Archive for the ‘Experiences/Thoughts’ Category

Moving on to the letter D, we come to another of my favorite things: Dragons. Powerful, ancient and universal, legends of dragons are found in essentially every culture and every time, up to and including the present. Dragons have been used, in different cultures, to represent each of the four classical elements (Air, Earth, Fire and Water) being the only mythic being I know of to have such a distinction.  They’ve filled many character and archetype roles as well: Villain, hero, monster, god, adviser, schemer, embodiment of an abstract, good and evil, kind and cruel there is a dragon out there for every taste or narrative need.

Although many dragons, both in myth and especially in modern literature are intelligent beings capable of speech some are not and their are, to me oddly, some few people out there who are surprised when a dragon in a story speaks (I’ve actually had that happen to me with stories I’ve written.)

The biggest divide between dragons, in my view, is the geo-cultural one existing between dragons in the West and in the East. This divide creates various differences in the forms, personalities and morality of the dragons in question.

In the West, dragons frequently though not always have wings (Fafnir was a notable non-winged dragon or “wyrm” of Western origin although he was, of course, born a dwarf), usually have four legs and a more or less lizard-like body and often breathe fire/smoke/poisonous fumes. Western dragons are often, but again not always, evil,  frequently devouring humans-especially maidens-eating up livestock, burning down towns and generally carrying on. They are commonly greedy hoarders of wealth in the form of gold and jewels of all types. They tend to be associated with Fire or Earth on an elemental level, and in Christian contexts are often used as a symbol or metaphor, or seen as a potential form of, the Devil, Hell or the concept of “sin” itself. They were generally seen as beings of destruction and chaos, or else of cold cunning. However they are not always seen as bad…for instance, for many years “Y Ddraig Goch”, “The Red Dragon” has been the flag of Wales (particularly interesting to me, as my ancestry is partially Welsh-Williams is a Welsh name.) Notable dragons in classical Western tradition include Níðhöggr, Smaug the Dragon of Erebor, the dragon slain by Saint George and according to some, Grendel and/or his Mother.

In the East, most dragons can fly, but they are rarely if ever depicted with wings and tend to be of a more serpentine shape. Their heads also sometimes have a less reptilian form or aspect and often bear dear-like antlers rather than the horns often found on Western dragons. Eastern dragons are generally benevolent, sometimes even divine beings or the servants of gods and usually associated with the elements of Water and Air. Eastern dragons often had aspects of fertility (mostly via rain) protection and wisdom. In ancient China a dragon, usually with five claws, was the symbol of the Emperor. In Eastern myth dragons are usually part of the established order, rather than against it as in the West, although an aspect the two types sometimes share is that of guardians and also that of keepers of ancient knowledge or wisdom, however Western dragons often must be “paid off” to share their knowledge or power. Further, all Eastern dragons to my knowledge are conscious, speaking beings whereas some dragons in the Wester are depicted as non-sentient beasts. There are a few evil Eastern dragons such as the Japanese Orochi which is often depicted as a dragon, sometimes as merely a multi-headed serpent. Other notable Eastern dragons include Seiryu, the Blue Dragon of the East and one of the Four Sainted Beasts of East Asian folklore, and the Dragon King sea-god of China.

Dragons are common elements of modern fantasy literature, often fusing East and West; many literary dragons, especially in the last couple of decades, are like Western dragons in shape but there have come to be many such that resemble Eastern dragons more closely in temperament. Stories such as the Inheritance Cycle,  and the Pern books feature benevolent dragons as central characters and heroes. Others take a middle ground, such as in the world of Earthsea, where dragons and humans are related but took different paths, some dragons being malicious towards mankind, others simply wanting to be apart. In Dungeons and Dragons there are more varieties of dragons than colors in the rainbow, ranging from good to “neutral” to evil and back.  To many lovers of fantasy in modern times-and indeed I feel even throughout history-dragons have been, are and will continue to be symbols of all that is magical, mysterious and fantastic. Indeed many modern dragons of literature and games are just that, eidolons of magic or of all things primal.

