Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Put the FAN in Fantasy: Mystery Men

The cast of Mystery Men
In compliance with my recent pledge to myself and everybody else on the Internet, I am amping up the "weird" factor in my web presence to better reflect my truly geeky self. In particular, I am starting a series of posts about one of my absolute FAVORITE topics in the world--fanfiction.

Fanfiction has a less than stellar reputation in the serious publishing industry, but there are at least 2.2 million users posting stories in 30 languages around the world at the biggest site And that doesn't count all you anonymous lurkers out there who read and NEVER REVIEW. Yes, I'm talking to you. Just drop a note that says, "I read this. It was good." You'll be making some poor non-paid author's day (mine included). Plus there are loads more sites like Live Journal and Deviant Art that post fics too.

So in honor of my long held personal and academic interest in the phenomenon of fanfiction, I'm going to address one of the first elements of writing it:

Have a burning desire to write that story.

For instance, I love the movie Mystery Men. It's such a fabulous tribute to, spoof of, and exploration of the superhero movie. In this world, nearly everybody has some kind of weird, marginal superpower. The Shoveler who can shovel really really well. Spleen whose gas is silent but extremely violent. Mr. Furious who gets really mad---really mad. The Blue Rajah who throws forks---hey, anybody can throw a knife, but a fork? Invisible Boy who is only invisible when nobody is watching him and it somehow works. And my favorite, The Bowler with her signature bowling ball containing the skull of her dead father, Carmine the Bowler.

I adore this movie, but I have never once been afflicted with a fanfiction story about it. Maybe the movie wound up all the plot bunnies. Maybe there wasn't somebody I just had to see hooked up (romance is a major thread in my fics). For whatever reason, as much as I loved the characters in Mystery Men, I never wanted to write about them. So I didn't.

Too many times, we writers of "real" fiction spend a lot of time studying the market and trying to come up with the next Harry Potter or Twilight or Hunger Games or Shades of Grey. So we end up with this uninspired pastiche Dirty Harry Games Taking Place at Dusk and we wonder why there are no takers on the manuscript. It's because the burning desire ain't burning.

If, by some chance, you are like me and need your muse to get off her rear and go to work, you better find an affliction of plot. You better stir up an itch you have got to scratch. Fantasize about it. Tumble over the thoughts in the top of your head until they began to bother you at night.

If your original plot isn't coming together, never fear! A great way to break loose the creative mojo is to write a little fanfiction. What's a movie or tv show you love? What is the one thing that never happened in it that you always wished you could see? Now write it. Run it up the digital flagpole at and see who salutes it.

Trust me, somebody out there really wants to read it---unless it just sucks eggs. In that case, definitely start writing fanfiction and work on your creative chops. Learn from your reviews. Ask for honest opinions. Get beta readers. The only way we get good at our craft is to practice it. Fanfiction is a super accessible, fun, free way to toss your pearls before a built in audience and get nearly instant feedback.

But whatever you do, DO NOT start writing Harry Potter fics just because they are so incredibly popular. You MUST have a burning desire to write this piece above all others. Some of my very best work is in the Earth2 fandom---a small but very loyal group---and some of my best writing cohorts and internet best friends started right there (I'm talking to you, NatX!) I wouldn't be where I am without those fics and those readers. They made me better.

So what are you waiting for? Inspiration? Let me toss out a few ideas---romances that never came to fruition, minor characters whose stories beg to be told, missing pieces of the big picture (I'm thinking lots of Firefly fics), continuations of stories that have "officially" ended. Any of these can be your sandbox to play in.

Meanwhile, if you want to read mine----gotta plug myself for a second 'cause I just ADORE reviews---I am at and you can always check out my first real published novel The Blacksmith's Daughterat  from Musa Publishing.

Now what are you waiting for? Go get afflicted with plot!!

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Ask Ted Mendelssohn Hard Stuff

First of all, let me say how much I LOVED Ted Mendelssohn's new book The Wrong Sword. I loved it so much I started writing interview questions for Ted in hopes he'd answer them for my blog because I really wanted to know the answers!! So this isn't the usual author interview.

I am asking HARD stuff!

Thanks so much, Ted, for giving in to my curiosity! First off, the history in The Wrong Sword fascinated me! I loved your attention to detail and depiction of medieval France and England. Are you a historian along with your other many careers?

Thank you! When it comes to history, I'm an amateur, but I was lucky enough to attend a college with a demanding Western Civ requirement. (We read Beowulf in the original.) That got me started.

I like to think of Beowulf as the first action hero in English myself. In particular your depiction of such famous characters as Prince John and Eleanor of Aquitaine was so sharp it was hard to separate the fact from the fiction. Who did you make up? Was Geoffrey Plantagenet a real guy? If so, what in history earned such antipathy towards him that you turned him into such a scary and credible villain?

