Sunday, November 17, 2019

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Those words are Shakespeare's coming from the mouth of MacBeth. I purloined a few of those words to create something upon the same sad subject but slathered with hope rather than steeped in MacBeth's bitter despair. The occasion in my case was the passing of a close cousin.

Here's my version:

We watched in pain as all his tomorrows slowly faded into yesterdays.
The petty pace of day to day pressed him ever down the wandering path from the womb toward the clay.
His candle now burns elsewhere for his hour has played out upon this stage.
His syllables of sound and fury, reason, lecture, and love come no more to our listening ear.
Yet there is significance in his tale for each of us to discern for the shadows of his candle continue to flicker here.
No man remains an island when family and friends gather round him.
We bid him adieu at that bridge betwixt here and wide eternity, promising to meet there once again.
There the hosts are gathered of family and friends gone on to welcome him home across the bridge.


I think it's fitting to move on to the book I've been promising to review. My cousin would approve.

I first remember reading this book in high school. I think I had read it during junior high but didn't really remember it--perhaps I hadn't finished it. I know that I had read Tom Sawyer, but Huckleberry Finn is a much deeper, more substantial work than Tom Sawyer. When I read HF again in college, the professor referred to TS as "a boy's book," a basic adventure story for boys. HF is not only a boy's adventure, its a fascinating look at the life and culture along the Mississippi. It is an indictment of slavery, racism, and prejudice of several kinds. Twain's frequent stabs at religion are also very entertaining.

Huck Finn may be among the most interesting characters ever created in American literature. He has common sense but is burdened--even crippled--by superstition, as well as a conscience so tangled in the culture of slavery and the petty, prickly points of misunderstood religious teachings that he constantly struggles with what he feels is right versus what the culture has told him he must believe is right. The clear winner as the best, kindest, most sympathetic person depicted in the book is Jim.

It has been a few weeks since I finished the book so I don't remember all of my observations. I'm certain there are many learned dissertations upon the symbolism, meaning, and significance of the various characters and events. I'll steer my raft clear of that treacherous current. 

Two interesting, funny, and ultimately repugnant characters are the Duke and the Dauphin. Below is Huck's recounting of Hamlet's soliloquy as given by the Duke:

He told us to give attention. Then he strikes a most noble attitude, with one leg shoved forwards, and his arms stretched away up, and his head tilted back, looking up at the sky; and then he begins to rip and rave and grit his teeth; and after that, all through his speech, he howled, and spread around, and swelled up his chest, and just knocked the spots out of any acting ever I see before. This is the speech — I learned it, easy enough, while he was learning it to the king:
"To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin That makes calamity of so long life; For who would fardels bear, till Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane, But that the fear of something after death Murders the innocent sleep, Great nature’s second course, And makes us rather sling the arrows of outrageous fortune Than fly to others that we know not of. There’s the respect must give us pause: Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The law’s delay, and the quietus which his pangs might take, In the dead waste and middle of the night, when churchyards yawn In customary suits of solemn black, But that the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns, Breathes forth contagion on the world, And thus the native hue of resolution, like the poor cat i’ the adage, Is sicklied o’er with care, And all the clouds that lowered o’er our housetops, With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action. ’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. But soft you, the fair Ophelia: Ope not thy ponderous and marble jaws, But get thee to a nunnery — go!"

Well, the old man he liked that speech, and he mighty soon got it so he could do it first-rate. It seemed like he was just born for it; and when he had his hand in and was excited, it was perfectly lovely the way he would rip and tear and rair up behind when he was getting it off.

It is certainly some entertaining Shakespearean goulash. HF is one of the few books that has actually made me laugh out loud. There is a change of tone in the novel once Jim has been sold out by the pair mentioned above and Tom Sawyer arrives. Huck's recounting of Tom and Huck's rescue of Jim from slavery may be some of the funniest chapters ever written in the English language. That part almost goes on too long, but is so hilarious that I must forgive Twain for his indulgence. 

