Friday, August 3, 2018

Early to bed, early to rise

2018 Year of the New: 5am writers club.

I know. Just typing that makes me nervous. Especially because last month I was watching a bunch of stuff late into the night checking off my "To Watch" list. Now I'm getting up early?

Am I insane?

Yes, dear readers, but only for your amusement. 
So July, I did in fact watch a lot of muse-feeding Netflix. Learned about nuns and coffee and rewatched The Paradise (so many delectable longing glances across the room, swoon). It was a good, relaxing month. A much-needed muse break.

But the relaxing is over. I need to finish a manuscript and I've given myself to the end of September to complete it. Two months. So we are not playing around with this one.

Several of the writers I know with full-time jobs and kiddos participate in #5amwritersclub. They get up before dawn to make use of the wee hours of the morning when the house is quiet and their mind is fresh.

I scoffed at this the first time I heard it. I'm not a morning person. Not an early bird. I am a night owl. I have always been a night owl. I have always written after everyone has gone to bed. My brain gets going and I write until I drop. There was no way I was waking up that early!

However, I did want to test the notion that your mind is fresh when you wake up. You haven't gotten frustrated with your boss, you haven't made a heap of dishes after cooking dinner, you haven't given anyone any of your energy. Your book, your work, gets it all in the peaceful hours of the morning before the Chaos man arrives and hands you your daily package.

Now that was something I wanted to test.

I'm going to ease into it. Maybe just get up at 6am and start my day for a week. When the Bean starts school again, then I could maybe try for 5am. Most importantly, I am making time for myself. And Myself wants to get this book into a pretty draft form.

I've got my desk all ready. I've got my notebooks stacked. My coffee prepped. So you'll see me, dear readers, checking into the #5amwritersclub and I'll let you know how it goes.

Until then, carry on.

Amanda Arista
Author and Morning person?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Rediscovering "Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone" via Audio Book

I first discovered audio books well over a decade ago, when travelling with friends who enjoyed listening to them on the car radio. I did, too, but for some reason never adopted the medium beyond that one experience.

Recently, however, I sustained an injury to my eye, one which has made any sort of reading and screen work very difficult. Even now, it's only slowly coming right enough to write this post, and as you can imagine, with a life bereft of books, television, and the internet ("I know"  grave extremes indeed!) it did not take long for my mind to return to audio books.

As I was not feeling particularly well, my first choice was to opt for an old favorite, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone*.  From the outset, I found myself in love all over again  I believe thanks to the change of medium, from reading (with the risk of skimming if time is short or looking ahead if the suspense cannot be borne) to listening to every word.

What good words they are, too. I found myself consciously enjoying JK Rowling's gift for creating suspense through the opening atmosphere of mystery and the marvel of Harry's survival. The immediate contrast with the mundane world of the Dursleys and 4 Privet Drive, not only in the sense of building Harry's character (as well as his circumstances) works, too, as the reader is introduced to the wonders, but also dangers, of the wizarding world through Harry's marveling eyes.

 I felt, listening to the presence of the magical world unfold within the mundane, from Diagon Alley, Gringotts, and Platform 9 3/4, to Hogwarts and the Forbidden Forest, that the heart of JK Rowling's success with the Harry Potter series lies with the truly magical world she has created  and the fact that as reader or listener you believe in it so implicitly.

Part of the reason for that, I believe, is delight: we cannot help but feel delighted as the layers of the extraordinary and mystical, the absurd and the dangerous unfold. Elements such as the description of the school feasts and quidditch matches add texture that makes the world feel even more believable and real.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is not all about the worldbuilding, though. The Dursleys might be close to slapstick characters in some ways, but the central players of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, feel real and human. As readers, or in this case listeners, we can readily identify with their hopes and doubts, mistakes and successes. Supporting characters such as Neville, the Weasley twins, and Hagrid are all similarly real, while the apparent malevolence of Professor Snape is masterful.

Severus Snape
Arguably, worldbuilding and characters are enough to make any Fantasy story rock. I felt there was one further element, though, that really stood out for me when listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Hermione herself says it, when leaving Harry to seek help at the end of the book:  "...friendship, and bravery and  oh Harry ..."  Hermione is in a hurry, so she doesn't add "kindness", and "generosity" to that list, but I think it could be included in her "and " that precedes "oh Harry."

The friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione is the heart of this book. Notably, the three of them are kind to Neville, in particular, when they could as easily ridicule and ostracize his social awkwardness and ineptitude. It is kindness, too, that sends Harry and Ron to rescue Hermione from the troll, when they haven't particularly liked her up until that point. And Harry, who has been emotionally and physically deprived by the Dursleys, is generous in sharing what he has, both in terms of time and energy, but including giving his last chocolate frog to a distressed Neville.

Harry, Ron, Hermione

There weren't many listening moments when I felt my suspension of disbelief tested and I think the main instance (which I don't recall having struck me at all when first reading the book) was Harry and Hermione leaving the invisibility cloak on the top of the tower. "Yeah," I thought, "that's definitely a 'nah' for me..." I found it hard to believe that something as valued and vital as the invisibility cloak, together with the consequences of being caught, could allow it to be so easily forgotten.

Dudley Dursley
Also, although Dudley Dursley is essentially a 'broadbrush' take on a boy who is spoiled and encouraged to be selfish, greedy, mean-spirited and cruel, one of his most significant negative attributes in the story is that he is fat. Personally, I have known several overweight and even very large people who are kind, generous, intelligent, witty, and as morally courageous (in their "muggle" ways, of course) as Harry, Ron, and Hermione. So, children's book or not — or perhaps because it is a children's book  it struck me that equating weight with qualities of character was unfortunate.

In terms of other moments of difficulty, these were not with the story itself but with the adult reflections it sparked. I say "adult" deliberately because of course Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a story written for children. So in that sense, the Dursleys' absurdity works, not least in that it softens the extent of their cruelty to Harry. Yet having recently heard of the specific case of a foster child who was subjected to a very similar from of emotional and physical deprivation as Harry in the early chapters of Sorcerer's Stone, as well as the terrible emotional and psychological effects on this very young individual, I found myself very conscious of our everyday world's realities while listening. I wished, too, that such instances might be confined to the pages of children's literature, with a Hagrid always there to ride to the rescue and the safety of a Hogwarts waiting, only Platform 9 3/4 and a ride on the Hogwarts Express away.

To return, though, to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, overall I thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering it through the medium of audio books and may well listen to The Chamber of Secrets very soon...

* In the UK, and also in Australia and New Zealand (where I live) the book was published as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone drawing on the medieval tradition of a stone that could turn base metals into gold, i.e. alchemy. In the Middle Ages, and in fact well into the Renaissance and pre-Industrial eras, alchemy, like astrology, was considered a proper field of inquiry for philosophers. 

Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is Helen's most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we

Monday, July 16, 2018

S'up with the Sup Authors

Woman Warrior With Tiger by James Britto
Hi Everyone,

For my post this month, I wanted to do a bit of an update on all of us Sup authors to give you an idea of what's next for some of us, as well as a taste of the writer's life. There's a bit of diversity, but I confess, the first three words that came out of all our author's mouths when asked what they were up to was, "Writing. Writing. Writing."

Let's start with Amanda Arista

Amanda is currently working on a new Paranormal Mystery series and teaching creative writing through SMU. She is currently experimenting with new writing and life practices through her series on the blog called #2018YearOfTheNew.

You can chat with her on Twitter @Panterista and the Supernatural Blog on the 3rd of the month.

On to Helen Lowe

One thing I can tell you about Helen is, she's insanely busy, so much so, we should whisper when we speak her name, so as not to disturb. 

For example, she's working tirelessly on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series, and as any series writer will tell you, by the time you are on to number four, there are so many loose ends to tie up, so much history and worldbuilding to keep in place, and so many characters that all want to be the star of the final scene that it takes incredible focus and concentrations. 

Helen is also a conservationist, recently saving more than 1500 trees in New Zealand from destruction, including a 160-year-old weeping elm. She's also a poet and academic, writing posts regularly for her “…on Anything, Really” blog, and here at the Sup on the first of every month. You can chat her up on Twitter -  @helenl0we

Terri Garey's News

We're going to hear a lot more from Terri soon, but in her own words, she's ecstatic. Here's why: 

"I finally got the rights back to most of my books, and have some gorgeous new covers to share! Here's an example.

