Celestrial triple-play

 

 

By Scott BuryMoon-2yq73kbrcl45nwdwuk0t8q

Today, March 20, 2015 is a rare day in celestial events. It combines the spring equinox, a “supermoon” and a solar eclipse in northern Europe—a total eclipse in some areas.

The confluence of these three events opens up vast possibilities for the fantasy writer.

When I was writing my first novel, The Bones of the Earth, I created a character who was special in many ways. First, Javor is autistic. (And no, it had nothing to do with being vaccinated—it’s set in the sixth century CE, long before vaccinations.) For magical associations, I decided to make him the seventh son of his family. I also thought it would be cool to have him born on the summer solstice.

Then I decided to open the story on Javor’s sixteenth birthday, the day that he would become a man in his culture. I also decided to begin the tale with a full-moon fertility ritual.

Why? Because the sun and the moon are powerful, central figures in almost every mythology. They’re powerful symbols and give rise to so many tropes, ideas and possibilities for stories.

FULLMOON-MUFFINTOPMOMMY-204x300Many fantastic animals are associated with the sun and moon. Griffons are often seen as solar symbols; werewolves, of course, link to the moon. And there are many, many more.

The sun and moon imbue scenes with portent. A sun-drenched plain, glistening after a rain, or a wind-swept coastline intermittently lit by a full moon obscured by low, scudding clouds. They evoke completely different modes and prepare readers for different kinds of stories.

And think of the power when the full moon and the brightest sun are together in the sky. How could I resist that?

It wasn’t easy

But how do you get the solstice sun and the full moon together? I had to figure out when a full moon happened the night before the summer solstice in central Europe. Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to recur all that often. Not even every 28 years, because both events drift in the calendar from year to year. Add to that the fact that, to go back to the sixth century, the Dark Age, meant going back to when history recorded according to the Julian calendar. That threw some doubt into the calculation of the date. But I had to start somewhere.

I found an online lunar calculator, which I cannot find now. And according to that, the closest the full moon came to the summer solstice was the year 593 CE, when Maurice was the Roman Emperor in Constantinople.

A new opportunity today

Through history, solar eclipses have been feared even more than comets as omens of doom. The ancient Greeks said it meant the gods were angry.

Of course, solar eclipses can only happen during a new moon, when the moon is not visible from the earth. Today is a new moon that coincides with the closest approach of the moon to the earth, called perigee-syzygy, or more popularly, Supermoon. Today, the moon is a mere 357,000 kilometres away.

Unfortunately, as it’s a new moon, rather than a full moon, the Supermoon won’t be visible to us. But it’s still pretty cool.

And it’s the equinox, when the length of the day equals that of the night. Even today, it signals the beginning of spring, of new life after the dead of winter. Many cultures and mythologies place mother-earth celebrations on or near the equinox. There are traditional celebrations for Astarte, Isis, Cybele and the Virgin Mary. And of course, the Christians will celebrate Easter soon. Many writers have pointed out the similarity of the Easter myth with older myths about the sacrifice of a god or demi-god, who returns to life in the spring.

eostre

Many Christian traditions around Easter derive directly from the northern European myth of Eostre, including rebirth of a sacrificed god and rabbits laying eggs.

Putting these three elements together should be an irresistible temptation for a fantasy writer. Combine angry gods, rebirth of a sacrificed child of a god and virgin human, and increased lunar power. It’s a heady mix.

So, here is a chance for readers and writers to get together and suggest a new myth, a taking-off point for a fantasy story. I’ll start with this:

Some celestial gods of something are angry with a group of humans, who have been consorting with a demon of the underworld (who may or may not be evil). This causes the eclipse as a sign that they are about to unleash some kind of vengeance on humanity.

However, as it’s the equinox, the power of the earth-bound gods is waxing, and a god or demon once punished by the celestial gods is about to come back to life.

What happens next? Readers, that’s up to you. Leave a comment below that brings the story one step forward. The next reader should write the next step. We can keep this going as long as we have fun with it.

And for an extra incentive, I’ll give the first five commenters who add to the story a free copy of my fantasy novel, The Bones of the Earth.

Let’s see where this takes us.

Scott BuScottry is the author of fantasy tales Initiation Rites, The Bones of the Earth and Dark Clouds. His non-fantasy titles include One Shade of Red and Army of Worn Soles.

