Tuesday, February 28, 2017

To Cast or Not to Cast - Magical Prompt

Another good blogging email came my way today, this time from Your Next Favorite Author, which provides book and author spotlights along with regular writing prompts.

Selfishly, I'm usually too busy with ongoing projects to stop and do individual prompts, but they are excellent practice, and I keep an eye on the interesting ones nonetheless. Today's was about magic and spell-casting. For a fantasy writer like myself, magic is a driving force. Yet that is the case for most fantasy writers, and it can be hard to stand out. Building fantasy systems has become a complex and competitive game, where sometimes all you want is something different, and other times all you want is something familiar.

I employ a little bit of both in A Vision in Crimson, the fantasy series I'm gearing up to launch in the coming months, and over the course of the series more and more kinds of magic and magical practitioners crop up. Some of it is the kind of Deep Magic you hear about in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, that you see in action but never fully understand. Often I thought about the practical rituals of sympathy, conjuring, herbalism, and rootwork, rare natural abilities (that I won't spoil), and cosmic rules and consequences of a complex gaming system like that for Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror. For those who look closely, there are lots of Lovecraftian threads in my writing, even if there are no Cthulhus. In this series, something important for me was distinguishing between cost and effect, what sacrifices magic requires whether the spells are successful or otherwise, and whether they are worth the sacrifice. In Arkham Horror, spells come with weighty costs, almost as a deterrent to using them in the first place. That concept of danger and risk is featured heavily in the Frostbite series. I'd be pleased to see people's attempts at this prompt here in the comments, or over at Your Next Favorite Author.  There will never be too much magic in the world, in my book.

For this prompt, I cheated a little bit, and posted a small scene from A Vision in Crimson, of the first spell that is cast when it's dark, people are tired, and they've got nowhere to sleep. I thought I'd share that with you here, too.

From A Vision in Crimson : Frostbite Book One by Kathryn Troy

Kate returned. She walked right past Luca without even looking at him, and headed towards the fire. She said nothing. She knelt by the fire, grabbing a long, thin branch that was poking out of the center. The end was still lit. Without lifting it off the ground, Kate dragged the smoldering end in the dirt, creating a large spiral that bordered the entire clearing. The incoherent chatter of the camp began to quiet down, and Luca noticed that those too far to the edge of the clearing were deliberately stepping closer, standing inside the inner curve of the spiral.
            When the outer edges of the spiral met in a closed circle, Kate left the burning stick upright in the ground. She returned to the fire, walking back the way she had come, rather than crossing the lines and going straight for the center. Luca observed Kate closely. He could hear her whispering something, but couldn’t understand her words.
            When she arrived at the center, she knelt again by the fire. He saw that her soft lips were still moving. From the pouch at her waist, she pulled out a small blue orb, and held it in the palm of her left hand in front of her face. Her eyes were closed. Her right hand drew the dagger from her boot. Her fingers rotated the orb, placing the blade in her left palm between the orb and her hand. She continued to speak, and the fire began to glow stronger and brighter.
            Luca heard Kate take in a sharp breath, and in the next moment she quickly ran the dagger across her left palm, drawing blood. She squeezed the orb. Hard. When her blood dripped into the fire, it reacted like gasoline. The blaze traveled the path of the spiral Kate had drawn. In the haze created by the flames, a caravan began to take shape. A series of red and gold tents slowly materialized along the outline of the spiral. Their doors flapped open in the breeze to reveal the rich d├ęcor inside. The tents were populated by lush pillows and fabrics, cups and bowls made of silver, and incredibly soft-looking beds.
            In the center, Kate’s blade was still biting into her hand, which had begun to quiver. In a few more minutes, the tents took on a physical form, and Kate let her hands fall limply to her side. Her hand was bleeding profusely. She threw her dagger into the dirt and pulled the plaid scarf out from around her neck, wrapping it tightly around her wound. She picked up her dagger, wiped the blade on her lap, and returned it to its place alongside her leg.

It doesn't work without the hat...

