Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Art of Inspiration

René Magritte’s painting, The Empire of Lights) was the inspiration for William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) movie including the famous scene in the film where Father Merrin first appears outside of possessed Regan MacNeil's home.
As an author, I'm often asked, where do you get your ideas? It's a common interview question and I think the most honest answer, for me, is EVERYWHERE.

Ideas are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the colors we see, the sounds we hear, the textures we feel whether they warm or chill. Everything contains a kernel of inspiration, a spark that can contribute to a scene, a character, a twist in the plot.

One of the most visual inspirations is through art. In a painting, there is a story, and translating that story into words is pure magic. In this sense, art is the inspiration.

The Siren by John Waterhouse

A new series I'm writing under AK Wilder, for example, came to life at the behest of John Waterhouse's The Siren. It has also given rise to a paranormal romance novella, Blood and Water and an urban fantasy novel, The Blood in the Beginning.

Can you feel the inspiration coming from these paintings?

Mona Lisa by Leonardo Di Vinci 
Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code is powerfully plot driven, the main character being the Mona Lisa. Film or book - which brought the art to life the most for you?

The Blue Scarf by Tamara de Lempicka
The Last Nude by Ellis Avery found inspiration in Tamara de Lempicka's life and art. It's a story of a struggling American, Rafaela Fano, who avoiding the path to prostitution by agreeing to model for an artist... the results are as sultry as Lempicka’s Jazz Age paintings.

John Singer Sargent’s Madame X
The novel, I am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto. brings to life the image by John Singer Sargent in a way the painting, in its time, could not. Unveiled in Paris in 1884, it met with shock and ridicule for being too provocative, too risque. The book, in 2003, met with no such objection.

Vermeer's View of Delft

Finally, in Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, the elderly writer, Bergotte, visits a Dutch art exhibit and, while gazing at a detail of Vermeer's View of Delft, drops dead.

Many critics search for what it is in the painting that killed Bergotte and triggered his final thoughts in the book.

I love how these pieces of art morph into a character in the story, answering questions as well as asking new ones.

If you have a favourite book born of a work of art, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

* * * 

Kim Falconer's New YA Fantasy Series is out in 2019 - The Bone Throwers. 

Also, check her urban fantasy out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel and the SFF Quantum Enchantment Series

You can find Kim on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

High Fives from Amanda: Reasons to find your Peoples

This year has not really been any better than the trash fire that was 2018. I looked up and it was March.

Like I missed the first two months of 2019 with my head still spinning, my desk still unorganized, and resolutions... forget it. I did manage to nearly finish a new book in the last two months, but its still unfinished, unlike that box of girl scout cookies I was supposed to share with my family. 

So I thought this year, 2019, we might just keep it short and sweet. As Helen is working through her Year of Romance, I'm going to work through a year of High Fives from Amanda, a short and sweet series of Top Five lists from yours truly. 

Five reasons you need to find a writing group. 
5. Writing has its own language. How many other hobbies really talk about the dark night of the soul on a regular basis? Other writers speak the language and you won't have to explain yourself to your significant other. Again. I've always thought people talking about football was like listening to the Droids from Star Wars, but some people get it. So its important to find your droids. 

4. Writing is a strange hobby. Other writers get it. They understand the carpal tunnel and the caffeine addition that you do to yourself willingly because you have this strange drive inside. Most importantly, they understand what happens when you don't write. When writer's block hits. They've hit the highs and the lows and they will have your back. They will laugh with you and cry with you and celebrate with you. 
Look at the #WritersCommunity hastag on Twitter.

3. Some will have already been there, gotten the tee-shirt, and its already in the cleaning rags pile. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, you just have to get it on your cart. When you find a group, sharing experiences and problems and resources becomes natural- you join a flow of information that you too can add to with your own experiences. 
"You're having a character problem- have you heard of this book?"  
"You're dialogue sequels aren't popping-- try this exercise." 
Mi shelf of writing books es tu shelf of writing books. 

2. Importantly, finding a group is a face-to-face, screaming reminder of hope that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. So many times growing up, I thought I would never find anyone like me, and when I did, I was so much more confident in all aspects of my life. This part of me wasn't wired wrong. There are other weirdly wired people too. 


1. You might just get lucky enough to find a wonderfully supportive group like the ladies here at the Supernatural Underground blog who have literally been with be since the moment I launched my book and who continue to inspire me. I'm talking about you: Merrie and Terri and Helen and Kim. Stina and Rachel and T. Frohock too! 

Now most of these can also go for a sewing group, or a model rocket group, or a scuba diving group, but you need to find others who share your interests, your drives, your passions.  

If you have a Top Five list you'd like me to cultivate, please let me know in the comments below or at @pantherista. 

In the meantime, give yourself a high five!

Amanda Arista

Friday, March 1, 2019

Romance in Fantasy Fiction: "The Lord Of The Rings" Effect

In last month's post, I promised that 2019 would be my Year of Romance (#YOR) in Fantasy fiction (#RIFF).

To begin, though, I 'm going to feature what is in many ways the least romantic story in Fantasy, The Lord Of The Rings (LoTR) by JRR Tolkien.

The reason I want to start with LoTR is because it's so hugely influential, particularly in the epic fantasy subgenre. And yet it's also a story in which romance is almost entirely missing-in-action—a trend that has come to characterize the epic fantasy subgenre as a whole.

