Weredragons

One of the most awesome scenes in Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty is when the sorceress Maleficent turns into a dragon to do battle with Prince Phillip. It’s beautifully executed, frightening, and you realize that strange headpiece Maleficent wears is reminiscent of dragon horns and you wonder whether the dragon or the human is her “true” form. Ever since I saw that, I felt like the idea of a human who could transform into a dragon had a lot of story potential.

What’s more the idea of a humans who can become dragons and vice versa have some mythic basis. After all, Fafnir in Nordic legend is a dwarf who is turned into a dragon through the power of a cursed ring. In the Grimms’ story “The Dragon and His Grandmother”, we’re introduced to a dragon who has a human grandmother. Although it’s not part of the story, one gets the impression that either the grandmother is a dragon in human form or the dragon is her transformed grandson.

It’s because of this relatively untapped potential, that I was excited to see the novel Lost Sons by fellow Lachesis Publishing author Greg Ballan. Not only is there a beautiful dragon on the cover from artist Laura Givens, but the description tells us the story’s protagonist, Duncan Kord is a Viking Warrior who was saved at the moment of death by a race of advanced beings who “infused his body and mind with the essence of a powerful dragon.” I knew I had to read this book.

As the novel begins, Duncan uses his superhuman strength to save an Amish village from a biker gang. He’s banished for his efforts because the elders don’t want the children to learn violent ways. Kord respects the elders enough to abide by their decision even there’s no requirement for him to do so. He goes across country and settles in Alaska, where he stumbles upon a corporate war between two oil companies which threatens to turn into a real shooting war. What’s more, the CEO of one of two oil companies is none other than the man who brought him to his moment of death back in the Viking days. The people who saved Kord also saved the man who nearly killed him almost 1500 years before. That man is now known as William Jefferson Sagahr.

Lost Sons is the first part of a bigger story. In this novel, Kord fights to bring peace to his newly adopted home of Caribou Point, Alaska and hopes to lure Sagahr into a confrontation. However, Sagahr refuses to be baited and remains focused on his feud with a rival oil company. In the process, we learn that Sagahr has also been infused with powers and that he and Kord have tangled at least one other time after the initial battle where they nearly took each other’s lives. While in Caribou Point, Kord begins to fall for a waitress. As a powerful immortal he knows the pain of watching comrades die over the centuries, but that doesn’t prevent him from being swept up by his emotions.

One of the challenges of writing a character who can transform into a dragon is to hint at the abilities without overusing them. Also, we need a good reason why he doesn’t turn into a dragon at every opportunity it could possibly be an advantage. Greg does a great job of this and roots it to Kord’s underlying humanity giving us a reason to care about him. Lost Sons kept me turning pages and I look forward to seeing what happens in the second installment of this series. As it stands, this book is a great new addition to the lore of people who can transform into dragons.

You can find the book at Amazon and Lachesis Publishing.

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WordFire Press Super Showcase Bundle

One of this year’s great pleasures has been getting to know Kevin J. Anderson better. Not only do we share a table of contents in the weird western anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, but he served as the publisher of the anthology Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. As we come to the end of year, I’m proud to learn that Kevin has selected Maximum Velocity to be part of a terrific story bundle that includes many titles from WordFire Press.

This Super Spotlight features 17 different WordFire Press titles that highlight an amazing range of titles and authors. You can get all 17 books for a minimum price of $15—but feel free to pay what you feel they’re worth. The bundle only runs Dec 6-28.

A part of the proceeds will go directly to the worthy Be a Santa nonprofit run by Patricia Tallman (from Babylon 5 and Night of the Living Dead). It’s a real honor to help support this great cause created by a person whose work I’ve long admired.

The bundle includes Kevin’s novel, Death Warmed Over, the first novel in his Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series. There’s also the fun and exciting Monsterland, by Michael Okon, the Goonies meets Jurassic Park with monsters. And JB Garner has Indomitable, the first in his entertaining superhero trilogy.