Well, gosh. You can't see it, but I'm blushing. Here's the deal:

Geoffrey, John and Eleanor were all real people - although by the time of this story, the real Geoffrey had actually been dead for several years. (There are two accounts of his death, the most likely of which is that he died in a joust, trampled by a horse...which I refer to in the novel. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, eh?)

Since Geoffrey died in a joust and was involved in several wars - including revolts against his own father - I figured that he was a typically aggressive member of the Anglo-Norman nobility; so I made him a damned good fighter. As to his cunning, the early Plantagenets were indeed a famously brainy bunch; and Geoffrey's contemporary, Gerald of Wales, described him like this: "He has more aloes than honey in him; his tongue is smoother than oil; his sweet and persuasive eloquence has enabled him to dissolve the firmest alliances and his powers of language to throw two kingdoms into confusion." He was also known not to give two farthings for the sanctity of the Church, raiding and despoiling monasteries and churches whenever he needed money. Add up the persuasiveness, the military experience, and the cynicism toward the sacred, and you have our Geoffrey.

Eleanor was the real deal. The heiress to the Duchy of Aquitaine, she had direct control of more (and richer) land than the King of France himself. She married Louis of France, divorced him, and then married Henry Plantagenet, nine years her junior; Henry became King Henry II of England within two years. She bore ten children in an age when even one pregnancy was dangerous; she went on Crusade with Louis and scandalized the Crusader States; she spoke Poitevin French, Latin, and Norman; she rode, hawked, and hunted; she was a patron of poets, troubadours and writers; and she was so famously beautiful that there was even a drinking song about her - one that survives to this day. She also turned her sons against their father, Henry, and encouraged them to rebel against him. So - remarkable, charismatic, and also a little horrifying. But so was Henry II; they were well-matched.

Of them all, I'm afraid I've done the least justice to John. By many accounts, John was actually an able administrator and a good general; he even reformed English common law for the good. So the idea of him as someone childish and stupid is unfair. However, he did have serious personality flaws, including pettiness, spite, and cruelty. He could apparently vacillate between being amiable and generous and being jealous and prone to fits of anger. He seems also to have had a knack for making snide remarks at the worst possible time, like mocking Irish beards while he was actually trying to govern Ireland. John was also shortish, barrel-chested, and red-haired (like his dad), not the lanky exquisite that I put in the book. Ah, well.

The tone of TWS is a very refreshing mix of current vernacular language with medieval concepts and history. Why did you choose to interject such (I hesitate to say it) anachronistic elements into what is otherwise such an incredibly grounded novel historically speaking?

To the characters who are actually living the story, their speech doesn't sound archaic; it sounds contemporary. What Tristan says to Isolde in Chretien de Troyes sounds archaic to us; but to him, it would have sounded modern. If the language in TWS were *really* contemporary, we wouldn't even be able to understand it; English as we know it today didn't exist. That's my way of saying that every "historical" novel is fake to some degree (even one as beautifully researched as Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth). I just decided that TWS didn't have to pretend otherwise.

Ted, I absolutely love that answer and completely agree. You handle that little dichotomy with such hilarity as well---one of my favorite elements of the book. So, what was the most fun thing about writing TWS? What was the hardest thing?

Most fun: Chase scenes, food fights, and anything with Brother Wiglaf. Brother Wiglaf is my chance to make all sorts of steampunk in-jokes. Sir Percy is also fun.

The hardest thing? Believe it or not, the fights between Henry and Excalibur. They have to ultimately function as one unit, but still be fighting for control all the time. It's a tricky balance in terms of plot.

And last, because I am desperate for a writer's retreat so I can actually get some work done, if you could hold a writer’s retreat anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I live in New York, which is widely acknowledged - at least by its inhabitants - to be the center of the universe. So maybe the Cuban-Chinese restaurant on 78th Street.

Now I am laughing out loud and wondering if they make a Cuban Egg Foo Yong because I would totally eat that!

Okay, seriously...I'm afraid if you say "anywhere in the world," it's going to generate a lot of places most authors won't get to easily: Venice, Rome, Istanbul, Bangkok, Copenhagen...

They all sound great to me. Let's start getting ticket prices! 

Thanks so much, Ted, for indulging my curiosity. Now, everybody, here are all the links to Ted's web presence and book purchasing. Like I said, I LOVED The Wrong Sword and do not hesitate to recommend!  

The Wrong Sword
by Ted Mendelssohn

For a thousand years, Excalibur has been the sword of heroes.
Unfortunately, its new owner isn’t one.

Henry of Sanbruc, medieval smartass, makes a pretty good living selling "magic" swords to gullible knights. When he's forced to steal the real thing from the Chapel Perilous, his troubles are only beginning: For Excalibur is not just the sword of’s also the sword that won’t SHUT UP. It communicates with its owner, it knows what kind of owner it deserves, and Henry doesn’t even come close.