Visit his:

  • blog, Written Words
  • website

And follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter

 

The Magic in Fairy Tales Is Powered by Humanity

Today we’re honored to have a guest post from Jane Rosenberg LaForge, author of An Unsuitable Princess (which A.M. Justice reviewed in July). Jane presents a thought-provoking analysis of some differences between fantasy and fairy tales.


The Magic in Fairy Tales Is Powered by Humanity

by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

USPrincessAfter finishing a draft of what would become my “fairy tale” memoir, I sent copies to friends I trust to give me the requisite feedback. One reaction intrigued me so much more than the others that I’d like to reconsider it now. “It needs a dragon,’’ my friend said. He reasoned the male protagonist who seeks the secret princess in the fairy tale half of the story must do battle with a monster for a number of reasons.

First, this young man must prove himself worthy of her love. The dragon also is needed to reinforce the plot point that the princess is in real peril. If the dragon is a symbol of evil (at least through its avarice), then the implied meanings of a triumph over it are also important. At the very least, victory over the beast could be read as a sign of personal growth or character development.

But I said no to the dragon, and I believe my answer says something about the heritage fairy tales have delivered onto what now encompasses the genre of fantasy. The differences between original fairy tales and today’s fantasies may be distinctions without much significance, according to some. Yet in today’s writing climate, it’s a discussion worth having. Both fantasy and fairy tale are enjoying revivals, so much so that their purposes and traditions appear intertwined. But the point of departure is instructive to those working in either genre and also provides insight into the durability of fairy tales, and by extension, fantasy literature.

I said no to the dragon because I wanted the monsters in my story to be human. And I wanted my humans to be monstrous. This is not to say that the fantasy genre is without evildoers, both petty and capricious. But it is through the fairy tale that we first learned how to survive the gauntlet known as humanity. Yes, fairy tales are animated by the kind of magic and mysterious plot devices that fantasy also uses. But the human element—whether it is frailty, fault, or a rare fortitude—is what animates the labyrinth both victims and perpetrators initially navigated in oral and written forms.

At the heart of my story (An Unsuitable Princess, Jaded Ibis Press 2014) are two girls: one a princess denied her birthright yet imbued with the ability to heal the sick and injured; the other the spoiled 20th century teenager I was. The fairy tale is inspired by events in my life including my relationship with a leukemia patient, who provides the model for the princess’s champion. The princess revives her champion from a mysterious illness, but I, of course, lacked that facility. I was also loud and self-centered, and my avatar, the princess, is mute and selfless.

My invented fairy tale has its obvious roots in “Cinderella,’’ “Snow White,’’ and “Sleeping Beauty,’’ and these three stories, even in their Disneyfied iterations, are good examples of my theory. Cinderella is assisted by her fairy godmother, but she also displays the humility and benevolence that are so lacking in her stepsisters. Aurora may have been cursed at birth, but that curse arises from a social faux pas on the part of Aurora’s parents and the personality offended by it. The king and queen’s answer to the curse is also quite human, one embedded in the hubris people retreat into when a real solution seems unavailable. Finally, aside from the jealousy and envy enfolding her mother, Snow White’s attraction to the poison apple is as familiar as Eve’s encounter with the original fruit. The desires, needs, and failings of the good and the very, very bad drive home the moral lessons.

Fantasy writers are certainly informed by the archetypes established in fairy tales, but they also have a much wider canvas to work with. Hence, the dragon my friend suggested, or a wizard who guides a boy to manhood and to sovereignty over the realms—the domain of man, and the domain of nature. This wizard may have inspired a pantheon of elves and conjurers, who guide beings before the Age of Man—and presumably the end of apparent magic—in their quests and adventures. A lion, with its strength and heritage as king of the jungle, becomes the living symbol of a Christian ethos. These are all possibilities within fantasy, but not necessarily within fairy tales. Surely there is a human element in these seminal tales, but it is more passenger than helmsman.

UntamedStateYet because of its insistence on the primacy of human wants and appetites, the fairy tale has proved as malleable as the fantasy genre. For the past year I have been entranced by Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State (Grove Press/Black Cat 2014) because of what it does to “Rumpelstiltskin’’ and how it lays bare the fissures between parent and child sometimes ignored or glossed over in more popular re-tellings. Gay chronicles a Haitian-American woman’s trip to Hell and back when she is kidnapped in Haiti. In most cases, we are told, these kidnappings end quickly and happily, the ransom paid and the victim restored to family. But in this case, the father refuses: “Always (the father) was paying money, small ransoms here and there, the price of doing business in Haiti. But this was too much.”