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Art of Dying - Blog Share

I always find something interesting at The Gothic Library. The latest installment is no exception, talking about the peculiar ways and meanings behind death in Gothic literature, when the deaths of characters abound in our everyday media-The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, etc. etc.

I agree it is essential to remember that, as much as we might miss Glenn Rhee, or, you know, anyone in Westeros, that without the framing of a death in Gothic tropes, the tendency is to minimize that loss. But when a character dies in a Gothic tale, you never let it go. It's the central driving force of the tale: who and how someone died, by whose hands, for what reason...is that person truly dead? Is their soul at rest? If not, how can that be effected? These are the ways of storytelling that make the gothic so wonderful and broad, a genre that won't ever become stale as long as people continue to pour their souls into it.

I'll add to Julia's list of memorable deaths with one that will never leave me: Lady Madeline in "The Fall of the House of Usher," by Edgar A. Poe. Madeline's death is told to the narrator, observing Roderick Usher mental breakdown, accompanied by the literal fall of his house. The haunting mood that Poe describes as Usher's state of mind- telling of Madeline's death, followed by questioning, doubting, denying, and fearing the lack of death and what it hath wrought-it haunts me still.

If you've enjoyed the content on my page and have any affection for Gothic fiction, I heartily recommend The Gothic Library. If Poe is what you're after, read "The Fall of the House of Usher" here.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

American Giallo: Body Double

My interest in Body Double (1984) derived from the role it played in one of my perennial favorites, American Psycho (2000), as one of the films Patrick Bateman constantly watches in the background. I had no idea it was a modern re-envisioning of Alfred Hitchock's Rear Window (1954), nor did I know how much it would bolster my theories about the blurring of national lines when it comes to post-war cinema focused on stylized violence. At present, film scholars tend to think of German krimis, Italian gialli, and American slashers as being somewhat related to each other as artistic efforts in violence, but still bound by certain generic definitions that confine themselves to national borders. I have argued, (and will continue to argue if I ever get around to writing that book), that those genre borders should be re-examined, especially in regard to nationality.

Being a Peeping Tom can cause all
sorts of problems-especially when you witness a murder
Body Double is the perfect example of an out-and-out giallo that is NOT Italian. What makes it so? A few things:
*experimental camera angles and framing
*nonlinear storytelling
*stylized violence, usually witnessed
*an amateur investigator as a protagonist
*exploration of memory, selfhood, identity, and voyeurism
*set in an artistic community (actors)

Body Double excelled at all these. Added to this was an intriguing layer of petrifying claustrophobia, which was played brilliantly. Of course, as a Dario Argento fan, the leading director of gialli, I thought this film could have taken some of its scenes even further, but, this is an extraordinary work, and should be witnessed by all serious fans of horror.

K Rating: 10/10

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Angel of Storms- Too Good to Put Down

After reading something atrocious, (The Nosferatu Scroll, review below) I decided to take a short break from working on my new author goal, and went with a tried and true. Angel of Storms, the second volume of Trudi Canavan's new trilogy Millenium's Rule, could wait no longer.

I barely put the book down in the two and a half days it took me to read it. Canavan is at the top of her game. She is a thoughtful, compelling world builder, able to craft believable, relateable characters who are put through the ringer, and you right along with them. The cosmically epic story of a universe on the cusp of great change is continued through the experiences of two powerful sorcerers, Tyen and Rielle. Rielle's story is a beautiful one, showing how she picked up the pieces of her life after heartbreak, ridicule, and expulsion from her world for accidentally using magic, which is considered stealing from angels. Thing is, the angel that has forgiven her and offered her a new life is no angel-he's the Raen, the most powerful sorcerer in the universe and ruler of all the worlds.

The Raen is the most interesting addition to Millenium's Rule. He's super powerful, and the only person whose mind you don't get any insight to. I might have been disappointed by that, if it wasn't so compelling. Like all great and terrible rulers, he makes hard decisions, some with unforseeable consequences. So Canavan has added more universally compelling layers-questions of ethical governance, selfishness/selflessness in the face of great power, and how different perspectives frame "historical truth."  He interacts in equal turns with Tyen and Rielle, pulling their lives closer together towards the end, even though their narratives are not truly unified. But as the book comes to a close, you have impressions about where the third is going, and I can't wait.

