Piles and Piles of Legal, Free Classics

Are you aware of Project Gutenberg?  If not, and you have any interest in reading, you probably should be!

Project Gutenberg’s goal is to digitize notable works, particularly those in the public domain.  What that means is that there’s a wealth of free, classic literature out there for writers and readers both to enjoy.

Sherlock Holmes?  Sure, it’s there–but so The White Company, a book Doyle himself regarded higher than the Holmes stories.  Chesterton’s classics are there, from the Father Brown mysteries to The Man Who Was Thursday to his theological works, like Orthodoxy.  Twain, Austen, Poe, Carroll, Dumas, Plato, and Dickens are all there.

Most books come in several formats, allowing you to read them online or download them to tablets computers, like Kindle.

Sure, many of these can be picked up in physical form, and as I look up at my shelf of Chesterton, my impressive volume of Conan, and a nice printing of The Divine Comedy, I can’t say I don’t understand.

But these are free, public-domain works painstaking digitized by volunteers, downloadable and accessible on almost any device.  If you’ve ever dreamed of a giant library consisting of most of the classics but find yourself tens of thousands of dollars short, Project Gutenberg has you covered!

 

Fantasy Adventures Volume 1: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War is out now for 99¢!

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Is Anything Still Original?

As a fantasy writer, one of the challenges is writing something that feels new and fresh.  In 2017, nothing is fresh and new.  Netflix beams thousands of hours of fantasy into our homes.  Everything from The Lord of the Rings to Record of Lodoss War has come to life on the screen.  Fantasy books are a dime a dozen, easy to pick up in used book stores or anywhere on the net, even digitally.

Then there are my beloved video games, sporting worlds just as loving rendered and detailed as a Peter Jackson production, but this time they allow you to directly interact with the fantastic.  Some of them sport tens and hundreds of hours, becoming a part of daily life even over the course of years.

As a writer, it’s daunting and scary.  So much out there, so much quality, so little new.

And then I pick up a book, and find that doesn’t matter.  Everything I read has been done before, but it’s still exciting and enthralling.  Novels are based on language, and language is nearly infinite.  Every day, we put together unique sentences that have never before been said in the history of man.

That flows into stories.  One fantasy might be similar to the next, but at the same time, no two are alike.  The heroic knight is a common trope, but nobody would say that Aragorn is the same as Parn, Sir Lancelot, Kambei, Conan the Barbarian, or The Man with No Name.  Despite carrying the essential traits of “heroic knights”, these are wildly different characters.  And those are just examples that are readily apparent on the surface: digging into the nuance of personality and situation gives us more subtly distinct characters within a single work, as seen in LotR’s Fellowship: Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Boromir could all qualify as heroic knights.  A well-written knight carries all the complexity of humanity itself, sharing some traits with others but with a combination of them that is wholly unique.

When that dawned on me, some of the fear and worry slipped away.  Just as we meet new people every day, completely distinct from anybody else we’ve met before, so too can authors craft characters and stories that are fresh and unique from anything that’s come before it.

 

Fantasy Adventures Volume 1: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War is out now for 99¢!

Prydain: A Place Somewhere Between Narnia and Middle Earth

A few months ago, my dad and I were talking about our favorite books.  At one point he said, “I wish there was something between Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.”  We talked a bit about that, about how dense J.R.R. Tolkien’s LotR is, and how brisk C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia are; how Narnia is a great way to interest young minds in fantasy while Tolkien is for the seasoned veterans.

Both are favorites of ours and highly recommended, but they are the extreme ends of the fantasy spectrum.  One series is made to be accessible for children in a series of shorter, easier reads, and the other is a hefty tome that amounts to an undertaking even for experienced adult readers.

I decided that the middle ground had to exist somewhere, and in the back of my mind I recalled reading–and enjoying–the first book in Lloyd Alexander’s The Prydain Chronicles.  That seemed like a good starting place, and I started with Prydain’s first book, The Book of Three.IMG_1584

Standing on its own, The Prydain Chronicles was a wonderful experience.  But more striking to me is just how well it sits somewhere between Lewis and Tolkien’s fantasy epics.