Given the seaside compound her parents own, the kidnappers expect miracles of their prisoner, as if she could spin straw into gold. When she cannot deliver, she is punished in ways beyond anything either Perrault or the Grimms could have risked putting into print. At one point, The Commander, who runs the band of thugs holding the woman, inquires after her son, just as Rumpelstiltskin made the miller’s daughter pledge her firstborn child in exchange for his spinning. Years after the kidnapping, the story finally ends when the woman tells us The Commander’s true name. In our last glimpse of him, he is running “like a coward…. He ran because his life was in danger. Animals know when their lives are in danger.”

The book touches on other topics, such as the socio-politico-economic conflict inherent in the interracial relationship between the woman and her often-simpering husband. Much of it is unfamiliar territory for me, but An Untamed State resonates because of both its familiar plot and unfamiliar rendering of it. A less imaginative re-working of the source material would have a princess locked in a tower, or a child separated from its soul, or even a pair of thwarted lovers in a foreboding metropolis where vengeful powers have awakened after having been dormant for too long. It is what Gay is able to do with these foundations–the prosaic but intractable flaws that either ennoble or devour us—that make An Untamed State the achievement it is.

The purpose of all this is not to point out the superiority of fairy tales to fantasy works, nor is it an attempt to place myself on equal footing with Gay and the many other authors working in this revved-up genre (I wish). It is merely to remind writers that we should remember this most vital part of our inspiration, so that the “New Weird” or “interstitial” or “slipstream” or whatever our work may be called some day. I recently heard a joke about television writing: the lead character should be based on one of the seven deadly sins, and the castaways on “Gilligan’s Island” are based on all seven of them. If you are ever stuck for plot, segue, possibility, or thought, think of the first tales we told ourselves, and how lucky we are, to have such depth in the stories of our origins.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJane Rosenberg LaForge is the author of An Unsuitable Princess: A True Fantasy/A Fantastical Memoir (Jaded Ibis Press 2014), which combines the author’s story of growing up in 1960’s and 70’s Hollywood with an original fairy tale. She has also published three chapbooks of poetry: After Voices (Burning River 2009); Half-Life (Big Table Publishing Co. 2010); and The Navigation of Loss(Red Ochre Press 2012), which won the Red Ochre Press chapbook prize. Her full-length poetry collection is With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women (The Aldrich Press 2012) and her critical essays, fiction, and poetry has appeared in numerous online and print publications. She lives in New York City with her husband, daughter, and her daughter’s cat. You can learn more about Jane and her work at her website: Jane-Rosenberg-Laforge.com.

Why Hallowe’en? Because we love to see fear in the mirror

By Scott Bury

Image courtesy Things Gunjan Draws http://thingsgunjandraws.blogspot.com

Ebola. Communism. Totalitarianism. Pandemic. Climate change. Terrorism. Jihad.

Judging from hyperbole in social media, we are out-and-out terrified of these things. As evidence of the level of fear, one person seriously advocated carpet-bombing ebola-stricken areas in Africa as a response to contain the epidemic, because he saw it in a movie.

The job we have chosen as writers of fantasy and speculative fiction is to reflect our audience’s fears back to them in symbolic way. Perhaps this is a way to help deal with them, but mostly, it’s because through fantasy, we can take some joy from our fears as well as, well, fear. It’s like riding a roller-coaster: it’s fun because it scares us, but we’re really safe.

A long, grisly, nasty yet honourable tradition

This is what fantasy writers have always done: writing stories about mythical, legendary and magical symbols and themes, stories that give us another way to look at what’s really bothering us. It has a long history in a technological era:

  • Godzilla, the monster awakened by atomic radiation and that could breathe out “atomic fire,” reflected our fears of nuclear war and radiation.
  • Zombies, like those in World War Z, Night of the Living Dead or The Walking Dead reflect our fear of incurable, virulent and especially contagious pandemics, made even more horrifying and destructive by their ability to instantly render their victims as vessels of further transmission.
  • The Hills Have Eyes, Drag Me to Hell, Saw and other recent horror films and books play on our fears of surveillance, mortgage foreclosure, and of course, the old standby, the Other—people not of our tribe, and therefore a threat.
  • Dracula, the Un-Dead, the progenitor of nearly all the vampire books since, plays on several fears. First is the fear of contagion—Bram Stoker’s heroes thought Lucy’s affliction was a blood disease, after all – but also the fear of being infected with something that will change your nature (becoming a vampire). There is also the fear of the Other, the foreigner, the intruder who by his very nature is dangerous. But mostly, Dracula was a sublimation of the greatest fear of the Victorian era: sex.

