Chasing Magic… A Giveaway of Sorts

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I know I’ve been pretty much gone from the blogosphere for the last few months. To those of you who read regularly, I’m sorry. I have had other matters to attend to since November, some good, some not so good. But attending to them I am.

One of those good matters is the anthology Chasing Magic from the CW Publishing House. The book, which includes my short story, “Unicorn Music,” will be released this Saturday for only 99 cents (for a limited time). Incidentally, I wrote about “Unicorn Music” months ago in this post. Anyway.

There’s an online release party for Chasing Magic over at Facebook and you’re all invited. Go here to tell the fine folks at CW you’ll be there. I’ll be hosting the online party from 1:00-1:30pm CST, answering questions, showing off my internet presence and skillz (z intended, duh), giving away a handful of autographed, paperback copies of my sci-fi/horror/dystopian novel Former. The reviews say it’s pretty good. I think you might like it. I think you might like Chasing Magic too. It’s not just a good book filled with fantastical tales of daring-do though.

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This event CW has put together sounds fun, but not just because I’ll be there. It includes the chance to do a little back-and-forth with many of the other contributors, organizers, and editors on the book as well as the chance to win some cold, hard cash. That’s right, money. It makes the world go round, you know.

From the event page:

You can meet all the authors and organizers. Read mini interviews and learn about other what other things we are all involved in. There will be numerous giveaways, not to mention THREE GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAYS – A $50/$30/$10 Amazon Gift Card.

To enter the giveaway, just attend the event and upload your purchase receipt in the comments. So, for only 99c you have 3 chances to win a prize. 1st Prize – $50, 2nd Prize – $35, 3rd Prize – $20. Double entry for those that also place a review on amazon for one of the stories featured.

Grand Prize Giveaway’s will close 48hrs after the event starts to allow time for reviews and subsequent double entries. Names will be announced on this event page and the winners will be also be contacted directly.

So head on over to that Facebook page and sign up for the party/giveaway/thing. It’ll be fun.

Tolkien is right

You may have heard of J.R.R. Tolkien. I hope you have, particularly if you’re a writer of any sort. For Tolkien, you see, is a master.

Before I go any further with this I must pause and explain my tense. I know Tolkien is long dead but that does not lessen his impact. And anyway, his work still lives, thereby giving him life. So I write of him, the same way I write of his work–in the present. Also, if you haven’t read Tolkien’s work prepare for spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to it.

Tolkien is right. Reading through his body of work, I have determined that there are five writing lessons to be found in those pages. These lessons breed with each other, spawn new lessons, and continue a lesson genealogy that is unfathomably large. That said though, it all starts with five principles. From The Hobbit to The Silmarillion and everything in between, his work reads like one large, multi-volumed instruction manual on how to best tell a story. And spoiler alert, it isn’t complicated. Like I said, there are really only five principles.

  1. It is all about the journey.

    • Christopher Vogler and Joseph Campbell will tell you the same thing in their respective celebrated works, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers and The Power of MythAnd though I respect their works, Tolkien’s is far more entertaining. Let’s lay down the facts. In his seminal The Lord of the Rings series in which Frodo Baggins and his fellowship make their way toward Mount Doom to destroy the one ring that has all of Sauron’s power in it, does anyone really think the ring won’t find its way to a fiery demise? The answer to that question is a resounding, “No!” folks. We all know the deed will be done. What we don’t know, upon opening the first page in the first book in the series (The Fellowship of the Ring for those keeping score), is how this is going to happen. We do not know what sort of adventures will take place. We do not know what kind of action will ensue. We do not know who will live and who will die. We have yet to have gone on the journey. This, dear friends, is what we want to do, which is why we picked up the book in the first place–to go on a journey, not to reach a destination.
  2. Meaningless death does not exist, for all death has meaning.

