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

 

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Tricksters for Treats

by Chantal Boudreau

In the spirit of Halloween (and inspired by a short story submission I just sent out to a venue with a trickster theme), I thought it might be fun to address one of the tropes or arch-types of fantasy: the trickster. This type of mischievous character can appear in many different forms; from devilish deities to cunning spies to impish children, they can serve the sake of comedy relief, plot catalyst, annoying villain or even wisdom-instilling teacher by punitive measures. While not necessarily the protagonist in a tale, they are common to fantasy writing of all sorts, sometimes sidekick, sometimes rival and typically entertaining.

The trickster has strong roots in an assortment of mythologies, from Loki in the Norse mythos and Anansi in African lore to Coyote in North American Native legend, the mischief-maker seems ever present. Perhaps it ‘s because tricksters are a natural component to human social circles. Most people love a good practical joke, as long as they aren’t the butt of it. And we all need a good laugh from time to time.

But tricksters in story tend to be more than just someone with a playful sense of humour, the clever mischief-maker. Their tricks can be a unifying force, leading others to work together to counter their antics. They can be the cause of the trouble initiating a particular quest in a quest tale. Or in some cases they are the key, because they are inevitably brilliant and can be just as much a solution as a problem.

In addition to myth, tricksters are everywhere in fairy tales too. They are the playful fairy, the conniving fox, the dastardly witch or wizard or the wondrous talking cat in boots. It is no surprise that as characters, they transitioned to young adult and adult fantasy fiction.

And while tricksters are more commonly male – think classics like Fritz Leiber’s Gray Mouser or Flinx in Alan Dean Foster’s books – female tricksters are out there too. Tricksters and Pranksters: Roguery in French and German Literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Alison Williams dedicates a full chapter to the female trickster and some books, like Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen, by Tamora Pierce are centered on a female version of the arch-type. They are out there.

Male or female, the main point to the trickster is fun, and therein lies the treat. It need not be trick or treat – you can have both.

So how about you treat yourself to some trickster today. Might I suggest The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, a fantasy anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, for starters?

The Animal in our Natures

by Chantal Boudreau

Maybe it’s the sunny weather or the more common random encounters with wildlife, but summertime always makes me long to get back to nature – to a simpler way of living where a person had to exist in harmony with nature in order to survive. In primitive times, you had to understand how the world around you worked, develop your skills to match the demands of your environment and adapt to the flora and fauna occurring locally. I still get a taste of that by gardening, trips to the park or camping in some forested area, but it really only is a taste. Living completely off the grid will likely remain one of those daydream fantasies for me that will never be realized.

I think that’s why low-tech tribal fiction, and primitive fantasy fiction in particular, has always appealed to me. Writers from Jean Auel to Wendy Pini (some of her elves, the wolfriders and the go-backs, live primitive lifestyles) struck a real chord with me growing up, their stories involving characters in tune with nature, facing down-to-earth hardships and challenges and seeking solutions in magic, spiritualism and resources occurring naturally in their environment. The protagonists have strong bonds with animals and a profound understanding of beneficial properties of plants and minerals found in their particular terrain.

But Clan of the Cave Bear and Elfquest weren’t my only influences (although they were significant ones). My Snowy Barrens Trilogy would likely not exist if I hadn’t had the opportunity to read such novels as The Reindeer People and The Wolf’s Brother by Meghan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb), or The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, tales with hunter-gather backdrops exploring old ways and rudimentary lifestyles (and all of them written by women, for some strange reason.) These are books I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in tribal fantasy fiction.

This is also what generated my fascination in old-world mythologies, ones that have been somewhat abandoned by modern people, although they aren’t completely extinct. It’s why I chose to explore Native American mythology in the Snowy Barrens Trilogy, and Sami, Serbian and Thracian mythologies in my three yet to be published Darker Myth novels. They are all mythologies that explore the relationship between man and nature, between animal and spiritual. I would recommend reading tales from these mythos as well – the Glooscap stories are some of my favourites.