Yes, I am saying that sucking up blood was the only way that a Victorian era writer would portray sexual lust without getting banned or arrested. Don’t believe me? The vampire was ultimately defeated by a woman’s sexual attractiveness. Oh, sure, Dracula said he was only interested in her blood. But he was lured to his doom by a beautiful young woman, who invited the vampire into her bedroom and made him stay all night long. Now tell me Stoker was not writing about sex.

Still holding onto that argument? Watch Francis Ford Coppola’s film based on the book and try to sustain it.

Today, writing about fear of pandemic is just too easy. Vampires or zombies with ebola-like symptoms is just too obvious—which means there is already a really bad book or movie, or both, based on exactly that idea in development right now.

But what about Jihad? Terrorism? What sorts of fantasy tropes symbolize those without being overly literal? Now there’s a challenge for this capable gang to take on.

The biggest fear, though, that I can see is the fear of change. Any new idea still evokes howls from predictable corners. How would fantasy writers deal with that? What about fantasy readers? What suggestions or challenges do you have for your favourite writers?

Leave your suggestions in the Comments.

 

Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and writer living in Ottawa. His books include the historical fantasy The Bones of the Earth, the erotic romance One Shade of Red and the historical memoir, Army of Worn Soles.

He has I written articles for newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia, including Macworld, the Ottawa Citizen, the Financial Post, Marketing, Canadian Printer, Applied Arts, PEM, Workplace, Advanced Manufacturing and others.

Visit his

Roads not Traveled on the Game of Thrones

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Today we have a guest post from author A.M. Justice. She gives us a humorus glance on roads not traveled:  5 Narrative Paths Hinted at in the Season 3 Finale of Game of Thrones, Which Would Drive the Plot Wildly off Course (from the Books). Hmmm…I wonder if HBO will consider any of these? Welcome to the Guild of Dreams, Amanda, and thank you so much for the guest post!

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Roads not Traveled:  5 Narrative Paths Hinted at in the Season 3 Finale of Game of Thrones, Which Would Drive the Plot Wildly off Course (from the Books)

by A.M. Justice

For readers of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books, the plot alterations and character conflations found in HBO’s Game of Thrones are a huge part of the fun of watching the TV series—bridging characters like Ros or revisionist ones like Talisa Maegyr freshen up the show and keep us guessing about where it’s going.

hbo-bringing-back-game-of-thrones-for-a-third-chapterDuring seasons 1 and 2, although the journey may have followed different paths, the finale brought us to more or less the same destination as the books. This is true of season 3 as well, although it ends at approximately the half-way point of A Storm of Swords, the third Song of Ice and Fire volume. However, several plot and/or character changes have me speculating on where the show could go, if showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss want to abscond with it and take it somewhere entirely different than creator Martin intends (which they don’t).

From that starting point, here are 5 anti-spoilers. None of these scenarios occur in the books, so if Benioff and Weiss want to run with any of these ideas, it would add a whole new level of suspense to the show:

1. Theon escapes from Ramsey Snow, crosses the Narrow Sea, and finds his way to Yunkai, where he joins the Unsullied and owns the name Reek. Now an ordinary soldier in Daenerys’s army, he embraces his shortcomings and rises to become Gray Worm’s second in command.

2. Arya and Sandor make their way across the battle-torn countryside, slowly but surely becoming friends, just like Walter Matthew and Tatum O’Neal in the Bad News Bears. Sure, we just saw the same thing happen between Jaime and Brienne, but it’s different this time, because it’s with a grouchy disfigured man and a cute moppet of a girl, both of whom would kill you as soon as look at you. The odd couple joins a traveling circus, where they pretend to be a father-daughter knife-throwing act.

