Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts

Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Elusive, Inspirational Soul – by S.E. Lindberg

This post originally appeared on the Once and Future Podcast website on Sept 3rd 2018.

Reposting here since that website is now sun-setted.

Embedded Images are all under Public Domain or Common License:


The Elusive, Inspirational Soul – by S.E. Lindberg

For most artists, including writers, the act of creating attempts to capture and share some emotion, or conversely, evoke an emotional response from an audience. Often, we draw inspiration from our past experiences, traumatic or enjoyable, to deepen the impact. As a scientist, I find the entire transaction of emotions oddly inspirational and terrifying. Feelings are ubiquitous, but cannot be measured objectively; they do not seem to adhere to any law of conservation like energy or mass obey (is there any limit to sorrow or joy?).

Could we better our craft if we knew how emotions flowed from an object (fine art or prose) to a person (or vice versa)? Let us examine the sources and sinks of emotion: our souls. In playful art, this is quite easy to simulate; heck, consider the soul-currency for crafting in From Software’s Dark Souls videogame series—if only we could see as the undead do! In real life, studying the soul is harder.

Many ‘Renaissance Men’ were inspired to find the soul while the art of anatomy flourished. The prevailing Church did not permit the dissection of innocent believers, so criminals or ‘sinners’ were often studied. Bodies were considered divinely sacred and were thus difficult to obtain; acceptable corpses could not be refrigerated, so one had to work fast. Nor were there cameras or video to capture the observations, so artists and alchemists convened in the dissection theaters to document the microcosms of life.  Leonardo Da Vinci provided detailed notes along with his drawings (from The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Oxford World's Classics, 1998):

"I have dissected more than ten human bodies, destroying all the various members and removing the minutest particles of flesh which surrounded these veins, without causing any effusion of blood other than the imperceptible bleeding of the capillary veins. And as one single body did not suffice for so long a time, it was necessary to proceed in stages with so many bodies as would render my knowledge complete; this I repeated twice in order to discover the differences. And though you should have a love for such things you may perhaps be deterred by natural repugnance, and if this does not prevent you, you may perhaps be deterred by fear of passing the night hours in the company of these corpses, quartered and flayed and horrible to behold; and if this does not deter you, then perhaps you may lack the skill in drawing, essential for such representation..." p151

Da Vinci determined that the senses were linked to a ‘common sense’ that led to the brain. But no actual soul was discovered. He yielded the goal of managing the soul to religion.  Below, from his treatise on painting, he spoke how the artist must deal with this and impart the soul into its subjects otherwise:

"A good painter has two chief objects to paint, man and the intention of his soul; the former is easy, the later hard because he has to represent it by the attitudes and movements of the limbs.” p178

Anatomical artists had to grapple with documenting macabre scenes of opened bodies while remaining 'artistic'.  For the dignity of the specimens and to satisfy the surgeons' needs, artists often found harmony by posing their subjects. Perhaps most famous are Johannes de Ketham's Fasiculo de Medicina (1491), Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543), and Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks (1500). The contemporary Bodies: The Exhibition continues this controversial tradition of displaying the dead artistically.

With the most promising connection to our souls being the senses, it follows that the next great promise of discovery came when optical technology allowed scientists to see new worlds. Pioneering microscopists had to draw their observations. In 1664, Robert Hooke published a large treatise entitled Micrographia or Some Physiological Description of Minute Bodies, containing an encyclopedia of detailed drawings of his microscopic views. In his preface, he explains to the reader that optics have enabled a spiritual quest:

“… by the help of microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible world discovered to the understanding.  By this means the heavens are opened, and a vast number of new stars, and new motions, and new productions appear in them, to which all the ancient astronomers were utterly strangers.”

The soul has never found, however.  Despite ‘the opening of heaven’ with microscopes, the soul still eludes us.

Ernest Haeckel (1834-1919) was another famous artist-scientist fascinated with the aesthetics of nature and the elusiveness of the soul. His 1904 set of lithographs Art Forms in Nature brilliantly exhibit his obsession with the symmetrical beauty of biological microstructures, and his extensions into comparative embryology brought him controversy. He argued this in his support of his own monistic religion that scientific adventures continually uncovered the beautiful designs inherent in nature (monism generally supports that ‘body and soul’ are one connected entity, not separate as many dualistic religions profess):

“The remarkable expansion of our knowledge of nature, and the discovery of countless beautiful forms of life, which it includes, have awakened quite a new aesthetic sense in our generation, and thus given a new tone to painting and sculpture. Numerous scientific voyages and expeditions for the exploration of unknown lands and seas, partly in earlier centuries, but more especially in the nineteenth, have brought to light an undreamed abundance of new organic forms... affording an entirely new inspiration for painting, sculpture, architecture, and technical art.”

In 1900, Haeckel published his scientific, spiritual book Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century in which he explains his monistic philosophies.  He shares elegant philosophy on the soul's lack of participation in the "Laws of Substance" (conservation of mass and energy); below, he discusses how many related the nonexistent soul to that which is tangible:

“Thus invisibility comes to be regarded as a most important attribute of the soul.  Some, in fact, compare the soul with ether, and regard it, like ether, as an extremely subtle, light, and highly elastic material, an imponderable agency, that fills the intervals between the ponderable particles in the living organism, other compare the soul with the wind, and so give it a gaseous nature; and it is this simile which first found favor with the primitive peoples, and led in time to the familiar dualistic conception.  When a man died, the body remained as a lifeless corpse, but the immortal soul ‘flew out of it with the last breath.’”