    • Many critics and fans alike have expressed anger over the deaths of Fili and Kili during the Battle of the Five Armies at the end of The Hobbit. Other than Thorin, these two dwarves are mentioned by name more than any of the others in the group adventuring with Bilbo to take their mountain home back from Smaug. Therefore, these two are the ones readers have found themselves most attached to over the years. “So why?” they plead of Tolkien. “Why kill them?” Some have even guessed at reasons–offering rather weak reckonings on age and blood lines and Tolkien’s narrative intentions for who should be king once Smaug is defeated . . . . These reasons, though grand in effort, fall flat because they ultimately miss one glaring fact: Tolkien is a writer. And writers, as we all know, have something to say. Fili and Kili die at the end of The Hobbit to remind readers that adventures are dangerous, that knowledge and power does not come without a price and that sadly, people die. But also these deaths make their lives all the more precious. Many writers have done just the same at the ends of their novels and films. J.K. Rowling, Joss Whedeon, George R.R. Martin, Suzanne Collins, the Cohen Brothers, Stephen King, and F. Scott Fitzgerald to name a few. It is as though they are all taking a nod from Tolkien and reminding us of Bilbo’s famous words: “It’s dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
  3. There will be time for history later . . . or not . . . it doesn’t really matter . . . as long as the writer knows it

    • In Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings readers are immersed in a fantastical world called Middle-Earth in which dwarves and elves live side by side with men. It is a world where tree herders wander the forest searching for their long-lost wives, a world where orcs wreak havoc on a populace protected by wizards. It is a world readers must accept. If the world is written well enough, if it is created in such a way, readers will be able to go along for the ride without too much historical aid. That said, Tolkien knows his history. He knows what blood lines lead to what kings and what family of hobbits has lived under what hill for however long. He knows the legends that helped build his world and he knows the past battles and governments and politics. He knows it all. With that knowledge comes a great power and with that power comes a great responsibility. He drops just enough of the tales of old in his narrative to remind readers the world we are in when we are reading is very real. Eventually all of that history is collected in The Silmarillion and those of us who are super fans enjoy it from time to time. But it is not necessary. Remember, much like Tolkien, you’re not writing a text-book on the history of your world, you’re writing a story. But you better damn well know the history in order to make your story more believable. It doesn’t matter if the dragons talk and the elves sail across an ocean to heaven. If you’ve created a real world with a real history, your readers will believe.
  4. Big events are best told through the eyes of the little guy.

    • In The Lord of the Rings the world is coming to an end. The greatest evil ever known has awoken from a long and fruitful slumber to curl his fingers up into fists and start pummeling his enemies (everyone) into submission. There are kings and knights riding against him. There are powerful wizards and mighty rulers leading armies to the gates of Mordor (the bad guy’s messed up kingdom of rot, orcs, ghost kings, and one particularly terrifying giant demon spider lady) to stop this encroaching villain. There are movers and shakers who make plans and arrange armies and generally act as rulers do. But what is Tolkien’s focus? Hobbits. The smallest of the small. Those hobbits, those tiny little insignificant creatures, are the ones who tell the greatest story and have the largest impact. Again, a vast array of writers have taken this concept and made it their own. It is the story of the little guy in the grand epoch. It is the living breathing symbol of all of our actions having meaning. The little guy–the nobody–makes a difference folks. It is no more evident than in Tolkien’s tales. But also, in works by Dan Simmons, Victor Hugo, Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Jean M. Auel, and many others.
  5. There are really only three themes in great literature: love, death, and time.

    • These three concepts are everywhere constantly whether in the real world or the fiction one. People are on the look out for love, avoiding love, or basing their actions on love. Likewise, the specter of death haunts us all. Right there with death is the fear of time. There will never be enough. Tolkien knows all of this as he writes and it comes through in his characters’ relationships, actions, and behaviors. They should also come through in yours.

There you have it, folks. Tolkien is right. Simply put, the man knows how to tell a story.

Sci-fi/Fantasy: It’s Legit, for Real

I’m teaching this science fiction/fantasy writing class this summer. Right now I am in the process of creating a sort of guide for students to understand the various forms of science fiction/fantasy. Here is the cover and the first page:

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Clearly, it’s a rough draft but pay attention to the blurb on the bottom of the cover. It says volumes about my philosophy on writing without saying too much.

I’m thinking next week I’ll write about one of my biggest writing heroes . . . Stan Lee. But don’t quote me on that because you never know what sort of whim I might have . . . .