February 26, 2011

Dramatis Personae - Wordcrafter

Well, that was difficult. I would like to say that after Ara (and perhaps Liz), I was the first to get excited and want to do the same sort of Meet the Characters post; as it turned out, it took me so long to dig up good photos that Jenny, Megan, and Anna all finished and posted theirs before me. Hrmph. But here at last we have the main players of my novel Wordcrafter; I do not own these photos, this is purely for my authorial delight and not for profit, etc., etc., etc.

Justin King [the wordcrafter]

Main character Justin King has two great loves: his writing and his tea. He has lived alone in his Edinburgh flat for several years at the opening of the novel, and each day of those years has fit into the same mold - until the advent of Ethan Prince, whose friendship turns Justin's life upside down and whose very existence forces Justin to accept that not all fantasy is confined to the page.

His arrival in Ethan's home world of Tera is at first a matter of great delight for the men of this other-earth and his love of writing earns him the respectful title of
Wordcrafter among them, but it soon becomes clear that his coming has upset the balance of power. He becomes the spark that reignites a feud between Tera's two great races, the Horsemen and the Gypsies, and against his will he finds that he may also be the means of destroying the only friend he has - Ethan Prince.

Ethan Prince [the hound]

Known as the Hound in Tera, where "Christian" names are not used, Ethan takes his other name while in Edinburgh and introduces himself to Justin as such. He is the prince of the Horsemen, and, since the Horsemen subjugated the Gypsies a hundred years ago, the heir of all Tera; but Justin knows him simply as his friend. He is proud and shows a fiercely cold rage when angered, but he commands the love of the warrior Horsemen and the respect even of the Gypsies. Half-Horseman and half-Gypsy himself, he walks the line between the two cultures and embodies both the vivacity of the one and the cunning of the other.


Jamie Fairbairn [the vixen]

Bubbly, vivacious, and a little wild, Jamie had Justin King under her spell from the moment they met in Edinburgh. She is, indeed, a little too forward for his taste, but she makes up for it with her easy laughter and her apparent regard for him. She loves to be loved, but underneath her sweet exterior she has a mind that is ever at work and all the wiles ever possessed by a woman since the world began; she knows what she wants, and she will stop at nothing to get it. Once her disapproval has been earned, it will last forever.



Copper [the jackal's daughter]

The Gypsy Copper, daughter of the Jackal, begins to play a part in the lives of both Justin and Ethan soon after Justin's arrival in Tera. Quiet and unassuming, she is lovely rather than beautiful and wears a veil at all times, as is the custom among the women of both of Tera's races. For reasons of her own she does not have the same bitter hatred of the Horsemen that most of the other Gypsies flaunt, and she is fond of the Wordcrafter and the Hound. At very rare instances she will lay aside her gentleness and reveal the strength of spirit that underlies her nature, but for the most part she remains withdrawn from the goings-on around her.

The Lord of the Cliffs

If it were not for the fact that the Horsemen long ago defeated the Gypsies and took away their sovereignty, the Lord of the Cliffs would be the king of his people. As it is, he is known as their prince and bears the blood of royalty in his veins - and is very much aware of the fact. He is cool and cat-like and at first glance gives the impression of effeminacy, but he is a force to be reckoned with should any one be foolish enough to anger him. His mind is sharp enough to rival even Ethan's, and, driven on by a desire to see his people made a sovereign entity once more, that is exactly what the Lord of the Cliffs intends to do.


Marah [star of the horsepeople]

For centuries both the Horsemen and the Gypsies have been breeding the unicorns of Tera with the horses brought ages ago from Earth, and Marah, Ethan's mare, is the most beautiful of them all. She is what is known as "bloody-shouldered," having a white coat with rusty markings on her face and neck. With good reason she is called the Star of the Horsepeople and the Horsemen are more proud of her than of all their other horses combined; she is like a daughter to Ethan, who has raised her from a filly, and he rarely rides any other horse.