Indeed, the many myths of preserving a dead man’s soul, or gaining its powers, is pervasive. The notion of relics is common across cultures and time. It assumes that the soul is a contagion remaining attached to the body postmortem. Hence, the power of a Saint could be absorbed if one obtained his or her bones; this gave rise to the theft and desecration of many crypts and catacombs. Many crypts remain with the bodily relics on display. The crypt of Saint Munditia of Munich and the Vienna Imperial Crypts are fine examples. Other famous examples include the shrines of Capuchin monks in Rome and Palermo, Sicily (>6,000 bodies) and the Kostnice 'Church of Bones, Kutna Hora, Sedlec Ossuary, Prague (~40,000 remains).

Alas, we cannot study the soul directly yet, but the journey is inspirational. H.P. Lovecraft summarized our human condition best in his opening to “The Call of Cthulhu” (Weird Tales, 1928):

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age…”




S.E. Lindberg resides near Cincinnati, Ohio working as a microscopist, employing scientific and artistic skills to understand the manufacturing of products analogous to medieval paints. Two decades of practicing chemistry, combined with a passion for dark fantasy, spurs him to write graphic adventure fictionalizing the alchemical humors (primarily under the banner “Dyscrasia Fiction”). With Perseid Press, he writes weird tales infused with history and alchemy (Heroika: Dragon EatersPirates in Hell). He co-moderates the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads.com (please participate), and regularly interviews authors on the topic of Beauty in Weird Fiction.


 

 

 




Sunday, December 29, 2019

Offutt's BS: The Black Sorcerer of the Black Castle - Review by SE


The Black Sorcerer of the Black Castle by Andrew J. Offutt
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Black Sorcerer of the Black Castle is Andrew J. Offutt's parody of Sword & Sorcery. The one I read has illustrations from Jim Pitts, introduction by Wayne Warfield (editor), and an afterword by andrew j. offutt (who seldom capitalized his name).

It is intentionally overwritten with excess adjectives, and offutt referred to this as "BS" (short for many things, Black Sorcerer included.) The story has the common tropes of a lone hero fighting ~3 representations of something evil capped with a final confrontation with a malicious wizard. Plenty of silly call-outs to the S&S crowd are within (i.e., the wizard is named Reh after Robert E Howard).

I heard about this via the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads. My goal was further to understand how the use of color was applied in pulp fiction (S&S especially).

The afterword reveals the story's evolution. More importantly, it showed how multiple readers/editors preferred a particular balance of humor and action. In fact, offutt confessed he learned via working with BS of his Great Discovery:
"pornography and heroic fantasy have something much in common: both quite for different reasons, need to create a mood and a spell, and to make it last --and neither, can be overwritten.




View all my reviews

Friday, March 21, 2014

C Dean Andersson / Asa Drake - Interview by S.E. Lindberg


Image #1: Portrait of Hel  - Illustration by C. Dean Andersson
Interview with C. Dean Andersson by S.E.Lindberg
It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses. This continues the interviews of weird/speculative fiction authors on the themes ofArt & Beauty in Fiction.  Here we corner C. Dean Andersson (a.k.a. Asa Drake) who has written Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror since the 1980's and just released Hel X 3 (an eBook omnibus of his Bloodsong saga; check out my review of Hel X 3 (link).  Let’s learn more about his artistic inspirations.

Grotesque Beauty: 
You seem fascinated with the Goddess Hel. The Hel X 3 trilogy is titled and inspired after her after all (with a fourth Valkyries of Hel in progress), and you received a Bram Stoker Award finalist ranking for your story about a modern encounter with the Goddess Hel, "The Death Wagon Rolls on By."  Hel has a wonderful character design, being half-living-beauty / half-corpse; she explicitly represents the paradox of attractive horror.  In the anthology Pawn of Chaos: Tales of the Eternal Champion, your short story "The Warskull of Hel" has Bloodsong working with Michael Moorcock's eternal champion (the Urlik Skarsol incarnation); Urlik discovers Hel and suggests that her corpse-side may be beautiful:

"So, you think me beautiful, do you, Urlik Skarsol?" The woman on the throne laughed, a sound like a raven's call.  "Yes, your thoughts are known to me, and that this image of beauty is the most dear to you of any in existence.  But you have not seen my other side."  She pulled back her hair and revealed the half-face of a rotting corpse.  Her laughter again echoed from icy walls.

Urlik quickly concealed his shock and said , "Someone in horrible pain might think Your face of Death most beautiful."

Your own fiction is "horrific" but you share it nonetheless, and invite others to share in the grotesque.
How do you make the corpse-side of Hel appealing?  
CDA: It is beyond my power to do so, without audience participation. If the Thanatos in Eros-Thanatos triggers your libido and stimulates fantasies darker than most can stand, kissing the corpse-side of Hel’s face may be your cup of tea. But whatever affects you strongest, the mythic power of Hel’s image comes from the emotional tension generated by its Ying-Yang juxtaposition of Life and Death.

