Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Holding out for the Anti-Hero

Ross Kitson is in the house! He is the author of Dreams of Darkness Rising, the first volume of an incredible epic fantasy that I just can't wait to read.  I've read his short stories, and they are amazing, and plus his book has MAPS. I'm a sucker for a map in a book, ever since Lord of the Rings.
One of the maps from Dreams of  Darkness Rising

Ross works during the day as a consultant in Intensive Care and Anaesthesia at Tameside Hospital in Manchester. He is married with three lovely kids who soak up most of his free time. He writes his epic tales in the wee hours augmented with a combination of stella and red wine.

My genre is fantasy. I love it; have always loved it, ever since I could read. As a kid I was captivated by the total escapism of fantasy, by the idea of magic being a reality, by the virtues of the heroic struggling against insurmountable evils. It was a passion fueled by an adolescence dedicated to role playing games, tucked away in mates’ sheds and front rooms, for far too many hours until my complexion emulated Gollum on a bad-skin day.
So here’s a quandary. Given that many of us who read fantasy and sci-fi and all its sub-sub genres (Elfpunk anyone?) came into the genre loving tales of the great and good defeating the gibbering armies of The Dark Tm , how come the anti-hero is so pervasive in speculative fiction?
They’re everywhere! Take the most successful fantasy series of the last ten years—George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire—it is replete with anti-heroes. Tyrion Lannister has to be the favourite character amongst a sea of schemers and blaggards. He’s selfish, rude, corrupt, bitter, in fact all the traits that make a great bad guy. Yet amongst his venom there are redeeming features that make us fascinated by him. By book two we love him and by the latest he’s more or less the only one (other than Arya) we care about.
Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series has Locke Lamora, a thief and a con-man as the main character. Here we have a different flavour of anti-hero. Whereas Tyrion is a nasty piece of work who occasionally displays redeeming features, Locke is actually an alright guy—he loves his friends etc.—who screws people over for a living. Like Robin Hood or the IRS. He’s a ‘hero’ who is also criminal.
And there’s so many more in fantasy that you wonder if we ever wanted true heroes. Severian in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun (torturer…tick), Sand dan Glotka in Abercrombie’s The First Law books (yay, another torturer…tick), Thomas Covenant in Donaldson’s epic (rapist…tick), Cugel the Clever in Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth (thief, cheat, rake…tick), Raistlin in Dragonlance (black magic, betray brother…OK…tick), Fitz in Hobb’s Farseer trilogy (assassin? Hey, sure…beats looking after the horses…tick) and, of course, Elric.
Now Elric I did love as a kid. More accurately I coveted Stormbringer, the soul-drinking sword that Elric was dominated by. To a DnD player the idea of a sword that munched on opponents life energy (and therefore boosted your own) was fantastic. The weapon Black-razor in White Plume Mountain was an obvious copy and Elric even got his own RPG supplement for RuneQuest. 
Elric and Stormbringer
 Elric was the first great fantasy anti-hero in my mind. Before him we had the muscle bound might of Conan, the noble Aragorn and the almost biblical Aslan. In his very first appearance we meet him on the way to slaughter his own nation. He then further fails to impress us by wining about his doom-ridden destiny, betraying people all over the place, becoming addicted to a vampire-sword and then killing all his buddies one by one. Admittedly some he kills by accident, because he gets carried away with Stormbringer; but you’d still not add him as a friend on Facebook would you?
So why do we love them? These are characters that are far darker than the tough guys of the cinema. We all admire the surly Han Solo and love the hard as nails Clint Eastwood characters. But these are characters that are morally dubious, at times nasty and at times ruthless. They are killers, torturers, thieves—the sort most of us would eschew in reality. Why do we enjoy reading about them?
I think it’s the escapism in another form and I think therefore that that is why fantasy (the ultimate asylum from our troubled world) is replete with them. These are characters whose achievements within the books seem all the more admirable, characters that surpass all the faults and the weaknesses that they have, to become victorious. They are creations who resonate with us because of their flaws, which after all we all have (though perhaps not to the extent of these characters). Why should a being in a fantasy world have to have any less hang-ups than us?
Anti-heroes act in ways that appeal to our darker instincts. They allow us to slip away from the frustration of modern life and the constraints of society and unleash a bit of spite. Far better to read about Tyrion Lannister’s Machiavellian antics or Elric hoovering up a few souls than turn around and give our annoying bosses a head-butt on the nose.
And we can see characters every bit as flawed as ourselves and revel in the redemption that many achieve and know that for even the most screwed-up and damaged that there is hope.
So long live the anti-hero and remember even Aslan probably had some darker moments that were cut from the books. I fact I distinctly remember him hanging out with the Snow Witch sharing a crack-pipe…

Monday, January 30, 2012

In Another Lifetime ...