Ram

Ram, Marah's foal, is far more spirited than his mother and is a difficult horse to train. Like the other part-unicorn horses in the Horsemen's stables, he matures quickly, and when he reaches the age to be broken in Ethan gives him to Justin as his own. Unlike Marah, he is almost pure black except for his bleached hooves. The sight of Ethan on Marah and Justin on Ram is an extremely common one in the woods of Tera during a hunt.

[Threatening potential thieves seems to be The Thing to Do, so I shall follow in the footsteps of my predecessors. I own all of these characters and all things attached to said characters; their existence makes them copyrighted to me, and any use of them is against the law. If you would like to go read the copyright laws, please feel free to do so. Also, I'm part Sicilian. Enough said.]

February 22, 2011

A Bit O' The Classics - The Robe

I'm not quite sure whether or not The Robe counts as a classic, as it is no longer as popular as it once was; but it was a big hit when it was published in 1942 and had a movie made of it in 1953, so I suppose I can get away with stashing it in my Classics file. At any rate, the cloth-bound copy residing on my shelf certainly looks like a classic.

My feelings about The Robe are mixed, somewhat as though the "real" story was good, but Lloyd C. Douglas "messed it up" when transferring it into writing; as though the characters and events were real, but Douglas added things that muddied the waters. Naturally the entire novel is his intellectual property and there was no "real" story for him to ruin, but it is a credit to his writing that his characters are so real to me that they seem to exist separately from the author himself. On the other hand, of course, there is the disappointing fact that I wish I could separate them.

The line upon which my like and dislike are divided is that between the writing and the theme. Since I have already detailed what I disliked about the latter in my Goodreads review (which has spoilers) and on Squeaky Clean Reviews (which I strove to keep spoiler-free), and because I do not feel like going back through the shallow theology, I will simply stick with a discussion of Douglas' writing and the characteristics that made it stand out.

The characters were my first love of the novel, beginning right about at page three when Marcellus Gallio showed up and quadrupling on whatever page Demetrius appeared. Douglas did an excellent job of cementing the characters of both these main characters upon their arrival. We first see Marcellus through his sister Lucia's eyes as he relates to her an amusing (for him) anecdote about a banquet he attended the night before, and immediately the reader gets a picture of a carefree Roman Tribune; with this former-Marcellus as a comparison, the Marcellus who, after putting Jesus to death and winning His robe chapters later, is a broken man who cries out at intervals, "Were you there?" stands out in wonderful contrast.

Marcellus' Corinthian slave, Demetrius, is another sort of character entirely. He was bought by the Gallio family years ago to be Marcellus' manservant when the Romans brought him as a captive to Rome, and though the Gallio's good treatment of him has made him loyal to them, he privately longs for freedom and resents the army that made him a slave. He is taciturn and rigidly formal, as Douglas shows in Demetrius' first scene, with feelings displayed far more in action than words. His loyalty to Marcellus and his desire for freedom come to a wonderfully-written head after the crucifixion of Christ, when Demetrius is given the chance to escape and must decide between that and staying with a half-crazed master.

The history was very well presented, and I was especially interested by Douglas' portrayal of life in Palestine from a Roman's perspective. His depiction of Caligula was, perhaps, a little overdone, since it is thought that he was a fairly good emperor during his first two years, but it was refreshing to see how much research Douglas did on facets of Roman culture during that time.

Then there was the writing itself, the style of which was quite interesting. I particularly enjoyed Douglas' use of interesting verbs for dialogue tags; while he did not scorn "said," which such a lovely verb, he also speckled his conversations with words like "drawled." As the middle section of the novel is mostly made up of conversation, Douglas did well to employ other verbs so as not to beat the Said to death; these sorts of words (when not overdone, and also when used in conjunction with characters who would indeed speak like that) make dialogue pop.

(For a full review of The Robe with all its pros and cons, check either Goodreads or Squeaky Clean Reviews.)

