Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Life Lessons in Fantasy

I’ve long believed reading fantasy books moulded who I am. I have no real basis for this belief except a bunch of things I don’t think I learned from my parents or anyone else, in particular a marked black and white set of ethics. That’s not to say I don’t recognise ‘grey’ areas, but not many, and for me this reflects the good-evil dichotomy of classic fantasy. I love the anti-hero, or the dark hero, but when I started reading fantasy in my formative years, he wasn’t yet in vogue. 

I thought more about this when I recently started reading Raising Girls, since I know find myself in possession of two of them – girls, I mean. The book contains two markedly different stories about young girls faced with their first sexual experience. One is heart-breakingly casual and unfulfilling, and the other never happens. The second girl tells her boyfriend she’s not ready, and he delivers the ultimatum ‘Have sex with me, or I’ll walk’. With uplifting bravery, she tells him to walk, and doesn’t look back, not even when he wants to get back together with her sometime later. 

I firmly believe in ‘if he really cares, he’ll wait’. I don’t believe in sex on a first date – not if the woman is looking for more than casual sex. Once you start having sex, it’s difficult, or impossible, to go back to filling in the emotional gaps, that ‘getting to know each other’ stage that takes place on the first dates. My informal polling of men (in my generation) generally indicates a lack of, or less, respect for women who don’t make them wait. I’ve posed to men the phrase ‘OK to bed, but not to wed’, and it’s met with general agreement. 

This isn’t something my parents taught me, and while I’ve refined all the above thoughts as an adult, I must have had some awareness of the concept as a teenager, because I sure did make him wait.

Then I thought of Richard and Kahlan from Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, which I’ve been reading since I was thirteen. In the first book, Wizard’s First Rule, Richard falls in love with Kahlan. She discourages his affections, and his own grandfather tells him to ‘choose another girl’. He later finds out that any kind of physical relationship with her is impossible – if they were to have sex, her magic would destroy him. 

What does Richard do? He certainly doesn’t run off and pick up the first girl he comes across. Despite the fact he understands his love is impossible, that it can never be, he persists. In the end, he solves the problem. Even having solved it, though, it’s four books before he actually has sex with Kahlan, and despite constant setbacks, he waits. 

It occurred to me there’s a lot of important messages in there for any teenager who might sit still long enough to read it. Here’s a few that I spotted without even needing to think hard:

  • If it’s worth having, it’s worth waiting for;
  • If at first you fail, try again;
  • Fidelity and devotion as virtues;
  • Anything is possible;
  • Follow your dreams;
  • Sex isn’t everything (although I grant it is important, and I think that message is probably conveyed by the diligence with which Richard and Kahlan pursue that goal).

Are there other messages in there that you can see? What life lessons or important messages have you seen in the fantasy books you’ve read? Did you learn something from fantasy? Do you hope your children learn something from fantasy?

I do. I’ll be off now to borrow Dad’s illustrated copy of The Hobbit, and my first introduction to fantasy.  

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Book Review: Wizard Squared by K. E. Mills

In this, the third installment of the Rogue Agent series, in another Ottosland, in a parallel dimension, the events of The Accidental Sorcerer didn’t play out quite as we know them. There, Gerald didn’t make a dragon to battle Lional. Instead, he turned to Lional’s grimoires of dark magics, and combined with his powers as a rogue wizard, became unspeakably dangerous... and unspeakably evil.

Not satisfied with corrupting Bibbie, shadbolting Monk, imprisoning Melissande and Reg, and committing atrocities against various government officials and others who crossed him, not satisfied with conquering Ottosland, or his plans for world domination, the other Gerald turns his mind to all conquering all the other alternate realities.

The first our Gerald and his friends know of it is when Monk answers the door... and finds himself. Frightened by the events described by the other Monk, and with Gerald off on secret government business, Monk and the girls of Witches Incorporated turn to Gerald’s boss, Sir Alec.
It is agreed that only Gerald can face Gerald... but our Gerald is missing. He stepped into a portal bound for Grand Splotze – and didn’t step out the other end.

The concept of this story is good, with the potential for crackling tension, but in my opinion the execution missed the mark. The first quarter of the book is a recounting of the final events of The Accidental Sorcerer, but from the perspective of the other Gerald. I found this boring, since I knew much of these events already, barring the parts where events deviated, but I also found it confusing. I quickly suspected that perhaps these were events in an alternate reality, but I wasn’t sure, and so I was confused. Also, if I was right, then I was completely uninterested, because I couldn’t see what possible relevance this had to my Gerald. I was too busy wanting to get back to my Gerald to care much about this other Gerald.

The next quarter of the book skipped back to Monk and the girls, where I, the reader, listened in boredom as the other Monk explained the state of events in the alternate reality – events I already more or less knew because of the backstory infodump at the beginning. In my opinion, there would have been a lot more conflict and tension if the reader didn’t know anything about the alternate reality when the second Monk turned up. Even his arrival wasn’t interesting because I already knew who and what he was.