...I will get that armband tattoo. I'm on the verge of hangy-down arm skin now, and to get a celtic symbol or barbed wire at this point would be wanna be-ish.
Looks good on HER, though.

I will work for the Peace Corps. I really meant to do it this go-round, but I somehow got too caught up with laundry, family functions, and my own inability to stand in direct sunlight without exploding into flames.

I'll write my books before I reach middle age, so I can be a Cool Young Artist, not a Comfortably Padded Mother Figure. People will sigh over the fact that I'm a prodigy instead of congratulating me for finding a hobby in my golden years.

My skiing ability will be much better, since I'll learn how when I'm three, not thirty.

Ditto skating, and every other sporting activity. Plus I'll be able to do the splits until I'm seventy.

I'll insist on Sunday mornings spent in the reading room (did I mention that I'll have a "reading room?") as I calmly read the Sunday papers, instead of forcing my child to wear anything other than a Hogwarts robe and flip flops to church.

My second-hand bookstore, the one with a large black cat asleep in the front bay window, will be well-established by the time I'm married so no one can talk me out of it.

I'll eat a lot more meringues. You can't get enough of those things.

Also Irish sausages.

The thing is, though, that probably I already made all these pledges to myself in my last lifetime. Still, I will definitely read more good books, and I'm going to fight for that second hand bookstore and that cat.

Speaking of good books, I have a great new author on my blog tomorrow. His name is Ross Kitson, and he'll guest blog here on Fresh Pot of Tea, on the subject of anti-heroes. (You know, those guys who are heroic but really flawed too, not all squeaky clean like Superman. I love those guys.)

He is the author of Dreams of Darkness Rising, a fantasy that has all kinds of cool surprises inside.

See you here!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Things I Do That I Really Should Not Do

1. Watch The Housewives of Beverly Hills. You know, when I was a college student and I had just finished a round of brutal exams, I needed total zombie TV, and by that I mean: stuff that would not, even accidentally, make me think. Back in the day that was Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Now after a week of getting my kid to do math homework (just as brutal as any exam) THOBH fills that spot for me quite nicely, thank you.

Plus, I like to have conversations with the girls in my head. "Hi, Lisa! How the hell do you stay upright on those shoes?"

2. Eat Crispy Bacon potato chips. You can only get them in Ireland and the UK, and even there the Crispy Bacon flavor packets are few and far between. When I see a bag, I'll fight to get there first and scarf it down as if I'd been starved for a week.*

3. Read Twilight - NO, it's not Melville. In fact, it's literary crack. I'm hooked. So stake me.

4. Lust after a certain jailbait actor. *Cough* Rupert Grint *Cough* Old enough to be his mother *cough*

5. Continue to buy frozen cherries even when they cost nearly 5$ for a small bag. I have to have them for breakfast with my yogurt. HAVE to.

6. Tap my toe along to the most vapid tune ever written. That is correct; I've been known to hum to "I Love You Like A Love Song, Baby." Couldn't help it. Is it so bad it's good? We may never know.

7. Play computer games right after I put my kid to bed. No, not Skyrim nor WoW, but that's only because I know, if I started playing those games, I would be so hooked I couldn't stop. I do have some boundaries.

*perhaps I opened out the bag and licked it afterwards. This is a confessional, after all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shared a Good Book Lately?

(Johanna Garth is the author of Losing Beauty, a modern retelling of the Persephone / Hades myth. I loved the piece she wrote for today, and she agreed to let me post a teaser on my blog.)

Have you heard about the Amazon Prime lending program?

It works like this. Say, for example, you buy a copy of Losing Beauty, read it and recommend it to a friend. In this example your friend also has a Kindle. You can then, with a click of a button, lend Losing Beauty to your friend. From that point on the friend has fourteen days to read it (anecdotal evidence leads me to believe most readers of Losing Beauty take about three days to finish so fourteen days could almost be called excessive) ;) At the end of the fourteen days the book is returned to you, voila! So simple!!
This new lending program is Amazon's attempt to make books on people's ereaders as lendable as the ones on their shelves. Which, in my opinion, is very cool.
If you want to lend a book that you've purchased here's how to do it in four easy steps:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Not the Block!!!!

It happened this morning. I saw my kid onto the bus and went to prepare myself for a  day of writing. Now, I need to grab a shower, get dressed, even put  on makeup before I sit at the keyboard. That's just the way I roll.

As I poufed on my Blush Minerals  (Stop n Shop brand) a sudden thought hit me: What if I can't write today?