On the surface, the middle ground is surprisingly literal.  Narnia sports seven books, Prydain five, and The Lord of the Rings three (okay, LotR’s is debatable, but you get the point).  The word counts show a similar connection: Narnia checks in at 238,080, Prydain at 351,540, and the LotR at 481,103, putting Prydain close to the middle.

That word count becomes apparent in the writing styles of the three series.  Narnia is low on detail and accessible to all ages.  Prydain delivers more grown-up writing that aims more for preteens and young teens.  And LotR, of course, is a detailed volume that sits amongst fantasy’s heaviest hitters.

 

Going a little deeper, Prydain checks of all the “fantasy genre” marks just like the other two.  Evil forces are threatening the world, and unexpected, naive heroes are called upon to be more than they ever thought.  The usual tropes are there: fantastic beings, magic, ancient artifacts, demonic enemies bent on destruction.

Like LotR, Prydain follows more-or-less the same cast through its multiple volumes.  But like Narnia, each Prydain book is its own self-contained adventure (with some references and connections to the others).  Prydain, both in terms of cast and storyline, is a little more consistently-comical than LotR but takes more serious turns than Narnia typically does.

Analyzing all three sets of protagonists, it’s almost as if each author tackles the challenges belonging to the next stage of growing up.  Lewis’s young heroes are curious and brave, wary and scared.  Alexander’s protagonists are teenagers who dream of adventure, excitement, and glorious battles; of becoming respected, responsible adults.  Tolkien’s are adults who understand just what responsibility means and the cost of glory, but still strive to do what must be done.

Of course, nothing is ever a perfect middle ground.  Prydain doesn’t quite reach for that deeper spirituality of Lewis and Tolkien.  To be fair, that was never Alexander’s intent: Prydain sprang from clearly-passionate love and desire to play within Welsh mythology.

Yet while Lewis’s aims with Narnia are clear, Tolkien did not set out to write a Christian work with The Lord of the Rings, nor did he claim an intended allegory: it sprang naturally from Tolkien’s own Catholic background.  Similarly, Alexander acknowledges his own Christianity flowing necessarily into Prydain, both unconsciously and even consciously through some overt Biblical references.  It’s no surprise then that the characters and the overarching morality are no less admirable than Lewis and Tolkien’s.

And if you’re a fan of Lewis or Tolkien and need any further push toward Prydain, Alexander openly acknowledged his debt to both authors:

“Like his fellow genius, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis has redefined the nature of fantasy, adding richness beauty, and dimension… In our times, every fantasy realm must be measured in comparison with Narnia.”

It’s through that understanding and acknowledgement that Prydain is manages bits and pieces of both Narnia and Middle Earth, yet is solidly its own, unique adventure.  If you’re hoping for something between Lewis and Tolkien, or just looking for some classic fantasy, Prydain is an excellent choice.

 

Fantasy Adventures Volume 1: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War is out now for 99¢!

 

“There is a Fifth Dimension…

…beyond that which is known to man.” – Rod Serling

Sorry for the late blog this Friday, but I’ve been battling a bug for a couple of days now.  But on the plus side, that–and a little, hopefully-brief lull in my workload–has given me some time to catch up on some Netflix.

I’ve found myself quite infatuated with The Twilight Zone.

On the surface, it doesn’t look like something I would be into (and perhaps that’s why, for years, I never did watch it).  Each story is self-contained, which, while it has it’s virtues, doesn’t allow for as much character bonding as long-running favorites of mine like Frasier and NCIS allow.  It also veers more urban-supernatural and sci-fi than my wheelhouse.

Yet The Twilight Zone is a great example of having the freedom to try out new stories, new characters, and even new genres.  Writers tend to be pushed toward focusing on specific markets and audiences, with even anthologies adhering more-or-less to a given genre.  Serling wrote 99 of the 156 episodes, and he played with comedy and romance, sci-fi and horror, dramas, sports shows, and westerns.