3. Yara Greyjoy and her band of 50 Ironborn warriors land on Westeros to rescue poor Theon, but soon hear of her brother’s escape to the Free Cities and beyond (see #1, above). Since Osha has disappeared with Rickon, Yara assumes her real name (Asha, in the books), because now nobody will confuse an Ironborn princess with a wildling peasant. Yara/Asha also starts acting a little more like Asha—less dour, more lusty and fun-loving—and so wins the heart of Mance Rayder, whom she meets when her band’s wanderings take them north of the Wall.

4. Did I say Osha disappears with Rickon? Silly me. I meant Rickon and Osha (who changes her name to Sally, so there’s no confusion with Asha/Yara) arrive safely at White Harbor, where Sally/Osha institutes a weight loss program for the Manderly clan. This involves a low-calorie diet consisting of steamed fish and kale, along with an exercise program that consists largely of Shaggy Dog chasing the Lords of White Harbor around their keep.

5. Established as drinking buddies on the show, Tyrion and Cersei have spent quite a lot of time in seasons 2 and 3 drinking wine and commiserating over Joffrey’s psychopathic behavior and Tywin’s domineering fatherhood. Having found common cause, the siblings put aside their differences and with the aid of brother Jaime, engineer a coup that ousts both Joffrey as King and Tywin as Hand. Patterning themselves after Aegon the Conqueror and his two sisters, the three Lannister siblings rule Westeros together, while Joffrey and Tywin are sent to live out their days on Tarth under the watchful eye of Brienne.

A bit about A.M. Justice:

Me without mirrorI’ve been a professional writer and editor in the life sciences for over two decades but have been writing fiction even longer—the first story set in the fictional world of Knownearth was written while I was still in high school. As an avid SCUBA diver, I dream of a future when I have the time to hang out in a dive shop all day, and I fancy the idea that this dive shop might be in Buenos Aires, so I can dance the tango whenever I want. Until that time comes, I live and write in Brooklyn, NY, with a husband, a daughter, and two cats. Although I’m partial to fantasy and historical fiction, I love well-written books—and well-made movies and television—of all genres.

For more information and updates, you can find me on the Web at these locations:

Website: www.knownearthworks.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AMJusticeWrites

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KnownEarthWorks

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6903962.A_M_Justice

Writing Craft: Managing Tension with Peaks and Troughs

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Today we have a special guest post by author Rayne Hall! I’d like to take a moment to thank Rayne for stopping by and providing such an excellent post. Welcome, Rayne, to the Guild of Dreams!

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Writing Craft: Managing Tension with Peaks and Troughs

by Rayne Hall

by xiwik on deviantart

A large peak on a flat sea!
Artwork by xiwik on deviantart

Tension is good. It makes the reader turn the pages. However,  constant high tension soon gets dull. The readers can’t sustain continuous scared excitement, and after a while, instead of roused, they become bored.

It’s like the waves on a stormy sea: the peaks are only high because of the troughs between them. If there were only continuous peaks without any troughs, the sea would be flat.

Your job as writer is to create not just the peaks, but the troughs which make the peaks look high.

Allow your protagonist to relax and get her breath back before throwing her into the next frightening experience experience. During this brief relaxation of the tension, your reader’s heartbeat returns to normal – so it can accelerate again.

If you’re writing a horror, thriller, paranormal or fantasy novel, some of the tension stems from the reader fearing for the main character’s safety. Here’s what the scary part of your story might look like if it consisted only of peaks, and how a skilled writer might handle it by alternating peaks and troughs.

Peaks-only version

The heroine gets tortured by the villain. (peak)

She escapes by scaling the dungeon walls. (peak)

As soon as she’s outside, she gets pursued by a charging bull. (peak)

To get away from the bull, she crawls into a narrow cave where she is immediately attacked by a snake. (peak)

This is too much relentless scare. By the time the heroine faces the snake, the reader scarcely cares anymore.

Peaks & troughs version

The heroine gets tortured by the villain. (peak)

Finally, he retires for the night, and the pain ceases. (trough)

She escapes by scaling the dungeon walls. (peak)

Outside, there’s bright light, clean air, the scents of meadow flowers. (trough)

A bull comes charging. (peak)

To escape from the bull, she crawls into a narrow cave. The bull can’t get in. She catches her breath and bandages her wounds and lies down to get some much-needed sleep. (trough)

A hiss alerts her to the presence of a dangerous snake. (peak)

The troughs don’t have to be long. One paragraph is often enough. You can insert a short trough in the middle of a scary scene, or as a transition between two scary scenes. At other times, you may want to insert a whole “trough” scene between two “peak” scenes. For example, in the climax of a thriller, you can insert a non-scary scene, perhaps a tender love scene, between two terrifying sections.