If you like unusual detectives who aren’t zombies, there’s Brooks Wachtel’s beautifully illustrated and innovative Lady Sherlock and David Boop’s noir She Murdered Me With Science. Or maybe you prefer werewolves with PTSD? Then try Julie Frost’s Pack Dynamics. In other Fantasy and Urban Fantasy, there’s Griffin’s Feather by J.T. Evans and First Chosen by Todd Gallowglas. Death Wind by Travis Heerman and Jim Pinto is a weird western horror novel, while Mike Baron’s Banshees proves that death doesn’t have to put an end to sex, drugs, and rock & roll.

In the edgier, dark thriller category, Jeff Mariotte’s Empty Rooms and Colum Sanson-Regan’s The Fly Guy will keep you awake at night better than espresso at midnight. Aaron Michael Ritchey’s post-apocalyptic adventure Dandelion Iron is about a strong young woman trying to lead a cattle drive in the West after the fall of civilization. And The Crown and the Dragon is a colorful epic fantasy with (as the title suggests) crowns and dragons, as well as a few swords and magic.

If you want a lot of short stories, the bundle includes three anthologies, A Fantastic Holiday Seasons, with everything from zombies for Thanksgiving to aliens at Christmas: perfect reading for this time of year. Award-winning Mike Resnick has Away Games, a collection of his stories about sports and science fiction. Last but not least, Maximum Velocity is a collection of science fiction adventure stories curated by Carol Hightshoe, Dayton Ward, Jennifer Brozek, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and me.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Go check out the Story Bundle. There’s lots to enjoy. Thanks for your support of small press publishing and the wonderful Be a Santa organization. Remember, the WordFire Press Super Showcase RUNS ONLY THROUGH DEC 28.

The initial titles in the The WordFire Press Super Showcase Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

  • Monsterland by Michael Okon
  • A Fantastic Holiday Season by Kevin J. Anderson and Keith J. Olexa
  • Empty Rooms by Jeffrey J. Mariotte
  • Maximum Velocity edited by David Lee Summers, Carol Hightshoe, Dayton Ward, Jennifer Brozek, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt
  • She Murdered Me with Science by David Boop

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus TWELVE more!

  • Death Wind by Travis Heerman and Jim Pinto
  • Away Games by Mike Resnick
  • Banshees by Mike Baron
  • First Chosen by M. Todd Gallowglas
  • Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson
  • Pack Dynamics by Julie Frost
  • The Crown and the Dragon by John D. Payne
  • Griffin’s Feather by J.T. Evans
  • Indomitable by J.B. Garner
  • The Fly Guy by Colum Sanson-Regan
  • Lady Sherlock by Brooks Arthur Wachtel
  • Dandelion Iron: The Juniper Wars Book 1 by Aaron Michael Ritchie

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com/wordfire. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

Fabulous Fables

Author Paul McComas recently sent me a copy of a book called Fables from Elsewhere by Dexter Dogwood. McComas wrote the foreword and served as the book’s editor. The book left me reflecting on the power of fable as a storytelling form.

Of course, many of us grew up with Aesop’s fables. In particular, I remember Jay Ward poking gentle fun at the fables with his Aesop and Son segments during The Bullwinkle Show. Because many of us encountered Aesop’s fables at a young age and because the lessons have become so ingrained, it’s easy to dismiss fables as simple kids stories in which talking animals dispense life lessons.

In fact, fables can do much more. They can tell us about the culture from which they originated, including that culture’s values. Fables don’t always present simple morals. Sometimes they give the reader something to ponder. They might even question a society’s values.

In both The Astronomer’s Crypt and my forthcoming novel Owl Riders, I used retellings of Native American fables to provide insights into the ways characters addressed problems they had to deal with.

In Fables form Elsewhere, Dexter Dogwood brings us a dozen fables from a distant world populated by such fantastic creatures as sladlours, trobligors, and cojolitors. It’s left as an exercise for the reader to determine whether this world was created in Dogwood’s fertile imagination or whether they he translated signals intercepted between two worlds. However these fables were conceived, they contain a mix of homespun wisdom, challenging concepts, and topics worthy of thought couched in simple, but not simplistic, tales of creatures making a life on a faraway planet. I now know the importance of song when harvesting snerfet plants and while some people only look at their feet, they may yet know the sky’s true color.

