. Then I identify key features such as those outlined above. I might never use some of that information, but deciding it in advance means if I need those details I can just refer to my notes and slot in the appropriate specifics to avoid needing to make something up on the spot – or worse, just glossing over it because it’s ‘too hard’. It also helps to keep the details consistent. 

If you have trouble thinking up these details for every country you can use ancient cultures as inspiration. I discovered one ancient culture used square coins! Coins have always been round in my life and it never occurred to me to make them square. Another currency had a hole in the middle. So, by all means, use ancient cultures for inspiration. Why reinvent the wheel?

Details like this will truly bring your world alive.  

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Monday, 5 December 2011

Six Sentence Sunday: Slang

This is a little something I wrote for a workshop on world-building. It doesn't come from a story or a book, but I find the snippet intriguing enough to that I probably will write a story around it. It's eighteen sentences, so I think I'll post the whole of it over the next few Sundays.

You can also take this an example of the importance, in world-building, of the use of some well-developed slang that fits your world. I was told this was a good example of how to introduce slang.
The girl, maybe twelve, if that, waved a hand at Berhk’s clothing. ‘You’ll get smeared walking ‘round here like that.’
 ‘Smeared?’ Berhk looked down at his clothes, plain and unornamented, a little ragged around the edges, mended in places. They were none-too-clean, though not so dirty he couldn’t stand it, but nothing like the silks he was accustomed to. Why should he care if they got a little dirtier than they already were?
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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Gypsy Gold Does Not Chink or Glitter: Fantastical Horses:


My post on the types of ‘so-called’ dragons and other fantastical reptilian creatures was well-received so I thought I’d do a series of posts devoted to the various traditional creatures of fantasy. If you missed it, please do stop by A Dragon By Any Other Name.

This is the second post of this series, devoted to fantastical equines of all kinds. I admitted to being a crazy dragon lady. I’m also a little bit of a crazy horse lady. Of course, it’s much easier for me to find a horse to ride than a dragon, although I think I would prefer the latter. Some of the horse’s fantasy cousins, though, are not so easy to find. 

So here are the equines of the fantasy world!

Gypsy Vanner
Horse

Yes, the good old horse often features in fantasy. It is a common means of transport, often the fastest short of magic. For some fantasy cultures, the horse is of pre-eminent importance. As the Claddagh Gypsies of Galway, Ireland, say "Gypsy gold does not chink and glitter...it gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark" and this is often true of many fantasy cultures as well. Check out this Gypsy Vanner horse! I. Want. Of course if I had one, it would need to be my gold because I would sure be poor. To import one of these to Australia will set you back about A$20,000. It’s a little cheaper to buy one here but we don’t have many breeders yet. 

Unicorn

Traditionally depicted as a horse’s body, with a spiralled ivory-type horn, hairy fetlocks, cloven feet, a beard and a lion’s tail. Surprisingly, it was very difficult to find a picture of this old-school type unicorn (hence the slightly cartoony image we have here). 

Traditional unicorn in the heraldic style
The unicorn has more recently morphed into a more typical horse, with a horn on its head. Sometimes the beard or the cloven hooves remain, and often the hairy fetlocks - after all, feathers on a horse’s feet are beautiful! Just check out the feathering on the Gypsy Vanner above! I wouldn’t want to be washing it though... The lion’s tail often seems to be ditched in favour of a more traditional horse’s tail. I suppose it makes the unicorn more aesthetically pleasing. 

Traditionally unicorns were always white, associated with purity and thus could only be lured by a virgin. These days you will often find black unicorns as well. I admit to being partial to this variety. Pretty…
Belief in unicorns was widespread among historians, alchemists, writers, poets, naturalists, physicians, and theologians until the 19th century. As such it was a part of their natural history and not mythology! It was described as an extremely wild woodland creature. 

Its horn, and the substance it was made of, is called alicorn and was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness. Alleged alicorns were probably the tusks of narwhals.

The unicorn is depicted in heraldry in its traditional form. It was popular from the 15th century. Though sometimes shown collared, it is more usually with a broken chain attached, showing that it has broken free from its bondage and cannot be taken again.