Don’t overdo the troughs. If they are too long, or if there are many of them, they can make your writing boring. Don’t allow your reader to become too relaxed. Use the troughs sparingly and keep them short.

Questions?

If you’re a writer and want to discuss this technique, please leave a comment. I’ll be around for a week and will reply. I love answering questions.

ABOUT RAYNE HALL
A vision of Rayne by artist Fawnheart

A vision of Rayne by artist Fawnheart

Rayne Hall has published more than forty books under different pen names with different publishers in different genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Recent books include Storm Dancer (dark epic fantasy novel), 13 British Horror Stories, Six Scary Tales Vol 1, 2, 3, 4 (creepy horror stories), Six Historical Tales (short stories), Six Quirky Tales (humorous fantasy stories), Writing Fight Scenes, The World-Loss Diet, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic and Writing Scary Scenes (instructions for authors).

She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing. Currently, she edits the Ten Tales series of multi-author short story anthologies: Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Scared: Ten Tales of Horror, Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies and more.

Rayne has lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal and  has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England.

https://sites.google.com/site/raynehallsdarkfantasyfiction/

The Master of Macao Station: Mike Berry

My guest today at Guild of Dreams is the inimitable Mike Berry, a fabulous Indie sci-fi/horror author from across the pond (that means “In England”, for those of you not down with the latest hip lingo).  I met Mike on Twitter about a year back, and was immediately blown away by his debut novel “Xenoform“.  Now with his latest release, “Macao Sation”, Mike has raised the bar on Awesome.  I’m completely infatuated with this novel, and I wanted to drag Mike over here to tell you all about it.

So, without further ado…

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MIKE BERRY: MACAO STATION AND THE CALL OF THE DARK

Hi! My name is Mike Berry and I’m both a reader and author of dark speculative fiction. I’m happy to say that I’ve been invited here today to tell you a little bit about my latest dark sci-fi, Macao Station. First, here’s the official blurb from the book:

MACAO STATION

Macao Station is a crumbling mining outpost at the far fringe of human space, plagued by underfunding and equipment failure, all but forgotten by its parent corporation. Life on board is hard, but mutual dependence and friendship knit the crew together as tightly as any family.

But that family is about to be shattered by a horrifying series of events.

Evil is stalking the decaying corridors of Macao. A shadow stirs in the asteroid belt, a whispering voice that calls to its emissary, demanding that its will be done. But is this sinister entity a real, living being, or simply a delusion born in the mind of a madman?

And more importantly, can it be stopped?

My first book, Xenoform (dark cyberpunk with a modern twist), did pretty well in my native UK, surprising nobody more than me. It’s early days for Macao, but I have to say I’m even more proud of this book than my first one. It represents something of a return to simpler, stripped-down storytelling and also a further descent into darkness. It is, I’m afraid, the darkness that calls to me. This time, I answered loud and clear. It’s fair to say that Macao has edged further into the realms of horror than Xenoform ever did.

I’m a big fan of horror and other forms of dark fiction, and take inspiration from many sources. I particularly enjoy dark sci-fi movies like Blade Runner, Event Horizon and the Alien series. I think the first Alien managed to do a hell of a lot with only a little. A lot of the fear that it induced came from the long periods of tense waiting. For me the scariest parts were those in which the crew were wandering round that immense, dark, lonely ship, usually alone. The setting itself was enough to induce a sense of fear and tension. And that’s an atmosphere that I certainly tried to recreate in my book.

Macao Station itself is a relic of the long-abandoned corporate space race. It marks one of the furthest boundaries of explored space, the point at which the economic value of expansion was finally outweighed by the cost. After centuries of warfare, the deep space corps finally disbanded their private armies and threw in the collective towel. They had lost nine billion soldiers and achieved a state of eternal conflict without apparent purpose. The universe, it seemed, was big enough for everyone. Macao Station, which had originally been planted in the Soros system to stake a claim as much as anything, became a mining facility.

