It’s About Time…

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TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS is my first fantasy novel, although not my first fantasy story. Nor is it even the first story that I have written for this particular fantasy setting.

This novel represents my third foray into the world of Magistria, a fantasy universe created over ten years ago by writer G. W. Thomas. Inspired by the shared world anthologies like Robert Lynn Aspirin’s THIEVES WORLD or the WILD CARDS universe created by George R. R. Martin, Thomas conceived of a magical world where mages controlled a certain element. There were mages who could control fire, some who could control ice and others who could control metal or plants. There were even mages whose specialty was death and whose arcane talents could reanimate dead flesh.

511bpMnaamL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I was only one of more than a dozen authors who contributed a story to the first anthology, MAGISTRIA: THE REALM OF THE SORCERER back in 2005 and I was in good company. Lillian Csernica, Joshua M. Reynolds, Laurence Barker, Robert Burke Richardson and Robert J Santa were only a handful of the anazing writers who submitted stories. (The book is still available today from Amazon.com if you want to check it out).

Working from the shared world introduction and outline – the “bible” of the universe, if you will – I seized on the idea of the air mage. The air mage was a sorcerer who could control the winds. I liked that idea but I wondered if there could be a subset of those mages who controlled the air in a more subtle way, by manipulating the air using vibration.

To that end I wrote The Singer and the Song, a story about Foundman Singer, an air mage who had lost his memory due to a trauma and did not know that he was an air mage.

The first anthology was moderately successful so a second anthology was planned. For this I wrote a story called Seeds in Winter about a plant mage attempting to learn the secrets of a death mage to ressurect her dead lover.

Magistria2displayThe first anthology had been edited by G.W. Thomas. The second one was to have been edited by Robert J. Santa at his own Ricasso Press. At the time, freshly excited about the Magistria universe, I suggested to Rob that I could write a novel length story about Magistria. He was behind the idea so I began writing the story that would eventually become TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS.

Unfortunately Ricasso Press never released the second anthology.

By that time, G. W. Thomas had moved on to other things and the anthology was forgotten. TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS sat in a (virtual) drawer for a long time.

Years later and G.W. Thomas is now in charge of RAGE MACHINE BOOKS. Rage Machine had published my first two novels, the second of which, DEBT’S PLEDGE enjoyed considerable success. I immediately began to write a sequel to DEBT’S PLEDGE. I was keen to have it finished and published one year after the publication date of the first book.

Unfortunately, other obligations got in the way and progress on that book was slowed down to the point where I was not going to make that deadline.

I had another book written, but was not convinced that it was “up to snuff”. I suggested that perhaps Rage Machine could finally publish TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS. G.W. Was behind the idea and now, finally, the book can see print.

TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS is a fantasy novel, featuring magic and magicians, But it is also a time travel story. I am chiefly a science fiction writer and I have always been fascinated with time travel. I love books, movies and tv shows featuring travel through time from Kieth Laumer’s Dinosaur Beach to THE TIME TUNNEL to DOCTOR WHO.

But time travel is usually a science fiction trope. What kind of a high fantasy could I write with time travel as its central conceit? So I created the time mage and with a lot of enthusiasm and heedless of the potential confusion I went ahead and wrote it. Constructing a narrative that involves time travel can be tricky. It requires meticulous planning and careful plotting.

But I didn’t do any of that. I just threw all the pieces in the air and started juggling as best I could, hoping that the entire thing would make sense when it was all done.

Surprisingly, it did!

How well? You can judge that for yourself. It is available at Amazon.com right here and will soon be available at other e-book venues as well as print versions.

Coming Soon: Time Like Broken Glass

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“In a world of magic one city is the focal point for a desperate struggle that is fought through all of time.

Mages harness the powers of different elements – air, fire, ice, metal, even death – and wield that power in their struggle to survive. But one powerful mage can cantrol time itself. Now mages and mortals alike find themselves allied against that power and three heroes, separated by vast gulfs of time, must find a way to save the magic, the great city and existence itself.”

