Friday, April 11, 2014

Fantasy Reflections: Step Aside Samwise

Welcome, ladies and gents! Step right this way for another mind-boggling fantasy reflection guaranteed to get the old brain cells moving … and stop hair loss.

Disclaimer: this post was penned in a spurt of mad creativity fueled by an overabundance of coffee and Dr. Pepper. Consider yourself warned.

Fantasy Reflections11.1

No, I’m afraid I can’t tell what the quest is beforehand. Top secret and all that. Must take precautions.

Obviously how you decide to go about said death-defying quest will influence your decision on which fantasy creature to choose as a companion. If you prefer stealth mode, I can almost guarantee Smaug is not the best choice.

Good try though.

A- for effort.

I plan to start my quest in stealth mode and see how far I get before my cover is blow—because, let’s face it, covers are almost always blown. One that happens, I’ll race in with guns blazing—swords flashing—to finish the quest and save the day …

Mounted on Shadowfax.

Yes, I would choose him for my companion. Who wouldn’t want to ride one of the Mearas? A horse swift as the wind, capable of covering vast distances with a speed that would kill a lesser beast. The lone steed to stand undaunted before the arrival of the Witchking.

Aye, Shadowfax is the companion for me.

Wind in my hair, face to the sky, faithful steed beneath, I’d gladly face any perils the road has to offer.

How about you? Who or what would you choose as your fantasy creature companion?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I am an artist

Wordcrafting has always been my chosen course of study. From a young age, I would stay up late into the night carving fantasy worlds from the bedrock of imagination and transforming them with each stroke of the keypad into words on a computer screen.

There are few things more satisfying that untangling the knotted mass of plot threads in your head and slowly unraveling them on the page in just the right order . . . so when you look back, you can see the many colored strands drawing you to the glorious resolution on the final page.

I love the written word.

And yet, although nothing could ever make me wish myself free of the call of the pen, there are times when I’m heartily—woefully—jealous of a completely different talent.

I wish I was an artist.

There are so many incredibly talented people out there who can take the images in their heads and faithfully reproduce them in magnificent explosions of color and ink. Beautiful. Orderly. Breathtaking.

My own attempts frequently resemble explosions of a far less pleasing sort.
I am in awe of the artist’s ability.

It’s a talent all its own.

Oh I can get by with a sketch pad and pencil … and a horde of erasers at my beck and call. Whenever the mood takes me, I’ll pluck out my old sketchpad and work to keep my hand and eye in “practice.” Mainly characters or scenes that I’m working on.

This past week, in a fit of mad courage, I started experimenting with watercolors. And amidst the wild mass of colors and scattered brushes and splattered paint, I realized at last …

That I am an artist.

Oh I may not possess the skill with a paint and brush that some do … nor the ability to capture life on a pad with a few strokes of a pen. Nor can I compose melodies or lyrics that will set your heart on fire and your soul yearning for what is to come.

I am an artist of a different sort.

Words are my paint and my song. As a writer, I etch a little piece of my heart into every page. I strive to capture both beauty and truth, reality and hope in print.

DSCN2215edited

Books are so much more than rigid lines of black and white ink marching endlessly across the pages.

They are things of wondrous color and beauty. The wildest dreams of a wild imagination … grounded in reality.


Whenever I think of the writing process, I cannot help recalling this scene from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride about artistry at work:

Domingo slept only when he dropped from exhaustion. He ate only when Inigo forced him to. He studied, fretted, complained. He never should have taken the job; it was impossible.
The next day he would be flying; he never should have taken the job; it was to simple to be worth his labors.
Joy to despair, joy to despair, day to day, hour to hour …
One night Inigo woke to find his father seated. Staring. Calm. Inigo followed the stare. The six fingered sword was done. Even in the hut’s darkness, it glistened.
“At last,” Domingo whispered. He could not take his eyes from the glory of the sword. “After a liftetime. Inigo. Inigo. I am an artist.”

I may not have reached the level of artistry Domingo reached when he created the six fingered sword. But if nothing else, I am an artist in the making, and I can be content with that.

How about you? Do consider yourself an artist, whether you paint with words or a brush, or create music with lyrics or instrument?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fantasy Reflections: Gimmie the Grub

I was supposed to have written this last night, only I was distracted by the incredible awesomeness of Captain America: Winter Soldier. sigh Such a good movie!

Anyway, our next fantasy reflection has to do with ... you guessed it ... food!


I know, I know. Not as earth-shatteringly difficult as some of the others we've answered. But it's not a bad idea to give our brains a break every now and then and just have fun!

And this isn't actually quite as easy as it looks. I mean, anyone who's ever read the Redwall books with all of their mouthwatering feasts--the critters of Redwall are the only questers who ever feast like kings while journeying in the wild--knows how difficult this could be.

