Monday, October 21, 2013

New Cover Art for The Valley of Thorns! What Do You Think?

Ki'shto'ba reacts to learning the truth
about its misdeeds.
(Click for larger view)
       I'm presenting the new cover art that I concocted for The Valley of Thorns.  I honestly like it better than the other drawing, which I'm inserting at the bottom so you can compare.  The new drawing shows a scene from late in the book, but I can't tell you more about what's happening than I put in the caption.  It's enough to say that Ki'shto'ba isn't really murdering Di'fa'kro'mi and Za'dut no matter how it looks, but it is quite dramatic!  They are in the desert here, not in the Valley of Thorns.  The main thing I don't like about it is the depiction of the extinct volcano -- it lacks depth.  I may tinker with that a little.
       I can give you this much of a quotation, without revealing too much of the plot:
“You used the Great Spear on Pai’it’zei,” I said, dreading what was coming.  “You killed no one else with A’zhu’lo’s blade.”
“But … I killed … more than the General,” said Ki’shto’ba.
“You killed other Warriors in the battle,” said Za’dut, quailing.
“That is not it!” Ki’shto’ba jumped at us so suddenly that we both cried out, and it caught our necks in the grip of its forelegs, its mandibles thrust into the sand between us. “Tell me the truth! What did I do? What words did you say to me there at Min’seip’u, Di’fa’kro’mi, standing close like this?”

Back cover, color adjusted 
to match the new front cover.
(Click for larger view)
       The cover picture at the bottom shows an episode from the actual Battle of the Valley of Thorns, so it's more pertinent to the title.  My objection to it is that I'm not very good drawing hand-to-hand (or claw-to-claw) combat -- it's too static.  And the Shshi on the right are depicted with much more detail and drama than the opponents on the left, who are drawn more minimally.  Kind of inconsistent.  So the jury in my mind is still out.

       I'd really appreciate some feedback!  Which cover should I use?  Be sure to click on the images and look at the larger versions.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Defining Fantasy According to TermiteWriter

Ki'shto'ba and the Companions confront
"Trojan" Warriors in the marches of Thel'or'ei.
       I always have difficulty pigeonholing my books as to their genre. Are they science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, or a blend of the three?  The Termite Queen certainly is science fiction.  It has most of the characteristics associated with that genre: it's laid in a future period, it has space travel, extraterrestrials of several types, an off-world adventure, some real science (mostly softer sciences, like entomology and other biological sciences, psychology, anthropology, and linguistics), and some fictional physics.  It laps over into literary fiction with its love story, which could have been recast in a contemporary setting without the trappings of science fiction.
       But then it has giant termites and their conculture, which includes their religious beliefs and practices.  Should that be called fantasy?  The question becomes more pertinent in my series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, in which I retell Earth myths in the context of my termite conculture.  This series incorporates only minimal elements of science fiction (it's laid in the same century as The Termite Queen, the tales are edited by one of the characters in The Termite Queen, and there are frequent references to events that occurred in that earlier story).
       So let's examine the meaning of the term "fantasy."  To some people, it implies a particular and rather narrow literary genre, of which Tolkien's LotR is the prime example.  It incorporates a constructed world in which magic rather than science is the motivational force.  That, however, is hardly the only meaning of the word "fantasy."
       Here is the definition of the noun from :
1. imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.
2. the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing.
3. a mental image, especially when unreal or fantastic; vision: a nightmare fantasy. 
4. Psychology. an imagined or conjured up sequence fulfilling a psychological need; daydream.
5. a hallucination.
       Please note that the definition of it as a particular literary genre isn't even given.
       If you Google "fantasy definition," you get similar explanations with the addition of the following:
"a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, esp. in a setting other than the real world."
      If you Google "epic fantasy definition" you get referred to Wikipedia,.  The following is worth considering:
       "High fantasy (also referred to as epic fantasy) is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, defined either by its taking place in an imaginary world distinct from our own or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot. Quintessential works of high fantasy, such as A Song of Ice and Fire, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and The Belgariad, have both of these attributes. Accordingly, works where the fantasy world impinges on our world, or where the characters are concerned only with adventure or personal goals (as in sword and sorcery fiction) are less likely to be classed as high fantasy."
       I don't want to get bogged down in a discussion of the subgenres of fantasy (we also have paranormal fantasy, urban fantasy, and all sorts of horror fantasy).   I only want to call attention to the fact that all forms of fantasy derive from "imagination" or "imaginative conceptualizing" and only one type of fantasy depends on the presence or absence of "magic" as a motivating force.  I started out writing "high fantasy," but I was never very comfortable with the magic element and always tended to base my plots on character.  In an early attempt to publish the novel that built on my free Smashwords book "The Blessing of Krozem," I was told that it had merit but didn't have enough magic.  Yet you can't deny it's a fantasy, with its race of spirit beings and presence of gods on that world.

