“I didn’t and don’t want to be a ‘feminine’ version or a diluted version or a special version or a subsidiary version or an ancillary version, or an adapted version of the heroes I admire. I want to be the heroes themselves.”
Naming a project can be a complicated affair, and when you have a series with an enormous fan base, I am sure it’s even tougher. As expected there has been a lot of discussion around the internet regarding the announced title for Star Wars: Episode VIII. The subtitle has a pretty common motif, and it got me thinking, we have…
…American Hero (Movie)
…Question (Short Story)
…Starfighter (Movie — thanks, Miguel! Can’t believe I forgot this one.)
…Witch Hunter (Movie and Vin Diesel’s personal D&D Campaign)
…Act (Short Story)
…Boy Scout (Movie)
…Voyage of the Starship Enterprise (SNL skit)
…Confession of Alexander Pearce (Movie)
…of Us (Game)
…News From France (Song)
…Song (Movie, also another movie, two novels, and a lot of actual songs.)
…American Virgin (Movie)
…Flight of Noah’s Ark (Movie)
and now: …Jedi (Star Wars: Episode VIII)
There is so much more I could have added. (The list could easily double in length.) Does this mean The Last Jedi is a bad title? No, but it’s fair to say it’s not the most original in the series. It’s safe, informative, and inoffensive which seems to be Disney’s strategy with the Star Wars franchise. Besides, I’m not sure it matters.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Juliet’s right, a rose by any other name would still smell good. In the end, The Last Jedi will still be Star Wars. It’ll most likely be as enjoyable as The Force Awakens. Fans will flock in droves to the theaters. But in a universe of Rogue Ones, New Hopes, and Empires Striking Back, I found myself wishing for something more.
For the past few years, I’ve assembled a post looking back via photos and reflecting on my experiences over the course of a year. The rule is to do it in ten photos, no more, no less, no excuses. (Check out 2015 in Ten Awesome Photos or 2014 in Ten Awesome Photos if you’re so inclined.) It’s a good way to reestablish what actually happened compared to my own perception. It also slows time down. A lot happens in a year.
After you do something long enough, it becomes a tradition. 2016 has been a tough year for me both creatively, and personally. But for every failure, there has been a success. Moments of dispair have been countered by moments of peace. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize those. Going back through these photos always grounds me and forces me to reflect.
So, with all that said, let’s take a look at my 2016.
The start of 2016 was cold and foggy. I took this picture on a long walk near my house early in the year. The themes of this image inadvertently became my themes for this year. If you read The State of the Cycle last December you know that in 2016 I was breaking from The Bell Forging Cycle for a bit and was planning to focus on some new projects. Solitude, contemplation, and a refocusing on my work and my writing were central for me throughout the year.
New year, new projects; I dove right in. For those who have followed this blog from the beginning, you’ll recognize the title Coal Belly. It was the first manuscript I tried to shop (and ultimately failed at selling) but the world and the characters never left me. This year I began it anew, refreshed and stripped down and I’m really excited where it’s going.
In the spring I returned to Norwescon for my second year. As before, It was a blast. This year I was busy. I spent my time running my table, sat on a few panels, and even managed to do a reading from Red Litten World. You can read a full breakdown in my Norwescon 39 Debriefing post. I will be returning in 2017, I can’t miss the 40th Anniversary.
Throughout the year, Kari-Lise and I would occasionally spend a few hours exploring antique stores and junk shops. These forays into the past inspired me to start collecting historical objects from American fraternal organizations and secret societies. It hits a sweet spot for me a blend of Americana, fading history, folk art and the fact some of the objects are just bizarre. I’m sure I’ll gather together a post soon.
My friend Steve Toutonghi launched his debut novel Join! He spent some time with me at Norwescon sharing his book, and I was able to go to a reading and signing of his at a local bookstore. It’s been great to watch him meet readers and share his work with the world. If you haven’t read his novel Join, you need to rectify that now. Check out my review on Goodreads and use the links on his site to pick it up for yourself. (It makes a great Christmas gift.)
I was lucky enough to meet Magnus Nilsson, the head chef at the remote two Michelin star restaurant Fäviken in Sweden. It’s no secret Kari-Lise, and I love to cook and were those people who consider ourselves foodies. I really respect Nilsson’s approach to cooking, his focus on simplicity, local ingredients, and the return to basics. He was super gracious. Now we need to plan a trip to actually visit Fäviken.
