Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Delays, delays... Always delays!

Just a quick announcement post to say that I will be posting the rest of the Curse of the Spider King chapter by chapter commentary sometime around February. Sorry about that, If I get done before then I will post it early.

Edit: I guess not. I may not get to it. My apologies.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour Day 3 - Curse of the Spider King - Chapter by Chapter Analysis Part One of Four



Curse of the Spider King: CSFF Blog Tour Day 3:

A Chapter by Chapter analysis, part one of four.

First: WARNING: Spoilers abound galore below and I will not be noting them past this warning.

Also, these are my own thoughts about the book, this isn't an interview, and not a review so much as a log of my thoughts as I read through the book. I'm probably way off target on a lot of what Christopher and Wayne really meant, but that's part of the magic of books, they teach us things, sometimes even the author doesn't know about or wasn't intending.

Chapter One: Eight Hundred Year Echoes

Jumping right into the action, the first thing we encounter is a mystery, a supernatural mystery. Questions arise: Who and what are these characters we meet. Brynn and Elle, concealed in the trees? Why are they hiding? What are they hiding from? What a fantastic beginning. We are introduced to the fact that there is an enemy. We learn that something is taking place in an unseen world and the Earth. This chapter, about four pages in length is full of many introductions to new characters and places, and yet is not overcrowded, it has just enough familiarity that you don't feel completely lost, and enough new ideas to catch your interest. We are presented not only with the introduction, but also with the fact that there is a conflict, not only in the story, but as part of the story. This is to be expected, this is a tale that follows the familiar good verses evil conflict plot after all, most stories talk about fall and redemption, good verses evil, and what happens in between in some form or another.

We are told of a portal. The supernatural brought right up front. This is a clue, something is not normal, this is the first clue we receive that we are reading a story that goes deeper then what meets the eye. We get a taste of the fact that there are actually horrors. We are told of a knowing enemy. But as of yet he is kept out of the picture, this fact alone brings just a small amount of fear into this very first chapter.

Personally, I feel this is a great introduction to the rest of the book. We are told most of the major plot points that we are we will be encountering later, a lot of little clues in this short chapter, yet there is more mystery then revelation.

Chapter Two: A Surprise Gift

After a quick introduction for Tommy Bowman, not sure if Tommy or Thomas means anything, but the Bowman is a nice reference to what we later find out is young Mr. Bowman's gift. A little clue of what we see later on. We discover that part of our story takes place in an environment we are perhaps more familiar with then the first chapter, a middle school.

And then comes the horror. A mysterious figure arrives in a black sports car, young Mr. Bowman at first curious about this sports car feels a fear. We're starting to get a taste of the more freaky side of the book. The familiar made scary. This is horrifying. To see something ordinary, in this case what looks to be something cool, a classmate in a sports car, turns quickly into something horrifying.

We find more clues here, but we also find how Tommy Bowman thinks of himself. He is an ordinary kid who can't really do much of anything, has no particularly wonderful qualities about him. Ahem, Tommy is a Hobbit. Not in the literal sense perhaps, but in the sense of being the weak, and the foolish that confounds the wise. He's even got the curly hair. When I see Mrs. Galdarro telling him he's got talent, I'm a little reminded of Gandalf's selection of Bilbo Baggins for the position of burgerler.

And then after more introducing of the characters, including two new ones. Mrs. Galdarro and Mr. Charlie, we find a clue skittering across the floor. A little clue perhaps, but an important one. The subtle placing of a spider running across the floor. It may not be Hogwarts castle, but Tommy is still wandering around darkened corridors, and creeping things are present.

Not only that but the school is described as having a feel like “My grandma's house” as well, so here we have that which was at first creepy, turning into something familiar. Several more hints and clues are planted throughout the next pages as Tommy converses with Mrs. Galdarro and Mr. Charlie.

All the while, there is a terror lurking just beyond the walls, as the familiar again becomes horrifying.

Chapter Three: Blue Girl

Here we meet another of our main characters, Kat Simonson. A couple of things are immediately noticeable about young Kat Simonson. The first is that she's blue, as in the color, and she's incidentally, blue, as in depressed about it. Kat, otherwise, seems very like the common teenager. But, I love the themes that start to come up in this chapter. Difficulties with feeling accepted, dealing with prejudice, feeling distant, even from those you love. Dealing with fair-weather friends, and dealing with a blessing disguised as an illness.

There is a lot I like about this chapter, on the first two pages we introduced to the same problems that real people face. I think, not for Kat's sake, that this is great. Here we see one of my favorite aspects of books: They allow us to face our fears, hopes, dreams, losses, and heartaches in a relatively safe environment. Whether we like it or not, life is full of these exact things.

Our first scene presents us with the difficulties Kat and her mother have with feeling distant from each other. It's not at all uncommon that children feel a distance between them and one or both of their parents. Yet this isn't written to have Kat be a rebellious child. I like it, it's not the typical portrayal of distance, and I think it's far more believable and powerful for it.

The issues go on, Kat has incredibly deep feelings of being a disappointment. That she wasn't the child her parents really wanted.

Really, for the entire length of the chapter, we are given this beautiful picture of what real people face. And yet, everyone has their humanity. The parents are not made out to be clueless villains, and Kat, though distant from them, nevertheless does love them.

These things, having faced some of these issues myself, made Kat one of the characters I most strongly relate to. We get a very good glimpse of her personality and character, and it's believable.

A slightly humorous story, when I first read about it I related to the fact that she was blue. Now I don't have the disease, but several years ago I started turning blue, all over my body my skin was blue. This had gone on for about a week before we discovered the culprit: The dye in the sheets we had bought the week before was turning me blue. This was when I first heard of the disease, for my mother of course was concerned that I had it. I didn't and still don't but, I have been blue before.

Chapter Four: Manifest Destiny

We continue to follow Kat as she is now in her school. In many ways the themes of the last chapter are carried over into this one. Yet we see our first clue that the destinies of Tommy Bowman and Kat Simonson are in some mysterious way entwined. The silent and mysterious horror that has been slowly creeping up on us arrives on the scene. We then meet Mr. Charles Wallace. I enjoy the name choice, Madiline L'engle readers could probably tell you about young Charles Wallace Murry. The intelligent young lad that is one of the main characters in her 'Time' books. When I saw the name, a flag immediately went up pointing to L'engle.

Then we start to see the barriers broken down, two worlds colliding into one. And while this seems to be in once sense or another rather common in literature, we see here that the strange, the supernatural, and the unusual are again marching right into the normal mundane world of Kat. Some call it magic, others special ability, others an art. It doesn't matter, this is the essence of fantasy fiction, the breaking down the barriers of the mundane and revealing a world of wonder. J. R. R. Tolkien in his essay On Fairy-stories tells us: “The magic of Faërie is not an end in itself, its virtue is in its operations: among these are the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires...” For more on that listen to This Podcast 1 hour and 10 minutes into the show, Tolkien Scholor Amy H Sturgis talks about When Harry Met Faerie: The Tolkien Solution to the Rowling Problem. An excellent talk, (Be aware however, that the retaining of the language in a quote or two could prove offensive to some.) that goes into far greater detail then what I'm about to. But in Tolkien's essay he tells us that fairy-stories offer us: Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, and Consolation. Again, listen to the podcast to learn about that or read his essay, but I bring all that up to say that Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper bring into their story this remarkable quality called fantasy. They've opened a door for us, and Kat, to step through, a door through which we find recovery, escape, and consolation.

And it's both frightening and wonderfully transforming.

Chapter Five: Red Dusk

We are now back with Tommy Bowman, and in a sense he is about to encounter Faërie, as we are, in one of the most brilliant characters in the story, I call it a character rather then object as we discover that this book behaves in a peculiar way, almost as if it is a living book, or at least has a consciousness. For instance, when Human's view it, it has completely different contents then when an Elf views it.

But that's not why it's brilliant, it is brilliant because here is a story of a book, within our own book. In many ways it is a self-commentary on the reading of books. That's brilliant!

As I said a moment ago, the book Tommy Bowman is reading is not an ordinary book, it is a gateway to Faërie in one sense, but in the most real way possible. It is a larger then real reality that Tommy encounters when he touches the pages of this book. So too it is like that for us when we read. This commentary within, is an instruction manual for reading, it tells us what it is that stories do for us, it tells us how it is that stories transform us, change us, immerse us. It's a book within a book. This book is a history book, but more then that it is a teacher, like a person, like a character. So it is with any book of any real value, it will transform the reader, it will change them. Storytelling is very powerful, and yet, in a sense it has a sense of safety to it. At any time we can close the book. But even if you don't close the book, chances are you won't desire to actually face an actual giant spider, but in the pages of the book you can experience it, an be transformed by it, and in many ways, that is determined by how immersed one is. So it is that young Mr. Bowman quite literally finds himself immersed inside the pages of a book, yet still has the power to close it. An excellent commentary on reading, and all done with an item within the story.