Now the outpost just about pays to keep itself running by extracting metals from the asteroids of the belt – a dangerous occupation at best. Its parent corporation, based in the neighbouring Platini system, is almost waiting for an excuse to shut the station down and mothball it. The miners who live and work on this distant frontier are a necessarily hardy bunch. They make-do and mend, and have learnt to rely on themselves. But their resources are limited at best. They have little headroom for contingencies. And if something goes wrong, they’re on their own . . .

I put a lot of effort into the background and the science behind Macao Station (I’m afraid I took a few minor artistic liberties with physics, but then, physics takes liberties with me every time I trip over something or drop something on my toe, so I reckon that’s fair). I know how the ships’ drive systems work; I know the composition of the asteroid belt; I laboriously worked out the physics behind the rotating space station; I know where its inhabitants get their raw materials from; I understand the economics behind the station’s existence. That might not be obvious from the text, but trust me, it’s in there. My calculator worked harder than I did at times. And I never wanted the science to actually intrude on the story, merely to serve as a backdrop for it, so I did my best to keep it mainly hidden.

Despite the sci-fi setting, the basics of horror remain the same as always: dark forces against which we are helpless; monsters (some of the monsters are, naturally, people); the unknown; bad things happening to those we care about; beings that creep and whisper and long to defile the flesh; evil without purpose, which cannot be understood or reasoned with. These are the staple foods of horror, although of course they come in many flavours (and I’m sure that there are others). I’d like to think that the isolated space station of my novel, with its twisting corridors of rusty steel and its slowly-failing systems, serves as a good stage on which my version of the nightmare plays out. That isolation is itself a powerful engine of fear. In space, no one can hear you scream, as Alien famously taught us. Perhaps the only thing worse than being alone at the fringe of space is discovering that you aren’t alone out there after all . . .

Maybe all dark fiction writers are inherently sick. But I prefer to think that the darkness serves to shine a light on the human condition, and as such can even be a positive thing. It tests us – tests our characters – and the struggle against it can reveal the good in people. People rise to the challenge. They act with surprising altruism. They fight to defend those whom they love. Or, of course, they fail. Some people buckle and go bad when tested. And who isn’t afraid of that? Either way, our responses to adversity define us as humans, and come in interesting shades of grey rather than the strict, biblical black and white.

I think that dark fiction can cause us to question our own strength, and that is where its virtue lies. When reality cracks and something awful seeps through; when your child or your partner is threatened; when personal risk is the only hope for salvation; what will you do?

Find Macao Station here:

AMAZON UK (PAPERBACK) 

AMAZON UK (KINDLE)

AMAZON US (PAPERBACK)

AMAZON US (KINDLE)

And Mike Berry’s own site.

Guest Post: Celesta Thiessen

Today, I have a guest author, Celesta Thiessen. Celesta writes a variety of fantasy and science fiction for various age groups. She’s written a Halloween story for us from her popular children’s series, Nightcat.

Halloween at Kitty Castle

“Halloween’s coming up soon,” said Princess Keziah. She was eight years old and one of the triplets of Kitty Castle. Kitty Castle was a very old castle at the heart of Kitty Kingdom.

Keziah, her two sisters, her two brothers, and her parents were eating supper around a large wooden table in their beautiful dining room. It was nice being all together again. Their parents had just recently returned from a long quest to find a way to defeat the dragons.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about Halloween,” said her mother. The queen looked at her children sadly. “There’s only enough candy left for each of you to have one piece.”

“The dragons burned up all the sugar beet crops. So there is no sugar in the entire kingdom. Candy can’t be made without sugar. Halloween will have to be cancelled this year,” said her father, the king.

“Oh, no!” said Princess Celesta. “Not cancelled! Halloween’s my favorites holiday!”

“There’s nothing else to do,” said her mother. “You can’t have Halloween without candy.”

“We could give out cat treats,” suggested David. Everyone around the table laughed. “What’s so funny? All the cats would love to go trick-or-treating with their owners.” David was the youngest of the children. He was only five years old.

The princesses giggled again. “But I wanted to go trick-or-treating, riding on Charcoal,” said Keziah, “and I already decided what I’m going to be. A princess!” Everyone laughed.

“I made my costume already,” said Priscilla. “I’m going to be a cat. We can’t just cancel Halloween!”

Richard leaned over and whispered to his brother and sisters, “Don’t worry. We’ll think of something.” Richard was their older brother. He was eleven.