     To return to epic fantasy, note that it is "defined either by its taking place in an imaginary world distinct from our own or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot."  By that light, The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head has to be called epic fantasy.  Even though it's laid in a "real" extraterrestrial world governed by scientific laws, it has gods and Seers (which certainly fall in the general category of "imaginative conceptualizing"), it takes place in an imaginary (constructed) world, and its characters, themes, and plots have epic stature.  The only reason you might say they don't have epic stature would be if you felt the following Earth myths lack epic stature:  the events in the life of Hercules, the Trojan War, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, or myths to be included in later volumes (the story of Atalanta, Meleager, and the Calydonian boar; and Hercules, Chiron, and the Erymanthian boar).  And of course I mustn't omit the Golden Fleece!  Could anything be more epic than Jason's voyage to recover that lost item?  (Parenthetically, I previously wrote a couple of posts about the characteristics of the epic form.)
       In The Termite Queen, the termite conworld and the events that take place there also contain elements of epic fantasy:  war, single combat, a goddess who meddles and who speaks to the Seer (I maintain all gods are products of the imagination because their existence can't be proved, but that's a different topic).  Therefore, while the book is basically science fiction, it undeniably contains fantasy elements.
       And that brings me to my idea that all significant books have an element of fantasy in them.  My latest venture into that idea was in my analysis of The Great Gatsby over on my other blog.  Gatsby may not have magic, but it definitely has "imaginative conceptualization." 
       I really like that phrase! 

Friday, October 4, 2013


The following is an excerpt from a blog post of August 27, 2013.
by Marva Dasef, author of YA and MG fiction.
 To read the entire piece go here. 
Thanks, Marva, for allowing me to repost it!
Look at them, troll mother said. Look at my sons!
You won't find more beautiful trolls on this side of the moon.
Illustration of Walter Stenström's The boy and the trolls or The Adventure
in childrens' anthology Among pixies and trolls, 1915.
(Wikipedia, public domain)
There Be Trolls Here!
       I spent the last few days in Seattle.  ...  Another site I wanted to take in is the famous troll under the bridge in Seattle. Although we had lived on the east side for several years, we didn't go to the main city much. Somehow I managed to never visit the troll.
       Since my series, Witches of Galdorheim, has trolls all over it, I have a natural interest in the subject. I decided to post about my trolls as introduced in "Bad Spelling."