Within our book within a book we then move into an account of the attack on Berinfell, mostly introductory, but with a few hints at what is to come later, including the introduction of the wisp.

Chapter Six: The Fall of Berinfell

We are continuing our account of the fall of Berinfell, and with it we are introduced at last to our horror that is haunting our heroes. The Drefids, are for the first time mentioned in this chapter, and I believe they are rather frightening. Not only are they deadly, but they are deathly. It is their deathlyness rather then their deadliness that makes them truly frightening. The description of them: Shadowy figures, long white hair, burning embers in otherwise empty sockets. They remind me very much of something dead. The description continues to describe knife blades extended from bony knuckles. That's rather frightening too.

We also find out in the beginning of this chapter what exactly a wisp does. Can you think of something more frightening then that?

This chapter is one of the darker chapters in the book, the grim scene in the throne room, death staring our heroes in the face, death of their comrades, death of their friends, of their Lords. So much loss in just a moment in time. And defeat. The lost of life, love, and land, in an instant, gone.

I often wonder if there is any torment greater then love lost, I can only imagine what the remaining Elves are feeling like. And these Elves, each of them so old, a broken history, it's gone. This is one of those chapters where it is extremely difficult to imagine the agony of those left behind. To lose someone tragically, I believe that the survivors must be feeling crushed.

At the very end of this chapter we return to Tommy's viewpoint, as he closed our book within a book.

One more thought on this strange book, it is not only like a book within a book, it is rather like a book that is for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. This book, is perhaps one of the more fascinating aspects of Curse of the Spider King.

Chapter Seven: Curious Customers

All new characters, all new location. Depauville, New York. Interesting location, for Christopher Hopper happens to live around or in Depauville, New York. Good choice!

Here we meet two new characters, Johnny and Autumn Briarman. (Good names, I've always liked Autumn as a name.) They are a brother and sister, and they act like it. These two are a rather interesting pair. And, in beginning of this chapter they encounter two things: A book shop, and a sense of humor. Avoiding books as if reading was a disease they might contract, what should these two encounter but a bookstore. As for the sense of humor, I love it. “A Likely Story Book Shoppe.”

In case you're wondering I don't think it was the books that had them visiting the book shop. It was the sign in the window. “Prize”.

In a sense this reminds me of how I began to love to read. Never a big reader growing up. Then like entering this marvelous bookshop I watched The Lord of the Rings movies. And as my hunger for more of Middle-Earth quickly outgrew the movies, I had to get a hold of the book. It was the same year I discovered Harry Potter and Narnia. Three marvelous books that totally immersed me in the worlds of Middle-Earth, Hogwarts, and Narnia. Like a spark that lights a fire. Drawn by the sign in the window, a movie, I found reading to be something I rather enjoy. And now I'm finding that the more I read, the more I want to read. Despite the fact that I read the books I already have multiple times. My Amazon.com wish list has become about 95% books. All because of a spark started by a good story told, in a movie, then being carried over into a book.

Again we are starting to see the approach of Faërie, that otherworldly aspect to the story, that greater reality shining through the existence of the visible world they're familiar with. Noticeably absent is the presence of a man in a trench coat. That horror aspect is currently missing from their realm, but still there is something going on that is more then what meets the eye. A nervousness hangs in the air, in a sense not only are the dangers and horrors perilous, but the wonderful things have a way of being perilous as well, but not in the same ways, it's more the peril of the decidedly dangerous Aslan. Dangerous, yes, but good. Gandalf and Gimli have a conversation in Fangorn Forest, Gandalf tells Gimli that he, that is Gandalf, is probably the most dangerous thing Gimli will ever encounter, unless he should be brought before the dark lord. In the Harry Potter books, who is the one that Lord Voldemort, whom most of the world fears to even say the name of, who is he afraid of? Albus Dumbledore, the school Headmaster. Lord Voldemort is terrified of Dumbledore. There is a great scene at the very end of the Goblet of Fire book where we see a glimpse of why this is so, Dumbledore is confronting The Minister for Magic with the truth, and Harry realizes then why Dumbledore is the one Wizard Voldemort ever feared. That is the wonderful peril. Whether it be Gandalf, Aslan, Dumbledore, or a bookshop, there is the wonderful peril. It's the peril The Fellowship finds upon entering Lothlórien, it terrifies Boromir, who at this point has a heart that is less then pure.

That is the peril that Johnny and Autumn are feeling. The sense of something great, or a hidden power, hiding just around the corner.

Once in the shop they encounter Nelly. Their encounter with Faërie has begun.

Speaking of Fangorn Forest, when Johnny says “I almost feel like I like the place.” and Nelly's response. “Almost feel like you like the bookstore.” then the description of her eye, then. “That's uncommonly kind of you.” reminds me of the encounter two young hobbits named Merry and Pippen had with the Faërie, those legends that seem to pop up out of the grown and walk under the light of the sun. The Ent Treebeard. I loved it, but then I am very fond of Hobbits.

The chapter ends with a new mystery unfolding, two actually. One, how is it that Nelly knows about them, and two, what could possibly be better then ice cream?

Chapter Eight: Geographical Anomaly

A hidden room, a strange painting, and and a mystery to be solved.

The room as it turns out is Nelly's private reading area. The mystery has yet to fully unfold, but we find another copy of the book, the book within a book, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. But in Johnny and Autumn's case, I think we are seeing, not so much those with eyes to see and ears to hear as those whose lives are being orchestrated for when they have eyes to see and ears to hear. They still have not quite encountered that which will change their lives forever. But, in time.

The conversation that follows is both humorous and believable. We are introduced to the character and personality of Autumn and Johnny. They argue a lot, true, but you can tell they don't really hate each other, they just have a loud relationship. Relationships are funny things, and in many ways every one is unique. We forget sometimes just how unique a person can be, and the strange ways that we can and do relate to each other. For Johnny and Autumn, it's sticking together like they've been glued, but arguing all the while.

Then, the world of Faërie comes crashing in. They open the book. And while they haven't quite touched the page yet, they recognize the illustration. Only Johnny, isn't quite ready for his encounter.

How very true, so often we encounter the wonderful, the mysterious, the beautiful, and we just let it pass on by, unnoticed, or barely noticed, or noticed and then ignored. Think about it, life, the fact that people are alive and breathing. That's wonderful, that's beautiful. Everyone you see out and about, they're beautiful, they're a living wonder. Yet how often are we quick to hurl insults or ignore them, both can be hurtful, to insult and to ignore. There is a world of wonder out there and we are blind to it.

The argument is brought to what my uncle would call “The Parental Unit”. The mom. After a quick and odd discussion about the book, Mrs. Briarman takes a look at it.

That's when we finally get a hint that something about this book is remarkable, and not just how it immerses the reader. It's more then that. This is the aspect that made me think of it as a character rather then an object. Mrs. Briarman sees it as Pioneers of the Western United States” by M. S. Ward, Esquire. That, incidentally is not at all what Johnny and Autumn see. For them it is The History of Berinfell, The Chronicles of the Elf Lords and Their Kin.

I enjoy this sense of mystery, this hiding of a larger story hidden just beneath the surface, and a book that seems to be aware of it's readers. Yet now, Autumn and Johnny are seeing the Western United States book, a very interesting book indeed.

I mentioned my uncle a moment ago. When Mrs. Briarman said that the cave in the woods was probably formed through erosion as glaciers receded, I immediately recalled the time I was riding in a car down in the Catskill mountains with my uncle, there was some sort of interesting geological feature and he told me about the glaciers. This somehow reminds me of my own childhood and the adventures my sister and I would go on with our aunt and uncle. That was the first time I'd ever heard about the glaciers. When you're a kid, picturing anything with that kind of power, doing that kind of thing, in your state, it is rather awe inspiring. Living in New York made Johnny and Autumn's sections of the book come alive in a personal sense as well.

The chapter ends with a bit of foreshadowing and a humorous note.

Chapter Nine: Lighting the Blue Beacons

We return now to Kat Simonson. Poor Miss Simonson is anxiously waiting. The dreaded “Please, see me after class.” question has come up, and it was directed to her.