Hel, whichever side you prefer, can be a kind of visual Norse aphrodisiac. Her dead side reminds you, at least on a subconscious level, to beat the genetic clock and reproduce before it’s too late. Of course in our too-clever-for-our-own-good human ways, sexual gratification is often consciously unrelated to reproduction. Hel’s appearance also inspires an appreciation of our current life because she reminds us of our future death. She holds, in addition, in her life qualities, the promise of rebirth to new life. Some Norse believed in reincarnation within family lines. If that is your belief, Hel’s death side is a door your spirit must pass through to get to your future.  
I probably need to point out, for the Norse challenged, Hel is not Death. She takes care of the Dead. But her realm is the Norse Underworld where the environment itself was believed to be unpleasant, dark and cold, like a grave. In fact, one suggested origin for her name is that it simply meant “to cover over,” as in a burial. 
Hel is a goddess whose concept probably predates the Norse Myths. How old is the awareness of an eventual, personal, physical extinction?  In the myths, she is portrayed as a special child disfigured at birth but loved by her mother, a Jotun, giantess—Neanderthal?—whom the myths call Angrboda, Anguish-Boding. The gods kidnapped Hel and her brothers, Fenris the Chaos Wolf and Jormungandr the World Serpent—two other ancient power symbols--from their mother because Odin and company feared their potential roles in Ragnerok, where gods are predicted to die.
At Ragnerok, Fenris is to kill Odin. Jormungandr is to kill Thor. And Hel sails to battle from the Underworld with an army of the Dead in Naglfari, a ship made from dead men’s nails. It is said the Norse kept their fingernails short to delay Naglfari’s completion. Fenris was chained on an Island. Jormungandr was thrown into the ocean. But Hel was exiled to the Underworld where, still possessing power in all the Nine Worlds, she established a refuge for souls unchosen by other deities. In HEL X 3, I named her the Goddess of the Forgotten Dead.

Drawing vs. Writing: 
Depicting a character in words requires a different creative process than drawing.  For The Brutarian #52, Fall 2008, you tapped into your fine arts training and depicted a dark goddess to complement an interview (VAMPIRES, WITCHES AND WARRIOR – OH MY!   by Michael McCarty) and a short story featuring the Queen of the Sumerian Underworld, Ereshkgal (MAMA STRANGELOVE’S REMEDIES FOR AFTERLIFE DISORDERS  OR, HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE MOTHER DEATH).  I was surprised to learn that you had a drawing side to you, and even sold illustrations at science fiction conventions. 
Image #2: Watercolor "Portrait of a Vampire" by CDA 
(shown in art shows but never been published elsewhere, until now!).

Did your fine arts education/creative-process inform your fiction?  Do you still create illustrations, perhaps as part of the creative writing process?  


CDA: I doodled spaceships and robots all over the margins of my first grade papers. The teacher, Goddess bless her, encouraged me to keep at it. I had no formal art training until college, where I abandoned the music major I had planned at the last minute and, on an unplanned urge, switched to the art registration line instead—try explaining that one to parents who had scraped and saved to help you afford college.

But somewhere in high school I started writing stories. After college, I spent four years in the Air Force then worked in art before I started being serious about my writing and trying to sell it. Images I visualized and drew or painted have been used in my books. The “Portrait of a Vampire” here (Image #2) is a watercolor drawing that I created years before I wrote about Tzigane, Dracula’s mate. Tzigane undergoes rigorous training and devotes her life and Undeath to becoming a powerful Vampire-Witch, with a mission to convince Dracula of a destiny that requires he voluntarily allow her to initiate him into Vampirehood.

My watercolor is a drawing overlaid with washes using vivid “Dr. Martin’s” dyes. In retrospect, it has much of my future Tzigane in it, or vice versa. It is based on a still from The Ghost, showing the star, Barbara Steele. Her extraordinary eyes and face and acting is an inspiration to many artists, writers, poets and dark fantasy aficionados in general (see Paghat's review of Barbara Steele work.)


At one time, a number of art pieces I created had inspiring visions of Steele as their theme. Then, at an SF convention art show in L.A., the late Forrest J. Ackerman, editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland and, of course, a childhood hero, bought one, “for a Barbara Steele collector in Belgium,” was all he would say. That collector’s name remains a mystery to this day, but I hope he or she enjoyed the art. 

Another example, not shown here, because I couldn’t find the original to scan, is a drawing that was my version of the time-honored “Death and the Maiden” theme. Edvard Munch’s famous drawing of “Death and the Maiden” is an interesting example. But my version was placed in a dungeon and later used in the second Bloodsong book, where the character named Huld is captured by the villain, Thokk, chained in Thokk’s dungeon, and tormented by a living skeleton.    

Traditional and modern “Death and the Maiden” images are analogous to Hel’s image, by the way. A young woman is a potential source of new life, while the contrast of a figure representing Death twists the emotions into a stimulating brew. And it does not have to be a Grim Reaper reminding you of Death. A place of Death like a tomb haunted by spiders or a place that threatens horror and death like a rat-infested Inquisitor’s dungeon can serve just as well.

In general, I don’t see any difference in the basic inner creative process when creating visual art or creating stories. I see the scenes I create in books as if I had drawn them first, whether or not I actually have. I write from one scene to the next. The scenes I see could be illustrated, if I had the time. One day I hope to illustrate a book or books I write or have written. That, too, would be fun. 

Image #3: "Gorgon Goddess" - ink illustration by C Dean Andersson

Illustrations

CDA: The full-faced drawing is an ancient and monstrously powerful “Gorgon Goddess” (Image#3) who has broken her chains and is rampaging against those who tried to destroy her through prejudiced patriarchal propaganda and fear-centric “new religions.” She’s loose! Watch out! Be afraid! Unless you’re her friend.

The half skull-faced “Portrait of Hel” (Image #1) was later adapted from the “Gorgon Goddess”  for use as an Internet avatar. Portrait of Hel shows the living half of her face as black and featureless, in total shadow, and the dead half of Her face as skeletal white and skullish. 

Can you comment on your own attraction toward repulsive/terrifying things? 