I’m actually REALLY excited by these covers, as they’re what I envisioned all along, and what gives the “Nicki Styx” series a consistency that the old covers never had."

"Healthwise, Terri's faced some challenges out of the blue and handled them with grace and wisdom:

I know it seems like I dropped off the face of the earth the last couple of years, but I’ve had multiple eye surgeries (including a detached retina), moved, and done a bit of traveling. Almost losing sight in one eye made me much more eager to get out from behind the computer and see more of the world!"

Here's her Amazon page where you can check them all out as they become available.  You can also follow her updates on Twitter  -  @TerriGarey

T. Frohock's Happenings

T.'s been busy as well!

In her recent update she said, "Last year, Harper Voyager purchased three novels in my Los Nefilim series. The first novel, WHERE OBLIVION LIVES, will be published in February 2019. 

The cover art just blew me away. It captures the surreal effect of Diago's nightmares, which are an on-going theme in the story. The striking imagery encompasses angels and broken nefilim and the dark sounds that follow them all.

I've been so MIA from the Supernatural Underground and not by choice. Between my full-time job and working on the novels, I've simply been pushed to the max in terms of time. I'm hoping to be back around soon with more posts. 

If you want to keep up with me, the best place is on Twitter,
@T_Frohock  or at my Blog."  Look's like T's also the 2018 Pitch Wars as a mentor! One busy Sup writer. 

News from Merrie Destefano

When I caught up with Merrie, she said:

"On July 21st, I'll be speaking on a panel at Comic-Con International about my self-published novel, Shade: The Complete Trilogy. Afterwards, I'll be signing books. Info about the panel is below and I hope to see y'all there! 

This upcoming Halloween, there will be an international celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. And with that comes a plethora of books and movies rejoicing this occasion. At this panel, listen to authors talk about the influence that Mary Shelley's writing had on their works and why people still obsess over Frankenstein. And watch as they talk about the monsters that never die in their own novels. 

Good luck sleeping that night! Panellists include me (Merrie Destefano - Shade series), Leslie S. Klinger (The New Annotated Frankenstein), Jonathan Maberry (Glimpse, V-Wars), Kiersten White (Bright We Burn and The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein), and Carrie Sessarego of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books."

Follow Merrie's adventures on @MerrieDestefano. Very Exciting!

And Finally, Moi?

Sin - named for the Sumerian Moon God
I'll be brief because, oh yea, #amwriting to a #deadline! 

You already know about the crazy-ass editing I'm doing right now, and the shift in Entangled's release date for The Bone Throwers

Yes, still changing the series over form 3rd person to 1st. I'm on page 410 of book two of three, so that's progress. ETD to my editor - October 2018. 

It's yoga, winter gardening and cat-walks in between hours of intensive work. I like to mix it up, to stay sane. Also, loving the keto diet (basically no sugar, grains or processed foods) so that's a great support too.

And, it's probably old news that the Amassia
Ra - named for the Egyptian Sun god
 series is under a pen name, AK Wilder. This story world is a collaboration after all so, A for Aaron, K for Kim and Wilder for our California family, one of the first settlers in Santa Cruz, my original home and heart.

You can keep tabs on the AK Wilder pages, or mail me, follow AK Wilder on Twitter and if you like cats, digital art, astrology and organic gardens, follow my @a.k.wilder on Instagram.  My two cat boys, Sin and Ra, feature heavily. :)

Now it's your turn. Let us know what you're up to, reading, eating, thinking, doing. We're all ears!

* * *

Kim Falconer's latest novel is out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel.

Kim also runs where she teaches the law of attraction and astrology. 

Kim posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month, hosts Save the Day Writer's Community on FB and posts a daily astrology weather report on Facebook. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Checking things off the list

2018 Year of the New: Eliminate My To-Watch list.

I can't believe its July. I'm just not ready. I have so many things to do.

Though May was a great month where I accomplished most of my writing goals, June sort of, well, sucked.  Not going to sugarcoat it. June was a wickedly horrible mental health month confounded by migraines, tension, illness, and a birthday to just make sure and hammer in that I am mortal. Fun Times.

So for July, I'm going to focus on something I know that I have talked about before and I know will get me on the straight and narrow: feeding my muse. Though most writers don't really believe in a muse, I do. I believe there is a creative spirit  in the back of my head that is responsible for inspiration, and sometimes, she gets pissed at me and scampers off to go play with the wood nymphs that live in the backyard. 