For a  writer, that's the nightmare. You have this voice, and the fear that it might stop speaking is a dreadful one. It's the fear that this gift might be taken away.

Perhaps it hit me because I'm getting close to working on the fourth and  final book in my Crown Phoenix series. The third book is done, and soon I'll start the last chapter in the adventures of Miriam, Riki, Simon, Neil, and Mana. To have to say goodbye  to them and their little world makes my breath catch in my throat.

Perhaps it's because  I'm in the middle of writing a new book at the  moment, The Gramophone  Society. It's a stand-alone work, it's quite historical, and it requires a lot of untangling and careful planning.

I suppose there is  only way to overcome all this: get my butt in that chair and start typing away.

Okay then.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Music

My kid is seriously getting into music. She joined the choir, and she discovered iTunes.

We are thrilled about both things. Seeing her in that group of little kids, all singing away, is great. However, as much as I'd like to think I've birthed the next Adele, my kid can't sing. She is tone deaf. Her pitch has Ceased to Be, if it ever lived at all.

Still, it's all good. We wear earmuffs to church and smile and nod.

Now, about the iTunes thing: my husband and I are huge music lovers. We used to go to concerts all the  time, in the era Before Kid. Back in the day, I'd throw on my ripped jeans and safety pins and go and see Iggy Pop, or  the Ramones, or David Bowie. For Hub, the band of choice was always E-Street. Bruuuuuuuuuuce!

So, I'm happy to listen to real, adult music with my child. She loves Beyonce, and Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga, so our music tastes don't quite mesh, but again: it's all good.

The problem comes when I actually listened to the  lyrics of some of the songs out there. In fact, some of the bubble gummiest, poppiest songs are all about drinking and going to parties way after hours and having a menage a trois while you're at it. I'm looking at you, Ke$ha.

Now, I'm not a hater, hatin on Ke$ha. Obviously it's working for her. However, it's a tough choice to make: Allow kid to listen to that song or Don't allow. My daughter, after all, is only in second grade!

So, should I tell her, There's no way you're going to listen to that noise? or do I let her listen to only the clean versions? And what, exactly, is the clean version of a song called "Promiscuous?"

The choice should seem simple: protect my kid at all costs. Here's the thing though. When I was in seventh grade, my parents listened to nothing but classical music. (That's not quite true, we did have that one Simon and Garfunkel album from Mom's beatnik phase.)

As a result, I listened to nothing but classical music. And, one day, in Music class, the cool music teacher handed out crossword puzzles all about rock musicians and songs by Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd....

I didn't know the answer to a single clue. Not one. I turned in a blank paper. And I've never forgotten that.

So, I'd like her to be able to listen to music, the  kind her friends all seem to have on their iPods. I've insisted on a few rules: Stick with the clean versions, stay away from songs that glorify abusive behavior, and approach everything with a sensible point of view.

My daughter asked me, after I had to ban a certain song from her playlist, "Mommy, why do so many songs have bad words in them?"

"I don't know, sweetie," I  replied. "I just don't know."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Drive In

My friends and I used to love the drive-in. There were several necessary items for a truly great night there:

An old fashioned beach chair, the kind with really creaky joints that looked like squashed foil.

A newspaper, for finding the very worst horror movies showing,

Old blankets.

My girlfriend's VW beetle

The newspaper (it was always the Daily Local News) came first. We looked for real dreck to watch, and the 70's served up plenty of it. We're talking shows like "Humongous," "Swamp Thing, and "Killdozer."

Now that I think about it, Swamp Thing was a bit too classy for our tastes. We needed stuff that was so bad it was good, that we could provide alternate lines for during the show, with really really really cheesy effects.

We paid, parked up on the hill, and dragged out the fraying lawn chairs. The movie would start, and we  yukked it up to our heart's content, laughing and being loud with no fear of annoying "serious moviegoers."

As the night grew chilly, we'd pull out the old blankets and huddle under them.

At that point, one movie would end, and we experienced the very best part of going to drive ins:


Yes, complete with purplish cinematic tones, dudes in polyester slacks chowing down on hot dogs and tacos, and unlikely looking tykes with missing teeth and corkscrew curls receiving drinks with a heckuva lot of ice. Plus, sometimes there was a song to go with it all that glory! Heaven!

The second movie would start, the classier one. We would chat and get all teen angsty and stuff and say how philosophical Swamp Thing was and how it was a metaphor for Man's Inability to Get Along With Nature or some such.

At that point, my sister usually fell asleep.

The crickets chirpped, the mosquitos bit in droves, and the honeysuckle hung on the air. We laughed and folded up the chairs, stuffed them in the back of the VW,  roused my sister, and we all drove to Denny's.