CDA: I did not at first go looking for scary things as a kid, but if something scared me enough, it ran the risk of getting chased down and tackled. A good example is my first Dracula movie. For some reason, the concept of a corpse sneaking into my house to suck my blood while I was sleeping gave me nightmares. The idea threatened me. I needed to know more about it. 
I found and read Stoker’s Dracula, which also scared me, then a disturbing non-fiction book about worldwide vampire beliefs, Montague Summers’  The Vampire, His Kith and Kin. Vampires, it turned out, were everywhere, and always had been. Nevertheless, the next Halloween, I went trick-or-treating as Dracula. I was not too comfortable doing it. But it gave me a feeling of power and pride. I thought, if worse things than a Vampire showed up, a kid who dared to play Dracula could probably survive them. And because I wanted to find those worse things before they found me, I started looking for scary stuff in books, magazines, and movies. 
Looking back, instead of being attracted to repulsive and terrifying things, I was seeking them out and studying them, to gain power over them. I’ve had many people say horror writers seem unusually well adjusted. Maybe it’s because we explore our fears in our stories. More likely, insert ominous laugh, it’s a trick. On ourselves.   

Should horror be "fun" or "monstrous"? 

In the 2008 interview, you mentioned "I find [horror] fun, for starters, and these days, I don’t want to waste time on fiction writing that is not fun…If I need an artsy excuse for my motivation, I can quote Tristan Tzara’s 1918 Dada Manifesto: “Art should be a monster that casts servile minds into terror.”   Should horror be "fun" or "monstrous"?
CDA: If I have fun creating something, you stand a better chance of having fun experiencing it. I don’t enjoy reading a depressing, no hope in sight horror story, no matter how important and realistic such stories are sometimes judged to be. So, I do not have creating stories like that as a goal. Having horrible things happen in horror stories is required, and even likeable characters may not have happy endings. But someone in my stories has to fight back and hope to win, which in my experience is far more realistic than give-up-and-die tales. People do not accept defeat easily.
Most humans are heroic, often in quiet ways. They fight epic interior wars, invisible on the outside, unguessed by people who pass them in the street and often by people who live and work with them. They resist overwhelming odds, circumstances, sickness, and other people or things that threaten them and their families’ lives, hopes, and dreams. By placing characters in hyper-extreme situations in my stories, I have shown their discovery of strengths they had not known they possessed. I have had readers say such characters are inspirations. I know the same has been true for me, reading other people’s books.
The character I created in Torture Tomb named Bernice, an ordinary young woman with ordinary hopes and dreams, is mercilessly tormented beyond anything she could have imagined surviving. But not only does she survive, though crippled by her injuries she returns, wheelchair-bound, in Fiend to fight for and help others.
The slave woman named Jalna in Hel X 3 survives horrible injuries, too, and becomes one of Bloodsong’s fiercest warriors. Bloodsong herself survives impossible odds and repeated tortures as a slave before leading a rebellion. She even finds a way to return from the dead to save her daughter and fight on.  Everyone breathing is a survivor. And almost everyone, sooner or later, has to fight to stay alive. When backed into a corner, in my horror stories as in life, most people, no matter how docile they might at first seem, will fight back and sometimes win. They grit their teeth and turn into Conan the Barbarian if pushed far enough. So, watch out, power mongers, tyrants, and bullies. You have been warned.  
  
Dark Muses: Have you been trying to put a pretty face on your fears?
It seems that you are not only trying to entertain "servile" minds, but are also driven to realize your own fears.  In your recent Interview with Terry Ervin (link) you revealed that you had a phantom muse: an "Old Woman in Black."  Please expand how this female haunt has motivated your writing.  For instance, Raw Pain Max , Torture Tomb, and your The Bloodsong Saga (Hel X 3) all feature strong woman as protagonists, as does every other book or story you have created. Are these manifestations of your dark muse? Have you been trying to put a pretty face on your fears? Is it therapeutic to give your dark muse substance in art (i.e. are fears heightened or alleviated)?
CDA: My strong female characters are probably inspired in part by the power I sensed in my Dark Muse, whatever she was, when I was afraid of her as a kid. Women I have known well in life, grandmother, mother, childhood best friend, and spouse, are definitely also responsible. As the old saying goes, you write what you know. The women warriors in my Bloodsong books are obvious examples. But all my books have strong women in them. And all have examples of my shape-shifting Dark Muse.   
Raw Pan Max features a female bodybuilder named Trudy who performs as a crack-that-whip dominatrix in live sex stage shows. Trudy is also, she is horrified to discover, the reincarnation of the historical Hungarian Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory, the famous mass murderess who tortured young women and bathed in their blood. My Countess was haunted by a powerful Dark Muse, which she called her Ally. 
In Torture Tomb, one of the characters is watched over and protected by a supernaturally powerful female haunt he believes is his dead mother. From early childhood, she visited him at night and forced him to learn dark secrets that, though terrifying, gave him power.

The Goddess Hel in HEL X 3 I’ve already described. Her relation to the Old Woman in Black I feared in childhood dreams and apparitions is obvious.
Tzigane in I Am Dracula and Katiasa in I Am Frankenstein are strong characters I loved creating and intend to use again in new books. I’ve already mentioned Bernice in Torture Tomb and Fiend. The novel, Fiend, also has Trudy from Raw Pain Max in it, and Fiend features my version of the immortal Witch and powerful High Priestess of the Goddess Hecate, Medea. She is a strong woman who is also a Dark Muse to others. Bernice and Trudy are inspired by her and follow her. 
But to me the question now is, did I see that Old Woman in Black as a kid because of who and what I was and am? Or am I who and what I am because I saw that Old Woman in Black, whoever or whatever she was and is? She might have been one thing or a combination of things. There might have been an actual old woman wearing black at the first. There might have been a ghost of a widow who still visited her old home town. I’d like to believe that, a lot. Or, there might have been something that had nothing to do with an old woman in widow’s weeds that my mind interpreted wrong. 
On the other hand, maybe she was a traditional, ancestral, Scandinavian, guardian female spirit like I‘ve read about in Norse Myths. Could she have been, though, some kind of Jungian Old Crone Goddess-Archetype from the human collective subconscious, like the Greek Hecate or Celtic Morrigan or Summarian Ereshkigal or Babylonian Tiamat or Norse Hel? Most days, I’m quite fond of that explanation.  But maybe she was a UFOnaut who repeatedly abducted me for experiments and hid behind an Old Woman’s image that he-she-it-they inserted into my brain. Or was she “just my imagination?” 
More likely, she was Cthulhu in disguise, a Lovecraftian Old One from the insanely vast spaces between the stars who picked me to inspire because I’m not really human but a stellar hybrid with sub-dimensional tentacles that touch things which should not be. Yes, that last one is probably the answer. Excuse me while I update my bio. But whatever I experienced and have fun speculating about now, I don’t think I still fear her. I suspect, should she appear and lift that veil, I would see whatever I needed to see or was capable of seeing. And I believe we could have a very interesting conversation. 

