Elves and the Diminished Fae

 When JRR Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings wrote of the elves of Middle Earth departing into the West at the end of the Third Age, he was drawing on folklore that viewed elves, fae and their kindred as godlike beings whose great and magical powers faded as humankind grew and spread across the world.

In Norse mythology, the alfar – the origin of our modern name “elves” – appeared to be minor gods of nature. Not only were they human-sized – at least in some of the myths – able to mate with humans, but there was a belief for at least a time that human men could become elves after death.

Equivalent to the elves in Gaelic folklore (Ireland and Scotland) are the sidhe, powerfully magical beings that, in Ireland, are identified as the Tuatha de Danann (“children of the goddess Danu”) – the old gods of the country.

In Irish folklore, after the Tuatha were supplanted (either by other invaders or by Christianity, depending on the source of the story), they either retreated or faded into diminished spirits and became the “Little People” of legend.

An alternate belief, recorded by William Butler Yeats in the late 19th century, was that the Little People were fallen angels whose sins would not allow them to remain in Heaven yet were not so the “weighty” on their souls as to carry them down to Hell.

In France – which gives us the name “fae” from which “faery” and “fairy” are derived – the magical fae were always female. They presided over childbirth and decided the fate of the newborn. These fae were human-sized, or could become human-sized, and there are tales of human men marrying “fairy wives.”

After being relegated for a time to roles ranging from Santa’s helpers to fairy tales for children to being merely “cute,” elves appear to be enjoying a resurgence as writers such as Dunsany, Dennis L. McKiernan and, especially, Tolkien have restored their dignity and…

their ancient power. 

 

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A Terrifying Trip Into ‘What If’

I’m inaugurating a somewhat new direction here today … sharing not only information about my own books but info on other authors and their books. It’s a “pay forward” kind of thing I’ve wanted to do for a while, but I wanted to wait until I had a better handle on how to maximize  my blogs.

Well … I’m still not where I want to be on the technical stuff. But I’m jumping out anyway with what I cando. So … today … my first “official” book review on a blog – and its for a book I enjoyed because of the Fear Factor … L.M. Boelz’  Syeribus, Creatures of the Night …

 Is there any child who isn’t, at some point, afraid of the dark? Who doesn’t, at some time, harbor a terror of the Things that lurk in the closet or hide under the bed?

Eventually, most of us grow out of those night-terrors. We laugh at our fears, peer under our beds at … nothing more frightening than dust-bunnies or, at worst, boxes of accumulated possessions that we have nowhere else to store.

But …

What if our fears have basis in reality? What if there are indeed creatures that lurk under our beds, waiting for that moment when the lights go out and we are helplessly locked in sleep …

Welcome to the world of Syeribus, Creatures of the Night!

I have given this book 4 stars because of some editing issues, but the story itself, the premise, is 5-star worthy. Author L.M. Boelz does a wonderful job of building on the fear that lurks in our subconscious – the fear that – when we are at our most vulnerable – we are not alone.

She also provides some beautifully on-target descriptions, and I love authors who can weave spells with their words.

Without giving away the plot, the story is about a group of children who discover that the “bogieman” indeed exists.

Let me add, in my opinion, this isn’t a book for children! It is a book for those who love tales of terror, tales of the supernatural – a book for people who enjoy a story that will leave you with shivers along your spine, and that doesn’t involve (so far as I can tell) vampires or werewolves!

Two caveats: First, the story builds slowly, so don’t expect to be immersed immediately in the night-terror. Boelz does, however, have a definite talent for building tension. The book, for me, was a page-turner.

Second, the ending is a cliff-hanger. If you want to know what’s going to happen next – You have to get the next book in the trilogy. Which I intend to do.

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The End of the World?

 I have to confess … I’m fascinated by all the hype – even on the History channel which, I think, should stick to facts, not speculation – about the pending End of the World on Dec. 21.

Why all the furor? Why do we, as a species, love to fuss and fume and … yes … hype things that are clearly beyond our control?

Either the world is going to end on Dec. 21 – or it isn’t. If it does, there really isn’t a thing we can do about it, according to all the hype that’s gone on over the last couple or years or so.

If it doesn’t … well, we’ve wasted an awful lot of time fretting over nothing.

So … the question remains … Why?

I assume, if you believe in some kind of deity – a Higher Power – (which, by the way, I do), you should by now have made peace with that being. Not because the world is going to end on Dec. 21 – which in fact is highly unlikely – but because … well, we’re all mortal, and for great numbers of us, the world ends every day. Various kinds of accidents, homicides, illnesses … Any one of us could literally be here today and gone tomorrow.

If you don’t believe in a higher power, and you really believe the world will end on Dec. 21 because of the Mayan calendar or Nostradamus or whatever … What are you going to do about it?

Seriously – Can you personally do anything to stop the end of the world? I remember the Y2K scare, when at least one individual here in Sheridan, Wyo., was stocking stuff in a cave somewhere in Montana where he could wait out Armageddon. Hey, if Armageddon is going to happen, there isn’t anywhere on this planet you can go to escape it.