It was during the production of the recent play that I was finishing my reading of the book, reading between acts of the play. Much to the consternation of a couple of my fellow actors, I burst out laughing. Tom and Huck are attempting to free Jim who has been confined in a shed and chained to the bed. A metal ring attaches Jim's chain to the bed leg. The bed can easily be lifted and the ring removed from the bed leg, but Tom has to make a grand production of the rescue to match the difficulties depicted in novels. Naturally, Huck doesn't see the sense in complicating the matter. I had to laugh aloud when I read this:

"...I wish there was a moat to this cabin. If we get time, the night of the escape, we’ll dig one.” 
I says: 
“What do we want of a moat when we’re going to snake him out from under the cabin?” 
But he never heard me. He had forgot me and everything else. He had his chin in his hand, thinking. Pretty soon he sighs and shakes his head; then sighs again, and says: 
“No, it wouldn’t do — there ain’t necessity enough for it.” 
“For what?” I says. 
“Why, to saw Jim’s leg off,” he says. 
“Good land!” I says; “why, there ain’t NO necessity for it. And what would you want to saw his leg off for, anyway?”
“Well, some of the best authorities has done it. They couldn’t get the chain off, so they just cut their hand off and shoved. And a leg would be better still. But we got to let that go. There ain’t necessity enough in this case; and, besides, Jim’s a nigger, and wouldn’t understand the reasons for it, and how it’s the custom in Europe; so we’ll let it go. But there’s one thing — he can have a rope ladder; we can tear up our sheets and make him a rope ladder easy enough. And we can send it to him in a pie; it’s mostly done that way. And I’ve et worse pies.”

 The sawing Jim's leg off bit made me laugh aloud; "I've et worse pies" nearly made me pass out.

The part about "lettin' on" to be doing something one way for dramatic effect while actually doing it an easier way was the icing on the comedy cake. 

I rate this book as The Great American Novel. Everyone should read this book several times during their lifetime. Anyone who wants to ban this book utterly misses the meaning of the work.

In my own writing, chapter 3 of Book 3 is coming along nicely. I think more dragon (as opposed to cowbell) may be the answer to one of my plotting dilemmas. Book 3 will be dedicated to the cousin mentioned above.

These are the first two books in the series. Get them now by clicking the links at the upper left of the blog.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Interview with Christina Ochs

Author of
The Desolate Empire Series
War of the Four Gods Series

 Please tell me a little about your current work in progress.
Right now, I’m in final edits on Sword of Destiny, the second book of a trilogy based on the English Civil War.

Where did you get the idea for this book or series?
This series emerged as a sequel to The Desolate Empire, a seven-book series based on the Thirty Years War. Since the English Civil War happened concurrently and involved some of the same people, it seemed like a natural direction to take.

Do you write in more than one genre?
Not yet, though at some point I might make the switch to straight up historical fiction.

Tell me about something that you believe makes your writing unique or worthy of attention.
I don’t know how unique it is, but in response to so much fantasy taking the grimdark direction in recent years, I wanted to show how love, family and friendship can prevail in even the most terrible circumstances. I try to write exciting, engaging stories with an optimistic, rather than bleak and misanthropic outlook.

Is there anything about your personal history or personality that manifests strongly in your writing?
I’m generally a positive person who is sometimes optimistic to a stupid degree. I always try to see the best in people and situations, and I think that appears in many of my characters who are decent people trying to make the best of terrible circumstances. Even the villains have good reason, in their own minds at least, for their terrible behavior.

What else would be helpful for readers to know about you?
My recent books have been slow to appear, and it’s because I’ve gone to work full time in university administration. I found that writing full time was isolating and creatively draining. Now I have less time to write, but more social interaction and spending my days on a beautiful university campus has been inspiring and energizing. I also have access to an enormous academic library, which has been useful for research.

Excluding your own work, what underrated author or book would you recommend that more people read? Why?
I love Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman series. It’s an older, unfinished science fantasy series that’s absolutely unique and captivating. Her worldbuilding is amazing and I’m frankly jealous of her facility in weaving scientific method into her stories.