And then there is the hearing voices, voices in her head. That is indeed frightening.

Her nervousness is more about the meeting with her teacher then the voices in her head at present, though the voices do come into play.

Then to her surprise he hands her a copy of the book, our peculiar, book within a book. Once again, we encounter the realm Faërie as it breaks through the hidden door into our very own realm. In many ways books are to us what this book is for Kat. Especially fantasy fiction. I mentioned how I came to have a love for reading, yet I can honestly say, that reading has changed me. I'm not the same person I was five years ago, and if I ask why, it is in large part, because of the books I read. Books can transform a person, they have a powerful ability to change the person who reads them. Knowing this I always have a bit of a nervousness myself right before I start reading a new book, I've had it happen before, most of the major changes in my thinking have been brought about by reading a book. When I read, it is entirely possible that when I finish reading that book, I'm not going to be the same person I was when I opened it. Fantasy, in particular is powerful for transforming the reader. Lord of the Rings changed me, when I finished with that, my view of life had become split into pre-Lord of the Rings and post-Lord of the Rings. The way I thought going into the book was not the way I thought coming out. Such changes have only strengthened and continued with each re-reading of Tolkien's masterpiece. Then along came young Harry Potter, the lost orphan child with no particular talent, except playing Quidditch, who nevertheless becomes the hero who saves his world from the evil Lord Voldemort. And with Edmund Pevensie, the traitor turned king, and with Eustace Scrubb, the boy turned dragon turned hero. Each time these are the stories that transform me.

In that sense, there are books in our own world that are rather like this book within The Curse of the Spider King.

However, with the power books have to transform, like with most things, that can be for good or for evil, books can be dangerous, not only can they transform us in a positive way, but they can corrupt our thinking. The last few hundred years we've seen the rise of various philosophies, philosophies that have arisen from books. That is one way that we have seen the more dangerous side of books. I mention that, and it is important to keep in mind. I once read an article or a book chapter, years ago, I believe it was by scholar John Granger that talked about Harry Potter's book within a book, this one is of the evil kind, Tom Riddle's Diary. Indeed it transforms, and almost destroys those who read it. Rowling herself warns, comically, of the dangers of books in the book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Thankfully, near as I can tell at least, the book that Kat has is not the evil kind. She however is wondering that as she takes the book from Mr. Wallace.

Like Tommy, Autumn and Johnny, Kat is about to embark on reading the book. Embarking on an adventure she's not quite aware of beginning. So it tends to be with most great adventures. Samwise Gamgee says in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:

“...adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten...”

That is the sort of adventure we find our heroes on. And while Mr. Wallace's desk is not Mordor, for Kat, like Frodo and Sam had chances of turning back, only she didn't.

Tolkien again, brings up the concept of a book within a book, he mentions that tale of Beren going to get the Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim. A tale within a tale, a surprisingly common theme, yet in Curse of the Spider King it has a fresh feel to it, perhaps it is because of the immersive quality of the book, or perhaps because the tale seems almost to be a living one. I have a suspicion that if one of our characters didn't read English, the book would be whatever language it was they could read. I don't recall that being said outright, but I have a suspicion that the book can do so.

Kat opens the book, and once she touches the words, once again we and Kat encounter the hidden, the strange book, strangely enough the section that Kat reads is a continuation of what Tommy has just read. Not only is this book aware of who is reading it, it seems to know where the others have left off. The book now reveals a few more clues, tells about the progress of the battle, and leads us into a whole different world.

It is in this chapter that we learn that the Elf children were taken. Once again, we are left with a mystery on our hands as the chapter closes.

Chapter Ten: Leaving the Sunlight.

We're still within the pages of the history book. We find a sliver of hope, there is a way of escape for those who live, yet to do so, means a great sacrifice, leaving their world as they knew it behind them for a dismal life where they may live. Here we also find a greater hope, we learn of Ellos. Defeat, yes, but there is hope. Hope has a way of being powerful, even when it is just the tiniest of slivers left, hope is like a seed, it can grow. There is a way to escape, a hidden passageway that leads to Nightwish Cavern. The name I find to be a rather amusing choice, I'm guessing that it is the work of Wayne Thomas Batson. Nightwish, if you're not familiar with music, is the name of a symphonic metal band. I like it.

The kingdom of the Elves is in shambles, the Lords are dead, the children are taken, it is unknown how many will survive, things look very grim indeed for the Elves.

But there is hope. One of my favorite lines from The Lord of the Rings films is in The Two Towers, when Viggo Mortensen's character Aragorn says: “There is always hope.”

I don't recall that being in the book Lord of the Rings, but that is one of my favorite lines in Middle-Earth.

So it is with our characters here, all seems lost, all is lost, but a small remnant of hope remains.

Then view changes, we learn a couple interesting details through the remainder of the chapter, one of them is the presence of churches, for a church sanctuary needs a church to be a sanctuary in. I find this one line of dialog interesting, and it fits into place with what heard a page or two back about Ellos, I believe that Ellos, is what The Elves call God.

Near the end of this very grim chapter, we meet a little child, A small Elf child. The child wants to know, will there be any spiders in their new home. They assure the child that there will be no spiders. One other thing, they call the child an Elfling.

That one made me stop in my tracks as I was reading, but only because I've been using that term for a couple of years now to refer to Elf children, it was funny to see it in another book.

We see that there is a saying. “Endurance and Victory,” this seems to be a common phrase among the Elves, yet the very end of this chapter ends with the thought that they might endure, but there would be no victory, not yet. Defeat would have been, but thankfully the word today is on the end.

“There is always hope.”

Chapter Eleven: Lifeflight

A new character. Mr. Jett Green. A football player and motorbike enthusiast.

He can't wait to use his new motocross bike, a sense of excitement is there. He's getting ready for his big day when he looks into the mirror, and behold, his eyes, they're not brown, they're deep violet. We're also introduced to his parents Austin and Hazel.

I'll move on to the next scene, he's at the Motocross Park, he's ready to go, he gives his new bike a trial, and it succeeds beautifully. However with his growing confidence there is a growing danger. He takes on the Monster, only to crash. In the chaos and confusion that follows, it turns out that he has had a serious accident, but is somehow still aware, sort of, the world around him, he doesn't even realize just how badly he's injured. He's awake enough to hear someone say “fatal”.

Jett basically finds himself in a world of his own, unable to feel things and paralized, yet aware of who is around him.

Chapter Twelve: Mr. Miracle

He finds himself, alive, but in the hospital. He still doesn't quite know what's going on. But what is going on, is something remarkable.

Jett, is kind of having a reverse experience then the others. Instead of Faërie being found by him, it has rather found him. So it is, sometimes we were minding our own business when something seems to just come out of the blue and lead us through the wardrobe into Narnia.

I recall how I began writing. Like with reading, I wasn't really into it growing up. I still don't really know why, it's not like I really had any examples or anything, but one day the webmaster for a writing website for homeschoolers, ApricotPie.com, asked me if would be interested in writing for them once a month. I do not know why they asked, like I said, I don't recall having any examples of my writing or anything. I accepted. Now I am working on my first manuscript. I'm astounded, because I didn't really do much of anything, it's not an adventure I went out and pursued so much as an adventure that seems to be pursuing me. Looking back I believe it was the hand of God that worked the website writing, for no logical reason, episode out. I probably wouldn't be writing today if not for that.

In this chapter we see that Jett had broken just about every bone in his body, not to mention a number of serious wounds. Not only was he more aware then he should have been, he was suddenly completely healed. We see that something is different about Jett, and it's not only his changing eyes. We shall see why this is so, and that there are other aspects to Jett that he is not aware of.

The last lines in this chapter I happen to find rather amusing. The doctor says to his mom. “You better watch out for this kid. With eyes like those, girls will be chasing him all over school.” I find this amusing because in my own story there is an Elf who is regularly chased down the street by “Crazy American Fangirls”. To the point where his terrified of Americans. I put it in my story because my Grandmother used to tell me that it would happen to me. “All the girls will chase you down the street because you're so handsome!” she'd say. Thankfully, so far at any rate, my grandmother's words have not proven to be true. I have yet to be chased by anyone.



I was hoping to write the whole book, unfortunately I have not finished past this point, it turned out to be far more time consuming a project then I expected, I will be posting it in four post as I complete each quarter over the next few weeks.