If you want to check out Fables from Elsewhere, you can pick up a copy at https://www.amazon.com/Fables-Elsewhere-Dexter-Dogwood/dp/1540504468/

Extinct?

In the spring of 2014, when I first visited New Orleans, I looked up at the statue of Andrew Jackson in front of the St. Louis Cathedral and thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Jackson was riding a hadrosaur instead of a horse. As that thought occurred to me, I could almost hear the bellowing of hadrosaurs echoing the walls of Pirate’s Alley behind the cathedral and I knew I wanted to write a story about the Battle of New Orleans with dinosaurs.

That fall, I went to MileHiCon in Denver and Dana Bell told me that she was considering an anthology about extinct and mythical creatures living outside their time. She wanted to ask what if those ancient creatures of so beloved in fiction, myth and science had not disappeared or been real? What type of uses might have been developed to handle them and how might man have felt about the thundering giants in yesterday’s, today’s, or tomorrow’s worlds? I pitched my idea and she invited me to send the story. I wrote it up, sent it in, and she ultimately accepted it. And now, I’m pleased to announce that Extinct? is available for sale and “Jackson’s Hadrosaurs” is the lead story in the volume.

What else will you find in the book? Imagine a sanctuary for dinosaurs that displaces humans. Raptors used on a distant planet as scouts for a new colony. Dodo birds leaving a record about what happened to them or an unusual way dragons help settlers. A conqueror who learns a hard lesson from a goddess and two children who create their own monster.

You’ll find lovely tales about those lumbering giants of old in ways not shown before, of those who ruled the skies and many others once thought to be mythical, and yet, here they appear in Extinct?

I’m thrilled once again to be listed in a table of contents alongside so many of my favorite authors. Here are the stories you’ll find in this anthology:

  • Jackson’s Hadrosaurs – David Lee Summers
  • The Horse Man – Rebecca McFarland Kyle
  • The Wizard and the Dinosaur Riding Pirate – Sam Knight
  • Flutterlight – Ronnie Seagren
  • One More Bad Decision – M.R. Anglin
  • Ryuu Poo – Tam Lin
  • Unmaking Lord Rex Tyran – A.M. Burns
  • Dunce de León – Quincy J. Allen and Aaron Michael Richey
  • Fury – Spencer Carvalho
  • Dinosaura & Hominana – Todd A. Walls
  • The Goons – Matt Bille
  • The Mask Maker of Venezia – C. John Arthur
  • Song of the Sireini – Sean Jones
  • Across the Blood-Stained Sea – Rob S. Rice
  • The Prophecy Foretold – Lorelei Suzanne
  • Dodo’s Atlantis – Tam Lin
  • Man Versus Rex – Denise Miller Holmes
  • Lift – R. Joseph Maas
  • Children of the Goddess – Carol Hightshoe
  • Best Decision – Dana Bell
  • Brown and the Allosaurus Wrecks – J.A. Campbell

One of the things I wanted to explore in my story was the notion of herbivorous dinosaurs somehow being “tame” or “safe.” I think anyone who has spent time on a farm or around animals knows that herbivores can be dangerous if not treated with respect. On another trip to New Orleans, I stopped at a rest area and saw a crane standing in a bog while an alligator swam around hunting. The bird and the reptile were completely at ease with each other. Both seemed much more interested in eating the fish that swam around them than fighting. It made me think of symbiotic relationships in nature and I began to wonder how alligators would react to dinosaurs. Would they be friends or enemies? You can see my approach in the story.

When I was in New Orleans this past summer, I drove out to the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the real Battle of New Orleans. I was gratified to see it that it was much as I pictured it from descriptions. What’s more, I found descendants of dinosaurs wandering the field.