While the back half of the book picked up, it wasn’t enough to make up for the incredibly slow start. Definitely the weakest of the three books in the series to this point. I really only stuck with reading it because I mistakenly started Wizard Undercover first. It became quickly apparent I was reading out of order, and I stepped back to Wizard Squared to fill in the blanks. If I hadn’t known there were events in Wizard Squared that I needed to know in order to make sense of Wizard Undercover, I probably would have given up on this book early on. 

Disappointing given how much I enjoyed the first two books in the series.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Carole Ann Moleti Talks Witchcraft and Beltane

Today I'm welcoming Carole Ann Moleti to talk about witchcraft. Her short story, Mishmash Magick, appears in the anthology Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft


I'm always amazed at how all religions celebrate similar feasts at about the same times. The Jews and Christians celebrated Passover and Easter in late March, just as the Spring Equinox occurred. The Orthodox Christians are in the middle of Holy Week, with their Easter this coming Sunday. I shouldn't be surprised since we're all descended from the ancients who adopted new customs and beliefs as the wheel of time turned.

Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft was assembled with great care by Rayne Hall to celebrate a varied interpretations of witches and witchcraft by different authors, some of whom are witches, and others like myself who know, love, respect, study, and write about them. I've made many friends on this journey to understanding and appreciation of the Craft.

It's also amazing how my real life's work informs my fiction, and vice verse. I'm deeply involved in doctoral study right now, and it has nothing to do with witches. It's scholarly research—related to my clinical practice—but the furthest thing you can get from fantasy fiction and creative writing in general. But I just found out what I've been doing all my life is a scholarly form called ethnographic research! The investigator immerses herself amongst people or a practice to study the lived experience to gain greater appreciation. Who knew?

I've had lots of practice—and learned a lot by watching and experiencing. Midwives have long been associated with the use of herbs and potions, as well as with witchcraft. Most of my colleagues are not witches, but before the advent of modern medicine, women were called upon not only to assist with childbirth, but also to use their knowledge to heal any number of ills, both physical and psychological, in men, women, and children. When the outcome was not good, or the one expected, the midwife was often accused of witchcraft or sorcery.

Modern midwifery practice embraces all belief systems and incorporates the use of herbs and alternative medical practices and, as such, Wiccans and those with less mainstream religious and spiritual practices often seek our services.

Though divination and connection with ghosts and spiritual beings lies outside the grasp of my mind and abilities, watching those who have the gift do their work has convinced me that all humans have the capacity to use parts of their brain in the same way, but few have developed it. 

The first step is opening one's mind to the possibility, then embracing it with a peaceful, accepting attitude. But in order to transfer that into credible fantasy and paranormal fiction, writers must, at the very least suspend disbelief and, at best, understand and accept it themselves.

In addition to mining my experience and harvesting story ideas from dreams, I've applied my research and journalistic skills to writing paranormal romance and urban fantasy. I begin with the facts. Huh? We're talking paranormal, right? 

Herbology, alchemy, astrology, tarot, and divination are as old as history. Prayers and offerings to deities in exchange for favors, intercessions, and miracles are part of most religions, as well as the belief in an all-powerful being or beings that manipulate events.

I value among my friends and clients many witches, energy healers, and spiritualists who have taught me much about their beliefs, and allowed me to experience how rituals (including births conducted in settings where the space is conducive to spiritual and metaphysical connections) generate energy, and how it is channeled to produce the desired effect or outcome.

I've carefully followed the instructions of a santera on the use of teas, banishing and cleansing, potions, offerings of fruit and burning scented candles to heal both physical and emotional distress (much the same way people use aromatherapy and many Catholics light votives and pray to saints). Just last March I learned to perform divination with stones from Sew Magical at Lunacon. I've studied astrology and Tarot with Mary O'Gara. Witchcraft and magic with Rayne Hall and Deborah Blake. Eastern healing traditions and meditation with Nan Gilbert. Yoga with Ronnie.

Natural phenomena, like observing a woodland full of blinking fireflies, gave me pause to consider the possibility that fairies really do exist. I've talked with ghost hunters about their research and practice and learned how to monitor for electromagnetic activity. I've felt them and been amazed (but never frightened) by them.

I approach research for my paranormal fiction as a respectful traveler who wants to enter the culture to best experience it. Showing up with a camera, pad, and pencil will not allow you to obtain the information you need, nor the context required to translate it into a compelling plot with believable characters. If you're going to ask readers for leaps of faith, you'll need to open your mind take a few yourself.

Bright Blessings!

Check out Carole's writing on her Amazon author page  http://www.amazon.com/Carole-Ann-Moleti/e/B007ASNBVK/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_2

Follow her on Twitter or Facebook and watch the book trailer for Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft below.


If you enjoy Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, check out other anthologies in the Ten Tales series, including Spells: Ten Tales of Magic featuring my own short story A Magical Melody.

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