It's not a perfect book, however. Though what Tyen is doing is more interesting than his flight from his magic-poor home world in Thief's Magic, on the whole he doesn't really experience a whole lot of growth, and his number one motivator, to release Vela from her page-bound prison, hasn't appreciably moved forward. Rielle, however, has progressed in leaps and bounds, and I found myself disappointed whenever her passages were interspliced with Tyen's. The difference between my level of interest in the two mains only grew further in this work.

And:I know Canavan doesn't care about happy endings of a romantic nature, and I absolutely commend her for that. But it's killing me. Really. I feel every heartache like it's my own,which makes her a wonderful writer. Hopefully there will be no more loose ends and happiness enough to go around in the third installment, set to be released on my birthday.

K Rating: 9/10

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Blair Witch - A Worthy Successor

In some ways Blair Witch  was better than the original The Blair Witch Project, but the ways in which it succeeds only work because of the original. I appreciated that the storyline kept tightly to the feel of the first, and they benefited from having a strong foundation that they could build on.

Image result for blair witch 2016The main character James is looking for his sister Heather, who disappeared in the first film. He brings along a bunch of friends and a bundle of new technology. The droid was a favorite of mine, because it provided lots some very interesting shots, and revealed an important component of the Maryland forest that they get lost in, and adds another layer to the story of Heather and her two buddies getting lost in the same forest, in much the same fashion.

The introduction of two additional characters who claimed to find Heather's footage was very smart too. Because it begs the question: how likely is it that this guy just happens to own a camera that can play Heather's tape? If you remember back, she had hand-selected those cameras for special functions. It's fairly obvious that he not only found her tape, but her camera. A really nice tie-in, and it adds tension to the current story, because you know these two newcomers are not telling everything they know.

Lighting and sound editing are phenomenal throughout. That becomes even more apparent in the last act, spent inside the house. It was terrifying enough to come across this dilapidated structure literally out of nowhere in the first film. Here, it's a bit clearer that the house doesn't truly exist: not according to their technology at least-it's not a permanent structure in the real world, but the characters can enter it. Whether or not they can exit is still a question. There's a strong play with a traditional haunting mechanism here: the breakdown of linear time exhibited through sound. It's executed with terrifyingly brilliant effect here, and as your eyes are peeled to what you're watching, your mind is racing to connect it to what you've already seen. It makes The Blair Witch Project present and urgent, doubling down on the scare factor of these crucial moments.

The tightness of the house set, how they move through it and suggest the ambiguity of cellar vs. attic as the focus of the haunting, and the witch herself: all of these are utter perfection. Highest marks to this one, and hope that other filmmakers will look to all this movie got right to bring us more bone-chilling cinema in 2017.

K Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Vision in Crimson FREE NOW on Amazon! Click here for details

Available now on Amazon! To celebrate the release of its sequel, Dreams of Ice and Shadow, A Vision in Crimson will be FREE on Amazon starting Tuesday, May 15 - snatch up your copy today!

Back cover:
Katelyn knows her magic is risky, but Icaryan light is fading fast and she is desperate. Returning to Earth, she crosses paths with Luca, a vampire hybrid living on the outskirts of humanity. Passion sparks their weary hearts. The rogue hunter follows Katelyn into a world teeming with wonder and danger, forsaking his own quest to root out his father.

But his father has not forgotten him.

A Vision in Crimson is the first installment of a new epic fantasy blistering with romance and Gothicism.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Versailles - For Francophiles Only?

J'aime la France. J'aime tout sur la France.

Did you get that? Maybe not all of it, but the general gist. With that said, I enjoyed the first season of Versailles very much. It tells of the obstacles faced by Louis XIV of France as he struggled to build the Palace of Versailles in his ancestral hunting lodge. The project is intended as a sign of a strong France in the face of the discontented and divided nobility as well as foreign enemies-England and the Netherlands most prominently.