Extinct? is available in print at: Amazon.com

And as an ebook at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0778XYJ67/

In the Heart of the Sea

An all too frequent lament I hear these days is that Hollywood is too obsessed with superhero blockbuster movies and remakes. They can’t seem to make anything original. A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to discover a recent historical film called In the Heart of the Sea directed by Ron Howard (Apollo 13 among others) and starring such bankable stars as Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Holland (Spiderman Homecoming), and Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer). The movie tells the story of the Essex, an early nineteenth century Nantucket whaler whose story went on to inspire Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick. What was surprising to me was that I’d heard nothing about this film until I saw a preview for it in front of a superhero movie I was watching with my kids.

I am a big fan of Herman Melville’s magnum opus. I first read the novel in high school and had a difficult time understanding it. I was also disappointed to discover that the version I bought was an abridged version. After I met Ray Bradbury in 1983 and learned he’d written the screenplay for the 1956 film starring Gregory Peck, I vowed to give the novel another try. I sought out a copy of the unabridged novel and dived in. I read it in college and loved not just the main story, but all the diversions Melville took to tell us about aspects of whaling. I felt they helped me understand the plot much better.

Not long after I read the novel, I ended up taking a job on Nantucket, working at a small observatory. I got to visit the whaling museum there and experience the town that gave rise to an important part of early nineteenth century Americana. It’s fair to say Moby-Dick worked its way into my very bones. Parts of which strongly influenced my novels Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth.

In fact, my first professional sale was a retelling of Moby-Dick in which the crew of an airship hunts dragons for the fuel that allows them to breath fire. It was published in Realms of Fantasy magazine in 2001 and is now available in a standalone reprint edition at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Perhaps after all this, it comes as no surprise that I loved In the Heart of the Sea. It told the story of men hunting whales from little wooden boats, using hand-thrown harpoons. In the story, we already see that whales are becoming over-hunted and hard to find. This drives the crew of the Essex to attempt to hunt whales out on the open ocean where they find one angry whale that has grown large and isn’t going to put up with this hunting nonsense any longer.

I found it a powerful movie, well told. It was both exciting and thoughtful, which seems a rare combination in movies these days. It endeavored to be faithful to history. Sadly, the big name blockbuster stars didn’t really shine in this film, and it would seem they didn’t draw much of an audience, either. Reviewer Matthew Lickona of the San Diego Reader said the movie had “a strange decency and politeness for a film that strives to depict, in epic form, man’s dark and visceral struggle with the world and himself.” The thing is, that’s actually one of the things I find compelling about history is that often times people found ways to be polite and decent in the heart of darkness.

If you like good, historical fiction, I would recommend In the Heart of the Sea. It’s not an amazing film, but it is a good one, and a good change of pace from yet another superhero film. It gives me hope that I might find a few more good films out there, lurking under the surface.

Chasing Legends

Back in September, I mentioned that Leiji Matsumoto’s Harlock Saga inspired me to watch the four operas of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. My wife and I treated the viewing a little like many people approach football games. We stocked up on snacks and for each opera, just settled in for an evening’s entertainment.

When we finished the complete cycle, I found myself curious about the legends that inspired it. Much of this was because the legend itself has fascinating mythical elements such as the Norse gods, magical sword, dragon slaying, and a jilted Valkyrie lover. Another aspect was that I saw a handful of parallels between the saga and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, the Ring Cycle is tainted by Richard Wagner’s antisemitism and I wanted to get to know the legend without those disturbing overtones.

I soon learned that early in his academic career, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his own version of the lays that would ultimately give rise to the Ring Cycle. I soon ordered a copy of the book in hopes that the discussion would give me some insights into Norse mythology, some of how Tolkien was inspired by the story, and perhaps even what Tolkien found particularly appealing about the story.

The book includes Tolkien’s versions of the lays along with extensive commentary by his son, Christopher Tolkien. An appendix endeavors to place the story into historical context. There are several notes that show how aspects of the lays and the Norse language influenced The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, the book never really answered why Tolkien found Norse legend especially appealing, other than to mention that it was part of his academic interest.