White and black unicorns feature in Terry Brooks’s ‘Kingdom of Landover’ series. 

More modern unicorn
Pegasus

A horse with wings. Also usually white but now also seen in other colours and varieties. I even found a paint Pegasus while looking for this picture. The fantasy pegasus is based on the Greek myth of Pegasus, who was a winged divine horse, usually white in colour. He was sired by Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, in his role as horse-god, and foaled by Medusa. Pegasus is a friend of the Muses – and perhaps, therefore, also a friend to writers? He can be my friend!

Pegasus was captured by the Greek hero, Bellerophon. Pegasus allows Bellerophon to ride him to defeat the Chimera (the subject of a later post). Later, while trying to reach Mount Olympus, Bellerophon falls off Pegasus’s back and Zeus transforms him into the constellation Pegasus. 

Pegasus
The plural of pegasus (in the fantasy context obviously, because there was only one Pegasus) is pegasi.

I have used pegasi in my book The Blood Infernal. They are in fact genetically corrupted horses. For the most part their wings are stunted and they are flightless. Pure horses have almost ceased to exist and their bloodlines are jealously guarded. The Rohmani (descendants of our Romany) have traded their gypsy horses for flighted pegasi and breed and own some of the most amazing flight-capable pegasi. 
  
Winged unicorn

Kind of self-explanatory. Typically modelled on the horse-like unicorn, not the heraldic unicorn. As far as I know this one has no mythical origins beyond the fact it is a fantastical hybrid of the mythical Pegasus and the unicorn. She-Ra, Princess of Power, rode Swift Wind, who was a flying unicorn. I desperately wanted one of these when I was a little girl!

Disturbingly, a Google search of ‘flying unicorn’ produced a search result I didn’t know, could have done without knowing, and which certainly isn’t suitable for this blog or any conversation involving children’s cartoons. 
Winged unicorn
Centaur

A human/horse hybrid, featuring the body of a horse and a human from the waist up. The centaur is the subject of Greek and Roman mythology. The exact origins of the myth is unknown but the most common theory is that the idea of centausr originated when the Greeks, a non-riding culture first encountered nomads mounted on horses i.e. that to such a non-riding culture, horsemen would appear as a hybrid man/horse creature. A similar misapprehension by the Aztecs about Spanish horsemen has been historically reported. 
Male and female centaurs

Female centaurs appear later in Greek mythology. The proper term for a female centaur was Kentaurides and they rate a mention in Shakespeare’s King Lear. 
 
The starsign, Sagittarius the Archer, is represented as a centaur. When Chiron, the centaur, was mistakenly killed by Hercules, Zeus gave him this place among the stars. Centaurs feature in Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia. 

I have also used centaurs in my book The Blood Infernal. They live in an isolated forest and only appear to come in the female variety. I basically took the mermaid myth – often there are no mermen and mermaids capture sailors in order to make more mermaids – and used it with centaurs. There is a reason, being that it challenges the protagonist’s prudish ways and beliefs. 

While I don’t have as many unicorn statues as I have dragons, I admit to owning a few. People just seem to keep buying this stuff for me… Honest! Now I just need to add a Pegasus and a centaur….
The obligatory dragon...


You can find other posts in mythical creatures series here - DragonsCreatures of the Sky, Mythical Creatures of the Sea - Part 1 and Part 2, and Spirits of Inland Waterways

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Monday, 28 November 2011

Six Sentence Sunday: Dragon Bait

Today, an extract from Dragon Bait.
Fresh light spilled into the garden below from the spreading flames. Within moments, a sheet of red dragonfire engulfed the wall, flickering in eerie silence. The stone melted to slag within its shroud. The monastery’s inhabitants wailed in the distance. The dragon was quiet. Choking ash smothered the usual heady scent of blooms.  
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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Death Will Not Hold Me Down: A Tribute to Robert Jordan


Robert Jordan. Where can I possibly start?

Robert Jordan was the pen name of James Oliver Rigney, Jr., under which he was best known as the author of the bestselling The Wheel of Time fantasy series. According to the author bio inside his books, he taught himself to read at age three and was reading Mark Twain at five (or something like that – my books are in storage!). That has always impressed me. 