More Andersson (all links):

·         Author Website
·         Facebook:Bloodsong


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Art, Beauty, and Fantasy Fiction: An Interview with Janet E. Morris

I have been fascinated with many Horror/Fantasy writers' view on the themes of "Beauty" and "Art" (see essay Undercurrent of Dark Muses in Weird Fiction ). In short, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, R.E. Howard...even Edgar Allen Poe...wrote essays/letters in which they professed their fiction as being Art with a level of Beauty. For them Beauty was defined more of an emotive-experience rather than something "pretty" or related to "sex/gender." These authors are interestingly (a) all men, and (b) rarely wrote about heroines, or from the female perspective.  

Via the Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads-com, I engaged author Janet Morris (JEM) about these themes. JEM has pushed people's expectations of sexuality and the role of women in fantasy fiction since 1976; she has since published more than 20 novels, many co-authored with her husband Chris Morris (including the Sacred Band of Stepsons of the Thieves World series; she also created and edited the Bangsian fantasy series Heroes in Hell).  She is still writing, recently contributing to Writing Fantasy Heroes: Powerful Advice from the ProsIncidentally, her expanded editions of her Sacred Band books are being re-released now (Video Trailer).  She frequently interacts in the Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads-com, which is currently running a Groupread on Heroines (everyone is invited, so feel welcome to join).  Her below comment suggested she had a lot more to share:
"Men in woman-suits do not women make, and the novel's purpose in the world is to create story to carry forth common values and shared ethos; when those values are deformed, and that deformation taken for true, we all suffer." Janet E. Morris - 2013
JEM kindly agreed to an interview and simply overwhelmed me with her response.  She is a font of information, and her responses should appeal to readers and aspiring authors (incidentally, Alexandra Butcher recently posted an insightful, interview with JEM on a broader range of topics).  She shared loads of insights and inspirational messages, I highlighted a few in blue.  Thank you JEM for your continued passion for writing, and for sharing your philospohy on Beauty and Art in Fantasy Fiction:  

  1. Were you aiming to recast/redefine the definition of beauty at all in your work? If so, would the Silistra series be the most representative? Link to JEM's answer-1
  2. How exactly did you strategize writing fiction featuring a powerful woman without pandering to stereotypes (i.e. chic's in chainmail) or making her wear a "man-suit"?  Link to JEM's answer-2 
  3. Have you ever thought of your own fiction as beautiful art? Link to JEM's answer-3 


