alanajoli: (mini me short hair)

I went to see Moana this past weekend and, unsurprisingly, really enjoyed it. An action-adventure mythology tale with a prominent Trickster figure and a female lead is pretty much a perfect fit for a story I'm guaranteed to enjoy. This is not to say I'm not a Disney critical thinker; I have certainly applied the word "Disnification" to folk and fairy tales to imply the tale is reduced from an earlier form. That gets even more complicated beyond the Western fairy tale cannon (see footnote about indigenous commentary—worth checking out!). So I've always been a fan of expanding knowledge of a Disney animated feature's background stories, whether that's with the slew of international Cinderella tales, rereading Anderson's The Little Mermaid or The Snow Queen, or, in the case of Moana, doing some research into previously published Maui stories, especially the ones accessible to the same audience who will be attracted to the film.

So here's the beginning of my research into Maui stories. I am likely to post this on my website for others to reference and so it's easier to update, and I'll put a link in this post when I do. My links are to B&N or the publisher's site if the book is currently available new, and Alibris if it's only available used. I've put in cover images where I could find them. If you know of additional Maui books available for younger readers, I'd be delighted to list them here, especially if they come recommended! I've not yet read any of these, so it's a resource list, not a recommendation (though I hope many of them are good!).

Also worth mentioning is Maui the Demigod by Steven Goldsberry, Poseidon, 1984. It's an adult novel that retells several Maui tales. I've also had recommended for this list the children's novel Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry, which won a Newberry in 1941, and I list it here with the caveat that several Goodreads reviews mention that it is very much of its era and gives a very European-centric impression of Polynesia.

Update 12/8/16: There's an excellent essay on Maui (and criticism of the film) in Huffington Post article "Goddess Hina: The Missing Heroine from Disney's Moana" by Tevita O. Ka'ili.

[Updated 12/13/16: For those looking for indigenous criticism of the film, there are some interesting discussions here, here, here, here, here, here, and another roundup here, as well as a pretty comprehensive article in Smithsonian.]
alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
A few weeks ago, Bill Bodden, one of my fellow contributors to Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror, graciously hosted me as a guest post on his blog. Today, I'm delighted to return the favor! Bill is a fantastic writer and was a driving force behind getting Haunted attention online, and it's been a delight to work with him. So without further ado: here's Bill!

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Myths and Mysteries

I've been thinking about mythology quite a bit lately. Much of my more recent writing work has involved the Cthulhu Mythos; I've been doing quite a bit of work for Modiphius Entertainment at their Achtung! Cthulhu tabletop role-playing game line. This mythology, created by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton SMith, August Derleth and many others, postulates that the universe is a vast place and that human beings are not the center of it, as we had supposed for centuries. This was a new concept in the 1930s, and as one can imagine, not a popular one with scholars, academics and the clergy. Regardless, it caught on with readers to some degree, and was rediscovered -- thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of August Derleth to keep Lovecraft's writing alive -- in the late 1960s.

One of the more interesting aspects of this mythos is its inclusivity; anyone can add to it. There are no official high priests to declare what is and is not canon -- only self-appointed ones. That others could build on his work was Lovecraft's wish, stated explicitly in letters to friends who had also contributed stories and ideas. I believe it was the first shared-world concept in literature, and remains a successful one to this day. That inclusivity has brought new blood and new ideas to the fold -- not all of it good, of course, but the vast majority of the material is well worth reading, if you like reading that sort of thing to begin with.

I cut my teeth on classic mythology: the Greeks, the Norse, the Egyptians, the Aztecs, all had fascinating stories designed to explain why Things Are The Way They Are. In this day and age we have a greater understanding of science -- mostly -- and have a better grasp of which things are natural phenomena and which are not. Science itself has nearly become a religion, supplanting the hazy explanations of the past with facts and logic of today. As our knowledge increases, we will doubtless learn more about the supernatural and paranormal, and when we do we may find, like so many of the protagonists in Lovecraft's work, that the real story is both far more interesting and vastly more terrifying than we had imagined.

***

Bill Bodden has been writing in the tabletop gaming industry for more than a decade. His latest works include material in the Achtung! Cthulhu Keeper's Guide, and is currently working on a project for White Wolf Publishing/CCP. His most recent fiction is the story "In The Shadow Of His Glory" in Sidekicks! from Alliteration, Ink. Visit Bill's website at www.billbodden.com
alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
I'd like to welcome Sarah Schanze, also known as depleti, back to Myth, the Universe, and Everything. Sarah was a huge help with pointing people to my Kickstarter, and now she's got a Kickstarter of her own that I'll let her tell you about in her own words. You can check out her original guest post, about mythology in her excellent webcomic (soon to be print, we hope!) Thistil Mistil Kistil here.

