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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Fantasy

So, I got hooked* on Once Upon A Time……

……..a fantasy TV show that aired on ABC and involving characters in both their fairy-tale context (with a twist) and in our modern world.  The most common reaction I get when I mention the show has been, “Yes, I loved it, but it got really weird”, with no clarification on how it got weird or why.  But this is a show involving fairy tales and magic, so weird kind of left the station with the very first episode.

One of the things that utterly charmed me from the start about the show was how the writers took one event and approached it from multiple view-points.  An example of this would be the ‘hold-up’ of Prince Charming’s carriage by the bandit, Snow White.  As a reader/viewer and even in real life, it’s easy to forget that everyone involved in an incident (from chance meeting to purse snatching) will have a completely different experience and interpretation of events.

As a writer, I loved the attention to detail in these moments and how they were woven together.  It takes well-thought out planning in advance – no flying by the seat of one’s pants, here – so I suspect that the creators of Once Upon A Time had their vision mapped out over at least three seasons before pitching it to ABC (and the parent company, Disney, who owns the rights to many of the characters that appear in the show).

I missed the original run when it aired on ABC, and my memories of it were articles about story lines and plot points.  There was some minor controversy over season 7 (something to do with Cinderella, if I remember it right), but coming to the show as I did, none of it seemed all that important.

Just a tempest in a pot of tea, from my point of view.

The show is fun, it’s campy, romantic, full of adventure, thoughtful contemplation on good, evil and the possibility of redemption and twists on established characters.  The conceit of fairy tale characters living in our world is delightful and it’s perfect viewing when things feel dark and heavy in our world.

Definitely on my list of shows to re-watch.

Maybe I can savor the show an episode at a time.

‘Maybe’ being the key word, here.

*Pun fully intended.

 

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Review: Wicked Ones: Children of the Lost by JZ Foster

Book Description:

What if the old faery tales were true?

You know, the best thing about nightmares is that they’re not real. It’s all just in your head, and as soon as you wake up, pop! 

It’s all gone. You’re safe.

It’s not like they could crawl out, creeping from your mind with long, slender fingers and milky yellow eyes sunken into heads with pointed horns bursting out.

That’d just be insane.

Daniel Tanner’s life is insane. A mysterious disease came to claim his son, seemingly pulling him into the grave with cold fingers named misery and hopelessness.

Now a stranger has come calling with an even stranger tale of monsters—horrible things that take children in the middle of the night and leave their own, things that crawled out of the faery tales our barbarous ancestors used to tell, things that they tried to warn us about.

We didn’t listen.

Because monsters aren’t real, are they? There’s no reason to fear the dark, no reason at all to believe the old tales about the creatures with a taste for human meat.

That would be insane… wouldn’t it?

*****

There is a lot of folklore regarding changelings, particularly in Western Europe – how fairies would take a human infant and replace it with one of their own. The reasons for these stories are as varied as the countries they took hold in – a healthy child was far more valuable to a family than one who was sickly and drained whatever resources was available. It was easier to believe that fairies took the healthy child and replaced it with one of their dying ones.

Why human children were taken ranged from the unbaptized being easy targets to the fae believing that being raised by humans was a respectable start in life to old fae being cared for as children. According to the folklore, the human child is almost never seen again, presumably living with the fae forever.

In The Wicked Ones, author JZ Foster attempts to re-imagine aspects of changeling folklore into modern times, where a group of wounded people seek out the fae who took their loved ones.

As the novel opens, Daniel Tanner is grieving the death of his son, Sam, who was recently buried. He is also bitter towards his ex-wife, and mystified by her inexplicably callous behavior towards their son. Recruited by Larry Maker, Daniel realizes he is not the only one who has suffered such a loss and is brought into a group of unlikely companions who are united in only one thing – to kill the monsters behind the changelings.