Perhaps the aspect of the poems I found most interesting was learning that after Siegfried’s (or Sigurd’s) betrayal and death, Gutrune (or Gudrún) went on to marry none other than Attila the Hun. What’s interesting about this for me is that it places the Siegfied story into a particular place in history and that place is about a generation or two before the rise of King Arthur in Britain, a story that has influenced my own writing.

As discussed in the book, it’s unclear how much of Gudrún’s story was intended as history and how much is taking a popular story and melding it with history. According to the most accurate histories we have, we know Attila married a Germanic woman shortly before his death, so their may be some truths in the legend. The timing of the story also made me wonder whether pressure from the Huns drove the Saxons into Britain helping to give rise to the conflicts that ultimately gave us the King Arthur legend.

Perhaps more interesting to me than this idle speculation is just the fact that Tolkien actually went through the process of retelling the Norse lays that he found so fascinating. It reminds me of what I did when I retold the Arthurian Culhwch and Olwen story. For me, it was an exercise in getting my head around a fascinating story and getting to know it better. Now, Tolkien was much more an expert at Norse legend in his youth than I will ever be in Arthurian lore, and he started with the Norse texts whereas I worked with translations. Still, it was fun to see that we approached the problem of understanding these old stories in a similar way.

If you’re curious about my version of Culhwch and Olwen, I recorded it as an audiobook. You can pick up copies from Amazon or directly from Hadrosaur Productions. In short Arthur’s cousin Culhwch entreats the king to help him win the hand of Olwen. Olwen’s father agrees to let the couple marry if Arthur is successful in a dangerous quest for … grooming supplies!

As for my own interest in Arthurian legend, I’ll just say that the more I looked into it, the more I discovered it was something of a puzzle lost in history. The more I looked, the more I was interested in the history behind the legend. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tolkien felt much the same way about the legend of Sigurd and Gudrún.

Tucson and Las Cruces this weekend!

This coming weekend I’ll be signing books in both Tucson, Arizona and Las Cruces, New Mexico. Details about both events are below.


Saturday, September 16 – Tucson, Arizona

    Time: 1-3pm
    Location: Bookmans East at Speedway and Wilmot


I’ll be participating in the Free Thought Fest at Bookmans East. From the Bookmans’ website about the event: “Literature is all about expression, ideas and the sharing of reality. The brilliance of a great writer is that they can carry the reader into foreign soil, territories only traversed in the mind. The reader becomes an interloper, an explorer, an omniscient being that careens through landscapes of imagination carried by the whims of our creator—The Author. Bookmans stands firmly in the belief that no one has the right to inhibit your travel. Only you should be able to decide how your passport is stamped. So if you are looking for experience, adventure, education and expansion of the mind, help us support some of Tucson’s finest local authors at our Free Thought Fest.”

Among the authors on hand will be Jessica Feinberg, Natalie Wright, and Natasha Cover. There will be many other authors as well. From past experience, it pays to arrive early to the event so you can have time to browse all the authors’ work. Also, don’t stop with the authors at the front of the store, Bookmans often places authors throughout the building. If you come to have books signed and don’t see me at the front of the store, please come looking!

For more information about the event, visit: http://bookmans.com/events/free-thought-fest-anti-censorship-month-bookmans-east/


Sunday, September 17 – Las Cruces, NM

    Time: 2-4pm
    Location: Thomas Branigan Memorial Library Roadrunner Room

The Celebrate Authors Event publicly celebrates the talent, hard work, and achievements of southern New Mexican authors. Booktalks, displays, and book signings by authors will promote the diversity and excellence of literary talent throughout our community. Refreshments will be provided as well.

There will be twenty-four authors attending, including Stan Blitz, Win Jacobs, Deanna Dickenson McCall, and Michelle Wing. I attended this event last year and it was a great chance to meet authors from Las Cruces who work in many different genres and learn about their work.

For more information about the event and to see photos from last year, visit: http://libraryfriendslc.org/celebrate-authors/