       Trolls. What do you imagine? Maybe something like the big ugly pictured here. In my Witches of Galdorheim series, I wanted a cave-dwelling bunch of uglies, but dwarves didn’t seem right for my book. Then I started hearing music inside my head. You know how that goes, right? It builds and builds until it has you screaming in frustration, willing to even listen to some other music to at least swap the tormenting sound.
       But before I could find a MP3 file of "Henry the VIIIth" by Herman’s Hermits, I stopped and listened. My muse was whacking me in the head via earworm. The music was Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King from the Peer Gynt Suite. Duh. Trolls.
       Despite the canards on trolls from the likes of Artemis Fowl or Pratchett’s Discworld, I thought they could be heroic if given sufficient ale.
       From the Free Dictionary/Encyclopedia:
       A troll is a fearsome member of a mythical race from Norse mythology. Originally more or less the Nordic equivalents of giants, although often smaller in size, the different depictions have come to range from the fiendish giants – similar to the ogres of England – to a devious, more human-like folk of the wilderness, living underground in hills, caves or mounds.
       Hey! They’re not all flesh-eating giants who turn to stone in the sunlight. Some are devious little guys who live in wilderness areas (no doubt protecting endangered magical species).
       In Bad Spelling, Kat and her smart-aleck half-brother, Rune, (also happens to be a vampire, but has absolutely no resemblance to the Twilight guy except they’re both cute as hell) are directed by Kat’s flash-frozen dad (Rune calls him a popsicle) to visit the Troll King. At the Hall, she requests assistance from King Ole, the Norwegian Troll King. He arranges for her and Rune to ride the Trollercoaster, which starts in Norway and ends up in the Ural Mountains. From there Kat, Rune, and a changeling troll named Andy travel to Siberia to find Kat's family.
       Clearly, trolls are good. They are nice, helpful, cheerful, and sing fairly well too. Yet aspersions continue to be cast upon these misunderstood creatures. Shame on all of you for making them the bad guys all these years!
EXCERPT from Bad Spelling
     Kat ran to where her brother and the three trolls faced each other. The trolls stood shoulder to shoulder, their big, splayed feet firmly planted in front of the footbridge. They bared their chunky yellow teeth and growled at Rune. Although hardly reaching Rune’s shoulder, they each outweighed him. Clearly, the trolls did not intend to let him cross. Looking up and down the streamlet, Kat wondered at their careful guarding of the bridge. Kind of silly, she thought, since anyone could easily step across the rivulet without even getting wet feet. She wondered if these were children, given their short stature. However, their long knives looked very grown up.
     Enunciating each word, Rune held his hands out to show they were empty. Kat had no idea what her brother was saying, since Rune was speaking Old Runish. Except for a few spell words, Kat didn’t understand the ancient tongue.
     Evidently, neither did the trolls. Rune spoke again, louder this time, and took one slow step forward. At this move, the troll on the left lunged at them, jabbing at Rune with his knife. Rune sidestepped the rush, and the troll, taken off balance, stumbled and fell flat on his face. Kat stepped over the troll and grasped his arm but only caught hold of his sleeve. He screamed and pushed her away. The other two trolls ran at her with their knives raised, yelling as they advanced.
     Rune stuck out his foot and tripped the middle troll. The last troll standing went after Rune. The young warlock threw up his hands, arms crossed to fend off the attack. A bright red light arced from his hands to hit the charging troll in the face. The troll dropped his knife and fell to the ground, screaming and rolling around with his hands pressed over his eyes. Rune snatched up the knife and held it to the middle troll’s neck. Kat sat on the one she grabbed, pulling the knife from his flailing hand. The recipient of Rune’s flash attack kept his hands over his eyes.
     Rune spoke again in Old Runish, shouting to make himself heard. It didn’t do any good; the trolls all continued screaming and squealing at the top of their lungs.
     Kat jumped up from the troll’s back and grabbed Rune’s hand, pulling the knife away from the troll’s neck. “Rune,” she yelled, “tell them we won’t hurt them!”
     The thrashing troll froze then turned his cumbersome head toward her.  
     “You can speak our language!” He slapped the troll nearest to him, who abruptly stopped screaming. The one whose neck Rune held the knife to spread his fingers to peek at Rune and Kat.
     Rune released the troll and stood up, looking a little sheepish. “I just assumed—” He stopped then shook his head.
     Kat crouched on her knees next to one of the trolls lying on the ground and patted him on the shoulder. “We mean you no harm. We’re Wiccans from Galdorheim. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”
     Slowly, the trolls climbed to their feet, looked at Kat, then at each other. The three trolls huddled, conferring together. Kat heard a murmur but couldn’t make out what they said.
     Kat continued, searching for something to say. “My Aunt Thordis…” Three pairs of troll eyes turned to her and opened wide. They stared at Kat. The middle troll elbowed the one on his left, who giggled. The troll on the right gave a great whoop of laughter then slapped the middle troll on the back. All three trolls broke into huge guffaws and ended up leaning on each other, wiping tears from their eyes. Rune and Kat stared open-mouthed.
     Finally, the middle troll controlled his laughter long enough to say, “We thought King Ole said to watch for the ones Thor sent. He wouldn’t want any Viking warriors breaking into the hall. ” He broke out laughing again before snorting a couple of times to clear his nose. “Maybe we got the message a little mixed up?”
* * *
All three books in the Witches of Galdorheim series are available in all ebook formats and in print on Amazon.  Click here to view Bad Spelling on Amazon.

Addendum from Termitespeaker:

A little more information about the Troll under the Bridge (Wikipedia): 
The Fremont Troll (also known as The Troll, or the Troll Under the Bridge) is a public sculpture in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Washington in the United States.
The Troll is a mixed media colossal statue, located on N. 36th Street at Troll Avenue N., under the north end of the George Washington Memorial Bridge (also known as the Aurora Bridge). It is clutching an actual Volkswagen Beetle, as if it had just swiped it from the roadway above. The vehicle has a California license plate.  The Troll was sculpted by four local artists: Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead. He is interactive—visitors are encouraged to clamber on him or try to poke out his one good eye (a hubcap). The Troll is 5.5 m (18 ft) high, weighs 6,000 kg (13,000 lb), and is made of steel rebar, wire, and concrete.
... The idea of a troll living under a bridge is derived from the Scandinavian fairytale Three Billy Goats Gruff.