I will have to go with lembas. Ever since the first time I read Lord of the Rings, I've been dying to try just a mouthful. That or the fruit from "inside" the stable in The Last Battle. Can you imagine?


How about you? What food would you want to try?

As always, answer in the comments! Feel free to copy the picture and paste it into your blog to continue the discussion elsewhere. I ask only that you link back to this original post!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Questology 101: Occupational Hazards and First Aid Kits

I thought for sure we'd heard the last from Sir Galgadin, Headmaster of the Warrior-in-Hero-Training School of the Round Table, after he rushed off last time to slay a dragon. But lo and behold, what did I find on my doorstep yesterday evening, but a missive written on ancient parchment, sealed with the WIHT crest, and apparently delivered by carrier pigeon ...

It’s been a lamentably long time since my last post here on this good blog, but I do have the best of excuses. Or perhaps the worst, depending on your point of view.

I was forced to rush off last time to deal with a livestock stealing dragon that has been terrorizing the countryside with his terrible breath and BBQ sauce. Apparently he likes the taste of toasted knight almost as much as he likes roast mutton or seared villager.

Needless to say, the villagers of Hardale need fear said dragon no longer.

And I’m pleased to announce my release—at last!—from the Extreme Burns section of the Hospital. Note to self: plate mail is a marvelous conductor of heat.

This serves as a remarkable introduction for my next topic in our Questology 101 series: First Aid Kits.



I know it sounds a rather mundane topic, when we could be talking about three ways to dismantle a troll bridge, or Odysseus’ fool proof method for escaping a cyclops’ cooking pot, but having a good first aid kit just might save your life.

Knight errantry is not the safest vocation in the world. There are certain unavoidable occupational hazards: sword wounds, arrow wounds, dragon fire, dragon claws, and saddle sores to name a few.

A good quester never travels without a well-stocked first aid kit, including the following items:

Clean bandages

Please! It’s not like we’re living in the Dark Ages here. A few rolls of clean bandages should more than cover the usual quest. There is absolutely no need for a hero to tear a strip off his filthy, blood stained shirt to bandage a wound. Can you imagine a more perfect breeding ground for infection?

Such things belong only to the movies … and perhaps the most epic of battles where you scarce have time between one fight-for-your-life and the next. Otherwise, pack clean bandages and always restock whenever you are in a (more) civilized part of the world.

Antiseptic/Clean Water

Gangrene is a more terrible killer than most monsters I’ve battled. Infection should be avoided at all costs. (Hence the emphasis on clean bandages!) Unfortunately, a good antiseptic is often worth its price in gold, so many healers resort to using wine. When in doubt, at least rinse the wound with good clean water to remove any foreign agents before bandaging … with clean bandages.

Herbs

There are many herbs considered of medicinal value, however, I am a knight and therefore neither an herbalist nor an apothecary. I insist you visit your local physician for suggestions before heading out into the field with an incomplete or inadequate first aid kid. Some herbs commonly used for the treatment of questing injuries are yarrow (excellent for staunching wounds or stopping a nosebleed) and comfrey (also called knitbone, used as a compress on fractures, bruises, and other injuries). Again, I advise you to consult your local physician.

Sutures kit

A curved needle, silk thread (if you’re rich) and sinew (if you’re not), and you’ve got yourself an excellent sutures kit. I know, I know, it’s all about the scars! They make a quester look so terribly heroic and ruggedly, dashingly handsome … but not at the risk of infection. A good first aid kid should include the supplies necessary to perform a simple suturing.

Burn Cream

Remember the dragon I was just telling you about? They’re more plentiful than most people care to admit. And dragon burns aren’t the only burns you’re liable to deal with on your quest, rope burns, sun burns, hot soup burns … you name it. A good burn cream is always quite handy to have around. Aloe vera in its raw, natural form can be purchased from most apothecaries, or plucked straight from the wild in more arid locales.

Tourniquet

This is another highly useful tool. All it requires is a few strips of cloth—you did pack all those clean bandages, right?—and a stick. You simply tie the strips of cloth above the wound, place the stick inside the knot and turn the stick to tighten the cloth, cutting off the flow of blood. Warning: this is highly dangerous in that it can cause permanent damage and loss of life in the limb. Heroes should only use a tourniquet to stop bleeding as a last resort.

Tinderbox

Of course you should pack a tinderbox anyway whenever you’re heading out on a quest, but the ability to start a fire does round off your first aid kit nicely. Sometimes, cauterization is the only way to handle a wound out in the wild. And without a tinderbox, you’re plain out of luck.