Intro) JEM: Art is the process and Beauty the goal

Herein we’ll briefly explore Art and Beauty in fantastical literature, which may include fantasy and horror for purposes of discussion, not only historically, but how this single core issue is changing today: is Art and its associated Beauty still a valid goal in modern fiction, despite the vast quantity of fiction written by those aiming to capture the lowest common denominator of readership?
1) Was Estri & Silistra strategically conceived to create a new sort of female hero?
JEM: When I wrote High Couch of Silistra, I was twenty-five and loved being female; my body and mind were my laboratory, and I wanted to write the book I couldn’t find to read: not a book that was a clumsy attempt to treat a woman as a man, or as an enemy or competitor of men, or as a victim of men, but as someone powerful in a different society for genetic and political reasons; a protagonist whose sensuality and sexuality are at the heart of her world, and whose travails are self-created, so that I could explore the genetics of behavior: Estri, protagonist, is a courtesan and an adventuress, but not a sword-swinging hero tougher than any man around her. The books explore the differences and complementarities between men and women and the exercise of power, both personal and societal; they aren’t about a man who happens to live in a woman’s body. The Silistra Quartet is well discussed by Kaler in The Picara, where she compares the Silistra Quartet to the Picara model, from which it does purposely diverge.
My strategy was simply to write a book that spoke for a unique viewpoint, not for the “woman’s movement” (who were offended that it diverged from their politics) or the conservative male-backlash audience. Like Disraeli, I always write the book I want to read. In Silistra, all stereotypes are turned on their heads; emotion rules; sexuality is sometimes graphic as it pertains to power among and between sexes: it’s a book about people balancing free will against their hard-wired natures, not about women in man-suits or men in woman-suits. At the end of Wind from the Abyss, the third in the series, Estri’s counterpart Sereth reminds us, “We are all bound, the highest no less than the meanest.” Human extravagances and limitations are what, for me, Silistra is about, but it is not a series for the erotically-averse, or the intellectually timid.
Boris Vallejo - High Couch of Silistra Cover
Vallejo - High Couch of Silistra Cover Art
None of our heroines have ever worn chain mail:  Estri's chains are on her wait and sometimes on her writs; Shebat Kerrion, our science fantasy heroine of the Dream Dancer/Kerrion Consortium trilogy, is a newcomer to the space-faring culture where she wanders and a catalyst for change; the various Sacred Band of Stepsons heroines include Jihan, who has scale armor and a few supernatural powers appropriate to the daughter of the god of wind and wave; Kama has leather and linen armor, just like the men she serves among  (she wants to be a man so her father will respect her, but is a poet most of all); Cime wears god-forged armor or doeskin leathers, is a sorcerer-slayer by vocation, is also picaresque, and rules Tempus' heart and by extension, the Sacred Band at times.  It's not their weapons or outfits or special powers that make them heroic, but their goals and deeds, hopes and dreams.  When I saw the Boris High Couch cover for the first time, I was insulted that anyone could have derived the brass bra and Gucci boots image from my work. 
(this next paragraph is paraphrased from her Goodreads.com comment): I was a fine arts major in school. My first cover was the Boris High Couch, commissioned by Bantam for High Couch of Silistra. I didn't think it matched the description, so I got Bantam to arrange for me to talk to him and request changes (feathered wings to non-feathered, etc). He didn't like that. So we changed to someone else thereafter. I had always loved the Frazetta covers, and in Germany I had Chris Achilleos for the German versions of the Silistra series, then Frazetta for the German Tempus. But now that I have cover control, I'm choosing Rubens and ancient art that truly moves me. The new cover for Tempus, and The Sacred Band cover, and the Beyond sub-series with Rubens covera, are pleasing me because I can look at them for hours and always see something that evokes the heart of the stories within. Matching books to cover, when centuries separate book and cover creation, has been an adventure. Strangest experience was finding the three Rubens we're using for Beyond Sanctuary, Beyond the Veil, and Beyond Wizardwall and realizing that each of those three paintings fit one of the three books nearly perfectly.
SEL asks whether I’m aiming to recast/redefine the definition of beauty in my work and, if so, would the Silistra series be the most representative? The answer to that is simple: like everyone concerned with writing Art, I am always striving, always hoping to improve, always experimenting, pushing my limits, trying to reach Homeric heights – but for me in my time, not by copying him in his. What is most beautiful about literature as Art is its ability to transport, to materialize a vision, whole cloth, in the reader’s mind, and I’m still working on doing that. The most representative of my books is probably my most recent novel, written with Chris Morris, The Sacred Band, grappling as it does with what is common to all, and unique in some: taking hold of mythos and ethos, sexuality of every sort, and exploring power and emotion at their best and worst. My favorite of my books is  I, the Sun, biographical novel of Suppiluliumas, Great King of Hatti, because his own words set my soul afire, and the task – flavoring my style with his writings, creating a relative chronology, and bringing so many historical people to life – was unparalleled in its demands on my ability. My favorite science fiction book, Outpassage, written with Chris Morris, is my greatest success so far with writing a group of futuristic, strong, heroic and villainous female characters.

My female characters, no more or less than my male characters, speak for themselves, not for a grand plan to redress centuries of perceived grievances, or to be role models for a future of retributive bile, where men and women are retaught their roles, and those roles are precisely the same. If, indeed, Art is the process and Beauty the goal, and if ‘common values’ can still be transferred to future generations through literature, then only reality and its study can yield fantasy worth reading, and making women into men and men into women won’t have my desired result: a book that satisfies me, since I must go first into any adventure I write, and live there. 
2) Have you ever thought of your own fiction as beautiful art?
JEM: My answer is simple: Of course I do. And of course it is valid to consciously strive for greatness in any art-form, and literature most of all, since literature carries our culture forward, gives voice to our inner selves most directly, speaks for us in no uncertain terms to a future yet unformed.  I think of my own work as a search for Art and strive for beauty in every line: for power, lyricism, brutality, mythos and ethos, and I do this by invoking character, not diatribe. 
3) Is Art and Beauty present in classic fantasy?
JEM: Certainly each man’s essays and letters (i.e. from Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, & Poe) reveal their intent to create Art with a level of Beauty in their fiction. Consider these among other writers equally persuaded that they were writing Art with Beauty. The Western Canon, and back to the earliest myths of Gilgamesh, give us fantasy and horror stories with Art and Beauty: since these are ‘literature’, we don’t refer to them as Horror or Fantasy anymore, despite the faeries in Spenser, the witches and ghosts in Shakespeare, the devils and demons in Milton.

Art with a level of Beauty (where Beauty is emotional impact and Art is a process of transcendent composition) does not exist in every piece of fiction, but it exists in many more fictions than today’s pernicious genre-fication would lead one to believe, or the ghetto-izers of literature would prefer. However, look sharp: if the book is really good, people will not call it Horror or Fantasy very long. For instance, is Moby Dick Horrific Fantasy? To me it is. Does Conan carry the flag of fantastical creation forward, and even include the emotional context and kick necessary in Art? Absolutely, although the non-Howard Conan stories written by others so far do not.

If Art is, as Zola famously observed, life seen through a temperament, then Howard’s Conan is Art. The spare prose and raw power of that work stimulated many to try to copy it whole cloth, resulting in a cripplingly limited vision of how Howard emplaces impact that has created a genre of crude imitators. No matter: Conan can take one’s breath away, and replace it with his own. The loaded style of Poe is peerless, in his darkly forsaken world, as much an echo of New England’s own inherent darkness as of the phantasms he evokes. Arthur Conan Doyle observed through the mouth of Sherlock Holmes that: ‘Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.’ Writing fantasy (whether one may become the next Dante or Poe or Homer), or reading it, requires imagination, and creating Art and Beauty is the goal of an informed imagination.