As a student of mythology and folklore, I’m always fascinated how these old stories can be re-invented and brought to newer audiences. With vampires and werewolves enjoying a kind of renaissance in urban fantasy and horror, it’s only natural to expand and widen storytelling to incorporate the fae. Using their myths as inspiration is a valid start, but from there, it is the writer’s responsibility to create a fully- developed and realized world, along with the characters that populate it.

So it was with anticipation that I began reading Foster’s novel.

With the amount of exposition used, I felt shut out and removed from a tale of grief, revenge and the fae that should have been engrossing and heartbreaking. The story itself didn’t seem to really begin until mid-way through Chapter Four (man in the basement), but most definitely with Chapter Five (how the fae and changelings are involved). The characters themselves didn’t seem fully developed – given that the cast is primarily male, it was difficult to differentiate between them. Jenna and Rebekah, two of the primary female characters, fared a little better, but Daniel’s ex-wife, Julia (seen only in flashback) came across as a one-note, cold-hearted woman who watched her son die and is the focal point of Daniel’s anger.

Even the brief phone conversation between Daniel and his mother could have been better utilized – a good place to put active dialogue, showing who they were and what their relationship was now after the death Sam. Instead of a short, active scene driving the story forward, it was two or three lines of exposition and I was left with no information about how Daniel felt about his mother, how she felt about him and what Sam’s death did to their relationship.

Sam’s death may have been the catalyst for Daniel’s pursuit of the changelings and his willingness to join Maker’s group to stop them. But I was never really allowed to feel it or experience it – I was placed in the role of passive viewer.

If stories about the fae and how it impacts mortals (with a twist) tickles your fancy, then this is the story for you. If not, then perhaps one of Foster’s other titles will satisfy.

Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

So, I grew up on the mystery genre……

…….and while it’s not the only genre I have a definite passion for, it’s one I tend to return to more than fantasy or science fiction or even horror.

As a reader, I cut my teeth on Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner and many more. Like many others before me, I got caught up in solving the puzzles put before me alongside the likes of Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet Vane, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Perry Mason.

The requisite exclamations of “How did I not see that?” and variations thereof would often follow the reveal at the end of each case. So, of course I had to go back and re-read these books, to see what I had missed. This taught me, as I did this, to pay closer attention at how the set-up was constructed to get to that ‘surprise’ reveal.

My first fictional detective wasn’t introduced to me through his novels. The meet-cute was through a black and white movie on Channel Five, occasionally broken up by static. Basil Rathbone, in his deerstalker cap and Meerschaum pipe, brought to life Sherlock Holmes in a manner that few have matched since. Yes, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch (to name a few) have brought their distinctive talents into recreating and interpreting this iconic detective from the 19th century and I enjoy their works immensely.

But it was Mr. Rathbone’s portrayal that led me to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle before the age of ten. I didn’t just read them, I devoured them. The Hound of the Baskervilles was my first tale and I’ve re-read that book at least once a year. I met Irene Adler and Professor Moriarty, Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson and more through Doctor Watson’s descriptions of Holmes’ exploits.

Now, after years of reading about other fictional detectives (some with licenses, some who had left the police force, some who would always retain the status of amateur), I find that I have come full circle back to my first fictional detective. I’ve read maybe a handful of interpretations of Holmes by other authors and, while they handled the character with obvious care and love, it wasn’t the Holmes I knew. I craved Doctor Watson’s words about his intelligent, arrogant, exasperating friend as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t written my own adventures involving Sherlock Holmes. I have done so, many years ago, but they aren’t meant for anyone’s eyes other than my own. As I re-read his exploits or re-watch the many film adaptations of Holmes and Watson, I find myself feeling challenged (as a writer, as a reader, as an intelligent, reasoning being) to be more observant, to work things out through deduction and logic.

And then I go and do my best to practice it.

sherlock

Excerpt: Untitled Fantasy Novel

My brother Angus was the better swordsman, but my arrow always held true and found its mark, even in the strongest wind. Father had always maintained that my eye, my sure hand with a bow, could easily bring down a charging bull. Angus would roll his eyes at such praise leveled at his younger sister, but it was just as precious to me as the charm Mum made us wear under our tunics….