I’ve always had a fondness for dragons, personally, that became much stronger when I was a kid and read the foreword of an anthology called “Dragon Fantastic”, that spoke extensively of Dragons as the archetypal creatures of magic and fantasy, embodiments of myth and wonder. That above all is what they mean to me. I don’t have as many dragons in my fiction as I would have expected, but they do pop up and are definitely a feature in the Universe of the Nine Roads. Many dragons are Node Guardians, protecting and regulating places in the world where the power of a particularly Road is especially strong and concentrated.


Copyright Disclaimer: The images in this blog post do not belong to me. I found them via Google search and they are the property of their respective creators/owners, whoever they may be. If you are the creator/owner of one of these images and you wish your work removed please let me know and I will comply immediately.


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As some of you know-and as most could figure out from looking at this blog-blue is my favorite color. Indeed it’s one of the few things I have a favorite of. When buying or selecting things, generally speaking if there is a blue one to be had, that’s the one I’m going to pick.

When I first began developing The Universe of the Nine Roads setting, I did a bit of research into colors, physical color theory and the various symbolic meanings of different colors. The symbolism of Blue is quite varied, sometimes even contradictory. For instance it is associated with both happiness (blue skies, bluebirds etc) and sadness (feeling blue, got the blues etc.) Blue is also symbolic of the element Water and to a lesser extent Air, and of ice and cold, depths and heights. It’s associated with truthfulness and veracity and also with calm and serenity and is often considered a “masculine” color especially in terms of infants: blue is for baby boys, pink or red for girls (though according to Wikipedia, it used to be the other way around).  Blue also has an association with magic and mysteries; for instance in popular culture archetypal wizards are often depicted wearing blue robes.

Several Hindu deities and other important beings, such as Vishnu and Shiva are usually depicted as blue-skinned.

Blue is the next-to-last color on the visible spectrum, coming just before Violet and is a “high frequency” color. Despite frequent association with sadness or depression, blue seems to be the most common favorite color. Visually speaking, it appeals to me for its balance…vivid, without being overbearing as many of the low-frequency colors like Red are. And as anyone who knows me will attest, most of Blues symbolic meanings as association are both appealing and fitting for me; hence you find a lot of Blue popping up in my life and my work. That being said, I’ve made a conscious effort not to have all of my “heroes” be blue-favoring, and in the Universe of the Nine Roads, while the Blue Road does contain a lot of positives, like all the Roads it can have a dark side as well.

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So, I have decided, using my mind, to do my own version of the “A to Z” thing that’s been going around. I will probably have to double up some days or something, but anyway I decided it would be interesting to pick something for each letter of the alphabet to post about.

For me, A is for Air, Air as in the Classical Element Air. It’s one of my two favorites of the four,along with Water, the ones with which I most closely identify. As some of you know, I tend to write a good number of air-magic-using characters, especially in The Universe of the Nine Roads, where Air is a part of the Blue Road.

According to Aristotle (who liked to group the Elements by temperature and moisture levels), Air is wet and hot. In Esoteric Tarot, the Element Air is associated with the Swords suite, considered to be masculine and tied to concepts such as the Mind, Communication, Law, Decisiveness, Independence and Discipline.  In many traditions Air is associated with freedom of both body and spirit, travel and movement, wanderlust and a general attitude of not being tied down or restrained.

Air is missing from the Chinese Five Element Wu Xing system of Wood, Metal, Earth, Fire and Water. However, although this system is often referred to in English as the Five Elements, in Chinese thought it is more properly, as I understand it, Five Movements or Phases and is used largely a mnemonic device.

It’s interesting to note that the chief god of several ancient mythologies was an air/sky/storm god, as were several gods who were prominent but not pantheon leaders. These include such worthies as Zeus, Odin, Thor, Indra, Susano-0, Uranus, Nut and others.

In fantasy, particularly role-playing games, magic involving Lightning is often considered Air-magic, since lightning comes from the sky and indeed is often the result of static electricity created within clouds.

