Kingdoms of Beasts

Did you ever read the Redwall books? Or the Guardians of Gahoole? Secret of NIMH? You know, those stories of animal civilizations where the animals are a kind of people, but not human. I think Watership Down is one of those sorts of tales, too.

I read the Redwall books like crazy. They’re pretty big books for kids books. I quite because I got older and my tastes a bit more complex. The Redwall books were trope-y as all get out and you could tell Jacques was running out of steam after a certain point. They were fascinating, though, and there was always a sense of a larger world. The Salamandastron books were the best. Badger Lords and Ladies FTW!

What stands out about Redwall and the rest is that they are PG-13 to R. I am not kidding. There are deaths that put the flashy cynical stuff you find on streaming services to shame. The big bad of the first Redwall book is crushed by a bell! Redwall is violent. Very, very violent. Slavery and barbarism are everywhere to be found. There is a lot of joy and happiness in the lives of the animals of Redwall, but a lot of sorrow and death, too. The snake in the first book is something out of a horror movie!

It’s funny how these “Kingdoms of the Beasts” books work. They’re epic fantasy, but the worlds have a lived-in feel where the rules of magic- if there is any- are defined as you go along. They’re violent but not cynical.

You can get away with a lot of violence if it’s animals doing it to each other instead of any human involvement, it seems. I wonder if parents saw the cute animal covers and assumed they were G-rated? My parents wouldn’t have cared- I saw Jurassic Park when I was four- but I think some might have.

Foolishly, by the way. Better the violence wrought by Cregga Rose Eyes upon vermin who prey on the innocent than the crass, cynical melodrama that is found in a lot of Young Adult fiction these days. Young readers will learn of violence in fiction books; there’s no guarantee they’ll learn of honor, or the value of civilization, or find heroes truly worth emulating.

Heroes Who Are Wrong Sometimes

Since I wrote about villains, I guess I should address something on the other side that I see a lot.

Much hay has been made of stories that teach about failure. Mind you, the failure is not really the fault of the hero, so while it can be interesting because yes, outside forces will screw you no matter how hard you try, I feel the frequency of this story misses out on another truth: sometimes, you failed because you were wrong.

Yes, sometimes in life good people are wrong about things. This is a theme of a relationship between one of the main characters of Paladin and a secondary one. It’s a rather stupidly human thing to do and that’s why I like it.

It’s okay and even interesting to write heroes who make the wrong call about people or situations. Dealing with failure is one thing; dealing with a failure that is your fault, your actual fault because you were wrong about something, is another.

This is what is meant by flaws. Not clumsiness or too much cursing or a weakness for chocolate or whatever. Those might be problems and they’re certainly relatable, but they’re also overplayed (interestingness I leave to you). If you’re looking for a didactic angle, they’re better corrected by a self-help book or a therapist than your story; stories teach different kind of lessons.

Also, if your character feels like they’d be making a bad call, then let him or her make it. Your character doesn’t need to be an archetype. People know the archetype! But they don’t know the person you’re writing about yet. They’ll make a more impactful role model, too.

Luke Skywalker was whiny and selfish at the beginning of Star Wars, but by the end of the trilogy he was able to selflessly put that aside to face death and worse. That means a lot more to a lot more people than starting and ending with some paragon; a lot of them know they’re at least sometimes whiny and selfish and, frankly, they shouldn’t be, they may not realize that they can overcome it. Show people that people can overcome real character flaws, survive their own poor judgement, and live- a happy life, even- with the fact that they are the source of their own failures.

Plus it is a lot more interesting. There is no challenge like overcoming yourself, in terms of both difficulty and the glory that comes with success.

Villains

One of the truths of genre fiction is that any story is only really as good as its villain. Historical fiction doesn’t have to do this, crime fiction plays at it mattering, literary fiction is a beast I have no interest in understanding …but fantasy and sci-fi? Villains matter.

Not that a good villain is strictly necessary for a good story, but they do elevate it. “German National Socialists but magic” or “in space” are ubiquitous and, at this point, a bit dull. Nebulous Malicious Evil (may take the Lovecraftian form) needs a bit more detail and some kind of original gimmick to really hit the mark.

But a Darth Vader does something extra. He’s got a malicious style, if that makes sense, and is actually very snarky but it’s a dark pit of a sense of humor. The family aspect is a nice touch that gives him dimension. Dimension George Lucas wasn’t quite up to exploring, in my opinion, though the Clone Wars series did a good job of making it work.

Or a villain can be just skin-crawling evil. This is less common these days- everyone is trying to recreate Darth Vader while forgetting he really was evil, reasons aside- but Sauron from Lord of the Rings is actually this way. The movies and hippie-ish understanding of LotR make it hard to believe but Sauron is terrifying. This is the near-divine being who brought down the best and brightest hope of humanity, Numenor. He didn’t destroy it. He perverted, twisted it into a mockery of itself by exploring its weaknesses, leaving no other option for the Maker of the Universe but to eradicate it. He did this with beyond human cunning, and afterward, rallied an army do massive and terrible that he nearly killed the still-true remnants of that noble kingdom. He would have succeeded if not for the desperate slash if a broken sword from a grieving, defeated prince. Sauron’s evil is never properly depicted on screen, and Tolkien is too classy to describe it in detail, but it is in his dungeons that Arwen’s mother is so traumatized she cannot remain in Middle Earth. She was, unfortunately, not a unique case.