So if the next time you go strolling along a woodland path and find yourself imagining a sprint through the forest, spear or bow in hand, clad in leathers, furs, carved bone, teeth or claws, maybe you should consider adding these books to your to-read list. They all make for exciting summer reading.

Archetypes, with a dash of numerology

Icarus falling from the sky

Daedalus and Icarus

By Scott Bury

In the last couple of blog posts, Autumn Birt and Joshua Johnson have been writing about archetypal characters in fantasy. As this will be my I thought I would take the opportunity to delve a little deeper into one particular archetypal character: the father.

As much of a planner as I am, one thing I have learned from writing fiction is that your characters teach you. Another is that the archetypal role a character begins with can change, depending on circumstances and the needs of the plot.

The father figure is very important in every genre. The good father, bad father, the limited, damaged, drunken, evil or absent fathers all have a distinct yet equally vital impact on the hero and on the development of the story.

Three parts, three fathers

In my first full-length novel, the historical fantasy The Bones of the Earth, the number three plays an important role in its own right. I originally envisioned the book as the first volume in a trilogy called the Dark Age. Each book would be divided into three parts.

In each part of the first book in The Bones of the Earth, a different character is a father-figure to the protagonist, Javor. In Part One, Initiation Rites, Javor’s literal father is the father figure.

I presented Swat (all names are historically accurate) as realistically, rather than mythically or fantastically, as I could. Javor’s father is gentle and kind. He raised his last surviving son more by example and demonstration than through instruction or command. He’s also practical, instead of heroic. He literally holds Javor back from a fight he cannot win.

I this sense, Swat is the opposite of the legendary heroic father figure, the kind who, like Zeus, sets up challenges that will reveal his son’s heroic nature. Instead, Swat acted like I hope I would if my son wanted to attack armed men with nothing but his bare fists (formidable as they may be).

Finally, Swat dies—typical for a fathers in fantasy—defending his family against a foe he could not ever hope to match. But literally backed against a wall,he had no choice. So that part was true to character as well as to archetype.

A character’s shift

In Part Two, Tests, the character introduced in Part One as the Mysterious Stranger, the interloper with arcane knowledge who is both a threat and a guide, fills the father figure role. Photius guides and instructs Javor in fighting, languages, philosophy and in knowledge about the world. He also imparts his own values.

Image of the mysterious stranger

The mysterious stranger

At the end of Part Two, Photius dies protecting Javor. Hmm. I seem to be very hard on fathers. Nothing personal, Dad!

The father-figure in Part Three, The Mission, is the most aloof and formal of all. Austinus is the head of a religious order and, despite objections of his advisors, accepts Javor into this faith family. He is protective of Javor and spends a lot of time teaching him philosophy, history and religion.

Austinus is also closest to the archetypical father-figure of legend and myth. He ensures that Javor learns military fighting skills and brings Javor into danger, putting him in a situation that will bring out Javor’s true heroic nature.

Three stories, three different takes on the father character. They in no way exhaust the subject of the father-son relationship, but I found their creation rewarding.

In my next contribution to the Guild of Dreams blog, I am going to ask the bigger question: do we need archetypal characters, or should we be reaching further and digging deeper when creating characters?

 

Spring Cleaning of the Writerly Kind

I started my spring cleaning in April. I’m not talking the housecleaning and elimination of clutter you might expect. That doesn’t happen in a household of borderline hoarders with their imaginative heads in the clouds. As they say, an untidy home is the sign of a creative mind, and we have oodles of creativity here.

No, my spring cleaning was of the writerly variety. I started in April by taking everything I had yet to be published and ready for submission that was sitting on the shelf gathering dust and sent every single one of those stories out to an appropriate venue. I even finished two older stories that were kicking around incomplete and sent them out too. It was liberating in a strange way, like I had unburdened myself in the process. I’ve already had some success from the venture too, a couple of acceptances along with a handful of rejections (about a 40/60 success rate so far.)

Now that I’ve cleaned away the writing clutter, I’m working on the edits I’ve been putting off for a while, prepping things for submission at some point in the near future, readying query letters and just organizing what I have on the go. I want everything tidied up for the summer, when I’ll be working on the next Fervor novel followed by my NaNo project late fall. This isn’t the most productive year for me for an assortment of reasons. I’m hoping a round of solid clean-up will help change that.