This is my first fantasy novel and it will be released in the next couple of days from RAGE MACHINE BOOKS. Look for a longer post about the book and about the universe in which it is set: Magistria!

The Artist as Criminal: The Frank Cho Spider Gwen Controversy

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This is a cross post from the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website:

You see, this last week the internet exploded.

Yeah, I know, the internet is exploding all the time. The most recent big explosion has been all about the Hugo Awards and the Sad Puppies. That explosion has caused lots of aftershocks that are still going on. But I’m not talking about that internet volcano.

Frank Cho is a brilliantly talented comic book artist. As well as drawing and writing his own comic strip, Liberty Meadows for five years in National Syndication and still today under his own banner, Cho has worked extensively for Marvel Comics and Dynamite comics. Cho is noted for his figure drawing, precise lines, and depiction of well-endowed women.

Cho maintains his own website, Apes and Babes where his award winning Liberty Meadows strip can be seen and where he posts images of works-in-progress as well as quick sketeches, many of them humorous.

It was one of these sketches that recently caused the internet to blow up.

Let’s back up a bit. In 2014 Marvel Comics announced that they would be releasing issues of certain titles with variant covers drawn by Italian artist Milo Manara. Manara is a world renowned artist who has created work for Marvel before as well as other comics in America. Manara also produces comics, mostly in Europe, that are highly erotic and, in some cases pornographic. That kind of work raises few eyebrows in Europe, but in America it is not tolerated.

Manara produced a variant cover for Marvel’s Spider-Woman #1.

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And the reaction was… intense. So intense, in fact, that Marvel ended up pulling Manara’s cover and using another artist.

But the damage was done. The image flew around the internet followed by angry tirades and accusations of sexism.

So, last week Frank Cho, in his off-time, created a cheeky drawing based on Manara’s cover. He depicted a character called Spider-Gwen, an alternate universe variant of Spider-Man that has become popular with younger readers. Cho did a quick sketch and posted it to his own website.

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Cue the internet explosion. This time it was led by Robbi Rodriguez, the lead artist on the Spider-Gwen title. On his twitter feed Rodriguez uttered a vague threat against Cho for besmirching the virtue of his character. “Your (sic) drawing dirty pictures of one of my kids. Be lucky your (sic) never around me.” The twitter post implied physical violence but Rodriguez later stepped back from that in a longer post on his Facebook, saying he would only have given Cho an earful with a lot of cursing and then proceeded to give Cho and the world said earful in a profanity laden rant. In his rant he states that there is a place for drawing like that (on an artist’s own website, perhaps?) and that it isn’t about censorship but then exhorts Cho to stop doing it and change with the times. The internet then proceeded to crucify Cho for daring to sexualize a comic book character.

Although apparently posting art of that sort is okay for Rodriguez when he does it on his own website:

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The irony of this (and there is so much irony to go around) is that many of the same voices decrying Cho’s art were likely the same people who plastered their Facebook pages with “Je Suis Charlie” in sympathy with the Charlie Hebdo artists who were massacred by extremists.

And that is where the irony lies in it for me. Free speech is a right that must be defended and defended vigorously. But it is not always an easy thing to do. When you defend free speech some of that speech is going to come from opinions and world views that are different from your own. Sometimes that speech may seem to you to be verging on hateful. Nevertheless, if you are committed to free speech than you must be committed. You can’t cherry pick what free speech you champion and censor what you don’t like. If you do that then you are NOT championing free speech.

Free speech means that there will be lots of ranting and raving. Cho is free to express himself. Rodriguez is free to respond. I defend his right to do so. But then I am free to take Rodriguez to task for his reaction, his inconsistency, and his vague threats.

As for Frank Cho, his response was this:

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and he wrote: “To be honest, I was amused and surprised by the uproar since it was, in my opinion, over nothing. It’s essentially a small group of angry and humorless people ranting against my DRAWING of a pretty woman. It’s utter nonsense. This world would be a better and a happier place if some people just grow a sense of humor and relax”

As the infamous underground artist Robert Crumb observed years ago: “It’s only lines on paper, folks!”.