To lure her back and take a bit of a rest, this month I'm going to focus on watching movies, documentaries, and TV series that I promised myself I was going to watch. Things that sparked my interest, things someone recommend, things that won awards for best screenplay, or were just on a list as the best horror movies on Netflix.

I have a lot of lists in my life. To-Do lists, grocery lists, honey-do lists, goals lists, edits lists, scene checklists, and some days I feel that I honestly will never accomplish any of those things on any of my lists. The guilt that comes along with all those lists is like a wet blanket on any creativity. I've been told that I need to stop "should"-ing on myself, but I can't help it.

To help out myself and my Netflix account, I'm going to start wading through the NEW programs that I have saved and try not to just listen to the same things over and over again (I'm looking at you DAREDEVIL). Watching things that I might not normally gravitate toward just to shake things up a bit.

A few currently in the queue are:

Set it Up-(movie) a rom-com about two people who fall in love after setting up their bosses. Who doesn't like a strong rom-com?
Queen of the South- (TV Show)  a female takes over a drug ring. Strong women, hello?
The Keepers-(documentary)  a nun takes on a priest accused of abuse.
Black Mirror- (Season 4) sci-fi tales of morality that have won several awards for writing
Coffee for All- (documentary) about free coffee around the world. Strong coffee, hello?
Ugly Delicious- (TV Show/Documentary) about a man who just loves food.

I feel like just knocking a few of these titles off my list will help feed the muse. And once she is feed, she will begin to question the world again, wonder about everything, and in that wonder is where the stories live, in the spaces between.

Those I suspect I might also need to NOT turn into a couch potato, so I'll be employing a few of these as well.

Please let me know if there is something that you found fascinating and I'll be tweeting away about what I thought of my a-muse-ing treats.

Thank you, gentle readers, and Carry On.

Amanda Arista

Sunday, July 1, 2018

'Here Be Dragons' — Sailing Off The Edge Of The Map

"Here Be Dragons";
art by Antonio Javier Caparo
Last month, Kim Falconer gave us a wonderful post on the origins of dragons, including how our innate terrors may have been one driver for the presence of dragons in myth and legend.

Kim mentioned several other great reasons for the power of dragons over our imaginations. However, I've found myself returning to the association with fear, but also with awe and danger, that is encapsulated by the phrase "Here Be Dragons."

These three potent words appeared (in Latin: Hic sunt dracones) reputedly on a 16th century globe (the Hunt-Lenox Globe ca. 1510), and have since become a popular catchphrase for those regions where a mapmaker's knowledge runs out.

From The New York Public Library: Hunt-Lenox Globe

In this sense, the phrase was a synonym for the unknown and all the potential dangers that went with it—when exploration meant navigating perilous oceans in small and fragile vessels. For a very long time, too—until the last 250 years, in fact—such voyages were made without any accurate means of measuring longitude. On land, travel also meant going beyond the known, not only in terms of terrain but also of people, language, customs and cultures.

A tale of Shangri La
Yet the payoff for the dangers and fears that went with venturing the unknown was the hope of wonders: whether encountering dragons, discovering the fabled city of El Dorado, or happening upon a Shangri La of the Ever Young. For when the voyager passes the edge of the mapmaker's knowledge, she sails the ship of adventure into territory that is confined only by imagination...

The territory of dragons, indeed—but also of Fantasy fiction, both in Children's and Adult literature.

As early as the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, from Greek myth, the heroes sail to the mysterious land of Colchis to recover a magical golden fleece, which is guarded by a dragon.

In CS Lewis's children's classic,  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the ship sailing to the world's end has a prow that is carved (rightly we feel) into the shape of a dragon.

Perhaps more than any other author, Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea novels capture the sense that isolated and unknown terrain, 'beyond the known world', is the territory of dragons. These are powerful, awe-inspiring, but also frightening beings such as Orm Embar and Kalessin.

Such tales are not restricted to children's literature, however. Robin Hobb's Liveship Trader series (Ship of MagicThe Mad ShipShip of Destiny) involves voyages to unknown and dangerous waters—inhabited by sea serpents that have their own connection to dragons. Although the most perilous terrain of all of may be the hearts and minds of the protagonists...