Is there anything better than that? There are still drive ins around, I hear, and you can pack the family in and plan a trip to see one in a few last holdouts.

Bet they won't be able to see Killdozer, though.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Art of Meditation

After I read Eat, Pray, Love I thought, Right. It's time for  me to get down to business with this meditation stuff. I actually attempted to sit in a chair and turn my mind off. Here's what happens when I attempt it:

"Oh, ok, must  think of nothing now. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Of course, thinking the word  Nothing is not Nothing. Clear mind. OK. Wonder what I'll serve for dinner? Oh, shoot; i forgot  to wash my daughter's uniform!"

*Pause as I race to do laundry*

Half an hour later, back in chair. "NOW I'm ready. Bring on the thoughtlessness! Shutting down brain. That episode of American Horror Story was good, wasn't it? The ending was a bit disappointing, but I'll be interested to see how they pick up next season..."

Or, if I do succeed in complete brain shut off, here's  what happens: Zzzzzzzzz.

There are people out there who can meditate. I've seen them do it. When I was in the Unitarian Fellowship, one teacher hooked us up to a bio feedback machine as we attempted meditation. My friend got hooked up, and the machine gave a few beeps, and then: silence. Blam. Meditative state achieved.

When they slapped those wires on me, the machine was all, "Beep! Beepity Beep BEEEEEEP!!!!" It sounded like rush hour on the CBE.

I've found that I achieve a out of body state, though, when I write. It doesn't happen every day. Sometimes  I have to force the words to come out. But there are times when the scene is going really well, and I just, well, disappear. I'm in the world with my characters. I dimly hear the clicks of my fingers on my keys, as I type as quickly as I can to get it all down.

That's my meditative state.

I read a few days ago that writers, despite low incomes, are some of the happiest people around. I don't know if that is true. I do know that when I'm in that flow, it's a deeply satisfying experience. And when I'm not writing, I really look forward to getting back to my alternate world.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Beauty of Rare Things

Some things don't appear that  often, and when they do they are lovely. Here are a few that make my heart bound when I see them:

1. A package covered with brown paper, string, and loads of stamps.

2. That orange light you see on a late afternoon of a sunny day in the summer.

3. The taste of chocolate in advent calendars.

4. The first book of a really good series.

5. A cat that is all grey and has those really big paws. It's even better if it is in the "baked bread" position.

6. The sound of a kid's belly laugh.

7. That moment when you catch a perfect wave with your boogie board and sail in to the beach.

8. Skiing down a hill in perfect powder on a sunny day.

9. The smell of old fashioned, home made potpourri...

10. And home made wine, especially Elderflower champagne.

11. Opening the door to your cozy hotel room, where you will be spending the weekend with a really great friend.

12. The crackle of an outside fire and the trail the sparks leave in the dark.

13. The smell of an old map.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cool Movies Coming Out in 2012

Darn it, Harry Potter has ended (except for the millions of times that we'll watch the DVD's in a DeLuca family HP festival) and there aren't any more instalments to look forward to this year.

Still, there are some cool movies coming out in 2012, and here are a few that I'd like to see:

1. The Hobbit : This was one of my first favorite books, ever. I read it and reread it, loving the dwarves and the songs and the way Bilbo Baggins, who was such a homebody at the start, turned into a gifted "burglar." Okay, it doesn't come out until December, but with Peter Jackson at the helm, I'll be waiting, popcorn in hand.

2. While I anticipate Smaug, I'll watch John Carter, the movie of the American soldier who time travels to Mars. I loved these books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and I'll hope for a series, that will maybe include my favorite, Thuvia, Maid of Mars. (I love all types of Pulp Fiction. Mm Hm. *nods*)

3. Since I can't have Harry Potter, how about Daniel Radcliffe in a ghost story, The Woman in Black? Oh yes please. While we're at it, can somebody please put Rupert Grint in another film? That would be just great.

4. Fresh out in January, ready for the new year,we have The Divide. I wonder, will I be able to watch this extremely disturbing movie of a group of survivors in a basement, after a nuclear event? I don't know if I can, especially since there is a child involved. Nope, don't think I can do it. Although, if it was a book I'd read it; since I survived The Road (Horrifying but fantastic,) I can read anything.

5. Dorothy of Oz, coming in April: I read as many Oz books as I could when I was a kid, and this animated version looks pretty cool.

6. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter: I love it. There's no guesswork involved with that title.

8. The Hunger Games: Hurray! It's the start of a new addictive series! I'm saved!

Coming soon: Books to read in 2012