Curse of the Spider King - Amazon.com Link


Wayne Thomas Batson’s blog - http://enterthedoorwithin.blogspot.com


Christopher Hopper’s Web site - http://www.christopherhopper.com


The Berinfell Prophecies Web site - http://www.heedtheprophecies.com/


Participants’ Links:

Brandon Barr

Justin Boyer

Amy Browning

Valerie Comer

Amy Cruson

CSFF Blog Tour

Stacey Dale

D. G. D. Davidson

Shane Deal

Jeff Draper

Emmalyn Edwards

April Erwin

Karina Fabian

Todd Michael Greene

Ryan Heart

Timothy Hicks

Becky Jesse

Cris Jesse

Jason Joyner

Julie

Carol Keen

Krystine Kercher

Tina Kulesa

Melissa Lockcuff

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Mirtika

Nissa

John W. Otte

Cara Powers

Chawna Schroeder

James Somers

Speculative Faith

Robert Treskillard

Fred Warren

Jason Waguespac

Phyllis Wheeler

Jill Williamson

KM Wilsher

Monday, November 16, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour Day 2 - Curse of the Spider King - A Few Words on Genres.



First, a warning, in today's post spoilers will be present.

Day 2: Curse of the Spider King: A word on Genres

This is going to be, by far, my most boring post in this tour, here I'm just dissecting a bit of the genre-blending that Curse of the Spider King contains, or at the very least, seems to:

Genre One: Curse of the Spider King as Gothic horror.
Curse of the Spider King has several elements that one might find in a typical work of Gothic fiction. From old ruined castles to skeleton-like ghoulish creatures to spiders, to darkness, to the fear of the unknown or the familiar being made frightening.

Frightening creatures galore. You have the Drefids. Ghoulish monsters with knifelike hands. They are nothing hpwever to the horrific Wisp, with the Wisp it is their familiarity that makes them so terrifying. They take the form of people you know or someone you trust, they could be anyone, and then attempt, usually, to kill you. Another familiar horror is these trees. They kill. These forces of darkness are far more terrifying then I'm accustomed to seeing except for in books that have Gothic horror as an influence. It may not have ghost, but the wisp are pretty close and yes, ghostly, they can go through places you wouldn't expect, vanishing, and more importantly they seem to like taking the form of dead people more often then not. The Drefid have skeleton or ghoul like features, empty eyes that see with a glowing ember, inhuman strength, and they have a projection of fear. Then there is the spiders. Great big spiders and The Cragons, black-hearted killer trees in alliance with the Spider King.

Speaking of the Spider King, he remains offstage, and is thus more terrifying. Like Sauron he's just in the background and is all the more terrifying for it. Will he remain offstage in Venom and Song? I don't know, but I suspect he'll make an appearance or two.

This is without mentioning the scene in the old abandoned psychiatric hospital. You could hardly ask for a better Gothic horror setting except the old castle ruins where the battle at the end of the books takes place. I don't know if it was intentional, but the ghostly wisp, skeleton-like Drefid, and spiders are all what I would expect to find in a horror novel. Particularly in the Gothic tradition. A strong resemblance at any rate does exist to that genre. Somewhere between the tales of Poe and Lovecraft there is this genre of horror that the Curse of the Spider King certainly taps into.

Genre Two: Curse of the Spider King as Science-Fiction.
Not really a lot there, but it does have a few minor Science-Fiction aspects. The existence of more then one world, portals between worlds, and the fact that in a sense, though perhaps not entirely, the Elves are aliens. While it doesn't seem to have a lot of emphasis on a human made dystophian future there is the scene near the end of the book where some humans become aware of the existence of another world, and it is hinted that there will be consequences of that.

Genre Three: Curse of the Spider King as Fantasy.
Elves, portals, special supernatural abilities, ancient curses, giant spiders? This is fantasy. Lovely, wonderful, fantasy. Magic flowing untamed and wild through the pages of the book, and as expected there is a story within the story. The lessons are taught through the use of the symbol rather then the use of direct teaching or even allegory. While I do not have suspicions that it was built upon the scaffolding of literary alchemy like you might find with Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, but it does have the transforming power that this, most sacred of the fictional genres holds. I mention this one last, but doesn't mean it's the least present. It is probably the most present genre in the book. In fact I would say that Fantasy is the scaffolding that surrounds and supports the entire book and that the other genres are woven throughout.

Fantasy has many sub-genres, but Curse of the Spider King appears to me to be what is known as wainscot, a subcreation or society hiding within our own world. In one book of mine Travis Prinzi says:

"J.K. Rowling puts the two worlds very close - in fact, her subcreation is hiding right underneath the primary world. Harry Potter, then, is a wainscot fantasy, because the Wizarding World is a "wainscot society" (Clute 911). Wainscot societies are "invisible and undetected societies living in the interstices of of the dominant world" (911). That's a good description of Rowling's subcreation." (Page 26, Harry Potter & Imagination - The Way Between Two Worlds, Travis Prinzi, Zossima Press, 2009)

It was this sub-genre that I was reminded of by the notion of a bunch of Elves hidden in amongst the Earth, in many ways a fantasy world that is hidden amongst our own.

Of course there are other fantasy sub-genres that make up the book and it isn't tied to that particular one, but that is what I was reminded of when I read it.

There are, naturally, other genres woven throughout with the ones I mentioned above, including mystery, tragedy, and comedy, but I'm not quite familiar with those genres to do more then recognize their presence, and in some cases I don't recognize it at all, even if it's there.




Tomorrow I'll be posting something a little different then I originally planed, it is still what I was going to do, but I am unable to post it in it's entirety as of yet. Therefore I'll be posting the entire thing over the next couple of weeks, but the first part of it tomorrow.

Curse of the Spider King - Amazon.com Link


Wayne Thomas Batson’s blog - http://enterthedoorwithin.blogspot.com


Christopher Hopper’s Web site - http://www.christopherhopper.com


The Berinfell Prophecies Web site - http://www.heedtheprophecies.com/


Participants’ Links:

Brandon Barr

Justin Boyer

Amy Browning

Valerie Comer

Amy Cruson

CSFF Blog Tour

Stacey Dale

D. G. D. Davidson

Shane Deal

Jeff Draper

Emmalyn Edwards

April Erwin

Karina Fabian

Todd Michael Greene

Ryan Heart

Timothy Hicks

Becky Jesse

Cris Jesse

Jason Joyner

Julie

Carol Keen

Krystine Kercher

Tina Kulesa

Melissa Lockcuff

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Mirtika

Nissa

John W. Otte

Cara Powers

Chawna Schroeder

James Somers

Speculative Faith

Robert Treskillard

Fred Warren

Jason Waguespac

Phyllis Wheeler

Jill Williamson

KM Wilsher

Sunday, November 15, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour Day 1 - Curse of the Spider King - A Review




The Berinfell Prophecies: Book One: Curse of The Spider King
By Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper

What I want to say for my review is: What are you sitting around reading this post for? Go get yourself a copy and start reading. It's that good. The end, goodbye, and good luck.

Besides being a non-acceptable review, what makes it good you ask? That's a reasonable question. Several things, and I'll try to get into that a little more in-depth tomorrow. This post will be my least in-depth as I am going to attempt to avoid spoilers. I am going to freely use spoilers in the second and the third day's post so beware!


I'll begin with a little background: The Curse of the Spider King, the first joint work of storytellers Christopher Hopper and Wayne Thomas Batson, is the one book I've been anticipating this year. Ever since I first learned that they were writing a book together I was pretty excited about it, and with good reason. Christopher and Wayne are both fantastic authors and their existing works are some of the best in their class. To set the stage for my review The Curse of the Spider King I'm first going to talk about their previous works and why I had very high expectations for their latest:

Wayne's The Door Within Trilogy consisting of The Door Within, The Rise of the Wyrm Lord, and The Final Storm are modern fantasy reader staples and like the Harry Potter books have been known to spark a love of reading. The Door Within Trilogy combines wit, wisdom, Wayne's particular sense of humor, and a great story suitable for readers of all ages. That is to say nothing of his fantastic Pirate series that explores the depths of more then just the sea, but the human heart as well. Combining great characters with fantastic storytelling, Wayne Thomas Batson tells a tale in his Door Within Trilogy that remains with you long after you close the final pages of the book. While often humorous, Wayne is not afraid to allow some tragedy and difficult situations into his books, and I think, particularly with a primary audience of children, that's wonderful. Children need to encounter the more difficult aspects of life, and fantasy fiction is a great way for them to face their dragons. I love to see real world issues brought into fiction that is probably going to be read by children. There are things that are truly terrifying in these books, and again, fantasy fiction allows Children to face their dragons. All of Wayne's books have wonderful messages and are full ofmeaning.