Just for the record, we don’t really know why the Mayan calendar – the “Long Count” – ends when it does, but it could have something to do with the end of the Mayan civilization, not our own today. And Nostradamus claimed he could see forward to the year 3700-and-something, so I don’t know how he got into the Dec. 21 business.

As for me, I’m betting that Dec. 22 will arrive right on schedule. And in the meantime, I subscribe to the philosophy of Alfred E. Neuman, which some of you may recognize from MAD Magazine:

“What, me worry?” 

 

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Creating Believable Characters

 Has this ever happened to you? You’re reading a book, watching a movie or TV show, and suddenly you’re shouting, “(Character’s name) wouldn’t do that!”

Sometimes our fictional characters in fact will do – or say – things that are … well … out of character.

An acquaintance of mine – when her character once did something wildly improbable – protested, “But I need her to do that! It’s important to the plot!”

That is, in fact, true of us nonfictional characters. Nearly all of us have, at one time or another, done something that we later look back at with regret … remorse … or simply a bewildered headshake.

But when we think about it, we realize we had a reason for our actions at the time. It might not have been a good reason. It might have been a very bad reason. But it was a reason …

The characters we create in our stories must be equally motivated. That’s what makes them believable – what makes them real to our readers. “Because I need her to do that” isn’t a reason.

For starters, if our characters are to be real to our readers, they have to be real to us. Where were they born? What kind of childhood did they have? What’s the character’s view of life and the world? How does he or she react to stress? How does she, or he, regard the opposite sex?

You don’t have to actually write out the history of your character’s life – although some writers do – but you do need some basic idea of what makes this person tick.

What you want is a character who is a living, breathing person in your reader’s mind. One trick that helps me – and I know other authors who’ve done the same – is to base the character’s persona on someone you actually know. Or … know about. For example, Tevis, the elf detective in my Portals series, is an amalgam in part of Sherlock Holmes and Illya Kuryakin, the Russian spy in the old Man From Uncle TV series. Kat Morales, his human partner, is (okay, confession time) the me I’d like to be – more courageous, more forceful …

Not to mention younger, thinner and prettier!

Most important, once you’ve created your characters and set them in motion, you have to treat them as real people, not puppets. They won’t do what you want – or need them to do – unless you provide them with solid motive for their actions. Kat, for example, is a stand-up police detective, daughter of a Marine drill sergeant. Could I make her rob a bank?

Only if the life of someone she cared about – her dad, her mom, Tevis … – depended on it. Even then, it’s something she’d agonize about.

Get inside your characters’ heads when you create them. Think about why they do what they do – or under what circumstances they’d do what you need them to do. Think about how events in your plot affect them – and how their actions affect the plot. Let your characters become real to you.

That can help make them real to your readers.

 

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Crime-solving Cats

 Cats not only have played a role in many writers’ lives … They’ve played a role in literary works at least as far back as the 17th century when French writer Charles Perrault recounted the tale of Puss in Boots. Long before Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse’s canine companion, Pluto, Edgar Allan Poe introduced the feline Pluto in his darker tale, “The Black Cat.”

Paul Gallico – perhaps better known as the author of The Poseidon Adventure – also wrote The Three Lives of Thomasina, which the Disney Studios also made into a movie in 1964.

But where cats truly shine seems to be mystery novels. In my own Portals fantasy/detective series, Corpus Christi, Texas, police detective Kat Morales has two feline companions – Simon and Hatshepsut. Originally I brought them in because – having shared my own life with cats and dogs for many years – I couldn’t see Kat without some kind of four-footed companion. Cats just seemed like the natural choice for a single police detective whose job might require her to be away from home for long hours.

Simon, the gray domestic shorthair, and Hatshepsut, the almost-Siamese, very quickly demanded more than just walk-on parts. They wound up having small, but significant, roles in my first two books, Shadow Path and Stormcaller, not quite so large a part in books 3 and 4, Deathtalker and Sister Hoods, but still very much part of Kat’s life. And in the meantime, Tevis has also acquired a feline companion – Alexander. As in, Alexander the Great.

I’m not sure what the roles of these three will be in future Portals books, but they’re definitely here to stay.

Cats have a way of taking over. You can only ignore them if they want to be ignored. And the air of mystery that just naturally surrounds them makes them perfect for mysteries – as a long string of feline companions and heroes demonstrate. Literature boasts a long line of feline sleuths, including Ko-ko and Yum-yum, the crime-solving Siamese in Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who … series, and Carole Nelson Douglas’ Midnight Louie.

Their traditional association with witches – not always beneficial to the cat – has brought them equal prominence in the realms of fantasy, including – most recently – Crookshanks, Hermione Granger’s cat in J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series.
I’d love to know if you have any favorite feline sleuths or cats from fantasy. Or if cats feature in your life or writing.

Share. 