And there it was, the reference of a charm worn by Amidelanne, the first woman archer to have ever made captain in the King’s Army of Talisierre.
I marked the page with a broken quill, shut the heavy tome with care and sat back in my chair with a sigh. It had taken me more than two months of painstaking research through the collected histories of Talisierre. The histories were a set of twenty volumes, each book more than two thousand pages of recorded events, written in a cramped hand.
I had finally found what I was looking for, that brief mention, in volume nineteen.
Leaning forward, I ignored the sudden aching protests of my muscles and snatched up my quill. Dipping it in ink, I reached for a fresh page of parchment. I made quick notes about what I’d found, the quill making soft, scratching noises as I wrote. The sound was soothing and I was soon lost in it.
A half hour passed before I finish, my hand aching. Folding the page into thirds, I tucked the slip into my knapsack. Scowling at volume nineteen of The Histories of Talisierre, I stood and, hefting the massive tome with both hands, walked back to the stacks. I replaced it with care back among its siblings, my fingers caressing the worn bindings of each volume, my thoughts drifting.
It wasn’t much, that reference, I thought. It seemed to be more of a throwaway comment. The charm had no other importance attached to it, in the eyes of the historians. Other than it was a gift from her mother, there was not even a description of it in Amidelanne’s own words.
And yet, legends had risen about this charm, this bit of magic worn around a young girl’s neck. A girl who became an archer in the King’s Army, then rose to the rank of captain. So it did have some meaning, both to the wearer and to the person who began the stories that surrounded it.
I reclaimed my seat and leaned back, my eyes drifting closed as my thoughts swirled, trying to make sense of the knot I had before me. How had these legends of a charm not described come about? Did it still exist? What sort of magic did it claim? And who wanted it badly enough to commit murder?

That was what bothered me most in my research – that someone willfully committed violence over what some would dismiss as mere stories.

 

***
Edited: This was previously published January 2015 on Hubpages.com in two parts, here and here. JJB

So, one of the things I like to do…….

……when writing in a particular genre is to read as much of what’s been written before I decide to try my hand at it. It helps me to get a sense of style and word choice within a specific setting (one’s characters are not going to be speaking 21st Century slang in 31st Century society. Or 11th Century BCE society, either). It’s also helpful in seeing how other authors develop mood, setting and location, as well as character.

This goes for every genre, from the Western to the Mystery to Historical to Erotica, a genre that relies heavily on evoking a wide variety of sensations and emotions that lead to a specific….well, climax.

There is the argument floating around that reading works by others in the genre you want to write in is harmful in that it may ‘influence’ your own work. This is true, but not in the way you’d think. Reading the newspaper influences you. Reading poetry, or historical non-fiction, or biographies or archaeology or whatever you pick up to read is going to influence what you write. The more you read, the more  you learn about language, about style, about story and character and development.

Not reading the genre you want to write in only hurts your own work. Why? Well, in addition to not seeing what’s out there, you’d also fail to learn what works for you and what doesn’t. You’d never know how, with your own unique perspective, you could approach the Epic Quest Fantasy. Or the Space Opera. Or find a new twist on the Western or Mystery.

If you read enough (and I highly recommend reading everything you can get your hands on), you can see how similar the genres actually are. What makes them different is the emphasis – a mystery with a dash of romance could be the inverse of a romance with a dash of mystery. A historical novel set in real place could be, with just a few changes and a splash of magic, an epic fantasy. A Western is just an adventure on horseback, whereas Science Fiction is an adventure on a spaceship.

So read. Read the Ancient Greeks, Shakespeare, pulp fiction, genres you love and the ones you don’t like, authors you despise as well as the ones you admire. Read history and biographies and true crime, to learn how real people behaved and real events played out.

When you read, always seek to be entertained, but be conscious of how language, story and characters are handled.

What book and/or author was your greatest influence? Was it more than one? A specific genre?

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