Please give her a warm welcome -- and then go contribute to her Kickstarter!

--

Hey everyone! My name is Sarah Schanze and I recently launched a Kickstarter to get my webcomic Thistil Mistil Kistil printed into a collected volume. Alana was nice enough to invite me to plug it and talk a bit about the comic, so here I am!

TMK is a fantasy adventure webcomic featuring Vikings, Norse gods, weird magics, and weirder creatures. The story focuses on Coal, a recently deceased warrior, who has to complete a quest for Odin in order to reach his promised afterlife. Things get tricky quickly since Coal needs Loki’s help to complete this quest, and it’s not clear how helpful Loki actually is.

One thing I’ve tried to do with TMK is show some of the more historical aspects of Vikings and the time period they lived in. While researching I was really surprised at how far Vikings actually traveled, not only to plunder and raid, but also to settle. Because of this, most of the main characters aren’t warriors, but characters originally from other lands. There’s Hedda, a Christian slave kidnapped from Ireland; Ibrahim, a young Muslim scholar from Al Andalus; and Arne, a found Native American child raised in Iceland. Of the main protagonists, Coal is really the only one that most might consider a “Viking”.

tmk_alanapost_kids_flat

Chapters of TMK also occur in places other than Scandinavia, such as Scotland, Ireland, Spain, the city of Constantinople, and of course Iceland and the “New World”. Not to mention the more fantastic places like Asgard and wherever Loki actually lives.

While I try to remain fairly close to historical sources, I do take some liberties. Funnily enough, my greatest liberty is taken with the myths themselves. Since they were all written down by biased sources and heavily edited, I don’t feel all that bad taking some myths and changing them around. So if you think you know where TMK’s story is going, you might find yourself surprised. Maybe.

If TMK seems like something you might enjoy, please take a look at the comic, which is free to read! If you like that, maybe think about pledging to get your own printed book. To sweeten the pot, I created an original bonus story just for the book about how Loki met Thor and ingratiated himself with the Aesir.

Thank you so much for reading! And thanks, Alana, for letting me ramble.

Success!

Jun. 17th, 2013 09:25 pm
alanajoli: (mini me)
That's right, I'm under 30 messages in my inbox. That's a mark of success, and I'm sticking to it. I don't think it's been that way for months, and today, it happened by accident. How exciting!

In other, slightly less successful, news, I'm still in the middle of work on "Kidnapping at Willow Creek," the new Choice of Games adventure I'm writing, and I'm still at the beginning of edits on Into the Reach. We're already through June's halfway point, and I'd been hoping to finish both projects this month. Current outlook? Doubtful. I have gotten some other stuff done, though, like updating my website a little bit to reflect my new look. The old author photo's seven years old at this point, and I figured it'd be nice to actually have my headshot look like the modern me. (The photo was taken by the awesome Jason Neely, who was a coworker of mine in my days at JBML.)



In other news about moving forward, the Viking Saga group is gathering for the first time since, I think, February this weekend, so we can get back to clearing the automatons of an upwardly-mobile sorceress from Baba Yaga's hut. Because only good can come from helping Baba Yaga. Right?

Best news of the day isn't mine: it's that fellow Substrater Max Gladstone got a starred review of his upcoming novel, Two Serpents Rise, in Publishers Weekly. Go Max!

What's your good news?
alanajoli: (mini me)
Recently Mike Thomas from Blue Ridge Communities reached out to me to see if I'd like to post an infographic here on the blog. I get a lot of requests like this for another site I help manage, and often, they're not relevant, but I think this infographic about Mountain Folklore is just too cool not to share. It's not an area where I'm an expert, certainly -- I'd not heard of a couple of the bogies that live in the Blue Ridge Mountains before this! -- but I thought it was not only full of fun imagery and stories, but well sourced. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! And thanks again to Mike Thomas for sharing the link!

--


mountain cabin


alanajoli: (Default)
A quick congrats to Stacia Kane for her most recent book birthday: Sacrificial Magic just released on the 27th. Here's to it doing well!