February 16, 2011

Merlin and Arthur

The two main players in the BBC series Merlin are, naturally, the warlock Merlin and the crowned prince of Camelot, Arthur Pendragon. As they have done with most of the story, the writers of the show have put their own spin on both characters that is drastically different from the "original" stories, and pulled it off admirably, creating two dynamic foci around which the series revolves.

Merlin, far from being the bearded, backwards wizard that T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone portrays him to be, begins the series as a young warlock recently arrived in Camelot, where magic is banned on pain of death. His powers are innate, not learned, but at the start of Season 1 he has no experience and no guidance, and no idea of how he is to use his magic (which is where Gaius and the Great Dragon come in). He is kindhearted and brave, if clumsy and awkward, and wants only to use magic for good.
"Without you, Arthur will never succeed. Without you, there will be no Albion!" (The Dragon's Call, Season 1 - The Great Dragon to Merlin.)
Arthur, Uther's son, has been brought up to hate sorcery and to regard all who practice magic as corrupt. He is proud and stubborn and an arrogant pig, as Gwen calls him - traits which he no doubt inherited from his father and then skilfully developed on his own; but early on his character begins to grow, showing viewers that he is more than that. He is compassionate and has a deep love for the people of Camelot, and is not quite so bull-headed in his approach to magic as Uther.
"You're a prat, and a royal one." (Le Morte d'Arthur, Season 1 - Merlin to Arthur.)
"You're a better man than your father. Always were." (To Kill the King, Season 1 - Morgana to Arthur.)
The complete overhaul of Arthur's and Merlin's established characters is what makes them both three-dimensional and allows the series to stand out as something new. If Merlin's powers were all in place by Episode 1 - if he were the wise wizard he is generally made to be - there would be no development. If Arthur were the glorious King Arthur at the beginning of the series, rather than being the jerk throwing knives at a servant, he would be flat and stale and unable to grow episode by episode.

As it is, the distinct flaws in each leave plenty of room for development: Merlin must learn to listen to his head and not always follow his instincts, and Arthur must lay aside his inbred fear of magic and his arrogance. Little by little both characters are growing, moving, hopefully, toward the crisis - when Arthur at last learns about Merlin's magic. Every episode edges a little nearer to that time, increasing the tension as Merlin is torn between keeping his powers a secret and revealing who he really is, and as Arthur begins to question his father's attitude toward magic.

An interesting facet of Merlin is the skill with which the characters play off each other, and that is most apparent in Arthur and Merlin - perhaps due as much to the actors as to the screenwriters. Like Morgana and Gwen's friendship, which is set more in the background, that of Merlin and Arthur is one between opposites, both in nature and position. By starting them on a footing of mutual disgust in the first episode, the screenwriters are then able to build up from the ground, letting the episodes add to the respect and friendship piece by piece. Arthur progresses from beating Merlin up with a broomstick to drinking poison for him; Merlin goes from insisting that if anyone wanted to kill Arthur, he would lend them a hand, to sacrificing his life to save the young Pendragon's. This will also (again, hopefully) set the stage for Arthur to realize that Merlin is not an idiot, and that he has powers far beyond what Arthur would have previously imagined.

It also gives the series a taste of humor and irony, at least in these episodes before Merlin's powers are revealed, as Arthur prides himself on his own skill and Merlin allows him to do so. An interesting episode in Season 2 put Arthur in Merlin's shoes for a time as he watches another man get the glory for his own actions - in exactly the same manner that Merlin has to let others take the credit for winning battles and saving Arthur's life. Hopefully the screenwriters will not stretch this too thin over episode after episode of Merlin disguising his magic, for, just as with a story in which a single point is worn to shreds by being carried too far, it will weaken the story if the truth does not soon come out.
"You cannot do this alone! You are but one side of a coin, and Arthur is the other." (The Mark of Nimueh, Season 1 - The Great Dragon to Merlin.)

February 12, 2011

Wordles

This isn't a proper post. This is a "I wasted time and made some fun things, and here are the fruits of my non-labors." These aren't even proper Wordles, as, not being able to figure out that website, I turned to GIMP instead; but here they are: Wordle-like things for my novels Wordcrafter (completed) and The White Sail's Shaking (in progress). You can see them better by clicking on the images.