Addendum: The internet changes fast. After I had marked this post as “Ready to Go” Frank posted another drawing. Clearly the man is incorrigible. The flames of burning internet have not made him lose his sense of humor.

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He’s having fun with the outrage. Don’t stop, Frank!

Civil Hands Unclean

I have tried to write this post several times since the 2015 Hugo Award nominees were announced and the fan community lost their collective minds over it. In order to have something relevant to add I have tried to figure out how this situation has come about and in doing so, in reading the words of participants from both sides, in moving from anger and despair to shaking my head in bemusement, I have come to the only conclusion that makes sense to me.

If you don’t know what is going on I will refer you to Matthew M. Foster‘s recent blog post where he outlines the situation far more eloquently than I ever could. You can read part one of his overview here.

Honestly, when politics of any kind enters any organization it always leads to this sort of situation. When an organization (or a country for that matter) becomes so polarized the resultant tug-of-war will inevitably bring out anger, outrage, resentment, name calling and the kind of disruption that can lead to a lifetime’s worth of bitterness and disappointment.

Other than being a reader of science fiction and fantasy since I learned how to read, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am an author, but I am not now nor am I ever likely to be eligible for a Hugo Award. I am not involved in the fan community. I am not a member of any official fan organization. I am the equivalent of an armchair quarterback shouting epithets at the players during the game. Take my words with a grain or two of salt.

Pundits from both sides have been guilty of abominable behavior, from name-calling to spite filled threats of voting “no award” (the equivalent of picking up your ball and going home). Some have claimed nobility by refusing nominations but have done so in such a demonstrable fashion as to put the lie to those claims. Civil discussions on Facebook quickly degrade to knee-jerk reactionism from both sides and the inevitable name-calling starts to happen. I made a simple, unbiased statement of fact in one forum and was roundly accused of “drinking the Kool-aid”.

Both sides claim to care only about the literature and not the politics but the politics seem to keep creeping back in. Perhaps it is merely a reflection of the larger schism that exists in America at the moment. Perhaps a civil consensus will be reached  at some point. As someone who sits on the sidelines (and across the border from the whole affair, figuratively and literally) I do not see an end anytime soon.

I have loved science fiction and science fiction fandom all my life. This will not change that. It has changed my opinion about people whom I have admired for a long time (some for the better, mostly for the worst) and it has introduced me to people of whom I formerly knew nothing. I hope that in the end good will come out of this contretemps. When the dust has settled I hope that tomorrow we will have a Hugo Award that is better for all the shouting that is being done today.

Until then I am saddened and dismayed at the whole thing. A plague on both your houses.

Resistance of the New

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(*NOTE: This is a cross post with the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website where it appears under the byline M. D. Jackson. I’m reproducing it here)

It’s the second day of the new year. Are you looking forward to seeing what wonders it will bring or are you dreading it? Are you embracing the new, or are you resisting it?

81711841_1336987555_1367217745_540x540As science fiction fans it is usually expected, even if we only expect it of ourselves, that we will embrace new things, new technologies, new ideas. That’s who we are, or, at least, that’s who we tell ourselves that we are. We explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations. That’s us – boldly going and all that.

But do we really?

I’m sure most of us do. I’m probably preaching to the choir here. But sometimes I run into resistance of new things, even things that seem like a fait accompli, and it baffles me.

LudditesSmashingLoomLarge-757004I started thinking about this recently when a couple of co-workers expressed their opinion that the internet and the whole world of online connectivity, was a bad thing. They were lamenting the loss of the days before the internet, before email and texting.

These weren’t cave dwelling Luddites. They weren’t cranky seniors. These were professionals who work in an office environment. They regularly use email, i-phones, Facebook, etc. So it surprised me that they considered the whole digital age to be, on the whole, a negative thing. I disagreed with them. I said that there is good and bad in everything but that, on the whole, the internet and the connectivity of our world is a positive thing.

They remained dubious.