 

As always, if you leave a comment, you’re entered in the end-of-the-month drawing for one of my ebooks.

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National Newspaper Week

 This week is National Newspaper Week – a time to consider how important newspapers have been – and still are – to our society and our country. Before the Internet, before Facebook and Twitter – before we could access what’s happening all over the world with just a few keystrokes on our computers and iPads – old-fashioned print newspapers were our primary means of keeping tabs on our world.

And while even newspapers these days are publishing on the Internet, I think the print versions are still important, and will remain important for years into the future. Information can be lost in cyberspace. A storm on the sun could conceivably set our technology back into the Stone Age. But words on paper are durable. It’s still possible to access back issues of many newspapers and read what happened 25 … 50 … 100 years or more ago.

There’s another reason, for me, to celebrate this week. I’ve been a newspaper reporter for well over 30 years now. Nearly half my life. And while I won’t say that newspaper experience is essential if you want to write books …

I will say it’s darned helpful.

Newspaper work taught me the importance of meeting deadlines. Nearly everybody in this business of writing has deadlines. Deadlines to post guest blogs, deadlines to post your own blogs, deadlines set by publishers. Our own self-imposed deadlines – as in, I will write 1,000 words today …

Newspapers taught me to write every day – no matter how I feel. I’ve heard would-be writers say, “I didn’t get anything written today. My muse didn’t show up.”

Newspaper editors don’t believe in muses. They don’t care if your muse is taking the day off. They want you planted in that chair, writing your story, and hang the muse!

Interviewing people – or covering meetings – gave me whatever ear I have for dialog. People don’t always speak in complete sentences. With few exceptions, they use contractions. One method I’ve used to give Tevis Mac Leod, the elf detective in my books, a distinct voice is … Tevis never uses contractions. He usually speaks in complete sentences, and he’ll say “I do not believe you” rather than “I don’t believe you.”

Newspapers taught me the importance of communicating with your reader. As a reporter, you aren’t just relaying information to a reader. You’re breaking down that information, if necessary, into words your reader can understand. Your news sources don’t always want to be understood. You run into those people who hide truth behind $25 words that are incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t have a PhD.

If you, as a reporter, don’t understand what someone has just said, then chances are most of your readers won’t either. It’s your responsibility to keep asking questions, keep probing, until that statement becomes something that at least the majority of your readers will “get”.

Communicating is key in my vocabulary. I write my Portals books to entertain. I’m a storyteller, shaping my tales in written rather than oral form. I’m not out to enrich anyone’s vocabulary or share deep philosophical thoughts about the world or the universe. So I try for a style that’s easy to read. I love that I have readers as young as 10, and that they can understand my books as readily as the senior citizen crowd.

One of the high points of my career came last year when the Paranormal Romance Guild, which reviewed Shadow Path – book 1 in my series – after its release as an ebook, named it a Reviewer’s Choice award-winner in the Young Adult category.

Whatever success I’ve achieved so far, I credit a major share of it to my years of writing for newspapers.

So … a Shout-out for National Newspaper Week! May they always enrich our lives.

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Do All Authors Have Cats?

 The question came up in an Amazon discussion group, and – I wonder … Probably not all authors have cats, but I suspect a lot of us do.

Yeah. Us. I’m one of the “cat people.”

I’m a “dog people,” too. In fact, I’ve been a companion to dogs far longer than to cats. But in addition to three dogs, my household currently includes one cat – Mozart, a tortoiseshell – and there have been others in years past: Sanji, a Maine coon who fully lived up to the breed’s reputation as a “gentle giant.” Marion, a winsome little calico who could charm her way into anyone’s heart. Shen Shen, a mostly-Siamese who was the model for Kat’s feline companion Hatshepsut in my Portals books. And others … Robin (aka Robin Hood Pud) … Muffin … Attiba …

The list goes on …

I’m in good company. Emily Bronte was owned by a cat. Mark Twain reportedly was companion to several. Robert Graves, Ray Bradbury and H.G. Wells had cats.

They weren’t the only ones.

Cats (I think) lend themselves especially well to science fiction and fantasy and detective novel themes. They’re creatures of the night, of mystery. They can (ask anyone who keeps company with a cat) disappear for hours on end – and reappear as quietly, and as suddenly, as they departed.

In my own Portals books – which prominently feature Simon and Hatshepsut, felines laying claim to my human detective Kat Morales – I offer the theory that they go Between – a dimensionless but infinite space that separates our human world from the adjacent Realms of Magic.

Of course this presupposes an ability to teleport or transport – or maybe a combination of both.

What else would you expect from a cat?

What about you? If you’re a writer, are you owned by a cat or two? Or more? If you’re a reader, do you count cats among your companions?

If you’re a dog person, come share that too. Dogs and cats don’t have to fight like … well … the proverbial cats and dogs. There’s room for us all …

 

You could win a copy of one of my ebooks (your choice of book). Just visit, leave a comment, and you’ll be in the drawing for my monthly ebook giveaway on Nov. 1.

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