Robert Jordan
I was eleven when I first encountered the work of Robert Jordan. That’s right, eleven. At that time (1992) there were four books available in his Wheel of Time series, with the fifth, The Fires of Heaven released around that time or shortly after. Now, in 2011, aged 30, I am still awaiting the conclusion to The Wheel of Time. That makes me a fan of The Wheel of Time for two-thirds of my life. If you’ve been a fan for a greater proportion of your life, please leave a comment to let me know you’re out there!

The Wheel of Time was one of the things I shared with my Dad as I grew up. We read the same books and of course the epic proportions of The Wheel of Time loaned itself to the wasting of many hours discussing the multitudinous possible outcomes, guessing at the identities of villains reborn, villains concealed, the identities of prophesied heroes, and the love lives of the many characters. I still remember wandering down a dirt track on horseback speculating about the revelations to be had in the next book.

I know some people tired of the story, either because it was too big, or too complex, or just dragged on for too long. But I never did. Was it my age? A child’s endless fascination or the ability of my brain at that age to grasp and keep up with the many plots, subplots, tangents and secrets?

I don’t know but I love the books and I don’t see that ever changing. I have lost count of the number of times I have read them. As a general rule, I reread them every time a new book comes out. There are thirteen books and there were four when I started, which means I have read some of these books as many as nine times. It’s probably more, because for a while there I would reread them every year and it was about two years between books. 

As a writer, I am in awe of Robert Jordan’s sweeping epic. To write a story of that complexity on such a grand scale boggles the mind. Although there have been many criticisms of his writing (particularly over-detailed attention to irrelevant scenes), credit is due just for the sheer scale, complexity and genius of the story alone. I could not conceive of imagining a story of such reach and scope. My modest aspirations include only a six book series, which is technically two connected trilogies. Fourteen books? This is the point where I feel I should get down on my knees and worship.

The Wheel of Time turns...
It is true that fourteen books could be fourteen books of crap but it’s not. Robert Jordan gets credit just for keeping his stories straight. And while his technical writing could maybe have done with a brush-up, there are many other elements of genius. Like the moment of awe you get when you realise a revelation in book ten, for example, was foreshadowed four books earlier. There are plot twists and secrets, the foundations for which were laid in the very roots of this story, that aren’t revealed for many books. 

And that’s maybe where my awe really lies. To write a simple, straightforward story that spans fourteen books is one thing. To write a story as complex as this, with so many secrets, plots, misdirections, prophecies, players and vested interests, is something else again. The words even escape me to describe the sheer complexity of this tale. If you’ve read it, you don’t need me to tell you. Love it or hate it, I don’t think you can deny the work that went into keeping the story straight.

Someone once said to me they didn’t believe Robert Jordan knew where his story was headed, that he didn’t know where it would end. 

They were wrong. 

On March 23, 2006, Robert Jordan announced he had been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis and that with treatment his median life expectancy was four years. Though he said he intended to beat the statistics, he died on September 16, 2007.

He spent the last weeks of his life dictating all the major plot points and twists in the remaining volume (later decided to be split in three) of The Wheel of Time. In other words, he dedicated his last time on this earth to ensuring that someone would have everything they needed to finish The Wheel of Time the way it had always been intended. Clearly he knew exactly where his story was going. 

I also don’t believe a story this complicated could have held together if he didn’t know how it would end and how to get there. I believe, when we learn how it ends, we will discover it was foreshadowed in the very first books. His blood on the rocks of Shayol Ghul... If you’re a reader, you know what I mean. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how that will turn out. For the record, I don’t believe Rand will die (or at least, not die and stay dead). What do you think?

Did Robert Jordan dedicate his last hours to preserving his story because he couldn’t stand the idea of leaving such an epic work unfinished? Dedication to his fans? I don’t presume to know. Maybe it was a bit of both. But only death could part this writer from his passion. 

I still remember the day of his death, when I learned he had passed away. It was a shock to the system. I don’t presume to say I was as grief-stricken as his family, or as grief-stricken as I would be about my own family. It would presumptuous to say the least if I were to assert that. But I definitely felt that someone I knew was gone and they weren’t coming back. I had shared, at this point, The Wheel of Time journey for fifteen years. It was akin, I suppose, to learning that your local baker, or doctor, someone you had known since you were a child, had died. I even went so far as to shed a tear. 