I personally identify with Air through its aspects of the mind and thought, communication, freedom and travel. The winds cover all the world, and even beyond our planet there are solar winds that cross interstellar space and “blow” throughout the universe. I’ve also always been fascinated with weather and storms; I love me some windy days. Further, I am something of a talker, and for humans at least it is air that makes our speech possible and carries it to the ears of our listeners.

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So, I haven’t really been posting a whole lot. I’m still getting used to working again. I have been getting a little bit done. I finished what will now be Chapter 7 of the “Dawn Prism”. I know what happens, more or less, in Chapter 8 and I’ve more or less fully concepted the giant monster that will be needed for that chapter. I’m currently working on an extensive story-crit for someone, but when finished I will set in on that next novel chapter.

I’m waiting for one more set of comments on “Galateon” before applying the finishing touches and sending it out. Got several stories that’d been sitting around back out yesterday. I don’t like having stories sitting unsubmitting, but since I have so much material its been happening more and more lately due to market overlap. I have to let them sit until a good place to send them frees up. This is further complicated by the tendency for many markets to close to submissions for long periods, and the new and growing trend of magazines wanting you to wait a week after a response to send them anything else.  Strange Horizons seems to have really picked up the pace on their responses, though, so hopefully I will hear back from them soon about “Book of Sorrow, Tears of Hope.” I have a story, “Damsel in Distress,” in the second reading-tier with New Myths and a few other submissions that, judging from their time out, seem to be under deeper consideration, so perhaps I will have some good news to post soon.

Also, sometime soon I plan to put the two stories I’ve posted here on The Key of the Twilight on my old Elfwood page, along with a link to the blog in hopes of one or both getting a Moderator’s Choice and perhaps creating a little more traffic and interest. So, with that I will head off into the land of critting, and post when I have more interesting events to share.

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So, been a while since the last post. I’ve started working again, so that’s taking up a bit of my time and/or energy. It hasn’t been a total loss though…I revised my last short story, “Galateon” and after a run past a couple pairs of eyes to check for errors I’ll be getting it ready to send off, probably starting with Clarksworld.

My next trick will be to figure out exactly what happens next in “The Dawn Prism.” Actually, I know more or less what happens, I just need to figure out how and with exactly what.

At the same time I am mentally percolating the beginnings of a story involving the Jersey Devil.  I saw a Jersey Devil movie a week or two ago and while it wasn’t that great, it did inspire me. I plan to use the Mother Leeds legend and the Leeds devil to explore themes of shame.  In light of this, I ask anybody who is from New Jersey or has otherwise spent time in the Pine Barrens and/or is well versed in the legend to share any personal stories, insights, regional information or anything else you feel might be helpful for or should be included in a story set in the Barrens and dealing with the legend. I want to get the feel of the place right on all sensory levels, but I’ve never been there so its more difficult.

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So, the other day I was browsing Netflix, as I am wont to do. For some reason or other, I clicked upon the Common Sense Media rating of some movie or other. I’ve noticed those for a while, but never looked that closely. When you click the rating (which is described in terms of an age range and an appropriateness level, such as “Iffy for 13+”) you get a fuller and more comprehensive explanation of the movie’s content. I dislike that it is still a “rating” system, and I disagree with both many of the conclusions they come to and the overall perspective from which the comments seem to be coming. However, I really like the fact that what you get when you click is an actual disclosure of specifics-often even including comments for context-which, really, is what I feel we should have as a primary media guide  instead of any sort of “rating” system. I don’t think anybody should be trying to tell anybody what is or isn’t appropriate for them, for their children, or for people of a certain age range in general-rather, I think we should be able to know what kind of stuff is in a movie, and make decisions based on that.