But the big congratulations go to Geoffrey Ashe, whom I've mentioned on the blog before as the Arthurian scholar I've had the privilege of studying under (and dining with) on my few trips to England. It's old news at this point, as the Guardian article was posted way back on December 31, 2011, but I just found out last week: Geoffrey has been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his service to Britain's heritage. His wife sent 'round a photo of the ceremony (which sadly belongs to the press agency, so I can't reprint it). Instead, I thought I'd post a photo of Geoffrey at Glastonbury Abbey, giving one of his lectures to our group back in 2009.



Congratulations, Geoffrey!
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I happened upon some fun history this week (though some was published awhile ago). According to the Guardian, a collection of fairy tales by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth was just discovered in Germany after being archived for some 150 years. The fairy tales are not the polished versions of the Brothers Grimm (as evidenced by this excerpt):

A young prince lost his way in the forest and came to a cave. He passed the night there, and when he awoke there stood next to him an old woman with a bear and a dog. The old witch seemed very beautiful and wished that the prince would stay with her and marry her. He could not endure her, yet could not leave that place.


You can reread the story in full here. It's worth taking a look, and then trying to reconstruct it as a narrative that would stand alone, instead of relying on interpretation based on other previously read and studied fairy stories.



On a different note, rogueclassicist over at rogueclassicism posted (back in February) about just how much the book shopping experience in Ancient Rome is mirrored by book shopping today. He quotes an article, written a few years ago, by Mary Beard, which reported:

For those who did go in, there was usually a place to sit and read. With slaves on hand to summon up refreshments, it would have been not unlike the coffee shop in a modern Borders.


Of course, a good copy of a 500 line work cost about the same as what it would cost to feed a family of four for a year. So some things are not quite the same.

On a more personal note, I was checking in with my reading goals today and realized that I'd made one! I've already reread three books this year -- one of them by surprise, because it was on my TBR pile, and I hadn't realized until I'd started it that I'd already read it. And then, of course, since I'd started it, I might as well finish!

I'm into the Mythsoc long lists now, as well, so I'm reading a lot of good quality fantasy. And the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards are coming up, so I'll have a small pile of YA titles to read for that. There will be no shortage of reading material for me in the next month!
alanajoli: (christianity - padre breen)
Rather than launching into industry news after a month of minding my own business (and neglecting to post here), I thought I'd write a little bit about some thoughts I've been having this holiday season in relation to my own personal mythology (i.e. religion).

Not long ago I had a conversation with a friend about the futility of the universe -- the idea that, eventually, it's likely to all draw back in on itself, thus erasing everything that has gone on before and reducing humanity to a footnote of the universe (if anything in the universe is taking notes). I don't remember it that's the current popular theory for the end of the universe -- there's another one that we'll expand indefinitely, as I recall, but I've long since stopped worrying about the end of everything, as I won't be around to see it. What the conversation ended up coming around to was whether or not anything humanity did mattered, in the grand scheme of things, and whether there was any hope. I said, "I know this sounds like a cop out, but I think it's just in my nature to hope."

There is power in hope -- something supported by science as well as by common/folk wisdom. My sister recently visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and a friend of Frank's said at one point that Frank thought all her family members were dead. The friend believed that if Frank had known her father was alive, she would have survived -- but she'd lost all hope. If she'd known that the concentration camp where she was located would be liberated in two days, might she have made it? I suspect so, because I think hope gives people a reason to hold on, even when they don't precisely know what they're hoping for.

I was a reader for our Christmas Eve church service out here, and one of the passages I read was from Luke 2 -- the story of the shepherds. I've sung it before from Handel's Messiah, and I had to focus on the translation I'd been instructed to read in order to avoid the "sore afraid"s and the "And lo!"s. Reading it aloud this year made me think about how a lot of my world-view ends up being rather like the way the shepherds react after they leave the manger scene: they are full of awe, wonder, and hope.



At the end of all things, will any of what we've experienced here have mattered? Will it have had any meaning bigger than just the components? I can't guarantee it, but I believe that, in some grand scheme of things, our experiences matter and our stories matter. And I can't help thinking that it's much nicer to be filled with hope that to not have any at all.
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I am delighted to have Jennifer Estep back here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything in honor of the release of her second book in the "Mythos Academy" series, Kiss of Frost. Rather than doing a guest blog, as Jennifer did for the release of Touch of Frost (here), we decided to do an interview, which gets into bits of the novel that I enjoyed, as well as some series questions.