Lilac City Comicon was a smashing success and a bit of a whirlwind. It’s a fun romp full of wonderful people and cosplayers. The community in Spokane is really warm and welcoming. It was great hanging out with my fellow creators, meeting new people, and talking with readers. I’m planning a return this year. Make sure to read the Lilac City Comicon debriefing. I’m happy that it’ll be two days this year.
This summer Kari-Lise and I took two weeks to explore the National Parks of California. When I returned, I put together a little trip report detailing the journey. It was a fantastic excursion, full of hiking, marmots, and incredible vista and views. Traveling in the US, and especially in our National Parks, always reminds me that we live in a pretty great place.
As with every year, mountains were a reoccurring theme. I find them invigorating creatively and forever humbling. They’re a good place to reset and realize how small and petty my problems tend to be. With the help of some friends, Kari-Lise and I found our favorite trail on Mount Rainier. We liked it so much we returned to it again a month later with some family.
My Seattle Sounders won the MLS Cup! It was an incredible comeback season that began abysmally but ended with a run that took them to the playoff and eventually allowed them to win it all on penalty kicks! Also, my favorite player did this. Sounders ’til I die. I can’t wait for the 2017 season.
So, there was my 2016. Narrowing it down to ten photos was difficult, it’s always difficult. There are always things I left out: sporting events, craft fairs, new books, art openings, other hikes, time spent in the mountains, time spent in the desert, time spent on the coast (we went to nine National Parks this year). I took pictures of my food, my research work, my dogs, my rabbits, and so much more. Most of these images came from my Instagram account, if you’re not following me, please do! It’s usually a running record of my weekly activities and pictures of my adorable dogs.
Join me! Why not look back through your own year and narrow it down to ten awesome photos? Post those on your blog and leave me a link here in the comments. I’d love to see what happened in your year as well.
Today is the first birthday of Red Litten World, the third installment in my Lovecraftian urban fantasy series, The Bell Forging Cycle. It has been a fantastic launch, and I’ve loved hearing from readers who have enjoyed the book. I’m proud of it. Since it’s been a full year, I felt it was important to celebrate the occasion.
It’s Sale Time
For the next week, Red Litten World is available on eBook for only 99¢! So, if you haven’t read the most recent adventure of Waldo Bell, now is the most affordable time to check it out. Buy five copies! Give them to your family, share ’em with your friends. Hell, send them to your enemies. Hit any of the links below to grab a copy on the cheap.
The discounted sale price will only be available for a week. So, take advantage while you can.
Let’s Talk Reviews
As with most series, there was a significant drop-off in reviews of Red Litten World. Review fatigue is very common for books in a series, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. Reviews are not only helpful for other readers; they also allow authors to take advantage of mailing lists, promotional newsletters, and review sites. So if you haven’t had a chance to leave a review of Red Litten World, please, please, please take a few moments and drop one on Amazon and Goodreads. It’d help me out considerably.
Where Are We Going from Here
It’s October, which is usually the month when I release a new title. (Based on the emails I’ve had to answer, many of you were aware of this.) However, there isn’t a release this year. Last December, I wrote a post called The State of the Cycle, where I went into details about the future of Wal’s tale. I invite you to read it if you haven’t. Don’t worry; his story isn’t over yet. There’s plenty more to come; I’m just taking some time to collect myself before I dive back into the madness.
Once again, I need to extend a big thank you to those who have supported me over the years. Thanks to those who have left reviews and told their friends. Thanks everyone who has reached out to me and helped me promote my work. It’s all of you that contribute to making books like Red Litten World possible.
So, today, join me in wishing a happy birthday to Red Litten World. What a gem.
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.
1. 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.
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.
3. 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.
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.
5. 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.
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.
- Michael Ripplinger’s #My5: The Verdant Revival
- Laurie Tom’s #My5: My Five Influences
- Eric Lange’s #My5: 30 Second Fantasy
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.
“All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”
Confession time: the latter half of the summer was slow for me productivity-wise. As difficult as it can be to read a quote like this I always appreciate the solid kick in the ass that it brings. Writer’s block is a myth, an easy excuse for the struggle that comes with the work. No one says writing will be easy. No one says writing will be fun. But when it’s all over there is no denying how rewarding it can be.