It was a profound moment. And of course, though many mourned his passing, I am sure the next question on the lips of many was what would happen to The Wheel of Time? 

Fortunately the decision was made to have someone else finish it using the notes and details Robert Jordan had left. The man chosen was Brandon Sanderson and a fine choice it was. Though I can clearly see the difference in the writing styles, the characters have been executed true to themselves. I don’t read the books thinking ‘But if Robert Jordan had written it he would have done this.’ 

Two books have been completed by Brandon Sanderson and he is working on the last book now. I can hardly wait though I wonder what my life will be like without the next Wheel of Time book to anticipate. I have been doing it for so long you see. 

But to the memory of Robert Jordan – a toast. A great mind and a great man have gone, a genius I dare not aspire to match. But it is clear that while he was here he loved his writing and his worlds with a fierce passion. 

Most of all, I thank him for being generous enough to take us along for the ride. He is one of my greatest influences.

Would I be a different person if The Wheel of Time never existed?
A dragon, Wheel of Time style, as depicted on the banner of Lews Therin Telamon
  If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven't already. If you're finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, or sign up through RSS or email! Don't forget to share the love and spread the word of this post on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.
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Monday, 21 November 2011

Six Sentence Sunday #6

Another extract from Deathhawk's Betrayal. For those who don't know, Deathhawk's Betrayal is currently under consideration by a publisher as I had a request for a partial at the Speculative Fiction Festival in Sydney two weeks ago.

Astarl picked her way down the beach in the pre-dawn glow. The first shaft of sunlight had not yet broken the horizon, leaving the soft susurration of waves in darkness and the sand of the beach a pale smudge beneath her feet. The sky to the east glowed with the coming sunrise.
The ghost, if that was what it was, she left where she had woken. It had been so useless to scream, though she didn’t know what else she might have done. You couldn’t fight a ghost, or a disembodied voice, or your own insanity, whichever foe it was she faced.
You can find more Six Sentence Sunday writers here.


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven't already. If you're finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, or sign up through RSS or email! Don't forget to share the love and spread the word of this post on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this. 
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Friday, 18 November 2011

Living Dangerously: Interview with an Assassin


So I haven’t been around much this week, not on Twitter, and not here – in fact this is my first blog since Sunday, which is not normal. I did guest post earlier in the week over at Bump On A Log, courtesy of @amberrisme (thanks Amberr!) about my travels in Cape Tribulation, Far North Queensland, Australia, but I must confess I wrote that months ago and sent it to Amberr a week or more ago now. If you missed it, you can find it here – CapeTribulation: Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef.

Out at the Great Barrier Reef, Cape Tribulation, Queensland, Australia
 The reason for my absence is mostly the workshop on book trailers I’ve been doing for the last fortnight. This week we started assembling our book trailer, so I had to spend a lot of time on the internet looking for pictures and music and then assembling them until I found something I liked. Watch this space for the finished product!

Anyway, today I’m here with Astarl, the protagonist in my novel Deathhawk’s Betrayal.  

Ciara: So, Astarl, you’re an assassin. Would you like to tell us something about that?

Astarl: No

Ciara: Uh...no? What do you mean ‘no’?

Astarl: I thought no had the same meaning in your language as mine.

Ciara: No... uh... yes... Dammit, it means the same thing, but this is an interview, you’re supposed to tell us a bit about you.

Astarl: I don’t talk about myself. You know that.

Ciara: Then why did you agree to this interview?

Astarl: I didn’t. You just kind of sprung it on me. Which I’m not happy about by the way. 

Ciara: Alright, alright, do you mind if I tell them a bit about you?

Astarl: As a matter of fact I do mind.

Ciara: Well I have to tell them something about you. Astarl was a child slave and... hey, put that knife down!

Astarl: Only if you promise not to give away my secrets. 

Ciara: How else can they learn about you? And didn’t I tell you not to bring any knives? 