In that regard, part of the show’s growing appeal for me (I’m 35 episodes in) is that each episode brings something new to the table.  A curious drama about an aging Hollywood starlet is not something I’d go out of my way to watch.  Despite a bit of a baseball affinity, I wouldn’t have watched “The Mighty Casey” as a stand-alone show, but Serling’s script took the world of baseball into realms very close to home.

The Twilight Zone takes a wide range of discrete genres and still manages to connect them to a single theme–that of the supernatural, of the fantastic.  It’s a showcase of just how flexible and far-reaching the “fantasy” genre actually is, and how fantasy is sometimes at its most interesting when it’s hidden in the peripheral edges of the mundane.

 

Fantasy Adventures Volume 1: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War is out now for 99¢!

Streamlining Kindle Direct Publication

Dirty secret: these are notes I’m making for myself, but under the guise of “a blog” so I have… well, a blog.  But maybe they’ll help someone out!

A bit of backstory: my first release on Kindle Direct Publishing was a bit of a disaster in terms of editing.  The process went something like this: I wrote each short story in LibreOffice, exported them individually to .docx format for my editor, who then edited in Word.  She sent them back to me, where I tweaked and edited again in LibreOffice.  Each jump between the programs caused a few technical issues.

From there, I compiled them into one single file, exporting them into .docx again and importing them into Kindle Create, where I set up the Table of Contents and made some formatting adjustments.  From there, I packaged it into .kpf format and uploaded it to Amazon, only to learn I needed to write up a blurb for the book (duh!).

Then my editor realized I had done a poor job of making the necessary changes.  It turns out I had compiled the stories using older versions without the fixes, as well as straight up missed some obvious errors.  I then hurriedly made changes in my Kindle Create file, repackaged them, and reuploaded.

When I went to put together the paperback manuscript, I found out that Kindle Create couldn’t export directly into a .docx file, meaning all the changes I made would have to be either manually redone or copy-and-pasted from Kindle Create, then manually formatted.  Ugh.

On the plus side, the next time around will be a lot more streamlined and less-prone to mistakes.  The plan for my next release:

  1. Use Microsoft Word to avoid any compatibility issues.
  2. Keep track of story versions by marking them with dates and times, and keeping them organized on the hard drive.
  3. Create the cover and the blurb anywhere toward the end, in some downtime between edits.  That way it’s one less thing to stress over when you’re in the final stages.
  4. When the stories are done, create a master document and make all future the changes there.  You can then use this document to make updates for both your ebook and your paperback.

Next time around it should be a little less of a headache!

 

Fantasy Adventures Volume 1: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War is out now for 99¢!

The Eyes of God Review

I just finished up John Marco’s The Eyes of God.  Sadly, I made a tactical error and ordered the sequel (The Devil’s Armor) later than I should have, meaning a few painful days of waiting for the postman before I can continue the adventure.  But on the plus side, that’s a few days to digest all that’s happened in the previous 800 pages.

With that, a short review!  Spoilers are limited to a few names, with very little said story-wise beyond the initial set-up.  And it might be worth noting that The Eyes of God is my first experience with Marco, noting his previous Tyrants and Kings trilogy received rave reviews.

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To set the story up with a nod to The Lego Movie: everything is awesome.  The new king of Liiria, King Akeela, is off to make peace with longtime enemies in the land of Reec.  Akeela is accompanied by Lukien, the Bronze Knight and the leader of Liiria’s invincible Chargers.  The two are close, almost brothers.

 

Reec is more than receptive to the idea of peace, but a princess, magical amulets, and a wide variety of characters from all over the land threaten to ruin everything that Lukien and Akeela have worked for.

The short review: it’s not perfect, but I quite enjoyed it.  It’s a wide-reaching epic fantasy that starts off a with a bunch of common tropes and clichés, but introduces some likable characters and takes us down some interesting paths.

Some of those paths feel like only a few steps in a longer journey, and in that regard, The Eyes of God suffers a bit from being “Book One of the Bronze Knight Series”.  The characters themselves come and go, with some interesting figures appearing only briefly (presumably, they’ll be bigger players in the sequels–I immediately fell in love with Meriel, and will be sorely disappointed if her role doesn’t expand!).  As well, there is a fairly significant amount of world building that’s done throughout the book, especially in the earlier parts.