Christopher's The White Lion Chronicles consisting currently of The Rise of the Dibor and The Lion Vrie are books that reach that often touted but rarely actually achieved literary depth that readers of Tolkien and Lewis are familiar with. Serious literature with enough depth to be re-read again and again and still give “WOW!” moments. Seriously, if I was asked to name the deepest and most profound fantasy books written in recent decades The White Lion Chronicles would be near the top of the list, right along side L'engle, Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowling. Christopher's books are transformative literature, filled with more then one layer of meaning, incredible depth, and the ability to reach past the mind into the very heart and soul of the reader. This is literature at it's finest, the kind that would make folks like Dickens and Shakespeare proud and extremely happy that English literature hasn't lost all it's profundity. In my reading of them, Christopher's books reminded me of medieval literature, deserving of a spot right next to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings on the bookshelf. Christopher Hopper has done it, he's actually written something I would definitely say is an absolute 'must read' for the serious reader and worthy of many re-readings and because of the level of depth contained within them. It is because of this profundity that I can honestly say that Christopher Hopper is one of the best authors I've ever read. His chronicles are among the very best that Fantasy has to offer.

On a final thought before I start my review, incidentally these are the two authors whose books I cannot seem to keep on my bookshelf for long before friends are begging me to let them borrow them. With these things in mind I had, understandably, very high expectations for The Curse of the Spider King.

Did it meet up to my expectations?

I think so. It is an excellent work, especially considering it has two different authors. While not perfectly seamless, their writing blends together very nicely. A few places where viewpoint changes were a little lost and confused, but not enough to be totally head-scratching as to who it is we're hanging around with now. The plot is good, promising for future books, and maintains the suspense nearly throughout. Again a few places where it almost began to wander down a rabbit trail, but never straying far. It has the marks one would expect from master storytellers in modern literature: Plot plantings, subtle details, genre bending and blending, rags to riches characters, suspense, and the peculiar ability to keep one turning “just one more page”. Definitely a book I would recommend. Similar in tone and style to Madeleine L'engle's A Wrinkle in Time, it had the ability to arouse the same feelings within me as that book did. A good thing that. For the most part, the heroes of the book are not spoiled, rich, already know everything, people. A few are unusually talented, but not ridiculously so, not only that the heroes almost all have to deal with things that real people, both children and adults, have to deal with in the real world. I am going to have to read it again to really get a feel for how I think of it, but as of right now I am left feeling very pleased with it, I do not expect a rereading to defuse that, if anything I think it will re-enforce it.

My criticisms of the book are few, but here they are:

The cliffhanger ending isn't quite my style. Not exactly a cliffhanger in the traditional sense, but more it's like you're walking along and then all of a sudden it just stops. Kind of makes for a poor stand-alone book, while not necessary, it is a positive quality to have. I personally, didn't like how it did that, but that's just me perhaps.

There were a few places where characters could have used a bit more of a description initially. I found it a little difficult to picture some of the characters when we were first introduced to them. Not a tremendous problem, but was enough to stop me in my tracks as I was reading it.

But like I said, my criticisms are few.

What I particularly enjoyed will be mostly left to tomorrow and day three but I will mention a few things now:

I enjoyed the realism of the characters and plot, it wasn't too far fetched an idea to believe what Christopher and Wayne were suggesting had been taking place for years could actually happen. I've heard this called 'the ability to suspend disbelief' before, it's a great thing to have in your book if you can pull it off successfully. (I believe I heard the term from Travis Prinzi on his The Hog's Head podcast.)

It deals with real world issues and problems. This can be a healing balm to those who are going through that kind of thing. It's wonderful to see that Wayne and Christopher have the courage to place their characters in such situations.

It doesn't get preachy. Not that it is lacking in spiritual value, my goodness it's not. But it doesn't get preachy in the negative sense of the word. By preachy I mean the author's are not shoving some message down your throat against your will. I've seen preachy in books both Christian and Atheistic and it repulses me every time. No such problem here.

There are several scenes where you almost feel like your there. You can almost hear the noises around you, see the place the characters are in, feel the emotion being felt, you really have a good sense of the atmosphere. I cannot stress how important having a good sense of the atmosphere is to good fiction. Christopher and Wayne deliver it well with only a few minor places where I failed to get a sense of the atmosphere of the scene. It is this remarkable aspect that allows for you to begin to get suspicious of the littlest detail mentioned as being a clue about something bigger.

The rest I'll cover in the next two post, but one of the things I was most surprised to find was some beautiful inclusions of other genres besides fantasy. Gothic horror even makes an appearance or two. I suspect that Poe and Lovecraft would be proud of some of those scenes. But that's for the next post.

In my post for day three I am hoping to be going far more in depth about why I liked the book, thoughts it inspires, and what I've been getting out of it.

Curse of the Spider King - Amazon.com Link


Wayne Thomas Batson’s blog - http://enterthedoorwithin.blogspot.com


Christopher Hopper’s Web site - http://www.christopherhopper.com


The Berinfell Prophecies Web site - http://www.heedtheprophecies.com/


Participants’ Links:

Brandon Barr

Justin Boyer

Amy Browning

Valerie Comer

Amy Cruson

CSFF Blog Tour

Stacey Dale

D. G. D. Davidson

Shane Deal

Jeff Draper

Emmalyn Edwards

April Erwin

Karina Fabian

Todd Michael Greene

Ryan Heart

Timothy Hicks

Becky Jesse

Cris Jesse

Jason Joyner

Julie

Carol Keen

Krystine Kercher

Tina Kulesa

Melissa Lockcuff

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Mirtika

Nissa

John W. Otte

Cara Powers

Chawna Schroeder

James Somers

Speculative Faith

Robert Treskillard

Fred Warren

Jason Waguespac

Phyllis Wheeler

Jill Williamson

KM Wilsher

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Book Signing



We spent today going up to Pittsford. (Near Rochester, New York) It was fun.

This time it was for a book signing with Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper for the release of their new book The Berinfell Prophecies: Book One: Curse of the Spider King

There were sword-fights galore, an entirely different reading then his usual by Sir Wayne, and then they both played a song that Wayne wrote the words to that was really, really, good.

Then repeated again two more times for all the new guest that came in.

Always a fun thing. After that we went to an italian restaurant which had a gluten-free menu. My sister Heather and I ordered the gluten-free chicken parmesan. It was probably the best chicken parmesan I've ever had. (It wasn't breaded and was very moist.) Definitely a town, bookstore, wegmans, and restarant I want to visit again.

NaNoWriMo has started so I'll end here.

It was fun.



(Thanks to AnneMarie for taking the group photo)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A bit of writing advice, which you may freely disregard.

NaNoWriMo is coming up this next month. If you haven't done it I would suggest that you give it a try, if nothing else then that writing a story of 50,000 words in 1 month is excellent practice for writing under pressure. Besides that, any excuse to practice your writing is good. My advice if you wish to write would be the following:

Write, write, write, and write some more. It doesn't matter how good it is initially, you need to write as much as you can, find your voice, it may be tempting to follow "rules" to a 't' but you need to have your own voice, that is very important too. NaNoWriMo gives you a great excuse to practice your writing, and if it turns out to be a horrible story, who cares! You're that much the wiser of what doesn't work for it. Writing isn't easy, it is a painful process with a lot of junk produced before you get to the good stuff. It's kind of like digging for treasure, there is probably going to be a whole lot more dirt then treasure, but you can't get to the treasure without first digging up the dirt. Writing is an adventure, you never know when that crazy idea you put in your NaNoWriMo novel might bring forth your next spark of literary genius.

Second piece of advice: Read, read, read, and read some more. Nearly or as important as writing, reading as many books as you can get your hands on will help you write better. Believe me, it is very important. Ask just about any of the most successful and/or best writers out there, chances are pretty high that they are huge readers. Try to read as wide a variety of genres as possible, even things you normally wouldn't like that much. Read outside your comfort zone. If you're a fantasy fan, try picking up some Austen or Dickens. If you're into romance novels, try reading a dystopian science-fiction novel.

My third piece of advice: I don't see this one very often, in fact I don't remember ever seeing it in a writer's advice article. Study the art. Study what it is that makes great fiction great. Learn about why things like Shakespeare move, inspire, and occasionally even transform us. Learn what it is that causes some books to impact the very soul of the reader. Learn about symbolism and what it is and isn't. Study genres, even those outside your particular niche, learn what it is that defines them. Be aware that the culture is Post-Modern, and that like it or not, you are probably going to be writing for Post-Modern readers, it is not a bad idea to study Post-Modernism. It is the language of the culture, if you're going to talk to the culture, you need to at least know the language. Study the art. Learn about literature, both classic and modern. With rare exceptions, great writers don't usually just sit down and think up a fantastic story, there is an art to it. Learn it!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

iTolkien

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings eBooks for iPod Touch/iPhone.