We didn’t discuss it further but it still confused me. Why the resistance? Why focus on all the negative things about our connectivity and ignore all the benefits?

anti-technologyPartly, I think, it is the human tendency to do just that – to focus on the negative. We tend to seek out bad news and ignore good news when it doesn’t effect us personally. As someone who has worked in the newspaper industry I know this very well. An old circulation manager told me as much shortly after I began working for a particular paper. “I get less returns on papers when the front page story is bad news,” he said. “An accident, tragedy, disaster, whatever. Those papers sell out. A “feel-good’ story on the cover means I get lots of returns to deal with.”

Partly it could be fear. The present moment moves from the past into the future and we move along with it like being swept away by a current. We grab on to things… hold on in a desperate attempt to feel safe and grounded. When we encounter something new we don’t want to lose those things that make us feel safe so we hang on to them tighter even if they threaten to pull us under by their ponderous weight.

FredricWerthamE-books were once regarded with fear, distrust and disdain. I know. I was one of them for the longest time until, as an e-author, I saw first hand the advantages and benefits of e-publishing.

Before the advent of e-books there was the great resistance to another fledgling medium, the comic book. When comics hit the scene voices decried their evils and shrill warnings sounded about how they would corrupt the youth of North America. Well meaning (but ultimately self-serving) figures like Psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham and writer Judith Crist decried the evils of this fledgling medium.

Today the majority of the highest grossing films are based on characters from the comic books. Far from turning a generation into raging delinquents, the comics fired up imaginations and led to new expressions of creativity. The medium has produced works, such as Art Spigel’s Maus, that has garnered some of the highest awards that the world of letters can bestow.

Maybe Douglas Adams put it best: “There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented bet ween when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you’ll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”

worldtechnologyRight now our connected world and the mediums made possible by the internet are producing works of astounding quality. If we can resist the Luddite urge to tear it all down (or the business world’s urge to corporatize it) new mediums, mediums of which we have not even dreamt, will produce some of the greatest art that the world has ever known. As we move along with the stream of time we will let go of our fear of art that is not presented on canvas or literature that is not presented on paper, or films that are not shown only in movie houses (Yes, I am referring to Sony’s groundbreaking release strategy for The Interview, regardless of how accidental it was) and we will embrace the new.

The New Year is here. Yes, it can be frightening seen through eyes that are clouded by fear (or perhaps just a hangover) but it also holds endless possibilities. Go boldly. Find those possibilities and grab onto them. Tell stories in whatever new medium comes along.

Just make sure they are amazing.

DEBT’S PLEDGE and the Bechdel Test

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So, my daughter came home for Christmas, which is enough of a Christmas present for her mother and I. While on the Greyhound she passed the time reading a trade paperback edition of my book, Debt’s Pledge. When she pulled the book out of her backpack she told me she was only three quarters of the way through. I asked her what she thought about it.

“Well, first thing; your book would not pass the Bechdel Test”, she said.

For those of you who don’t know, the Bechdel Test (sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule) is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule.

I thought about it for a moment and realized that what she had told me was very true. There are several women characters in the book, and most of them are strong characters. Some are more feminine than others but none are shrinking violets. However, the book’s main character is Jefferson Odett and the entire book is told from his point of view. It’s not told in the first person, but the third person narrative is deliberately limited to Odett’s point of view. That makes it kind of difficult to pass the Bechdel Rule.

I admitted as much to my daughter.

“Also,” she continued. “Why do all the women characters all have to have some sort of relationship with Odett? It’s like they’re all there just as sex objects for him”

“Wait,” I said, trying to think. I’m writing the sequel but the details of the first book aren’t as fresh in my head as they are in hers. “What about Amy Brown, the guildswoman?” I asked.

My daughter nodded. “Yeah, I was hoping that she would be different, but then you ruined it by having them kiss!”

Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten about that. “Well… okay… but…”

“And where are the feels, Dad? The book has no feels!”

Feels? The book’s got feels!” I protest.

“No it doesn’t” said my wife, which caught me off guard.

“I thought you loved my book.”