The royal family
I enjoyed the portrayal of the sun king before he was the sun king, seeing him more human and vulnerable to powerful influences and oppositional forces all around him. In that very complex tale, we have several interesting characters: country nobles who want Louis to go back to Paris and stay there, people who stay close for the sake of spying, mistresses vying for Louis's favor, an unfaithful queen, the king's brother (Duke de Orleans) who struggles with his own aspirations, a war veteran serving as royal gardener who seems to have gained the king's ear, the doctor's daughter who knows more about medicine than he does...and the list goes on and on. But because they're all staying in the same vicinity, they don't have divergent storylines that you only get a bit of once in a while. Their stories revolve around Louis, with him at the center of every episode-as well he should be. The result was that each episode was well balanced, and I watched the entire first season in two or three seamless sittings. Each individual episode had enough connecting threads and plot twists to goad you into a binge.

Image may contain: 1 person
The sun is always shining in the king's garden. Me, on my 5th
wedding anniversary
The production values for the most part are excellent-the wigs on the king and the duke make me flaming mad that this is no longer fashionable, and the costumes are phenomenal, right down to the lowliest servant. Although, the colors of their most resplendent set are usually very muted, like the sun never shines in France, which is simply not true. My one other complaint is the amount of sex in the storyline. It needed to be there to an extent to establish relationships, but it was saturated, to the point of being gratuitous. Perhaps the writers were thinking it would help people understand Versailles as decadent, but I could have gotten that with a third of the trysts I was privy to.

I will absolutely be watching the upcoming seasons, but there is something that makes me wonder whether people who only have a shrugging interest in France or its history will enjoy this as much as I did. If that's the case...c'est la vie.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Nosferatu Scroll - Obviously a Doorstop

I don't believe in reviewing things that were so bad I did not finish them. But I read enough of James Becker's The Nosferatu Scroll that it's merited here. I was about two hundred pages in, and I got angrier and angrier with every page I turned. I stopped for the sake of my blood pressure.

It's hard for me to find literature that is thrilling, mysterious, or suspenseful that preys upon my other interests as well: the dark, the weird, the supernatural. I care nothing for arms dealers, drug trafficking, corporate or international espionage...these things are 9 times out of 10 lost on me. I need something better. Think Twin Peaks. So of course I tried something like The Nosferatu Scroll, which supposedly blends vampiric folklore and missing girls.

One idea kept popping into my head as I read line after line of atrocious, meaningless description, completely unbelievable dialogue, and whole chapters that did squat to move the plot forward: that it was published by Signet, a Penguin imprint. One of the Big 5 that hails itself as one of the "gatekeepers" of fiction. I'd laugh, if it wasn't so sad. It's as bad as an English teacher who can't spell to save their lives. Becker's exposition was so clunky and inelegant that it reminded me of someone watering down an already lousy Wikipedia article. And when you do that in dialogue, what you get is a commercial for life insurance: overly wordy, completely unnatural, and usually pointless.

I lost count of how many times the word "obviously" appeared. Becker would describe something that didn't need describing, (like making sure the computer had a charge before the character turned it on), insert "obviously," and then completely skip over describing things that might actually have given the story a hair's breadth of complexity. This is the way not to write. OBVIOUSLY.

Another major problem I had: the scenes of the girls disappearing, and subsequently being tortured and raped read like someone writing a rape fantasy. It wasn't half as dark as the writer OBVIOUSLY thought it was, and instead seemed like he wrote to titillate, or was titillated, which is my guess. There was something too glorified in the voyeurism, that read like the script for a porn adaptation. Do what you like in your own home, but it made no sense to the writing itself, and it placed me in the awkward position of being very OBVIOUSLY in the author's wet dream, rather than projecting me into the terror of his characters.

An epic fail in all regards. If the back copy of this sounds interesting to you, do yourself a favor and read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova instead.

Rating: 0/10.
**New author goal: 5**