To finish this up, I’ll give you a little taste at what I’ve been editing, a fantasy novel based on Sami mythology, called The Trading of Skin:

Ignoring any protests Dáidu and Jaská might have, Oaván turned to meet the oncoming spirit-hunters. Jaská had once described them as looking like men but having something essentially wrong with them. Oaván felt she was partially right. They did have the shape of men, but nothing beyond that suggested they were anything like the Sami people. Oaván could now detect the odour his mother had complained of. They smelled of anger, fear and death, of broken promises and sullied souls. Just being in their presence carried with it a strong sense of foreboding and a bone-piercing chill, things Oaván had not noticed before because of the distraction of other discomforts. He felt trapped by their stares, their eyes burning embers beneath creased brows as they leered at Lieđđi hungrily. Oaván refused to succumb to their intimidation, holding steady.

A inspiration challenge for 2013

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Snow on trees can be inspiring

Snow on trees can be inspiring

Xristos Razdayetsya!

Merry Christmas, in Ukrainian!

As I writing this, I look out the window occasionally to see snow fall gently in my yard, piling heavier and heavier on my cedars. Many are bent low. I hope they don’t break under the weight.

It’s inspiring. Every time I see snow spread evenly over my yard, piling on the evergreen trees, drifting across fields, I want to write something about it. A real winter’s tale, one that captures the terrible beauty (that’s a phrase a remember from CS Lewis) and the power of winter.

I just hope that we still have winters in a few years, and when my kids get to be my age.

Today, January 6, is Christmas Eve in the old Julian calendar, which is still used by the Eastern Rite churches to work out religious celebrations and observances. Religious celebrations and annual events, particularly Christmas, have also inspired writers, musicians and all other artists for centuries — probably since people have created art and religions.

A different Christmas and the beginning of a new year represent an opportunity to look beyond the borders we’ve drawn around our art, and to look for new sources of inspiration, and new stories to inspire.

Fantasy writers draw much of their inspiration from the mythologies of ancient cultures. Since Wagner, Western

writers have been drawing from northern and western European mythologies for their stories. JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Eddison, Marion Zimmer Bradley and more added detail and richness to their stories by alluding to elements of mythology. Because their readers knew at least a little about these myths, the writers could tap into back-stories. It was a short-cut; write “dragon,” and every reader gets a fairly consistent picture in his or her mind.

Celtic, English, Roman, occasionally Greek mythologies have been the starting point for countless modern fantasy stories. And don’t forget how the Judaeo-Christian Bible provides the matrix, characters and back-stories for so many “urban paranormal” fantasies (including Bruce Blake’s Icarus Fell novels).

While I support pulling from mythology, I get the feeling that the path is becoming worn as a hiking trail near a major city, showing litter along the sides and too many signs of civilization along the way. Worse, writers are copying the elements of other writers, rather than going to the source.

The result is less originality.

 

A different starting point

With my first novel (the first I published, that is, but not the first that I started or completed), The Bones of the Earth, I drew my inspiration from eastern European cultures. While the vampire myth is used (some may say over-used), few writers seem to even know about ancient Slavic myths. I have never even heard of a book based on the mythologies of ancient Eurasian peoples, like the Sarmatians or Scythians. In fact, those peoples seem fascinating, probably because there’s precious little to read about them.

What I find most curious in our ethnically diverse twenty-first century Western culture is the lack of reference to Asian cultures in fantasy literature. There are a few, here and there — but given the numbers of people in the English-speaking and -writing world who can trace their heritage back to Asia, this is very strange.

 

Guild members, I challenge you

I challenge all of us to create new stories this year drawing on new sources of inspiration. I challenge all of us to look beyond our familiar boundaries, to stretch, to do something even more difficult than writing the tales we’ve been writing to date. Learn something new, something unfamiliar, something totally foreign. Or, look close to home.

The point is, let’s do something different in 2013. Let’s expand our worlds by challenging our own deepest assumptions.

Let me know how it works out for you.