First an iPod Touch or an iPhone is required

Then you'll need to have the Kindle for iPhone app.

Finally you can buy The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings:

The Hobbit.

The Lord of the Rings

And then you have a pocket version of the books that you can read anywhere. I love it!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Hunt For Gollum

The Hunt For Gollum - A Fan Made Lord of the Ring's Film, that while it ignores some of the book values and story is still surprisingly good.


Dr. Amy H. Sturgis recently posted on her blog a link to a fan made Lord of the Ring's film about Aragorn's search for Gollum. The film had a budget of around what equals to about $5,000 and is surprisingly well produced. It is about 40 minutes long and can be viewed online. (The graphic above links to the website.)

While there are a few things about the story that are not quite true to Tolkien, like I'm not entirely certain Aragorn would have asked a statue for advice, it is generally similar to the tale Gandalf tells Frodo in the early part of The Fellowship of the Ring book. I'm impressed with the job that the actors did playing the roles. The Gandalf actor fits surprisingly well, though he says one thing that seems in direct confrontation with one of the biggest insights of the Lord of the Rings concerning Gollum. Aragorn's actor did a pretty good job with the role, I still like Viggo Mortensen's portrayal of Aragorn best, but this fellow was pretty good in the role. A few places were you can tell it was CGI but concerning the budget of the film, it's not too horribly disappointing.

I like independent films. Ancanar is a film I've been following the progress of, but unfortunatly the website has been "under development" for the past year or two. Still the trailer can be viewed here. It had/has promise, but never seems to have gone anywhere. Pity. Still, perhaps it'll be revived sometime.

It has been a dream of mine for some years to be involved in or make a film of my own. What I really would like to see is part of my story as a film. Or a story of mine at least. Definitely something I'm interested in. No matter what I do, it's a lot of work. But perhaps I can see it happen in time. I have so much to learn about it, it can be rather daunting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bamm Bamm Bamm.

Life is short.

Make lots of noise.

What are you waiting for?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Congratulations!

Congratulations to Sir Christopher

H3 has arrived!

Congratulations on the arrival of Judah!

(Oh and I finished your published books for the second time around this afternoon. They're awesome!)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Where have I been.

There is not much to report in my world lately. The most exciting thing being my new netbook which runs OpenOffice.org (my preferred word processor) quite well. I find it quite convenient for my writing and have written loads more with it. (Finally think I've got my tenth section underway, I've been having difficultly, this is the fifth time I've started it over from scratch.) Sure it has a small keyboard but once I got used to it that wasn't a problem.

We have a number of errands to run this afternoon, but I haven't posted anything here in ages so I wanted to post something. The Pub, Wal-Mart, the Gift Shop, and Grocery Shopping at the least.

I think I'll rename my blog to something more like "Tales From a Haunted Refrigerator" or other absurd non-sense. I'm open to suggestions. I rename my blog from time to time, and incidentally, probably frustrate my readers in the process.

I'm going to go see if I can write a sentence or two before we leave.

-Shane

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wow

My new computer has a built in blogger editor. Is that cool or what?

It even loads up my blog background for me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

boo!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kind of funny

President Bush isn't the only one with verbal mishaps....

Obama was showing off his new dog, he mentioned the following of the breed:

"It herds fish in Portuguese."

I believe he meant Portugal.

Otherwise, we have talking dogs on our hands...

Made me laugh.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sticking with Blogger.

As of right now, I'm sticking with Blogger. LJ has too many complications at the moment to make it worth it. If they improve or their permanent accounts go on sale again, I might change over then, but it's very likely to be a year or two before that happens.

Thanks!

-Shane

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I may be moving my blog here to LiveJournal... I'm not sure yet. I've copied my post over just the same.

Mostly I'm unsure because of comments and advertisements.

The advertisements can be gotten around by registered users who are either paid members or basic members. (The plus members, which is the default, has more features then the basic but is ad supported.)

Comments... Not sure if registering for LiveJournal would be a requirement for commenting. That could be inconvenient. Not that I have a whole lot of people who comment a lot either.

It has some advantages, like I can hide spoilers behind what is known as an "LJ-Cut" and it has loads of privacy options.

Monday, March 16, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour Day One: The Miller Brother's - Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow - A Review

Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow. I don’t know if I could say it is my favorite book, though it does have a lot to like. The storyline is pretty well told, not exceedingly confusing, with subtle clues placed in at proper places. This is well done. I wasn’t however completely surprised at the ending. The big climatic revelation had already been overly hinted at throughout the book and was removed of it’s power to surprise and significantly provoke any particular feeling or passion within me. However, despite also being telegraphed in advance, another event happens in the same scene that provokes those feelings. It is unfortunate that the main storyline didn’t work as well. There are a few other things that just didn’t feel right about it. It felt overly allegorical in places, like the story was getting lost in this guy equals that guy and this place equals that, etc. Nothing wrong with allegorical storytelling, but when you start to become suspicious of ever new character and place you meet as being equal to something else the story itself begins to lose its power, which indeed proves to be an unfortunate fault of this book.

Regardless, the story is well told once you get past the few things that just don’t work quite so well. I am very impressed with some of the questions that are brought up in the story. Extremely thought provoking ones like: “Why is there suffering and if God is all powerful, why doesn’t he stop it?” and other such questions. Excellent, excellent, stuff. Few authors are brave enough to ask the questions asked in this story, even fewer are brave enough to attempt to answer them. And while at times Hunter Brown an the Secret of Shadow doesn’t answer a question fully enough or answer as many aspects of the questions as much as I’d like, it does attempt to answer them. Definitely something to applaud.

The writing style is about average, not as poetic as Mr. Jeffrey Overstreet’s Auralia Thread perhaps, but still quite sufficient, particularly for the age group the book is targeted for. There is nothing wrong about it being such, Lewis’s Narnia isn’t the most poetical book either, and linguistically can’t hold a candle to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This book gravitates closer to Lewis then Tolkien in terms of language. But it is not poor writing and despite having two authors it is difficult for me to distinguish differences between them, the similarity in style is well established.

All in all this is an excellent first book for the Miller brothers. I would read it again and recommend it to someone desiring a good story, thoughtfully told, with a good message, and some exceedingly good questions.

----

Featured book, Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow:

Amazon Page for Hunter Brown and the Secret of Shadow
The Miller Brother's Website
The Miller Brother's Blog

Friday, March 13, 2009

I should post something.

You know I really should, but I'm not going to.

:-)

Alright, it's Friday the 13th, that's worth noting.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Barbarians at the BBQ.



Quite funny.

It comes from this group: B.A.D.D. (Bel Air Drama Department)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour Day Three: Jeffrey Overstreet - Cyndere's Midnight: An Interview



Shane Deal: What inspired the characters of Cyndere and Jordam?

Jeffrey Overstreet: Jordam the Beastman is not a new character, actually. He's one of the monsters who appears in the first book, Auralia's Colors. I didn't want the beastmen to be just ordinary monsters. I wanted to suggest that even these bloodthirsty mutants have a longing for beauty and a thirst for healing, so I gave Jordam a scene in that first book just to hint at that.

But that wasn't enough for me. The image that kept coming back to me--the idea of Jordam discovering some of Auralia's creative expressions out in the wilderness, and being calmed and inspired by beauty. Just like King Kong is inspired by the woman he loves. I relate to that. Beauty calls out to Jordam just as the beauty of a painting, or a tree, or a sunset can make me stop in the middle of my distractions and take a deep breath.

Like any Beauty and the Beast story, there also had to be a beautiful woman. But Cyndere came later. I knew that it would take a brave woman to stand her ground and deal with Jordam. Most people would run screaming at the sight of him. So Cyndere came to be inspired by brave people who have been willing to give up their comforts and safety in order to to and help people in need. A friend of mine said that Cyndere's like Elizabeth Eliot, the missionary who returned to the tribe that had killed her husband and ministered to them. I hadn't thought of that. But I like that connection.


Shane Deal: Now that Cyndere's Midnight has been released for awhile, is there anything you wish you could go back and change?