That, however, isn’t the primary thing this post is about. The primary subject of this post is going to be me ranting about the Common Sense Media comments on a particular movie, last year’s “Red Riding Hood.” As some of you already know, I’m a pretty big fan of the movie. I saw it some months back, got it from Netflix and watched it twice, enjoyed it very much. It inspired me to write my own adaptation of the Red Riding Hood story, “Iron and Fire.” In the movie’s version of the story, the Red Riding Hood character, Valerie, is in love with Peter, a woodcutter like her father, but it’s been arranged for her to marry Henry, the blacksmith’s son. Along with the obvious werewolf issues, much of the movie is a love story centered around Valerie and Peter…indeed the first scene is a flashback to them flirting when they were about 12 and the second scene is Valerie telling Peter of her arranged marriage and the two of them making plans to run away together…until being interrupted by the horn-call from the village, indicating an attack by the Wolf.

So now we come to the Common Sense Media part. The article on the movie says various entirely valid and accurate things about the violence and other potentially problematic content, all presented, I think, pretty reasonably. Then, under the heading of Social Behavior it says that much of the movie’s message has to do with relationships, being focused on a message of “I’d do anything to be with you” which, they feel, is potentially dangerous for adolescents-that the message of love conquers all is dangerously mixed with the idea that a person should be willing leave their home and family for the one they love (I had previously posted a quotation of exactly what was said but I noticed it says “all rights reserved” so I removed it and paraphrased.)

First off, I think this is pretty out of context in terms of the movie. Valerie and Peter’s relationship is perfectly healthy and normal-until Valerie is told by her mother that she has to marry someone else. The reason initially given is for her financial well being-Peter is a poor woodcutter, Henry’s family is the wealthiest in town. However, we find out eventually that the REAL reason involves her mother trying to essentially clean up a mess left over from some poor life-decisions of her own (which, indeed, come about as a result of her being made to marry someone she didn’t love.)

Second, while I can understand why people might feel the “anything for love” message could be dangerous for young people who may be involved in unhealthy, even dangerous relationships…the thing is, that isn’t love. Of course I realize many people think young folks can’t tell the difference, but I personally disagree…people of ALL ages get, and stay, in destructive relationships for a variety of reasons. That isn’t what the movie portrays…it portrays two young adults one of whose parents are trying to force her into a situation that would in fact be unhealthy, to try and fix a problem of their own making. In the context of this movie, the message of “always do what your parents say” is the one that would in fact be dangerous. I don’t know much about the Common Sense Media people (I plan to research them eventually as I do like a lot of how the system works) but chances are they would find what I just said objectionable, and probably have issues with anything that suggested to young people that their parents may not know what is best for them. Now, no one is a bigger advocate for parents rights than I, but the simple truth is not every parent has their offspring’s best interest at heart at all times…and not all adolescents are ignorant, hormone-driven morons.

I must admit though that I may be a little biased…as I think many of us gay folks would be about this issue. I left home when I did (which wasn’t early at all, but it wouldn’t have happened when it did) because I fell in love with another guy and my parents (primarily my mother) were not about to let me participate in a homosexual relationship while living in their house…so I left. As with everything, it is about balance. Should a young person listen to and respect their parents? Of course. Should a person…particularly a legal adult…not be with someone they love because their parents (or society) don’t approve? I really, really don’t think so, and I think the real message of the movie is simply to follow your heart, which I don’t believe is ever bad advice.

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So, last night I was watching “The Dead Zone” on my beloved Netflix instant viewing and it got me thinking about a thing I’ve thought about before. Stephen King is (rightly) known as the King of Horror. However, a significant portion of his work is not necessarily, in my estimation, horror. Now as many of you know I have certain issues with the whole concept of genres, especially in their capacity as marketing tools. Horror is notoriously one of the most difficult in this regard because horror is an emotion, not really a genre. Any work may invoke horror or have elements that do so, and indeed many stories, books and movies have horror or horrible elements yet are not considered part of the Horror genre.  So, largely for amusement but also as an exploration of horror and the concept of genre, let’s talk a little about some of Stephen Kings works and why I don’t necessarily consider them horror (or at least not all horror.)