That being said, the characters are well-written, likable but realistically flawed.  The heroes struggle with their own weaknesses and emotions.  The villains motivations and reasons, some even sympathetic.  Nobody makes the right decisions at all times–as it should be.

Yet thankfully, the bad guys remain the bad guys and the good guys the good: The Eyes of God‘s cast isn’t merely drab shades of gray, leaving the reader with a foggy cast and no heroes to cheer on.  Even with some insight into the antagonists’ minds, the idea is never conveyed that their actions are somehow in the right.

As for the actual storyline: characters come and go, time passes, alliances and kingdoms form, grow, and wither.  Adventures start in Liiria and then cross more than a half-dozen kingdoms, and Marco does a solid job of illustrating their varying cultures and inhabitants.  There’s action, romance, tension, and drama; magic, swords, and mythical beasts.  The Eyes of God hits all the right notes that epic fantasy demands!

There are a handful of small issues.  The pacing is a bit slow, and I think it might have benefited from being trimmed down just a bit from its nearly-800 pages.  Characters’ moods sometimes fluctuate rather quickly (such as going from despondent to cheerfully making jokes within a few lines).  Sometimes some of the nuance gets a little twisted: at one point Lukien noted he wouldn’t be surprised if a certain bit of news had reached his destination ahead of him, then, less than a page later, he’s surprised to find it has!

But those are all quibbles within the wider scope of The Eyes of God.  Marco has crafted a strong first entry in a wider epic fantasy tale, and I’m eager to rejoin Lukien (and, I hope, Meriel!).

 

Fantasy Adventures Volume 1: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War is out now for 99¢!

Reading as a Writer

My brother works in television.  One day he told me about how it’s hard for him to watch anything now without analyzing it, because he watches it with the eye of an insider, who knows how things do-and-don’t work, and why.  He can explain why certain scenes are more appealing than others, often in subtle ways we don’t consciously process.

I’m noticing a similar trend now that I have several short stories and a few novels (mostly unpublished!) under my belt.  I’m not speaking of technical issues related grammar or spelling (I know that one well: my own writing is riddled with them until someone else can read through it!).  Rather, I’m speaking of things like story arcs, characterization, and so forth.

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One of the books I’m currently reading–John Marco’s The Eyes of God–is proving to be quite enjoyable, but dealing with a more critical eye on my part.  At times, character’s attitudes seem to swing quickly from one emotion to the next, going from zen-like calm to seething anger to mirth with only the smallest of provocations between them.  Personalities are, from time to time, a little inconsistent.  Certain words get re-used a little too regularly.  The pacing is a touch slow.

With some writing under my belt, though, I realize just how difficult all of that nuance really is.  I re-use words far to often within my own blogs and tweets.  My characters suffer from numerous instabilities.  “Cliché” is too generous a term for my storylines.  Managing a pace that is neither plodding nor dizzingly-fast is a massive challenge.

But I also noticed that, despite those criticisms, The Eyes of God isn’t any less enjoyable.  I’m quite liking my current read, and the occasional random, moody outburst from a character is a mere trifle within the sprawling, epic experience.  That Marco can craft such a detailed world and characters while keeping things fresh and intriguing is incredibly impressive (and far better than anything I’ve done!).

Having struggled for consistency and variety in 250-page tomes, it’s amazing that someone could put together something triple that size with far more success.  My butt gets kicked struggling with six cast members, while Mr. Marco has a roster three times that!

Yet it’s a rather heartening reminder of that Henry James quote: “Excellence does not require perfection.”  As a writer, you don’t need to be absolute perfection to create a grand adventure.  Even the best in a genre make mistakes, and that doesn’t make them any less exceptional.

(And if Mr. Marco ever reads this, I apologize for the criticism!  The Eyes of God simply happened to be my current read, and I was rather excited to blog about it!  I hope I adequately expressed my appreciation for your work, and there will certainly be more Bronze Knight-related blogs in the months to come.)

 

Fantasy Adventures Volume 1: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War is out now for 99¢!