Jennifer has also graciously offered to do a giveaway of Kiss of Frost to one of our commenters! Leave a comment answering the question: What kind of Mythos Academy warrior do you think you'd be: Valkyrie, Viking, Roman, Amazon, Celt, Samurai, Ninja, Spartan, Gypsy, or something else? Give us a second comment with a link to a tweet or blog post where you mention the contest and we'll enter you a second time. (This contest is U.S. only -- sorry international friends!) Only livejournal comments will be counted as contest entries, so if you're reading this on a syndicated site, pop over to lj to comment! Comments must be posted by 11/30 at midnight EST to be counted as contest entries. I'll announce the winner on December 1st.

And without further ado: here's Jennifer!

--

MtU&E: Although Kiss of Frost is the second "Mythos Academy" book, it's actually the third story -- you published the prequel story "First Frost" as an e-book along with Touch of Frost when the first novel was released. We've got some interest in e-books here at MtU&E: What made you decide to release the e-prequel, and has it done well for you?

JE: It seems like more and more authors are doing prequels, short stories, and other bonus material to tie into their books. As a reader, I like extras like that, and they can be fun to create as an author. I’ve written several free short stories to go along with my "Elemental Assassin" adult urban fantasy series. Readers really seem to have enjoyed those stories, and I thought it would be fun to write something for the "Mythos Academy" series too. My editor and publisher agreed, and we came up with First Frost, a prequel story that shows exactly how my heroine, Gwen Frost, winds up at Mythos Academy. I’ve gotten a lot of nice comments from readers about the prequel story, which I appreciate.

I’ve also written "Halloween Frost," a "Mythos Academy" short story, that is in the Entangled e-anthology that I am participating in with several other authors. Proceeds from that e-anthology benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. "Halloween Frost" takes place after the events of Touch of Frost.

There are also some extras in the back of Touch of Frost and Kiss of Frost, including Gwen’s class schedule, a who’s who of characters, and things like that. Hopefully, readers have as much fun reading the material as I did writing it.

MtU&E: One of the ideas in Touch of Frost that is mentioned very briefly in Kiss of Frost is that if a person believes an illusion is real, that illusion is as dangerous as if it were real. Awesome metaphysics! Will illusion magic like that come into play as the series progresses?

JE: Thanks. Glad you liked that. The illusion magic is something that I hope to do more with in future books. I think it would be fun to dream up different ways the heroes and villains could use that sort of magic. As the series goes along, I hope to introduce some new magic/powers as well. For example, in Dark Frost, the third book in the series, someone has a similar power to the illusion magic mentioned in Touch of Frost.

MtU&E: In Kiss of Frost, we get to hang out with not one, but three Spartan warriors. How did you decide that their most formidable ability would be using improvised weapons?

JE: When I was thinking about the warrior whiz kids at Mythos Academy and the various abilities they might have, I thought it would be interesting to have some warriors who didn’t need traditional weapons to fight with. So I decided to give these warriors a killer instinct that would let them pick up any object and automatically know how to wield it as a weapon, and that this instinct would make them some of the most feared fighters at the academy. So the idea just sort of snowballed into Logan Quinn and his Spartan friends, Oliver Hector and Kenzie Tanaka.

MtU&E: In Norse mythology, Fenrir (or Fenrisulfr) is one of the big bad monsters, destined to kill Odin at Ragnarok. One of Gwen's lessons in myth-history class is about how the monsters trained by the Reapers have free will -- that they are not inherently evil. There's a great scene in the book where a Fenrir wolf shows just how true that lesson is. What was the impulse behind that moment in the story?

JE: There’s a lot of talk and stories in mythology about things being fated, and that you can’t escape your destiny, good or bad. Then, you have beings like the Fates themselves.

So I thought it would be interesting to do a mythology story and play around with the idea of what may or may not be destined versus free will. A couple of characters talk about free will in the "Mythos Academy" books, and the idea that people are responsible for their own actions and their own destinies. I thought if people are responsible for their own actions, then why not the mythological creatures too? So that’s something that comes into play with a Fenrir wolf in Kiss of Frost. Plus, the idea of free will is something that will also play a part in future books in the series.

MtU&E: Last (and easiest) question: how many "Mythos Academy" books do you currently have under contract, and how many do you hope will eventually finish off the series? (Here's hoping that those two numbers match!)