Various magical objects with mysterious healing powers

There are many known (and unknown) objects in the fantasy realms with magical healing powers. Lucy’s cordial. Ambrosia. Rapunzel’s hair. Etc. If you can get your hands on one of these, I highly recommend you keep it on your person at all times. Never let it out of your sight. And use it with care. For with great power comes … oh, never mind. Just don’t waste it.

DisclaimerThis is by no means a complete list. I intend only to set you thinking about what you … or your heroic characters … should pack in the form of medicinal supplies for a quest. I am a knight, not a physician. Do not try any of these so called “remedies” at home. If I hear of any such funny business, there are one or two errant giants I know who might just happen to wander your way to knock some sense into you.

Consider yourself warned.

~ Sir Galgadin
Headmaster WIHT School of the Round Table

Well, that certainly was informative! I'm pleased Sir Galgadin was able to join us again ... I think. What are some things you (or your heroes) might consider packing in your ultimate quester's first aid kit?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Fantasy Reflections: Sage Advice

Righto, me lads and lassies, pull out your thinking caps for another fantasy reflection. It's the best way to start your day and end your week with a mind-boggled headache ... and still have a fantastic time!

Our question for the day is ...


Wise old sages. Gotta love 'em. They serve such a necessary yet so often under-appreciated role in a hero's journey. And quite often die tragically before the end.

They don't have to be particularly old - contrary to common perception, a long gray beard is not a requirement - and may not even be considered especially wise by their peers, but I think it's safe to say that most heroes wouldn't get far on their epic journeys without the help of a wise old sage of some shape or form.

I have to say ... I would choose Gandalf. In a heart beat. He can be a bit tough and crotchety. Fool of a Took! But as long as I refrain from touching things that shouldn't be touched, or throwing things that shouldn't be thrown, or staring into things that shouldn't be stared into, or putting on things that shouldn't be put on ... I think we'd get along just grand.

How about you? Which wise old (or not so old) sage would you choose for your mentor?

As always, answer in the comments! If you'd like, feel free to copy the image to your blog and continue the discussion there. Please just link back to my original post. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shadow Hand by Anne Elisabeth Stengl


This is a story about blood. And love. And the many things that lie between.

By her father's wish, Lady Daylily is betrothed to the Prince of Southlands. Not the prince she loves, handsome and dispossessed Lionheart, but his cousin, the awkward and foolish Foxbrush. As her wedding day dawns, Daylily flees into the dangerous Wilderlands, her only desire to vanish from living memory.

But Foxbrush, determined to rescue his betrothed, pursued Daylily into a new world of magic and peril, a world where vicious Faerie beasts hold sway, a world invaded by a lethal parasite.

A world that is hauntingly familiar.

It's no secret by now that I love Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Tales of Goldstone Woods series. Her books have a way of gripping you by the hand and plunging your into a faerie world so fierce and real and strange and true all at once, that you are carried away, like one dragged by the Sylphs, to a place beyond your time.

Shadow Hand was no exception. The characters did not instantly grab me as they have in previous Goldstone Woods books. But wait, I thought you said Shadow Hand was no exception? Indeed. Let me explain.

I could sympathize with many of the characters and was eager to follow the story since it did concern so many familiar faces, but I did not instantly fall in love with the main characters.

In many ways, they were quite unlovely.

Foxbrush: weak, afraid, bumbling and awkward in his best efforts.

Daylily: selfish, proud, cold, running so far from what she fears that she becomes something worse.

Very flawed heroes, aren't they? And yet somehow, made more beautiful because of it.

To my mind, this is a part of the beautiful truth of Shadow Hand, the concept of loving the unlovely. Of weakness becoming strength when surrendered. I can be quite unlovely at times. Can't we all? And yet there is a love that never fails.

The most cutting jests bear the edge of truth. A lie is strongest when it latches onto a strand of truth. Likewise, fantasy is the most strange and fantastical when it is rooted in truth and has its foundation in reality. And this, I believe, is a part of what makes the Tales of Goldstone Woods, and Shadow Hand, such beautiful, fascinating reads.

So if you haven't yet snatched up your copy of Shadow Hand, I highly suggest you do so! (That way you'll understand what this snippet means ...)

Oh, Shadow Hand of Here and There, 
Follow where you will
Your fickle, fleeing, Fiery Fair
O'er woodlands, under hill


Friday, March 21, 2014

Fantasy Reflections: Lost ... Villains Style

Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions for the Fantasy Reflections posts last week. Y'all had some great ideas. I've added them to my top secret file.