Jeffrey Overstreet: Oh, that's a painful question. Yes, every time I read my published work, I see things I would change if I could. I have what you might call "the George Lucas itch." But Star Wars fans know what happens when you let the artist keep messing with things years after they've been published, right? It's probably better for me to just let those things go. I don't know... maybe someday I'll publish Cyndere's Midnight - The Director's Cut.

If some of my readers could have their way, I'd be putting in more battles. But don't you think the fantasy genre has enough of those? I want to go places I haven't been before, to see what else might happen in a fantasy story. When I realized there would be a battle in Cyndere's Midnight, I re-read all of my favorite battle scenes so that I could avoid accidentally repeating anything. Nevertheless, after I wrote "The Siege of Barnashum," I realized what old, old battle story must have influenced me. Readers will have to figure that out on their own.


Shane Deal: What is the most challenging part about writing your books?

Jeffrey Overstreet: It's tough to find enough time... and the right kind of time. Time when my ears aren't ringing from the busyness of the day.

I work full-time at another job. And I have deadlines for my film reviews. It's tough to shift gears, to quiet down and drift off into a fantasy world. There are dishes that need to be washed, catboxes that need to be cleaned, and my library books are overdue. Traffic in Seattle is a wearying experience. Sometimes, I'll write from 7 p.m. until midnight, and only get one good paragraph out of it. To finish a book the size and complexity of Cyndere's Midnight in the course of one year, with a schedule like mine, is really difficult. It's a second full-time job.

But it's also tough to keep readers' responses from messing with my imagination.

Forgive me, but I've got an itch that needs scratching. I've been grateful for the criticism and the encouragement from readers. But it's disappointing to me when readers think I'm trying to "hide" or "bury" my faith behind fantasy.

Storytelling is part of my exploration of faith. It's one of the ways I express it. I'm not trying to hide anything. I'm trying to find a way to explore and celebrate aspects of faith that I can't otherwise explain. It's like composing instrumental music, or cultivating a garden, or dancing -- those pursuits reveal truth in mysterious and extravagant ways that a "lesson" never could. Fantasy can do the same thing. The Lord of the Rings is evidence of that. And I'm encouraged to find that even stories written by unbelievers--including pagan myths and fairy tales--reveal aspects of the truth, even though it would frustrate their authors to discover that. Tolkien understood this. It was while he explained this to C.S. Lewis that Lewis came to embrace Christianity.

I approach storytelling as a chance to play with beautiful sights and sounds and experiences in hopes that they will give readers the joy and inspiration they give me. The pursuit of these stories has drawn me much closer to God, and I'm sharing them with you in hopes that you might share some of that experience. It's not my job to simplify it or explain it for you. I'm not trying to write a book that can easily be translated into a study guide. I'm trying to paint pictures that reflect my experience of the mysterious glory of God. I'm a beginner, and I'm learning as I go, so I don't claim to have succeeded. But that's my earnest endeavor.

We're told in Psalm 19 that "the heavens declare the glory of God," and "day by day pours forth speech." Sometimes I wish the heavens and the days would be a little more explicit about what they're saying. But I know that the truth dazzles gradually, through beauty and through grace. And when I'm patient, I come to sense that beauty is speaking to me about God in ways I cannot paraphrase. I'm hoping to capture a sense of that in Auralia's world

And I do hope readers will be patient, and refrain from declaring me a heretic until they've seen all four volumes. We're only halfway through, after all.


Shane Deal: You have some rather interesting names, do you wish to share any particular stories of how you came up with some of them?

Jeffrey Overstreet: Sometimes it's as simple as finding words that describe the character, and then smashing them together to see what happens. I can't remember exactly, but I think "Auralia" came from playing around with the word "aura" and the name "Laura" (which means "light.") Sometimes, I look for sounds that give me a sense of the character.

One of the Gatherers is a rough, crass, hard-edged fellow, and the name "Krawg" just sounds right. It sounds rather like a cuss word from some other world, doesn't it?

Krawg's friend is overly cautious and worried, so "Warney" just sounded right for him. I was delighted when someone reminded me later that C.S. Lewis's brother was called by the same name.


Shane Deal: Do you have any story ideas for after you finish this series? Or is that too far ahead at this point?

Jeffrey Overstreet: I have a lot of big ideas. I have an adventure series for younger readers that takes place in a world of talking animals, like something Pixar might turn into a movie. (Forgive me if I dream about that for a moment.) And I have a few stories from my high school experiences that I'd like to tell, with a bit of a fantasy flourish. There's another huge fantasy story--a horror story, really--about a group of artists who start experiencing something truly unusual in their work. But I don't feel quite ready to launch that ship just yet. And I have a couple of non-fiction projects brewing as well.

But I'm going to rest for a while when I finish The Auralia Thread. I'll need to rest, recharge, and start training for the next marathon.

------

Many thanks to Mr. Overstreet for allowing me the privilege of an interview.

Also worth checking out:

I highly recommend watching the following talk, given by Mr. Overstreet at Seattle Pacific University in October of 2007:

"We Gotta Get Outta Here" - How Tolkien, Lewis, and L'Engle Help Us Hope"

I watch or listen to it quite often. (Usually listening while driving.)

-Shane

Featured book, Cyndere’s Midnight - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400072530
Jeffrey Overstreet’s Web site - http://lookingcloser.org/
Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog - http://lookingcloser.org/category/journal/
Jeffrey Overstreet at Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Overstreet/42902959

Monday, February 16, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour Day Two: Jeffrey Overstreet - Cyndere's Midnight: A Review



There is very little to criticize about it, actually. Thus I fear that the review will be overwhelmingly positive.

Jeffrey Overstreet’s Cyndere’s Midnight is a novel, the second in the Auralia Thread series, the blue strand.

The book’s wonder starts even before you begin to read it, the cover itself is excellently designed. It was the cover of Auralia’s Colors that drew me to that book, Cyndere’s Midnight has an equally well designed cover. I definitely have to praise the work of Kristopher K. Orr & Kelly L. Howard on their excellent design.

Jeffrey Overstreet is unapologetic in creating real, believable, and beautiful, characters. From the very first sentence he weaves the tremendous personality of our heroine. “Cyndere walked down to the water to make her daily decision–turn and go back into House Bel Amica, or climb Stairway Rock and throw herself into the sea.” Such golden verse, such beautiful prose. The book is filled with it, like Auralia’s Colors before it, it is poetic and powerful. Not only that, the book is filled with things that would usually be considered quite strange. Half-beast, half men. And yet, Jeffrey Overstreet has such a gift of weaving beauty into his books that he can make a book about what would at first glance seem deplorable, beautiful. His storytelling will bring questions to your mind, and challenge you to ask them. Begging you to look closer and presenting you with the idea that perhaps the monsters without are not that different then those within. And while such plots have been done many times over in literature, you have several books featuring good orcs for example, Jeffrey Overstreet doesn’t have the preaching that I often see such books have, instead Mr. Overstreet trust the reader enough to draw what conclusions he or she might make from the story itself.

The book is able to challenge your prejudices without raising your guard, I found myself relating to a character so different from me as to be nearly alien. I have to say that this is one of the most well written books, from many angles, that I’ve read in a very long time. It is the kind of book I’d like to see folks discussing the same way that we still talk about Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

I highly recommend it.

-Shane

An earlier review of Auralia's Colors

Featured book, Cyndere’s Midnight - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400072530
Jeffrey Overstreet’s Web site - http://lookingcloser.org/
Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog - http://lookingcloser.org/category/journal/
Jeffrey Overstreet at Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Overstreet/42902959

CSFF Blog Tour Day One: Jeffrey Overstreet - Cyndere's Midnight: My Impressions


I've been looking forward to this tour since I saw that it might be coming up. I had the chance to read Cyndere's Midnight over the holidays and in nutshell it has joined the favorite, worth reading over and over, book section of my shelf. Overstreet is the rare writer who can tell a good tale in elegant language that has enough depth to make it worth reading several times.

Cyndere's Midnight starts pretty much where Auralia's Colors, the phenomenal first book in the series, left off. The poetic language of Auralia's Colors is maintained in Cyndere's Midnight but a much more distinct plot is formed. It feels well as a book on its own as well as with Auralia's Colors, another sign of the excellence of the writing.

I am astounded by the depth that Overstreet brings to his writing. His writing is deep, profound, and beautiful. Literature as it is meant to be. I believed Auralia's Colors to be an outstanding example of modern literature, my belief has not been disappointed upon reading Cyndere's Midnight, it has been reinforced.