You can base a villain on a bully taken to the 10th degree, or even a bad teacher, or all sorts of things you’ve brushed against in real life, too. Take a character suggested in a song and flesh it out into a real- and terrible- person. I’ve done both those things before.

See, a good villain is not just someone people “love to hate” or someone with a striking s sense of evil style. The villain that carries a story to the next level is one that makes the reader realize the villain is a force for your heroes to reckon with, with bonus points for touching some visceral part of readers and giving them at least a little shiver.

Now, the trick is to take my own advice…

Amazon Concerns

Amazon has begun removing books that fall outside the primary viewpoint of its executives and I assume employees. They basically came out and said “we do what we want and find this offensive; we don’t have to tell you why specifically.” (I cannot find the statement itself on my work break this morning, so I could be off.)

This is concerning. No matter your opinion on the book that was removed, the fact is that’s a pretty open ended statement. People get offended by different things, even people ostensibly on the “same side”. Monty Python no doubt greatly offends one left-wing Amazon employee while another left-wing employee loves it a lot, for instance. I assure you that there is a variety of offensiveness on display among Amazon’s indie authors. If it can offend a sense- aesthetic, moral, whatever- it is present there.

On top of that, the author of that removed book has resources to find workarounds. Most indie authors don’t. Amazon dominates the reading market. The best way to reach readers is through them. If Amazon comes for your tiny little novel and this endeavor is largely just a dream you’re trying to make real, a hobby you pay taxes on, what other option is there? It’s intimidating.

I know the response is that “they won’t bother with the unimpressive likes of you.” Which is presently true. I made less than $60 on my books last year. I’m nobody, and frankly, but for money, I am content with that. But the likes of me is a lot easier to crush utterly than someone established in some way and I’m not greatly worried, but I do see a concern. I was bullied some in middle school. People who like to crush others aren’t looking for a challenge. They like the act of crushing and softer targets are much more appealing because it’s easier to crush them.

There are alternatives. I like, in a technical way, the way Amazon does most things. I’d rather not try to hunt down a less optimized, less profitable alternative. I’m not writing things that I think will offend anyone, but the rules seem to move a lot and I’m busy making ends meet at my day job. But I worry a bit.

Book Review: The Cadfael Chronicles

I have been depressed (like many), then busy, and then found out my desktop version of WordPress is no longer working, so this post comes to you on the app after much delay.

I’m not typically one for historical novels. I like a bit of the fantastic in my reading, or just go for pure nonfiction. However, I grew up occasionally seeing the Cadfael series starring Derek Jacobi, which I enjoy, and have known for awhile that they are also books. This past December I embarked upon this nineteen book journey and it has been an absolute delight.

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Wookie Mandalorians

No-Katan’s army needs Wookie Mandalorians.

They were legitimately a thing in the old EU (“Legends”). In fact, one is a key quest giver of the bounty hunter questline in the last lingering part of the EU, The Old Republic MMORPG.

And they could look so cool:

Creed, not race, Favreau. You said it.

Book Review: A Bloody Habit

It being October at the time of this writing, I decided to reread and review a fitting novel for the spooky season: A Bloody Habit by Eleanor Bourg Nelson. Set in early 1900s London, the lawyer Jack Kemp, a young English gentleman bachelor, finds himself tangled in the dark truth of vampires (while he’s reading Dracula, then a new novel). Also, there are Dominican friars who hunt vampires and occasionally play practical jokes on each other.

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Last Few Months Update

With The Mourning Company in editing and myself searching for a job, this blog has been even more quiet than usual. I’m also planning my wedding. The dog days of summer are behind us here in the Valley of the Sun and lovely September is starting to set in. Soon, I shall be able to write on the patio.

For my…fan (hi mom)… I have been mucking about with another project. It’s sci-fi, an old idea I’ve been refining since childhood, and I think will be a smoother experience than The Paladin Trilogy. Yes, yes, I have an outline for book #3 in the works, too. And a pacing problem, but that’s why we outline….To be honest, this new project probably has more commercial viability, but having a backlist never hurt anyone.

The next few months are looking at the completion of The Mourning Company edits, completion of wedding planning, finding a day job, doing Doomwalker v2 edits (yes, I know about the typos), and finishing Book #3 outline. I also have a Mandalorian helmet that is wanting of paint. Sometimes I need something to do with my hands.

This year has been a challenge. Like many others, I dance on the edge of depression. I pray for anyone in this place and I certainly need prayers as well. I, too, am sick of political ads, sick of madness and worry. It’s important to set your sights on the horizon you can see. Not a distant future, not some perfect dream, but a clear thing you want that is doable, something you can build bit by bit.

Hang in there. Sink your claws and your teeth in and don’t let go. You’re worthy of more than the yawning abyss below.