Which of your books do you most highly recommend? Why?
It’s a hard choice, but I really love Valley of the Shadow, book 2 in the Desolate Empire series. I really got into the swing of the story, and it expanded to an enormous scope. I think I have characters in seven imaginary countries at one point or another. There’s also a very tragic part that I feel particularly proud of. It was hard to write, but so many people have told me they were touched by it. And I love the ending. It was great fun to write and felt really satisfying, even though the story is far from over.

Which break, event, decision, or fortuitous circumstance has helped you or your writing career the most?
Just over ten years ago, I met my husband and shortly after that, went on the road with him in a semi truck. For the next 8 years we traveled all of the lower 48 states. Since I was too chicken to drive, he encouraged me to use the time I had to write and strapped down a laptop on the passenger side dashboard. With a wireless keyboard, I could type during long stretches of crossing Nebraska, Texas, and the like. That situation made it possible for me to really get engrossed in the story and take all the time I needed to get it down.

What question do you wish you would get asked more often?
Where can I buy your books?

Do you have a catch-phrase or quote that you like? What is it? And why do you choose it?
“All knowledge is worth having.” – it’s a line from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. I like to tell myself that whenever my brain feels weary from absorbing new information. And I also use it to comfort myself when I can’t use ALL the research I did in my books. Even if no one ever sees all the cool things I found, it was still good for me to find them.

What drew you to writing Flintlock Fantasy, rather than straight historical fiction? Where and how do you find readers for Flintlock Fantasy?

I’d originally planned on writing historical fiction, but found the Thirty Years War very difficult to fictionalize. Creating a fantasy version made it much easier to keep the story interesting. It was also fun to play with an alternate culture and religion that gave women far more prominent roles.

Finding readers can be a challenge! I’ve done some targeted advertising on Amazon and Facebook, looking for readers who enjoy Django Wexler, Brian McClellan, Brent Weeks and the like. I’ve also done some cross-promotion with Michael Bolan, a fellow indie author whose Devil’s Bible fantasy series is also set in the Thirty Years War. (You should interview him too! 

How many of your books are currently available?
I have eight books out right now, with a ninth coming in the next few months.

What genres do you enjoy reading? How has that changed over the years, if at all?
Historical fiction has always been my first love. As a kid I devoured Tolstoy, Taylor Caldwell and Mary Renault. As an adult, I still read a lot of historical fiction but also tend to devote myself to genres in phases, spending months reading only science fiction, then doing the same with mysteries, then fantasy, and so on. Lately I’ve been on a thriller binge,  reading lots of Gillian Flynn and Liane Moriarty.

Would you consider using your experiences trucking across the lower 48 as the basis for a novel?
If I run out of other things to write, I might consider writing a memoir, but I’ve never been able to think of a way to fictionalize that experience!

Is tragedy an important part of your story telling, and if so, why?
Oh, yes, I love tragedy! It’s such a great catalyst for character change. I hate inflicting pain on my favorite characters, but at the same time, seeing them come out better and stronger after a tragedy is so rewarding.


As far as my own writing goes, I did find a few hours here and there during this hectic week to squeeze out a few words of Book 3 of the Tomahawk and Dragon Fire series. The Prologue and Chapter One are done. Chapter Two is about half complete, and I've even started on Chapter Three.  The performance of Harvey at the local theater in which I played Dr. Sanderson came to an end last night so my available writing time has increased. As I stood looking onto the stage through the concealing screen, waiting for my entrance cue during the play, some ideas coalesced regarding Alex and Lucette and the situation in which they found themselves at the end of Power to Hurt, Book Two in the series. Inspiration strikes at unusual times and places; sometimes it must be wrung out in tiny droplets as from a barely damp rag; at other times it intrudes unexpectedly like that earwig which my tent mate inadvertently tossed onto my face. Fortunately, inspiration's arrival is generally more welcome.