Astarl
Astarl: I didn’t take that seriously because you’re not allowed to play with knives. You might cut yourself, foolish girl. And I don’t go anywhere without my knives, you know that, too. If they want to learn about me, they can read the book. 

Ciara: Enough about the knives. The book’s not published yet. And it might not be in the foreseeable future. Can we talk about Jeharv?

Astarl: I thought you had someone ask to see a, what did you call it? A partial? Isn’t that what you told me?

Ciara: Yes, it's with a publisher at the moment, but we all know the almost certain result of that. Everyone gets rejected at least once. Hey, I’m supposed to be asking the questions! Stop avoiding the issue. So can we discuss Jeharv?

Astarl: Maybe...

Ciara: So he’s your father and he’s dying, right? Maybe you could tell us some more about that?

Astarl: Adoptive father, yes. Jeharv is master of the Order of Nizari, originally a professional spy network for hire, but now branching out into assassination. He took me in when I was thirteen after… well, you know. He took me in and trained me up as one of his first assassins. Now he’s dying from a canker in his lung and we need magic to heal it.

The problem is, the outlaw blood magicians destroyed the Confederacy of Magicians maybe a month ago, so magic’s in short supply at the moment. The blood magicians charge too high – even an assassin balks at selling his soul – and the few surviving Confederates we’ve found have been uncooperative.

The last one I tried to persuade killed himself rather than talk to me. That’s a new one even for me. I’ve had people beg for mercy but I’ve never had one kill himself before I could. In this case I had no intention of killing him at all. 

Ciara: Selling of souls? These blood magicians sound nasty! I feel sorry for that poor Confederate… Don’t look at me like that! So, Jeharv is an assassin, but you love him… would you describe him as a good man then? 

Astarl: Not particularly. It’s complicated. 

Ciara: I should hope so.

Astarl: There’s no such thing as a good man, look at what they’ve done to me. All men deserve death even Jeharv. He’s just the only one who ever did anything good for me for no reason except that I asked. 

Ciara: All men deserve death… don’t you think that’s a bit harsh? 

Astarl: Really? After everything I’ve been through? Would you feel any differently?

Ciara: Um, well, OK you might have a point. So basically Jeharv gave you a gift? Not a bunch of flowers, I’m sure. Maybe a knife? You seem well-attached to the ones you’ve got. Dare I ask how many you’re carrying right now?

Astarl: Eleven, including six throwing blades. 

Ciara: My lord, where do you hide them? Never mind, you’re distracting me again, back to Jeharv. 

Astarl: He had the practice of slavery outlawed in my home kingdom, even though it wasn’t necessarily in his own interests. 

Ciara: Well… OK, that is big, kind of says a lot more than a bunch of roses. I can see how that would be important to you, seeing as how you were a child slave and… OK, put away the knife! 

Astarl: Stop trying to tell them about my childhood.

Ciara: But… OK, OK, I get the point… ha ha pun intended. Now please just put it away? Thank you.

Astarl: Only because I like you. 

Ciara: Really? I never would have guessed. 

Astarl: You can’t use a knife to save yourself but you got balls.

Ciara: Gee… thanks, I think. Anyway, so where are you off to now? 

Astarl: The duchy of Abasynia in Elnisya. It’s far north from here, tropical. The dead magician did some work on an item a few years ago that belonged to the duke. Not sure it’s still there, not sure I can find it if it is. We don’t even know what it looks like and the duke’s a bit mad. But it’s the only lead we’ve got. It was made by the caelicolae, you know, the Elder Races, though not sure if it was the Kindara or the Syldam. They sure pack a magical punch though so anything they made ought to do the job. Of course, people also don’t leave that kind of stuff lying around unguarded. Are we about done here? Jeharv’s dying you know. 

Aldenon, healer at Castle Abasynia
 Ciara: OK, one last question. I’ve heard Aldenon, the healer at Castle Abasynia, is pretty hot. 

Astarl: I wouldn’t know and I don’t really care. I try to have as little to do with men as possible.