Wordcrafter:

Justin King writes adventures, but he is too sensible to want one. He writes about friendships, but has none himself. His stories take place all over the world, and yet he has never been outside of the British Isles. He writes fantasy, but puts no credence in tales of parallel realms.

All that is changed the day he meets Ethan Prince. A stranger to Edinburgh with seemingly no background or family, and one who gives every appearance of being not quite right in the head, Ethan is Justin’s opposite in a multitude of ways. As a friendship forms between them, the mystery of who Ethan Prince is begins to thread its way through Justin’s life and weave an adventure that he would rather not be caught in—but it is the revelation of that mystery that will force Justin to accept that not all fantasy is confined to the imagination.

Wordcrafter is the story of a man as he learns that all things come with a price, and that the cost of true friendship is one's life.


The White Sail's Shaking:

In the fledgling navy of the United States, as in the mighty fleet of Britain, there are few things as sought after as honor and glory. Men will risk their lives for it - in battles and in duels - and spill blood without a second thought to protect it. At sea, a man's good name is everything.

This is the world that Tip Brighton finds himself in when he is commissioned as a midshipman at the start of the First Barbary War. A fourth son with no prospects on land and the shadow of his family's Loyalist sympathies hanging over him at sea, he throws himself into the task of winning the respect and honor he craves - but finds it harder than he would ever have imagined. When his combined attempts to hide the secrets of a fellow midshipman, help a Syracusan girl pose as a seaman, and earn himself a good name prove too much, he is faced with the realization that something has to go.

The White Sail's Shaking is the tale of a boy in a man's world as he finds out what it takes to leave childhood behind.

February 9, 2011

Merlin and Character Studies

A little while ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the BBC show Merlin. That is to say, she introduced me to the bloopers first and I laughed so hard that I figured I might as well see if the actual show was any good. I was hooked after the first one. Perhaps the second. Anyhow, I was hooked, for a variety of reasons: the cleanness, the humor, the excellent foreshadowing, and the characters. Every major player has depth that unfolds over the course of the thirteen-episode-long first season, from Merlin himself to the sorceress Nimueh, and each individual intrigued me as a viewer and as a writer. For those of you who have not seen any of the show and might want to, I have endeavored to keep this post as spoiler-free as possible.

Gaius, the court physician who takes Merlin in when the young warlock arrives in Camelot, is a fairly stoic character from the beginning and provides the father-figure that Merlin does not have. He has the caution that Merlin lacks and can come across as unfeeling in his attempts to stop the young man from rushing headlong into good-intentioned scrapes, but the screenwriters did not make him an idiot. In several instances where Merlin's plan of action is at odds with Gaius', Gaius is eventually shown to be the wiser one as Merlin, ignoring advice and blundering on, creates more trouble rather than fixing the problem.
"You have taught me so much: taught me who I am, taught me the purpose for my skills, taught me that magic should only be used for great deeds. But most of all, you have always taught me to do what is right." (Le Morte D'Arthur, Season 1 - Merlin to Gaius.)
Uther, King of Camelot, is one of the most interesting character studies of all the Merlin cast. He is not an out-and-out villain, but he certainly is not a hero, nor even a good guy; he has suffered at the hands of sorcery (yet has also benefited by it) and lives in fear of all kinds of magic, swearing that Camelot will never fall to sorcery while he is king. His fear controls him, and any mention of sorcery drives all reason right out of his head. His acts are often condemnable and either fear- or self-driven, and he shows neither mercy nor understanding.

At the same time, he is not written (or played) as a wholly black-hearted ogre with no background or emotions. While I don't believe that a person's past in any way condones evil in their present actions, or that men and women are "basically good," yet in a story it is often more believable to give an antagonist an understandable history, rather than to say, "He's simply evil. So there." The writers of Merlin pulled this off with Uther by revealing some of his past encounters with sorcery and showing both the good and the evil that came of it.