“I do. But you’re daughter’s right. It’s got no feels.”

At this point I felt a bit out of my depth. “Well… I set out to write a vary manly book…” I heard myself saying. “It’s a manly book… for manly men!”

They both looked at me like I was some sort of special mental case. I felt a bit like one.

“Well…” I sputtered. “The sequel will be better.”

“Dad,” my daughter said. “You know you wouldn’t get this kind of honest criticism from someone who didn’t love you, right?”

It was true. I had received a negative review… honestly, the worst review the book has garnered so far, from the two people whose opinions I value the most… and yet, I never felt so loved.

Family is funny that way.

Whatever your faith, however you choose to celebrate (or even if you don’t), I hope you all have a good holiday season and that it is filled with warmth and love.

The Lure of Summer, Self Phones, Casting Call and Hercules Reviewed

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Well, I have to admit that the lure of the Summertime has kept me away from the computer. Honestly, who can think about writing blog posts when the sun is shining, the birds are singing and there is ice cream on offer just up the street? I know I can’t.

Unfortunately writing of any kind has slowed to a crawl, which, as I have blogged about before, is not good news for a writer. I’m still plotting the sequel to DEBT’S PLEDGE although I have not formally written anything down yet. It’s all up here, though (taps forehead) It’s all up here.

 

“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space…”

Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

It’s not a Cell Phone, it’s a “SelfPhone”.

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I had a very interesting conversation with my wife a couple of weeks back about cell phone use. I thought that a better name for the cell phone should be the “SelfPhone” because experientially one is really only interacting with oneself on most devices. Unless you are actually talking to someone, if you are just texting or playing Angry Birds, then experientially you are not interacting with anyone at all, just the device. As the software is programmed the cell phone becomes a reflection of the user. Thus, when you are interacting with your cell phone what you are really doing is carrying on a conversation with yourself. Even if you are texting with someone who is sending replies, experientially the entire interaction happens inside one’s own head.

I don’t have a problem with that. After all, as a writer much of my own activity happens within my own head. It is a not uncommon state of being for a writer to spend the majority of his or her time inside one’s own brain. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just think we should acknowledge that much of the experience of the cell phone happens inside the user’s head and not inside the device. Despite movies like Spike Jones’ HER and the SIRI commercials, the device is a cold, emotionless chunk of metal and plastic.

It does not drive the experience. You do.
CASTING CALL

Here’s an idea that I have shamelessly swiped my friend and fellow writer Derrick Ferguson. Ferguson id the author of the Dillon novels and this is a feature that he does for the characters in his books.(Visit his blog here and while you’re at it do yourself a favour and buy one or all of his fabulous Dillon adventures)

If I were casting a movie of my novel DEBT’S PLEDGE who would I cast?

The Sharpe-era Sean Bean could be Shane Watson's double

Well, while I was writing the book the main character, Jefferson Odett was played by a young Sean Bean in my head. Bean is a great actor but he’s too old to play Odett now who in the first book is in his 30’s.

If I had to choose an actor to play him in a movie today I have a few candidates and one of them is Sean Bean’s costar from GAME OF THRONES, Nicolas Coster-Waldau. He would look kind of like how I pictured the character, particularly as he appeared in the fourth season of the show, with his close cropped hair.

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Alternatively I could see Charlie Hunnam from PACIFIC RIM and SONS OF ANARCHY playing the part.

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Mind you I could also see Anson Mount from HELL ON WHEELS playing the part even though he’s a little older than the character is (in the first book anyway)

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Another important character from the book is Carlysle and I saw an actor who looked vey much like I imagined him to look; Rufus Sewell as Autolycus in the recent HERCULES movie. Of course he would have to completely shave is head, his beard and his eyebrows, but that’s basically the character. Sewell could also successfully portray Carlysle’s ambiguous nature.
Speaking of Brett Rattner’s 3D HERCULES movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson…

…don’t. Just… don’t.

Actually that’s a bit unfair. It’s not a bad movie it’s just… go see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. That’s all I’m saying’.