Ciara: Ouch, shot down in flames… Well I do care, so send me a sketch, yeah? Or even a watercolour. It’s not like the Order of Nizari can’t afford it. Best of luck on your mission and thanks for stopping by



Wow, did I really just wish one assassin luck in healing another assassin? It seemed appropriate to say something convivial before I became more closely acquainted with the blasted woman’s knives than I already was. Did you hear that? Eleven knives. The only one I saw was the one she drew on me! I expect she can probably nail a man with a throwing knife at ten paces, too, or something like that. Whatever a pace is. 
 
Anyway, that was Astarl, the protagonist of my novel Deathhawk’s Betrayal which sad to say is not currently available. It is, however, under consideration by a publisher here in Australia. I’m sure I’ll update you as soon as I have either good or bad news on that front. Self-publishing is something I might consider in the future but since I have some interest from the traditional publishers I’ll pursue that avenue first. 

I’ve also just found out that I won some character artwork in the Character Competition running on Imran Siddiq’s website Imran Writes, so that might be something else for me to share with you in the future, together with my book trailer!

Don’t forget to stop by and check out my guest post – Cape Tribulation: Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef.


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven't already. If you're finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, or sign up through RSS or email! Don't forget to share the love and spread the word of this post on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this. 

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Six Sentence Sunday #5

We return to my novel Deathhhawk's Betrayal.
‘I didn’t? I didn’t what? Do what I needed to survive when you betrayed me? While you were screwing some trumped up marquis playing at bounty hunter, I was dying. And now what, you crawl home to whelp his brat, thinking there’d be nothing here but my bones?’
Taking a deep breath, Astarl drew herself up in the face of Jeharv’s tirade.

 You can find more Six Sentence Sunday writers here.
   

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

D.C. McMillen's Friday Spotlight with Ciara Ballintyne

In case you missed it, I was interviewed by erotica author D.C McMillen in her Friday Spotlight feature. If you'd like to learn more about me, including my oddest quirk, favourite guilty pleasure, and my advice for other writers, check it out here on D.C.'s fabulous blog. 

In the coming weeks I'll be featuring an interview with my very own protagonist, Astarl, of Deathhawk's Betrayal. Uh, if I survive the experience. I'm trying persuade her to leave her knives at home but the negotiations aren't going well. Mostly because, well, you know - she's got knives. You can get a little more up close and personal with Astarl in an excerpt in my Friday Spotlight interview.


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Six Sentence Sunday #4

Another excerpt from 'In the Company of the Dead'.
Defenders fought to reclaim the walls. A man screamed as he went over the parapet. Further down, Ellieva scattered attackers, plunging reckless into their midst. She broke the onslaught alone, silver sword flashing red with each stroke. Her black robes billowed like crow’s wings. The men following chanted her name.

 You can find more Six Sentence Sunday writers here.

 


Saturday, 5 November 2011

An Introduction to the Discworld: Part 2


If you missed ‘Hear Me, Heretic! An Introduction to The Discworld’ you can find it here

Are you desperately hoping Rincewind isn’t a heel? Or do you already know the truth?

Sad to say, our man Rincewind abandons the naïve tourist and makes a bid to flee the city. 

The Discworld
How can the protagonist be such a coward, leave a poor guy in the lurch and yet we, the reader, still identify with him? Indeed, Rincewind is my absolute favourite Discworld character of all time yet I had to stop and consider why when there isn’t a lot I can say to recommend him. 

Rincewind is completely shameless. He knows he not brave or reliable or heroic (which suits him fine, cause you know heroes end up dead on swords or smote by gods, right?) but he makes no apologies for who he is. And I wonder if that’s the key. He’s not evil. He’s just cowardly, but he’s brave enough or honest enough to admit it. He doesn’t pretend to be something he’d not. 

Anyway, Rincewind ends up staying on to help Twoflower out. Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, tells Rincewind that he must stay with Twoflower – on pain of, well, pain. 

It is worth mentioning that the Lord Vetinari we meet in these first two books is a much flatter character than the later, well-rounded Vetinari – who is also infinitely more subtle. The Vetinari of later Discworld books, for example, would never do something so crass as to threaten someone in such blunt terms. He is the master of innuendo and implication. The best Discworld books for a look at Lord Vetinari are the city watch books. Interplay between Vetinari and Sam Vimes is often priceless.