As for Uther's emotions, several episodes reveal his deep love for his son, Arthur, and for his ward, Morgana, and his willingness to do anything to protect them. While these feelings also lead to wrong choices quite often, they have the effect of softening his character somewhat so that viewers can have some sympathy for him, while still wanting Arthur to take the throne.
"...He's a broken man consumed by fear. His hatred of magic has driven goodness from his heart." (The Nightmare Begins, Season 2 - Aglain to Morgana.)
Nimueh, the arch-nemesis of Season 1, is the opposite of Uther and yet also very similar. She is a powerful sorceress whose mission is revenge for the lives of her fellow sorcerers whom Uther has killed, so she represents all that the king has sworn to destroy. At the same time, though, her past and Uther's are linked, and the writers employed the same tactic they used for Uther in giving Nimueh a history to make her an understandable - though not a sympathetic - evil. She is not thrown into the role of villain with a mere, "I hate everyone just because." She has purpose, and that makes her even more evil - and thus a better antagonist.
"I have watched so many people I love die at your hands, Uther Pendragon. Now it is your turn." (Excalibur, Season 1 - Nimueh to Uther.)
The Great Dragon whom Uther imprisoned years ago beneath the castle is the narrator of the series and something of an enigma. He is the one who shows Merlin that his purpose is to protect Arthur at all costs and to get him to the throne of Camelot, but the Dragon's motives become increasingly suspect as the first season progresses. The question of whether or not he can be trusted adds a further element of suspense to the storyline, as he is often the only character strong enough or wise enough to help Merlin. It also makes him three-dimensional and allows for a contrast between himself and Merlin, between the Dragon's self-serving mindset and Merlin's self-sacrificing spirit. Had the screenwriters made the Dragon a purely good character, it would have had the double effect of making him flat and taking out a large portion of Merlin's moral struggles.
"Your destiny is to protect the young Pendragon until he claims his crown and, when he does, magic can be returned to the realm. Only then will I be free." (Le Morte d'Arthur, Season 1 - The Great Dragon to Merlin.)
Morgana, niece and ward of Uther Pendragon, is another difficult character whose true colors have yet to be revealed. Throughout the episodes she has had dreams in which she has glimpsed the future, making Gaius, who prescribes medicine for her nightmares, wonder whether she may have the same sort of magic that Merlin does. Though she is usually a sweet and goodhearted young woman, she has a darker side - fierce loves and hates, a quick and passionate temper, and a lack of guidance. She is unpredictable and has the capacity to turn into sorceress like Nimueh, and as her character and powers are slowly revealed, they give more force to the question of her future.
"I am never going back. These are my people. They are like me. I don't feel so alone here." (The Nightmare Begins, Season 2 - Morgana to Merlin.)
Guinevere, or Gwen, is Morgana's maidservant and friend and represents her polar opposite. Where Morgana is fiery, Gwen is subdued; where Morgana is sarcastic, Gwen is sweet; where Morgana flies into a passion at the hint of injustice, Gwen accepts her lot with resignation. She is loving and full of blessings for almost everyone; but like Morgana, Gwen has convictions and frequently voices them, though she generally regrets it afterward.

An interesting point that is brought out by the second season is that, though Morgana is the king's ward and the prettier of the two women, still it is Gwen's sweetness that attracts the men and makes her the subject of the age-old question in fiction, "Who is she going to marry?" Her natural openness and affection has torn her between two men, and I have yet to find out how the screenwriters will resolve it.
"Gwen is the most kind, loyal person you would ever meet and she's been more than a friend to all of us." (Lancelot and Guinevere, Season 2 - Morgana to Arthur.)
Lancelot, probably the third most well-known character of the Legend of King Arthur, is portrayed in the BBC series as a great swordsman, but not a nobleman and thus not eligible to serve as one of the Knights of Camelot. Unlike in most of the King Arthur tales, he is a humble man whose one goal is to serve the king of Camelot, and whose character is far nobler than any real nobleman's. He has actually only appeared in two episodes so far (once in Season 1 and then again in Season 2), but the screenwriters have established him so well in those that he is not "out of sight, out of mind"; he is a critical player, but exactly what part he will eventually play remains to be seen.
"For all my words, for all that I believed, I've come to nothing." (Lancelot and Guinevere, Season 2 - Lancelot to Guinevere.)
And this is the part where you wonder where Arthur and Merlin himself have gotten to in this list. However, they deserve a compare-and-contrast post of their own, as Dr. Watson did, so their character studies will come later.