(Although  recent years have seen a shift in this respect, with books like NK Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms having a strong romantic element.)

For a long time, though, epic fantasy has been the purview of major world events, conflict, and war—a trifecta in which love and romance haven't had much of a look in.

At least in part, I believe this is because LoTR is the yardstick against which subsequent epic fantasy has been measured. If you read on, I believe you may see why. :-)

Aragorn and Arwen: Love As Loss
contains three "main" romances, although only one (Eowyn and Faramir) is in any way integral to the story. Arguably, it's not the most important relationship, though. That is, or "should" be the love between Aragorn, the leader of an old, lost kingdom in the north of the world, and also heir to the throne of Gondor, in the south.

Aragorn in the LoTR films
Arwen is an Elven princess and immortal, but if they marry she must lose her immortality. It's never quite clear why this "must" be so, but it certainly adds up to love as doom, and sacrifice, for Arwen. They can't marry, though, until the great evil, Sauron, is defeated and Aragorn becomes King in Gondor. So there are certainly strong elements of "star-crossed love", although they do win through to their "happy ever after."

Or so you think, if you don't delve into the Appendices. If you do, however, you'll realize that mortality ends up being a bitter cup for Arwen, one she must drink to the lees, ending up living alone long after Aragorn has died and all her kindred have gone. Of course, this will only matter if, as a reader, you care about Arwen.

Arwen in the LoTR films
But why should you care about Arwen? Because here's the thing: if you rely on the book itself and not the appendices, the love between Aragorn and Arwen comes as a complete surprise at the end of the third book. It did for me anyway, when suddenly at the end of everything Arwen arrives, and she and Aragorn are getting married because they've had this great and amazing love story going on...

Except that the great and amazing love story has been signaled by pretty much two prior incidents: in Book One (The Fellowship Of the Ring) when the hobbit, Frodo, sees Aragorn standing by Arwen's chair in the elvish community of Rivendell; and at the beginning of Book Three (The Return Of The King) when the northern rangers bring Aragorn a banner that Arwen has made for him.

Arwen & Aragorn: the film ending
I think I may be forgiven for not adding those two incidents together into the great love story of their age. (Just sayin')

And the subtext, particularly when reading the appendices, is that love between a man and a woman, and particularly its consummation, exacts a high price, including considerable loss and grief, for the woman.

The most intriguing thing about the romance between Aragorn and Arwen, though, is it's absence from the story, when (again) arguably romance, love, and relationship are central to the human condition.

Eowyn and Aragorn;  Eowyn and Faramir: The Schoolgirl Crush and Love As Consolation Prize
Eowyn - not a bit part
Unlike Arwen, Eowyn is unquestionably a major character in the story, really the only female character who gets major page time. (Although a case could be made for Galadriel in terms of quality if not quantity of page time.) As the lone female character-of-significance the main romantic elements in the story also center on Eowyn.

Eowyn & Faramir
In the first instance she has the equivalent of a schoolgirl crush on Aragorn, a love that is definitely not requited. Later, toward the end of the third book, Eowyn and Faramir fall in love, in what is truly the only romantic episode in the book.

In the book, too, their romance comes across as a love between equals, and as Faramir has been established as a cool character in his own right, their romance does not feel like a "consolation prize" for Eowyn. In the film, however, possibly because so much of the story was truncated and also because the character of Faramir was not so well developed, it did feel a little "consolation prize"-ish.

So, the schoolgirl crush and unrequited love for our heroine, but a truer and more equal love at the end—so there is some romantic light, just a little, at the end of the LoTR tunnel. ;-)

Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton: The Boy and Girl Next Door and Happy Ever After
Sam Gamgee on the Ring quest
Lastly, we have Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton, who if not quite childhood sweethearts are definitely the (farm)boy and (farm)gal next door. Is it romantic, though? Sam, after all, heads off (seemingly) without a backward look in support of "Master Frodo" and to see elves and face equally great dangers and wonders.

At the end, he returns to the Shire, and Rosie to the pages of the book, so they can finally get married and live happily ever after. Arguably, Rosie has remained steadfast in his absence, although we, as readers, don't actually know this.

Sam & Rosie: the happy return
After all, we could equally well assume that no one better has come along in the meantime, since Sam's absence has been a longish one... (Although as Anne of Green Gables would say, that is seeing the world as prose rather than poetry. ;-) )

Suffice it to say that Sam and Rosie seem to see the matter in poetry, rather than prose, and get married and—as in inferred in the book and recorded in the Appendices—live long and happily ever after.

Aragorn and Arwen, Eowyn and Faramir, Sam and Rosie: unarguably, love makes an appearance in The Lord Of The Rings. And Eowyn and Faramir's story does qualify as a romantic episode. Yet given the importance of The Lord Of The Rings in shaping contemporary epic fantasy, I believe it's not surprising that until very recently epic was perceived as a subgenre that eschewed romance.

Given its importance to Fantasy literature overall, and also because I am currently writing an epic fantasy series myself, I felt The Lord Of The Rings effect should not be overlooked in my Year of Romance in Fantasy. Next month, though, I'll try and pick a book where love is far closer to the core of what makes the story tick.

Until then, read on with a #RIFF and a #YOR in your year. :-)


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