To keep Excalibur and the world safe from the appalling Geoffrey Plantagenet, Henry will have to masquerade as a knight, crash a royal wedding, rescue a princess, break a siege, penetrate the secrets of the Perilous Brotherhood, and find Excalibur’s rightful bearer, all while trying to reach an accommodation with a snotty, aristocratic hunk of steel that mocks him, takes over his body, and keeps trying to turn him into the one thing he hates most...a hero.

Buy links:

Barnes & Noble

Musa Publishing

Ted's blog is at

Thanks again, Ted, for dropping by!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why I Write Light Fantasy and Romance, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Art

I was listening to Kate Bush's album Aerial on my way home from the day prison--day job, I mean--and as usual, the lyrics to "A Coral Room" made me cry. 

Here's the link to listen to this song---this hauntingly beautiful song---while you read this rant.

I really think Aerial is perhaps my favorite album of hers, but I think that about every new album she releases. "A Coral Room" explores time and memory through the use of ordinary images like a crumbling seaside town and a little milk jug that belonged to her mother.

There's nothing overly emotional about the lyrics. It's not maudlin or sad. In a 2005 interview, Kate said that she was inspired by a statement she once heard about holding an item in your hand with the full awareness that one day it would break and be no more.

Proust also does it in the beautiful passage in Swann's Way in which he extrapolates his entire childhood out of a piece of cookie dunked in tea. I read that piece over 20 years ago and still keep coming back to it in my memory and looking it up to reread it, just like I listen to "A Coral Room" over and over again.

I agree that the artistry and the execution of this lovely marriage between our present and our past merit all the praise I can put upon them. I absolutely LOVE both the song and the passage. I just HATE what they do to me.

Maybe other people are able to reminisce happily and not mournfully but apparently I am not able to do that. Proust's original title in French is A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (forgive the lack of proper punctuation) which when translated by my high school French reads To the Remembering of Lost Time. I find that translation much more to my liking than the usual Remembrance of Things Past.

The past is lost time, time that won't come back. I can't go there in my memory or in my fiction and not be consumed by grief. I steer away from books like Nicholas Sparks writes, not because I think they are bad, but because I can't handle the truth.

I hate breaking open the wall around my memories. When I listen to that song, I get all choked up thinking about my dad, who died in 2003, and about my childhood and about those moments long gone that will never come again. And I just cry and cry and cry. I HATE that!!

Rather than pulling my childhood out of a cup of tea or a milk jug, I'd rather take Douglas Adams' stance and extrapolate my significance in the universe from a piece of fairy cake. Let me frolic in the happy shallows of the present than plunge into the deep waters of memory and loss. Maybe introspection like that is good for the soul, but I think it sucks to do.

Give me fun! Give me crazy times! Give me wild monsters and challenges to overcome! Give me romance! Just don't ask me to hold something precious in my hand knowing one day it will be gone forever.

Real life gives me that already, every single freaking day.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Avengers and the (Hopefully) Rise of Hopeful Fantasy

I recently read a review of the awesome new Marvel movie The Avengers and was delighted to hear that somebody else felt the same way that I did.

Cue movie announcer voice: "In a world where fantasy grows darker and darker, where dystopias reign supreme, out of the gloom rises The Avengers! A movie that actually makes you feel better about life!"

I have to admit I have neither read nor watched The Hunger Games. I am not hating on anybody who has and who loved it. It's just that my life is miserable enough at times without borrowing somebody else's darkness. I don't want to read about a future that's all dystopian and upsetting. Now, when I was in high school, I ate up 1984 and Brave New World like they were candy. I felt positive the world was going to hell in a handbasket and these books were proof!

These days, though, I am much more inclined toward optimism, hence my enjoyment of the happy butt-kicking of The Avengers.

The Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender also had the right mix of current trouble and ultimate hope in my opinion. Aang wasn't an overly troubled teen---or at least his troubles didn't make him angsty. He kept looking for something better in the world and kept believing that he could make a difference. Heck, even thoroughly angsty Zuko (be still my heart) finally came around to Aang's way of thinking.

I want more movies and shows that make me feel positive after I've watched them, like maybe the world is worth saving and that it's not all going to hell in a handbasket.

More Chris Hemsworth in my movies is always a good thing too, but I digress. Ah, Thor (be still my heart---again).

Even though I'm getting ready to put my characters from The Blacksmith's Daughter through some pretty serious crap here in the sequel The Merchant's Son (also involving scary giant man-eating wasps), I don't ever want to lose that little thread of hope that ties it all together. Because when we've lost hope, what else is there?

Well, there's still Chris Hemsworth.

Your thoughts?