February 2, 2011

John H. Watson, M.D.

Watson is underrated. Perhaps understandably so; after all, compared to the brilliant Holmes, Watson is hardly remarkable. But, then again, no one in Conan Doyle's novels is very remarkable when examined in the light of Sherlock Holmes (a fact of which that detective is keenly aware). Watson never fails to be startled by the minutiae of his friend's deductions, but is not quick enough to pick up on them himself, and his frequent inability to guess at the trail of Holmes' thoughts leaves many readers to conclude that he is a dunce.

Not so. Watson is no idiot, as he shows in The Hound of the Baskervilles, where he spends most of the book attempting to solve a mystery on his own; rather, he is the perfect foil for the eccentric genius of Sherlock Holmes. Whereas Holmes' talents lie in the realms of careful planning, plotting, and not a little deception, Watson is a man of action, generally ready with a pistol in his pocket to help his friend out of a tight spot. If not brilliant, he is brave, and never one to back out when the danger is high. His job is to fire at pygmies, throw smoke bombs inside rooms through open windows, and, most importantly, to do everything without asking questions or questioning Holmes' methods. As Holmes himself remarks in Hound, it is in the hour of action in which he turns to Watson for aid - and it is in the hour of action that Watson excels.

Holmes: "And when I raise my hand - so - you will throw into the room what I give you to throw, and will, at the same time, raise the cry of fire. You quite follow me?"
Watson: "Entirely.... I am to remain neutral, to get near the window, to watch you, and at the signal to throw in this object, then to raise the cry of fire, and to wait you at the corner of the street."
Holmes: "Precisely."
Watson: "Then you may entirely rely on me."
(The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia.)

Another point that is often missed is that only a character like Watson could be written as a loyal friend of a man like Sherlock Holmes. If Watson were as brilliant as Holmes, it would be unreasonable to think that the two would be friends, for their talents would lie in the same areas, they would clash, and it would ultimately diminish from the grandeur of Conan Doyle's masterpiece: Sherlock Holmes.

Watson is most important, however, in his capacity as a filter between Holmes and the reader. While readers may be disgusted with Watson for not always "catching on," this only shows that they don't realize how very much in the dark they would be if there were no character in the story to whom Holmes explained his logic. There are only two other options: first, that there be no explanation at all; or second, that Holmes' thought processes would be explained in narrative form rather than in dialogue. The first would alienate readers by making Holmes into an unapproachable, and incomprehensible, character, as, without an explanation of his conclusions, Conan Doyle's detective would seem absurd. Indeed, many of Holmes' seemingly random conclusions do seem absurd until he has languidly explained them to Watson.

As for the second, this means would make the prose tedious and parenthetical. Something along the lines of, "'You took the train back from the country this morning,' said Holmes. He knew this from the little splotch of mud on the threshold, which was not one of the five hundred samples known in the city of London and which naturally indicated that he had been out in the country. 'And you were late.' This, of course, came from the fact that the mud was rounded into the shape of the flat of Watson's shoe, which indicated that he had been sprinting." It is so much nicer to set out this information in dialogue form, rather than having the author feed it to the reader in such a way as to indicate the former's assumption that the latter is an idiot.

Instead of burdening his stories with either of these options, Conan Doyle created the character of John H. Watson, M.D. As an intrepid friend, supporting character, intelligent sidekick, and narrator of Holmes' cases, he remains a classic and oft-overlooked figure in the familiar mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.

(Maker of graphic unknown.)

 
meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings






The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings






Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing



Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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