Rincewind’s encounter with Vetinari ends with this exchange, as Vetinari tells Rincewind not to consider fleeing the city as he has advised all the rulers of the neighbouring cities of the situation. 
‘I assure you, the thought never even crossed my mind, my lord.’
‘Indeed? Then if I were you, I’d sue my face for slander.’
A small joke, but a funny one. Or is it only funny to lawyers?

The Luggage
I promised to introduce you to the Luggage in this post. The Luggage is made of a magical wood called sapient pearwood and it is more or less sapient. The box has its own legs and pretty much decides where it goes. It belongs to Twoflower but is inherited by Rincewind. My favourite thing about the Luggage is its homicidal tendencies. 
The lid snapped shut. Gancia vanished.
And just in case Weems thought it was accidental the Luggage’s lid snapped open again, just for a second, and a large tongue as red as mahogany licked across broad teeth as white as sycamore. Then it slammed shut again.
This thing will hunt you down. And it tracks better than a bloodhound.

The other two characters worth a mention are Death, the Librarian and Cohen the Barbarian. 

Death is your typical death – skeleton in a black robe. This is explained on the Discworld as an anthropomorphic personification. Natural forces, like death, essentially become personified. People think death is a skeleton in a black robe, so that’s what he looks like. And he talks LIKE THIS which sounds like crypt doors slamming. Death and Rincewind don’t really get along, mostly on account of Rincewind’s refusal to die. This is a scene where the Disc’s oldest wizard attempts to cheat death by locking himself in a box where Death can’t reach him. 
He has just set the complicated clockwork of the lock and shut the lid, lying back in the knowledge that here at last is the perfect defence against the most ultimate of all his enemies, although as yet he has not considered the important part that airholes must play in an enterprise of this kind.
And right beside him, very close to his ear, a voice has just said: DARK IN HERE, ISN’T IT?
Cohen the Barbarian. Fearsome.
The Librarian is the wizard who runs the library at the wizards university. He is accidentally turned into an orangutan and resist all attempts to be changed back. Just don't use the 'm' word. What m word? Monkey. 

OH SHIT.

Cohen the Barbarian is like Conan the Barbarian, only old… and stringy…. He’s about ninety in the shade and has no teeth. An old barbarian is very good at his job. You can tell because he’s not dead yet, see?

So now that you’ve met the characters, what’s the story about? You already know that Rincewind has been instructed to keep Twoflower alive, in the interests of avoiding international conflict between the city of Ankh-Morpork and the very old, powerful Agatean Empire. This is complicated by the fact Twoflower has no sense of self-preservation at all. 

Things come to a head when a red star growing in the sky signals the end of the world – unless the Eight Great Spells can all be spoken at the right time. The problem is, one of them is missing, hiding in Rincewind’s head. This is the reason he is such a failed wizard. He’s never been able to memorise another spell because ordinary, garden variety spells are too afraid to stay in his head with a Great spell. The other wizards know where the missing Great Spell is and are determined to hunt Rincewind down. Not all of them have the best intentions.

Don’t even mention the fact that the fate of the world rests on Rincewind’s shoulders. He doesn’t want to know. Someone else can have the job. 

It’s a fun ride and things only get better from here!

Lord Vetinari. Maybe this is why I had trouble finding dates?
As a matter of interest, you can find various Discworld quizzes on the web that will tell you which Discworld character/s you are most like.I’ve done this previously but I forget the results so I just did it again and here are my results:

You Scored as Lord Havelock Vetinari

You are Lord Vetinari! Supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork! Cool, calculated, and always in control. You graduated from the assassins guild, but failed a course on stealth and camouflage, because the professor never saw you there (even though you attended every class). You always seem to know what everyone is thinking, and after a conversation with you, people feel that they have just escaped certain death.
Lord Havelock Vetinari

75%

Carrot Ironfounderson

56%

Death

56%

Esmerelda (Granny) Weatherwax

56%

Greebo

50%

I find the results slightly worrying. Carrot is an anomaly in there with all those other characters, but that’s my sense of honour coming out. 

If you’d like to know who you are, check it out here


All quotes are from The Colour of Magic and the Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett


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