Now, what do we mean by Beauty? The most beautiful line I have ever read is from Hamlet: “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” In Poe, it’s “Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore! Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.’” Howard stabs for your heart with his Beauty, evoking a barbarian soul in “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women”, but consider Howard’s “Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky. But Crom is your god, Crom and he lives in the earth. Once, giants lived in the earth, Conan. And in the darkness of chaos, they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered. And the Earth shook. Fire and wind struck down these giants, and they threw their bodies into the waters, but in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel and left it on the battlefield. We who found it are just men. Not gods. Not giants. Just men. The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one – no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts.” In my own work I can show you my strivings for Art and Beauty more easily, since I know it best: “The chapel is dim, full of the god. So many of Tempus’ own ghosts are here. He bows his head and greets them one by one. Shades and revenants from years gone by crowd in, murmuring like the dead he carries in his heart. A gilded chariot gleams in the chapel’s soft light: a prop for a show he disdains, in these days when it is so hard for him to keep man and god separate, distinct from one another; when so many, many wraiths come with him, walk with him, ride with him from battlefield to battlefield, war to war.” or: “Woe betide the soul who loves too much, wants too much, dares too much. Soon now comes the hour of doom for some, victory for others.”
"Beauty requires that we breathe into our characters a unique view of the human condition, and show how that character experiences and suffers the world around him (her)."  Janet E. Morris - 2013

So where does Art reside, and where Beauty? Art is the process and Beauty the result. These together reside in the totality of thought; in the dark of the soul; in the voice of your Muse and, finally, if you are very lucky, on the page. If you are male or female, and writing fantasy fiction today, are you at an advantage or a disadvantage in the marketplace? The answer should be ‘no,’ but now and previously, may be ‘yes,’ depending on how separate you can keep yourself from political correctness and societal pressure to write trite stereotypes, not characters. Is the first great fantasy writer “J” from the Old Testament? Probably. Harold Bloom thinks “J” was female, and says so. What makes Bloom think so? A lifetime of scholarship. I recommend to you his “The Book of J” so you can find out for yourself. Where does the Art and Beauty reside in the Old Testament? Try the oldest translation you can find of the ‘burning bush’ scene. Homer’s Iliad, the most male of tales, changed the world because Alexander of Macedon considered its treatise on war-fighting so much his inspiration that he carried it with him on campaign. Before the Iliad, the myths of powerful women in Greek, and before them in Hittite and Egyptian and Akkadian mythologies, abounded. After Homer, the age of early male heroes increasingly defined literature, but these heroes were aided and abetted by female goddesses, muses, nereids, all more powerful than the men who served them. Then came the inscription at Delphi: “Keep woman under rule.” Why? Perhaps women sibyls and rulers had abused their men, perhaps the warlord overcame the sorceress. After Constantine and his New Testament redactions, modern patriarchy took hold with a vengeance, eradicating not only the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, but much else that made women and men equally important – in the eyes of literature, at least.

"Today, the writer, be that author male or female, makes a choice, at the outset: to reach for greatness and challenge an audience, or even change them; or to please a common denominator of audience by writing a familiar tale told artlessly. It is rare to attempt both, even rarer to achieve both.
So why try for Art and Beauty, when what most people want is a short, easy read, simple and direct? For some, Art is its own reward, and Beauty brings Art to the life in the mind. Before these art-seeking souls today, a wilderness stretches: many more craftsmen exist than artists, and the good, invariably, is the enemy of the great." Janet E. Morris - 2013






Sunday, July 7, 2013

Moments of Truth - Book Publishing

Delighting Readers -

 Even During the First Moment of Truth 


Moments of Truth - Consumer Products

Procter & Gamble coined the key instances in which a customer becomes impressed with a product as "Moments of Truth."  Historically, the First Moment of Truth (FMOT) refered to when the customer saw a package on a store shelf; this experience influenced not only the possible purchase...but it set up expectations for the quality of the product. The Second Moment (SMOT) was the instance when the product was used, and the customer assessed whether or not the experience matched expectations.  With the internet changing customer habits, another instance was eventually coined: the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT, Link)which is when customers form expectations before directly contacting (touching) the product!



Moments of Truth - Books

How does this framework translate to today's book selling? In this case, the ZMOT occurs when readers comb through online reader/customer reviews. Given that fewer and fewer books are purchased in an actual bookstore, the FMOT will likely be when a book arrives by mail (though one may argue it is when the cover is seen...online...or on an electronic device). The SMOT is when the reader actually reads the book.  The main premise is to identify all touchpoints between the consumer and the product, and then enlighten each instance.
"Every touchpoint with a reader is important..." 
The end of one reader's experience will start the process for a subsequent one, but less than ~10% of readers will post reviews (a statistic based on my own experience).  This amplifies the need to impress potential readers whenever possible.  "Giveaways" are an efficient way to jumpstart the process; these are online-events in which readers signup for complimentary copies of the book...usually with a non-binding commitment to review it.  Every several months I host Giveaways of hardcopy (via Goodreads.com) and electronic books (via LibrayThing.com) for Lords of Dyscrasia.  Every touchpoint with a customer is important, and a crafty partner of mine reminded me early on to not overlook one.  With the focus on on-line/virtual touchpoints, I almost neglected to make the FMOT delightful for those receiving hardcopies by snail mail.  Thanks to her, the books awarded to Giveaway winners have always been wrapped to impress (thanks Designlab!).  The packaging features a handwritten note with well-folded Kraft paper; a presentation to enhance the First Moment of Truth for Lords of Dyscrasia readers.  

Can the packaging effect the overall experience?  Yes.  The care exhibited in packaging reflects the care imparted when making the product.  One winner even wrote back a hand-written note acknowledging the tradecraft:
"Dear S.E., I got your book today.  The way you presented your book blew me away.  First Class.  I will give my review on First Read Good Reads as soon as I am finished reading.  Good luck to you.  I hope you sell a million.  Sincerely, [reader]"







Thursday, April 18, 2013

Writing Fantasy Heroes: Powerful Advice from the Pros - Review by SE

Writing Fantasy HeroesWriting Fantasy Heroes by Jason M. Waltz
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

Writing Fantasy HeroesEnvision this as a transcript of 14 enthusiastic panelists at a Convention as they tackle the topic "Fantasy Heroes." Would it be worth the price of a book (~$10) to get the transcript of this panel of authors (Orson Scott Card, Brian Sanderson, Steve Erikson, Glen Cook, Janet & Chris Morris, Ian Esslemont, Paul Kearney, Howard Andrew Jones...etc.) ? Heck, yes!