Every once in awhile you will come across a novel that is rich in meaning, even if you can’t say what the book means. There are several themes to be found in Cyndere’s Midnight, but there is not any problematic telling the reader something they need to learn. Lessons learned in Cyndere’s Midnight come from the readers own observation of the story, which is generally speaking, exactly what a good book tries to do. In my opinion, a book, even and perhaps especially, a fictional book’s first and primary purpose is to instruct, to change, to impact the mind and soul of the reader. Redemptive literature does not leave one the same as when they started the book. Cyndere’s Midnight is no exception. It delights the reader while giving them the opportunity to think about things in a manner they might not have before. Which is why when I read Cyndere’s Midnight I was astonished about what character it was that I most related to.

A highly recommended read! I believe that Mr. Overstreet’s writing could hold its own among the classics.

-Shane

An earlier review of Auralia's Colors

Featured book, Cyndere’s Midnight - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400072530
Jeffrey Overstreet’s Web site - http://lookingcloser.org/
Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog - http://lookingcloser.org/category/journal/
Jeffrey Overstreet at Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Overstreet/42902959

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Holiday Post

Happy Valentine's Day

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Of Book Signings and Pubs.

We had an awesome time going down to The Banshee in Scranton, PA yesterday. Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper were doing a book signing/lunch and we decided to go to it.

We left our house about eight o’ clock in the morning, it’s a three hour trip but we wished to give ourselves the extra hour in case we ran into trouble along the way. After rest stops (The New York welcome building has WiFI!) and such we arrived about 11:30 at “The Banshee”. After being greeted by and greeting Sir Wayne and Sir Christopher, we sat down at a table.

It was a tremendous afternoon. Food, fun, and great conversations. Sword fights and book readings, we had a blast! A news station even showed up! It was a fun afternoon. Glad to have done it.

Besides the wonderful time we had with Sir Christopher and Sir Wayne, we had a great deal of fun on the ride as well. The most fun part of the trip was obviously the book signing event, but the rest was still good. Dad drove Heather and I down, it was good to spend time with him. We were all tired by the time we got back to our house, but during the trip we listened to a lot of music by a wide variety of musicians and genres and were having a pretty good time. I brought a book with me to read but it was forgotten in favor of scenery. When I read I tend to get totally absorbed. Even though we traveled nearly the exact same route in May of last year on our trip to Maryland I still enjoyed watching the scenery.

I find I like traveling. But I probably wouldn't like obsessive amounts of it.

On the subject of Scranton, I was thrilled to be visiting Scranton, when I put a scene in my book that takes place at "The Banshee" I was bit by the "Must Visit The Banshee Bug"... That was in November. If I had time I would have walked the same route that my characters did one evening.

In my book a group of Dwarves were visiting "The Banshee" and enjoying it very much. They were not there yesterday, must have been somewhere else. :-) Still it was kind of cool to stand in a spot that my characters stood in. I think I'm going to have to have the Dwarves visit our local pub.

Speaking of our local pub, we visited it as well for our dinner. It would have been a nice quiet evening as there were hardly any other customers except for a large but quiet party at the longest table or groups of tables... Not sure what they did. It would have been a nice quiet evening except that about five or ten minutes after we sat down the fire alarm went off. (It turned out to be a false alarm that someone accidently set off by hitting the alarm button on the forth floor.) Needless to say everyone had to leave the building. It wasn't too cold out yesterday thankfully. Most people hadn't grabbed their jackets. Glad it was a false alarm.

I also found that the local pub serves excellent salads, and they will let us bring our own dressing in the future. (Which is good because we have allergy issues to worry about.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Of Presidents and Technology.

Whether you agree with him or not the new website design for the White House is better then President Bush or Clinton's websites:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/

Well it's much better then President Clinton's. President Bush? A little better. President Clinton's site was basically a list of links. President Obama's has better graphics... Not sure if it's easier to navigate then President Bush's site.

There is a certain amount of hilarity in the President using YouTube for his weekly address. I mean back in the old days it seemed like the Government hosted just about everything for themselves, and now the President is just using YouTube. They do have a copy for download... But still... YouTube! I think someone needs to found GovTube or something.

Government websites usually have the worst design ever. I do have to hand that to President Obama, at least he's got good website designers. Now, let's just hope the trend spreads to the rest of the Government websites. Some of them still look like they were designed in the 90's... Probably were!

-Shane

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour: D. Barkley Briggs: The Book of Names - Day II

I was not planning to do anything beyond the first day of the tour but I thought this afternoon that I would list the things I do like about the book.

One of the more interesting aspects of the story line is the use of runes. I won't say what they are for, but a quick wikipedia search did bring up some interesting stories about some of the places mentioned in the book.

There is one character with a clever sword that I found rather amusing.

Despite already having encountered a similar concept in Christopher Paolini's Eragon books, I love the idea of the word being the thing. I imagine this will come into play a lot more later in the book and be revealed to be more important then it appears at first glance. Lovely idea, if fully realized, we could be in for quite an adventure.

In my review I did fail to mention one character who is not a villain and yet is complex and interesting. A young lady named Asandra, a very interesting character with quite a bit of potential.

I liked the preview chapters for the next book, nice setup for the rest of the book. :-)

-Shane

Links of importance:

The Book of Names on Amazon
D. Barkley Briggs’s Web site
D. Barkley Briggs’s blog

Sunday, January 18, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour: D. Barkley Briggs: The Book of Names

I generally don't like writing negative reviews, but I have to be honest, I really did want to write a positive review, but I was less then impressed by the book.

I must say that I came to this book, like I do for all books, with high expectations. Perhaps for a satisfying story or at least some kind of great philosophical point to chew on for a few days. Perhaps I had expectations that were to high and missed the joy of the storytelling as a result.

The Book of Names, a novel by D. Barkley Briggs, is the first book in the Legends of Karac Tor series. It reads similarly to Madline L’engle, though less polished, and not as deep as L’engle’s work. Still, it is a moderately good start to a series, but not an excellent one. The first four chapters proved to be interesting and meaningful, but from then on it failed to fully capture any sense of wonder, though there were some things to think about from time to time.

For much of the book it felt as if the characters were wandering about in a fog. I never felt I could get close enough to the character’s either, they seemed very distant, remote. The exception to the rule being the villains, which often was given in the very intimate first person point of view. I felt a closeness and personality to them, why not the heroes? The villains were well done enough, having more depth then most villains, they are the ones that leave you thinking at the end of the book, not the heroes, which by contrast felt very flat. One character, of whom I got the impression was playing the teacher role in the book kept conveniently forgetting some important and very obvious details that one of his station and occupation etc wouldn’t be very likely to overlook on several occasions, a plot device far overused.

In truth, I was disappointed. I hope that perhaps I will receive the wish for more depth in the rest of the series, the first two chapters to the next book are at the back of this one and they seem promising in that department. I am hoping that it won’t got back into wandering around in a fog, which really was this books biggest failure. It seemed to lack an overall shape. What was the overarching definition of the story? It didn’t seem to have any kind of set beginning and more importantly an end, even if it’s not the end of the series it felt like it was just cut off one day when it seemed like a good length for a book. I was holding my breath for the again in the “There and Back Again.” that we read in The Hobbit. Perhaps there isn’t meant to be an again, I don’t know. The story isn’t over yet, I will give it that possibility. Still it fails to stand as an individual book apart from the rest of the series.

I really did wish to like the book and had a number of high expectations, but they were left unfulfilled and disappointed. I hope that the rest of the books will redeem the first one and help clear out some of the fog the characters were wandering in, or maybe it simply needs a second reading on my part. I will allow that a brilliant overall narrative is a possibility, and the fog wandering is just some kind of “set up” for the rest of the series.

Overall, despite my complaints, I did enjoy it a bit. Just not nearly as much as I would have liked to. Mostly for the simple reason of not feeling like I’ve had the chance to actually get to know the main characters, at the end of the book they still seemed like strangers. The exception being the villainess, her I felt like I knew a bit and she stands out in my mind as the most distinctly different character.

We’ll have to see how the story plays out. I will not say that it isn’t worth the time to read, but it isn’t as good as it could be. It may just need a re-reading on my part, I hope to do so eventually, when I do and if I find it better, I’ll post another review of it. I’ve had that happen before, a book turn out to be much more enjoyable on the second reading then the first. So there is still hope! I do applaud D. Barkley Briggs on the tremendous amount of effort put into the story, despite my feelings about it, I must acknowledge the depth of the work involved. Writing a story isn't easy, and it was a good effort.

-Shane

Links of importance:

The Book of Names on Amazon
D. Barkley Briggs’s Web site
D. Barkley Briggs’s blog