Tag Archives: the dark tower

#My5: The Bell Forging Cycle

Welcome to #My5, a project that I’ve started, with a few of my fellow authors, across the internet. In this and other posts, we’re going to delve into five things that had influenced our current projects: it could be five people, five books, five songs, five comics or a mixture of some or all—you never know. Why five? It’s an arbitrary limitation, but it’s digestible and prevents these posts from running away from us. If you’re an author and you’re interested in joining us, you can read the introduction post or check out the info at the bottom of this post. So, without further ado, here’s #My 5: The Bell Forging Cycle.


Inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere, and it’s different for each writer. For me, there are key instances that trigger something in my mind that inspired me to create the world of the Territories.

I tend to pitch The Bell Forging Cycle as “Lovecraftian Urban Fantasy,” which is a relatively narrow descriptive. In my article for Fantasy Book Critic, I described the series as a “dark cyberpunk post-post-apocalyptic dystopian weird western cosmic horror urban fantasy adventure,” which, yeah, was a mouthful. Instead of explaining how all that works, I figured it’d be fun to use #My5 in a way that lets me share how all of those pieces come together.


Five Influences, #1 - The Lovecraft Mythos1. The Lovecraft Mythos

This is the obvious one, but it’s important enough that I need to mention it first. I didn’t start reading H.P. Lovecraft until I was in my early twenties and attending college. While Cthulhu, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth were on my mind, it wasn’t until a conversation in 2007 with my friend, Josh Montreuil, that I had the idea of mixing the mythos with a story like the one I wanted to write.

Longtime readers of the Lovecraftian mythos can see the signs in the world. The books are set in a world rebuilt after Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones returned, caused an apocalypse, and once again faded into myth. Their influence has a fundamental impact on the world. Landmasses have been reshaped, and humanity is no longer alone; exotic species lifted from the mythos now inhabit the world alongside us. Dark cults from stories like The Call of Cthulhu, The Haunter of the Dark, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth have risen to become large organized religions. While a knowledge of the mythos isn’t necessary to enjoy the books, there’s no denying that Lovecraft’s influence is scattered through everything.


Kowloon Walled City2. Kowloon Walled City

It’s probably no secret that I’m a cyberpunk fan. Books like William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Neil Stephenson’s Snowcrash, and movies like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner are seminal works in my life. Cities of cement and chrome, coupled with the compression of humanity, were a draw for me. In each of those worlds were millions of stories. So, when I discovered a real world example of those strange, stacked cyberpunk cities, I was fascinated.

Kowloon was a densely populated neighborhood that existed in Hong Kong during the middle of the 20th-century. Thirty-three thousand people lived within 6.4 acres of space stacked atop each other up to a height of 140 ft. The result of this mass was an isolated, multileveled community, filled with all manner of individuals, organizations, businesses, schools, and unique cultures. (Check out this fascinating cross section map or this detailed illustration to see how dense it was.) Kowloon’s existence became the spark that eventually became Lovat. It was the real-life example that triggered my concept of the vast megalopolis by the sea.


Five Influences, #3 - The Dark Tower3. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower

Stephen King’s opus is an early forerunner of genre mixing; an intense blend of western tropes, fantasy locations, and science-fiction problems, mixed with a post-apocalyptic road story starring gunslingers. I started reading the series in high school and quickly devoured what I could until it finally ended in 2004. Up until The Dark Tower series, most of the sci-fi and fantasy I read was fairly conventional.

Seeing this strange new world presented in such a way opened my eyes to what fiction could become. I can still picture walking with the Ka-Tet of Nineteen throughout Mid and Endworld. There is so much to love. The Lobstrosities, Shardik, Blaine the Mono, the city of Lud, the plains of Mejis, the Wolves of Thunderclap, and Devar-Toi are all vivid in my mind, and I continually find myself revisiting the series to this day.

And, if you’re wondering, I absolutely remember the face of my father.


Five Influences, #4 - Bas-Lag

4. China Miéville’s Bas-Lag

I love worldbuilding; I love seeding the potential of new locations and stories throughout prose. If it was King who showed me my first glimpses of weird fiction, China Miéville refined it. Perdido Street Station constructed a world that proved to me that fantasy didn’t have to be elves and dwarves, hobbits and men, orcs and dragons.

His Bas-Lag series—my favorite of which is The Scar—takes those ideas to a whole new level. Strange species crawl through Mieville’s books: bug-headed women, vampires, half-machine hybrids, sentient cacti, tiny gargoyles, disembodied hand-shaped parasites, scabmettlers—the human-like creatures who’s blood congeals to the point that it can become a sort of armor—and that’s just the start. That same approach is applied to everything from governmental structure to economics. Each book opens up new lands and strange new species, and throughout it all, Mieville does it right. He mixes and blends and creates a profound concoction that still stick with me.