At the end of the meal, the queen gave each of the children a different treat. “This is all the candy that’s left in the whole kingdom. Try to enjoy it, children. You deserve to have it after the good work you did, saving the kingdom from the dragons.”

“I get a mini candy cane?” asked David. “Seriously? That’s not a Halloween treat!”

“I’ll eat it if you don’t want it,” said Richard.

“Oh, that’s ok. I’m not complaining. I like candy canes!” David grabbed his candy as Richard reached for it.

– Read on for more!>

A Few Words From…Nicole Storey

As promised, today begins the Guild Of Dreams first cycle of guest posts. Some will be random musings, some will be interviews, some will be…???

For our first guest, I invited Nicole Storey. I first ‘met’ Nicole through a variety of groups on Facebook, and she has turned out to be the epitome of what every independent author should be: friendly, encouraging, and always willing to lend a hand.  The first book in her Grimsley Hollow YA fantasy series was a semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book of 2012 and both the books in the series have received rave reviews. Have a read of what she has to say, then go buy her wonderful books.

Without further ado, I give you Nicole Storey.

 

Secret Formula

Recently, I asked a question on my author page: What is your secret formula for choosing the books you read? The combinations varied, but they all consisted of four major points: Synopsis, Reviews, Book Cover Art, and Star Rating. While I agree these are important factors, they are not the end-all-be-all to choosing a great book.

I must admit I am first drawn in by a book’s cover. In my humble opinion, if an author spends months writing a book and bearing their soul to the world, the cover art should reflect the story, be professional-looking, and scream “You’ve got to read me!” I mean, why spend so much time bleeding over a keyboard, editing, rehashing a tale so many times you almost grow sick of reading it, only to slap a non-descript, plain-Jane cover on it? I recently read a book I downloaded for free during a KDP Select promo I had on my kindle for months. Why did I wait so long? The cover was as boring as they come. It didn’t speak to me. It did not reveal anything about the story at all. In the end, the book was very good, but I wonder how many others have passed it over just because of the cover art?

If the cover reels me in, the next point I consider is the synopsis. As I am also an author, I can assure readers this is probably one of the hardest parts of writing a book.

An example of a great cover

Imagine trying to squeeze an elephant into one of those mini-cars and you have an idea of the level of difficulty writers go through when coming up with a good synopsis. Writing the book is a breeze compared to taking 80,000+ words and condensing them into a paragraph or two. The “blurb” must be interesting enough to make the readers wants to know more without giving too much of the story away. If a book has a great synopsis, you can bet the rest of the story will be just as amazing.

The last points, star-rating and reviews, don’t mean as much to me as they do others. Why? It’s very simple: We are all different. What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander and vise-versa. I may see a book with a low star rating and puny reviews and love the story. Also, I may read a book with glowing reviews and a 5-star rating across the board and think it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever set my eyes on. There is no author in this world who can please everyone all the time. Books are a form of art, just like music, paintings, and movies. Maybe a better comparison would be food – we all have a dish we’re partial to and some we avoid like the plague.

So, my question to you is: What’s your secret formula for choosing the perfect book?

 

*Nicole Storey is the author of the Grimsley Hollow series – a story set in a Halloween world with an unlikely hero. She lives in Georgia with her husband, two children, and two very energetic kittens. If you’d like to know more about Nicole, you can find her here:

 

Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/nicolestoreyfans

Personal Website: http://nicolestorey.weebly.com/

Publisher’s Website: http://www.inknbeans.com/

Blog: http://nicolestorey.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @Nicole_Storey

 

Nicole’s books can be found on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Nicole-Storey/e/B005J8CKPG/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1349992998&sr=1-2-ent

They are also available on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and the Apple store.

 

What’s Up?

When I first decided to take on the project that become known as the Guild Of Dreams, my reasoning behind it was to introduce readers to new authors they may not have otherwise discovered. The hope was that my readers would follow me here and find something they liked in one of the other fabulous writers who make time in their busy schedules to cobble together posts here every couple of weeks, and perhaps their readers would also discover me. In the world of Indie publishing (really, the world of publishing and the world in general, too) word-of-mouth and tag-teaming are two of the best sources of promotion.

For our next round of posts, we take that a step further and each of us (mostly) will be having a guest posting on our behalf (with maybe a few surprises thrown in as well). Another opportunity for you, the reader, to find out about more great fantasy.

So sit back and relax. On Thursday, let the discoverin’ begin.

Bruce