In Guy Gavriel Kay's The Wandering Fire, the ship Prydwen is almost destroyed by the giant sea serpent called Soulmonger—an unknown peril lurking in the deep ocean.

Sometimes the boundaries that must be crossed and the dangers encountered are more metaphysical in form. For example, in Elizabeth Knox's Dream duology (Dreamhunter and Dreamquake), the dreamhunters must pass a mystical border to capture and bring back dreams. Yet not all the hunters survive and not all the captured dreams are benign...

At one time, too, the words for 'dragon' and 'demon' were close to synonymous. Courtney Schafer captures this overlap in Labyrinth of Flame (Shattered Sigil #3). Here, the remote deserts are inhabited not only by physical dangers and unfamiliar peoples, but the working of magic has intersected the unknown power and danger of demons.

These are only a very few examples and I'm sure you can point to many more. But as on the Hunt-Lenox Globe, so too in Fantasy fiction: when the protagonist and reader sail off the edge of the map together, they enter the territory of 'dragons', where fear, awe, and danger; treasure, wonders, and magic, may—and almost certainly will—all be encountered.

Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is Helen's most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Origins of Dragons

A dragon statue in Ljubljana, Slovenia (Wikicommons)
I can't leave the theme of mythical creatures and paranormal others behind without discussing the bedrock of some of the best fantasy series ever written -- enter the dragon!

From Tolkien's Smaug the Calamitous to McCaffery's Mnementh, a bronze dragon in the Benden Weyr, Eon's mirror dragon to the Hungarian Horntail faced by Harry Potter, some of the best stories feature the mythologies and histories of dragons. 

Friend or foe, dragons are usually ancient, sentient and wise, but also dangerous, a deadly beast of enormous strength and power. Some have a penchant for gold or young maidens, others a telepathic link to a bond mate or extraordinary powers of luck. No matter the role they play, you have to wonder where in the world they all came from. 

I mean, what corner of our ancestors' minds created dragons? Or, were they once real?

The Archetypes

According to Jung, the notion of dragons is archetypal, ie. it appears in all places, all peoples, and all times.  

Archaeopteryx fossils
For example, we have the European dragon, derived from folk traditions that filtered down from Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies. Then there's the Chinese dragon, with counterparts in Japan, Korea and other East Asian countries. 

Of course, the Americas have their feathered, winged serpents, Australia the Rainbow Serpent. Dragons of Africa include the Great Healing Serpent Masingi to the dangerous Wadjet, who ate the souls of the unjust. It's hard to imagine every culture in the world thinking up these creatures long before there was any kind of trade, exchange or internet to share ideas.

The Theories

One theory behind the global myth of dragons is based on dinosaur remains. If an ancient shaman or storyteller came upon the fossil of, say Qijianglong, they could have understandably mistaken them for dragon bones. 

Another theory, detailed in the book An Instinct for Dragons, by anthropologist David E. Jones, states evolution "embedded an innate fear of predators in the human mind." Just as monkeys exhibit a fear of snakes and large cats, Jones thinks that fearing large predators—such as pythons, birds of prey and elephants—has been selected for in hominids." 

"These universal fears have been frequently combined in folklore and created the myth of the dragon. "

Maybe, but that doesn't explain why many stories, especially from the Eastern myths, are of dragon companions, dragons as healers, or the luck and benevolence one receives from befriending one.

Our stories

Whatever the origins, dragon stories are some of our richest in the speculative fiction genre, including films like How to Train Your Dragon to Game of Thrones, and many other narratives we know and love.

Do you have a favorite dragon story? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. I think mine has to be The Dragonriders of Pern

* * *

Kim Falconer's latest release comes out in 2019 - The Bone Throwers, book one in the Amassia series, writing as A K Wilder. Find her new page on Facebook - AKWilder Author and on Twitter as AKWilder.

Her latest novel is out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel.

Learn more about Kim on Facebook and chat with her on Twitter. Check out her pen name, @a.k.wilder on Instagram, or visitAKWilder on FB and website.

Kim also runs where she teaches the law of attraction and astrology. 

Kim posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month, hosts Save the Day Writer's Community on FB and posts a daily astrology weather report on Facebook.