Five Influences, #5 - Hellblazer5. HellBlazer (In particular M. R. Carey’s run)

One of the granddaddies of urban fantasy, the Vertigo comic series, follows the magician for hire, John Constantine as he drinks and smokes his way through England, America, Hell, and all parts in between. There is something about his wisecracking ways and indifferent attitude that I love. Constantine is relatable; he isn’t some all-powerful superhero; he isn’t some wealthy playboy; he is a working class stiff who is more clever than good and more determined than heroic.

Constantine is relatable. He is Walter White, a man doing bad things for good reasons. While Waldo Bell isn’t Constantine, there is a similarity between the characters. Both are dogged and driven men who would stop at nothing and go to any lengths to defeat what they see as evil. Heroes don’t always need to be golden paragons of humanity. They can and should be flawed.


So those are #My5, my collection of properties that influenced The Bell Forging Cycle. Each has had a profound impact on me creatively. You can check out my series at bellforgingcycle.com or hit up any of the specific books at the links below to read excerpts and learn more about the world of the Territories.

The Stars Were Right – Old Broken Road – Red Litten World

I’m not alone in collecting #My5! Other authors have joined me and written their #My5. You can find their articles by following the links below. Make sure to look for links at the bottom of their posts as well.


Are you a published (indie or traditional) author who is interested in joining in the #My5 fun? Write your article following the format above (remember, the limit is five), link to your work and others’ posts, and shoot me an email at hello at kmalexander.com, and I’ll add you to the list above and the official #My5 page! You can download the #My5 logo at any of the links below.

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4 Research Books I Can’t Live Without

Over the last few years I have started gathering a few books that I find myself constantly returning to over, and over, and over again. These rarely remain tucked on a bookshelf, instead they lay next to me at my desk as I write. I carry them with me around the house. They get highlighted, bookmarked, an annotated. They are apart of my toolkit. They are the opening salvo in my arsenal. In all the research material I’ve purchased these books are the four that have been used more times in more manuscripts. I figured since I found them so valuable, other writers might also find them handy:

1. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrases and Fables

This is my go-to tome when I am stuck with prose. Brewer’s is laid out like a dictionary but works more like an encyclopedia. Explaining the origins and histories associated with particular phrases, expressions, historical fables, and even lists of organizations both real and fictional. It’s very handy, especially if I am looking for an obscure term or turn of phrase or if would like to invent something but still keep it rooted in reality. Brewer’s has definitely become the “most used” out of the four I list today.

Brewer’s also happens to work very well alongside  my next and most recent acquisition…

2. Dictionary of Word Origins

I picked this up towards the end of The Stars Were Right and I wish I had it all along, I keep going to it again, and again, and again, wondering if someday it might replace Brewer’s. If you like working in a bit of local flavor as I do, but want to keep words rooted in linguistics having the Dictionary of Word Origins is vital. While not as grand as Brewer’s Dictionary – it tends to remain focused on the word itself – it does a great job exploring a word’s history and it’s evolution.

Now, departing from the english lesson comes something a little different…

   

3. Carol Rose’s Giants, Monsters & Dragons and Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, & Goblins

If you ever want to create a strange race, a new creature, or challenge your hero with a non-traditional monster I’ll bet you find Carol Rose’s encyclopedias invaluable. There is so much information in the pages of both these books. Detailed information on the history and legends surrounding mythic creatures from all parts of lore. As a westerner it’s very handy to have access to historical creatures that I don’t otherwise know from my childhood. Everything seems to be in these books from Western to African to Eastern cultures all cross referenced and organized in a myriad of ways.

In a similar vein, I also have to recommend…

4. Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols

I love symbolism. Blame my career as a designer and my obsession with Stephen King‘s The Dark Tower series, iconography plays a large role in all my manuscripts. When I picked up The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols from a bargin bin at a defunct bookstore I had no idea how handy it would become. On the surface it’s one of those kids/young adult reference books that happens to lay everything out in easily digestible snippets (including illustrations) – however it is laid out perfectly, from religious iconography to the symbols hidden behind types of vegetation there’s a lot it covers. Plus it’s easy to flip though and organized well making it a great jumping off point for further research.

So that’s it. Those are my four most invaluable books. How about you? What’s in your toolkit? What books do you use the most? Link ’em! Share ’em! I’d love to see other titles writers find as their invaluable resources.