The Dark Tower series: King’s magnum opus and also one that most will agree does not fall entirely within the confines of the genre of horror, especially not into its specific sub-genres. While containing many horror elements, the series also has strong content of the Fantasy and Western genres as well, and even a number of elements that could broadly be counted as Science Fiction. Most particularly, the story is in large part a Quest tale, a structure or story type not usually considered part of the Horror genre.

The Eyes of the Dragon: A relatively lesser known work, The Eyes of the Dragon is set in a medieval-esque world and is primarily a Fantasy novel with a strong “fairytale” style and and plotline. It shares very little in structure or tone with what most folks think of as Horror, despite the presence of King’s oft-used, many-named villain who in this story is known simply as Flagg. 

The Dead Zone: Certainly more “horrible” in many ways than the last two, with a modern setting and with the relatively common, sometime-horror trope of psychic abilities, to me The Dead Zone is still not a story focused primarily on generating fear, terror or horror (though the sequences involving the Castle Rock Killer could be considered horror of the psychological/serial killer sub-genre.) I feel the term “supernatural thriller” would probably fit the story better. Really, the story has more political elements than horrific ones and could also, I feel, be viewed as a political thriller with a relatively light speculative element.

Firestarter: Like The Dead Zone, Firestarted is set in modern times (as is the norm for most works marketed under the Horror genre) and involves characters with mental/psychic powers. However also much like The Dead Zone there is little emphasis on creating fear, horror, or terror, though there are some scenes of such. Given the themes of government experimentation with drugs and the altering of people’s abilities it could, I feel, just as easily be classed as Science Fiction and/or Thriller as horror.

The Talisman(written with Peter Straub): Much like the Dark Tower series to which it is (even more so than most of King’s works) so strongly tied, The Talisman is, to me, more of a Fantasy Quest story than a Horror novel. While there are, as always, horrible occurrences and such, the book does not create a pervasive mood of dread or fear: the focus is rather on the achieving of the protagonists goals.

Rage: This hard to find short novel features absolutely no supernatural elements and, in my view, almost no horror elements; to me, it’s really more of a social drama.

I could add several more, but you get the picture. Now, before you say to me, “don’t you think anything he wrote was horror?” I’ll respond with a resounding, of course. IT is in my opinion  the apotheosis (a word King himself loves) of the “Kids face horror on summer vacation” story. Pet Sematary is unremittingly disturbing and chilling. The Shining and ‘Salem’s Lot are masterful takes on classic horror tropes (The Haunted House and The Vampire, respectively.) Most of his short stories that I’ve read are also much more squarely in the Horror genre (which is, I have to feel, always the most closely wedded to the short form.) But the thing that is so interesting to me is, I believe pretty strongly that if the books I mention above had been written by someone other than Stephen King, they would likely have ended up in a different section of the bookstore. This to me is an indication that genre is at least as much about marketing as it is about anything else.

Genre is defined in different ways by different people; by content (the definition I find most useful and easiest to understand) by structure, by intent, by (strangely to me) “audience.” To me, the main use of genre names is as a shorthand to quickly and easily indicate to someone a few general bits of information about a book or movie or story. However, genres like Fantasy and Horror are so broad and contain so many permutations that their usefulness in this regard, alone, can be limited. If I tell you I am writing a Fantasy novel, all that really tells you more or less for sure is that there is probably magic of some kind in it.  It could also have elves and dragons living in a world approximating the Dark Ages, but it could just as easily take place in near-future New York and feature punks with supernatural powers. So we have terms like High Fantasy, Modern Fantasy, Hard and Soft Science Fiction etc to help us communicate a little more specifically. However, trouble ensues when people try to set absolute limits on these concepts and end up still have miscommunication. Likewise some genres/labels, like Magic Realism or Slipstream are either so broad or so poorly defined and contentious as to create more problems than they solve.

This is why when asked what I write, I prefer to offer a sample, rather than trying to explain it in terms of genre, for each story is a mix of elements that no one word can describe.

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