Several of the ideas had to do with villains ... which set the nefarious side of my brain to whirling ... and I came up with this question. Pray excuse an evil chuckle. I'm just so excited about this one. :) 

Fantasy Reflections,  Gillian Bronte Adams, Of Battles Dragons and Swords of Adamant

Lost ... on a desert island ... with only a notorious villain for company. Sounds thrilling, doesn't it? Actually, not really. I'm fairly certain I would never want to really be in this position.

Especially armed with just a knife. Excuse me? A knife? Couldn't we have some better weaponry over here? Like a grenade launcher ... or a celestial bronze sword ... or a horde of angry dwarves at my beck and call.

Okay, okay, on to the question. Who is the villain ... and how do you survive? Do you defeat/outwit/make an ally out of the villain?

The problem with fantasy villains is they're so terribly terrifying! You wouldn't want to get within five feet of most of them, let alone be trapped with them on a desert island!

I could see myself crash landing on a desert island with Gollum/Smeagol. (Because we all know Smeagol is there all the time. Gollum has just smothered him.) To survive, I'd suggest a game of riddles (with the understanding that no mention be made of pockets ... or handses ... or rings, precious!). I would treat Gollum as a hobbit, not a monster, to bring out the Smeagol side, and use the lembas bread as a deterrent if the Gollum side starts to win out.

Of course, I would need to take care at night, lest Gollum throttle me in my sleep. (Not very nice, precious.) But so long as there is plenty of fish for Smeagol to catch, and I can sleep with one eye open, I should be good until rescue can arrive.

And what with all that riddling, not sleeping, and fishing, I certainly won't get bored.

As always, you can answer the question in the comments! Feel free to share this post or copy the picture to your blog and continue the discussion there. Please just link back to my original post!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

One Realm Beyond Giveaway Winner

And the lucky giveaway winner of a copy of Donita K. Paul's One Realm Beyond is ...

Lauriloth

Congratulations! You have forty eight hours to claim your prize.

Send an email with your mailing address to thesongkeeper@gmail.com and "One Realm Beyond Giveaway" in the subject line, and I will ship your new book out to you as soon as the proper carrier pigeons can be trained. :)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Shattered Ice - A Short Story

For your reading enjoyment today, I'm pleased to offer a short story I wrote a few weeks back. I scribbled Shattered Ice in a flurry of wintry inspiration and entered it in Family Fiction's short story contest: The Story 2014. (And then, being still inspired by said flurry of frosty fantastical funness, decided to create a mock cover for it. *grins* I never did claim any skill in the graphics design department, but it's the best I can do.)

So if you enjoy Shattered Ice, do me a favor and give it a thumbs-up vote. And feel free to share the story with friends, neighbors, random acquaintances, yes and even your supervillain enemies, if you feel so inclined!


Shattered Ice


Ren's eyes stare up at me. Pale blue like the arctic sky, but lifeless as the ice beneath my feet. Dead. My gaze wanders to the silver-fletched arrow piercing his heart. The arrow meant for me.

Numbness creeps up my arms, and the sword falls from my fingers, cleaving a bloodstained gash in the snow. Gray frosts my vision. A crimson river mars the pure white surface of the earth. My blood mingling with his.

Soldiers cluster around me, ragged and bloodstained, raising triumphant cries over the corpses littering the frozen plain.

I cannot join in. It wasn't supposed to end this way. A victor cheated of victory. Revenge robbed of its sweetness.

The earth seems to tilt and I fall. Cold seeps into my heart

Even in death, must he steal all?

Follow this link to read the rest of the story and ... if you like ... cast your vote in favor of Shattered Ice: A Short Story.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Going Dark

This is it, folks. Adios. I'm going dark for a few days.

You may hear back from me soon. You may not. Obviously I can't tell you anything about where I am going or what I am doing, since my mission is top secret, and if I told you, I'd have to kill you.

And killing one's readers - I am told - should be avoided at all costs.

Just thought I should give you a heads up, since I have no doubt most of you wait by your computer on the days I typically post, clicking refresh, to see if there's a new Fantasy Reflection Question or 101 guide. Wait ... what's that? You don't?

Odd. Ah well, I suppose there has to be at least one abnormal reader in every group.

As I said, I'm going dark for a wee bit, after which I shall return - supposing I survive, of course - but to avoid turning this blog into a complete ghost town while I'm gone, and since I won't be able to post my normal Fantasy Reflections question on Friday,  I've decided to pose a question now:

What sort of fantasy reflections questions would you like to see in the future?

Now's your time to weigh in. I've got a running list going, but I could use some fresh ideas as well! Share your idea in the comments, and if I decide to use it, I will be sure to acknowledge your creativity! :)

Don't forget to enter into the giveaway for Donita K. Paul's Dreamtreaders! It's open for a little while longer.

So long for now, folks. See you in a few! :)