I had planned to post a review of a book that I love. I also had some thoughts to share about the passing of a respected figure in my life, as well as the inexorable trickling away of the life of a near and dear relative. Not wanting to diminish either the importance of the interview with Christina Ochs, or the solemn passing, or the creeping death, I'll postpone those thoughts and the book review for another time.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale--a couple perhaps. Let me begin with the movie and finish with the book. Both tales involved scoundrels, rogues, and the good guys who had to deal with them.

Here's the easy one; the lesser of the two tales, but an entertaining one nonetheless:

If you're looking for swashbuckling fun on the high seas, you need look no further than this little gem filled with pirate stereotypes and, arrrrhguably the greatest of them all, Blackbeard himself.

Robert Newton's portrayal of Edward Teach is more fun than a barrel of puppies with eye-patches and peg legs. If you don't think that's fun, you'll be swinging from the yarrrhdarrrhm before morning, matey. Of course Teach is a terrible scoundrel and murderer. He brooks no foolishness from his crew, but being his partner or ally may be more dangerous than being his enemy.

Newton provided one my favorite scenes in the movie when he tried to persuade his pirate first mate, Ben, that he wasn't trying to make away with the treasure for himself, but was getting it for both of them. Ben was played by the excellent actor William Bendix.

He's the guy in the middle, between the other pirate caricatures. Speaking of caricatures, one of the best from the film is this guy:

Gilly, played by Skelton Knaggs, oozes fawning evil and treachery. He reminded me of a leering orc, or grinning goblin.

And I'm guessing he stood tall at about 4'11" (but IMDB puts him at 5'5"). Wikipedia tells how he died at age 43. Can you guess what killed him?

If the cutlass fabricated from fun pirate stereotypes, swashbuckling action, murder and larceny (but especially larceny--watch the show and you'll get that joke) can't bend you to watch this movie, I have two loaded pistols with which to persuade you. The first of those is Linda Darnell. Has the camera ever loved anyone more?

She plays Edwina Mansfield, daughter of the pirate Edward Mansfield. She's planning to marry the equally piratical Henry Morgan who's played by someone I'll get to when I fire the other gun. She falls for Akuta Maynard who's out to reveal Morgan's evil ways and he wants to use Edwina's letters to do it. 

She has absconded with some treasure. Teach plies Edwina's lady-in-waiting (and you can guess the answer to what she's a lady-in-waiting for as given by the William Bendix character in the film) with rum and more rum to get her to spill her guts about the treasure. I forget her name in the film, but you know her.

Yes! It's:

Irene Ryan...but enough of that. I would much rather see Linda Darnell.

As you might suspect, Maynard and Mansfield end up together and Teach ends up like one of his treasure chests only significantly wetter.

Finally, the piece de resistance, the blast from the muzzle of the of second pistol: There's a hidden treasure in this movie--it's a Star Trek connection triple play.

First, there's Keith Andes as Maynard --better know to me from his role as Akuta in "The Apple"

And then there's Torin Hatcher as Henry Morgan--better know to me as Marplon from "The Return of the Archons"

And finally, the movie has Anthony Caruso as a pirate whose name I didn't catch--better known to me as Bela Okmyx from "A Pieceof the Action"

You can find out more about Caruso here--where I found the picture.

As for the second tale, I find that I have more to say about it than I can reasonably include here and I don't want to give it short shrift as it is one of the best novels ever written--it's certainly one of my favorites. So I'll post it another time by itself.

As for my writing on Book 3 of the Tomahawks and Dragon Fire series, I've completed chapter one. I had to go back and adjust for time, considering that what's happening there is happening at the same time as what was happening in the final chapters of Power to Hurt--but this is across the pond--I had to consider the time difference as well as the time it took for the events in the chapter to unfold. Nevertheless, the chapter still ends with a literal blast.

If you've picked up Threading the Rude Eye and Power to Hurt, post those positive reviews on Amazon and goodreads. Only you can prevent the death of a great series. The more reviews, the more sales, the more excited I get to write, the faster I complete it--every body wins.

I read a couple short stories this week. I got each for free at different times. I won't mention the titles or authors because both were disappointing and probably don't reflect the true talent of the writers. I'll try to review something more substantial that they've written before I pass my own judgment on their works.