This is Rogue Blade Entertainment's first nonfiction, extending its well-respected, thematic library of heroic fantasy (Rage of the Behemoth, Return of the Sword, Demons: A Clash of Steel Anthology). Fantasy genre readers will want to read this to learn how their favorite authors approach writing; aspiring authors will want to read this to better their craft.

All key elements are tackled within, from the origins of heroes, their motivations, reader expectations, presentation strategies for fight scenes, handling armies, crafting monsters, and amplifying the "epic-ness" via side characters; there is even a chapter on how to balance tropes/clich├ęs, and an entertaining reminder to keep the pressure on the heroes by drowning them in a sea of scat/stool/egestion. Only one contribution of the 14 was disappointing, it reading more of an advertisement rather than providing advice (>75% of that chapter's words was an excerpt). The majority were excellent, concise reads that deliver on what it promises: advice from the pro's.

As the authors dissect their own writing in their case studies, you will find it easier to dissect your own writing. Is your hero too powerful to ever struggle? Are your fight scenes too abstract to engage the reader? Would your hero appear more like a legend if you described him/her via "distant" perspectives (from third party villagers)?

Read this. Get inspired. Craft a better hero.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Escapist allegory versus implicit preaching: Can you still enjoy a fantasy novel knowing it derived from established religion?

This month’s (June 2012) CNN article “The Gospel of Stephen King” reveals that his horror novels are influenced heavily by Christianity!  Oh the terror!  This equally terrifies readers (often wanting an escape from enjoying established answers to all things spiritual) and religious folk (how can a Satanic horror novel be representative of our good Savior’s message?).  From the article, King explains:
The Bible is filled with terror: demons, ghosts, floods wiping out mankind and the rising of the dead.  “Good horror examines the struggle between good and evil,” he says. “The Bible is the history of that struggle. “The Bible is in many ways the ultimate horror novel.”

This evokes the common rite of passage that fiction readers experience:

  1. Young adults read an introductory horror-fantasy novel from a famous author (J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Stephen King, Anne Rice,…)
  2. They enjoy the first novel, so they consume more from the same author.  
  3. They discover that their favorite books are religious allegories (eh gods!)
  4. They cope with being disillusioned/betrayed

Niel Gaimen summarized this phenomenon well with his twelve year old boy character, Richard Grey, in his short story One Life Furnished with Early Moorcock within the anthology Michael Moorcock's Elric: Tales of the White Wolf:
Richard had, however, finally given up (with, it must be admitted, a little regret) his belief in Narnia.  From the age of six -- for half his life-- he had believed devoutly in all things Narnian; until last year, rereading The Voyage of The Dawn Treader for perhaps the hundredth time, it had occurred to him that the transformation of the unpleasant Eustace Scrub into a dragon, and his subsequent conversion to belief in Aslan the lion, was terribly similar to the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus; if his blindness were a dragon...
This having occurred to him, Richard found correspondences everywhere, too many to be simple coincidence.
Richard put away the Narnia nooks, convinced, sadly, that they were allegory; that an author (whom he trusted) had been attempting to slip something past him.  He had had the same disgust with the Professor Challenger stories when the bull-necked old professor became a convert to Spiritualism; it was not that Richard had any problems believing in ghosts -- Richard beleved, with no problems or contradictions, in everything -- but Conan Doyle was preaching, and it showed through the words.  Richard was young, and innocent in his fashion, and believed that authors should be trusted, that there should be nothing hidden beneath the surface of a story.

Like it or not, speculative fiction is influenced by religion

One the one hand, all fantasy plots have been explored ad nauseum (read Fraser’s The Golden Bough).  After all, a great deal of literature has accumulated since man began recording stories (history).  Every combination of soap opera between man, beast, self, god, etc. has been covered, so much so, that any myth/story can be considered derivative of a prior (i.e. replaced) myth or religious allegory.  Myths even maintain a consistent story structure across beliefs, time, geographies (Campbell’s Monomyth).  In fact, most religions have cannibalized each other's stories (yes, most of the stories in the Bible are derived from pre-existing myths…oh the terror!).

The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion
(Sir James George Frazer,1854–1941)
The Hero with a Thousand Faces ( by mono-myth espouser Joseph Campbell )

So whether writers/readers/religious-folk want to acknowledge it or not, fantasy, myths, and religious tales are derivative.

The funny mystery is why that revelation should horrify readers and religious folk alike.  If you enjoyed fiction derived from stories that humanity continues to enjoy retelling, who cares to whom credit is assigned for its creation?  Will the act of reading religious-based fiction automatically indoctrinate atheists into some  institution they have an aversion to?  If you enjoy the Bible, does the fact that many of the stories in the Old and New Testaments evolved from "myths" bother you?  This philosophical mess is what drives readers away from trying to figure "it" all out.  Can we not enjoy stories, escape from assigning credit or truth to any of it?  Going back to Niel Gaimen's thoughts expressed through his character Richard Grey, we are reminded why many of us desire innocent escapism:
At least the Elric stories were honest.  There was nothing going on beneath the surface there: Elric was the etiolated prince of a dead race, burning with self-pity, clutching Stormbringer, his dark-bladed broadsword – a blade which sang for lives, which ate human souls and which gave their strength to the doomed and weakened albino.