JE: Right now, I’m under contract for six books in the "Mythos Academy" series. Dark Frost, the third book, will be out in June 2012, while Crimson Frost, the fourth book, is tentatively set to be published in January 2013. At this point, I’m not sure if I will finish out the series with these six books or not. I’ll just have to see where Gwen and the other characters take me.

For more information about my books, folks can visit my website at www.jenniferestep.com. Happy reading, everyone!
alanajoli: (Default)
I don't watch a lot of TV. We don't actually have television service, and I watch my current TV shows from my computer screen. We do have a Roku for our Netflix service and find it incredibly useful, and we've rented movies from Amazon that way as well. Recently, I gave HuluPlus a look, but since it carries only one of the three television shows I'm currently committed to (yes, TV is a relationship: I have an ongoing friendship with Castle and Leverage, and sadly a limited remaining time of my dedication to Eureka), we won't be continuing to use that service. While I have it, though, I thought I'd try out two new television programs on the big screen to see if they'll be worth following on the computer later on. I speak, of course, of Grimm and Once Upon a Time, two fairy tale spin offs of very different flavors. The fairy tale hook clearly appealed to me, but whether or not I'll be staying to see how they go depends very much on the shows themselves.

Of course, I'm not the only one to pay attention to their very close release schedules. Teresa Jusino over at Tor.com posted her response to the pair, which I intentionally didn't read before writing this. (However, most everything over at Tor.com is worth reading, so I'll blindly recommend going and comparing her notes to mine.)



Here's my assessment: Grimm is actually an urban fantasy in the UF Noir style (ala the Dresden Files and others) that uses fairy tale elements for its paranormal component. As it's made by some of the writers who were on the teams of Angel and Buffy, the similarities don't entirely surprise me: in some ways, the series strikes me as Buffy if the core audience being targeted were mid-career adults rather than teens and twenties. It's also a cop show, and I suspect it may end up feeling like a cop show with paranormal elements rather than a fantasy with cop show elements. I think that may work in its favor.

Once Upon a Time, on the other hand, is a fairy tale writ long. In the tradition of fairy tale retellings like Bill Willingham's Fables comics, Sondheim's Broadway musical Into the Woods, and (most recently) [livejournal.com profile] jimhines's Princess Quartet, Once Upon a Time takes the familiar stories and twists them, just a bit, recasting real fairy tale characters as unknowing modern-day humans, for whom time has stopped. The only one to know about the Curse that has brought them out of their fairy tale reality and into the real world is Henry, a little boy, who is the biological son of the destined hero (the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming), and the adoptive son of the Evil Queen. The hero herself, Emma Swan, is a tough girl loner who doesn't really believe in Henry's story, but finds herself drawn to the child. The cuts between the fairy tale backstory and the modern break-the-curse plot honor the romantic atmosphere of fairy tales -- and, thus far, aside from some off-stage cutting out of hearts, are doing it in a pretty tame way. Sure there's swordfighting and sorcerous battles, but it's not the sort of gritty and dark flavor that Fables and Into the Woods brought us. The fairy tale versions of the characters don't have anywhere near the depth they do in Jim Hines's books.



But that may be part of the point: while Grimm is, from the get go, down in the brutal side of those beloved and scary German folk tales, Once Upon a Time is Disneyfied, right through the use of the name Melificent for the wicked fairy who cursed Sleeping Beauty. Because the team of Once Upon a Time, was also part of the team on Lost, there is some worry that the fairy tale elements may end up being a lie after all -- but from some quick research on what the creators wanted to bring to the show, it doesn't sound like that's their intention. But while I think Grimm starts by knowing what it is, as a show, right from the very beginning (and, by virtue of the Monster/Villain-of-the-Week potential, could go on for seasons), Once Upon a Time launches its major plot in episode one, and that full plot arc needs to be resolved in the first season to feel like the story is going anywhere. The quest structure could work in its favor if they can raise the stakes for Season 2 -- or it could mean that the show has a one season maximum until we all get back to happily ever after.

It may sound like I'm being hard on Once Upon a Time here; I am being pretty critical, because it's a subgenre I'm invested in. But I'll definitely say that after watching two episodes (I've only seen the pilot of Grimm), I'm drawn in enough to keep watching, at least until the end of the season -- or however long it survives this season! I have a feeling that in the current TV climate, Grimm with its gritty appeal and its ambiguous morality will find its audience with no trouble at all -- and unless things get too scary for my fluffy-bunny-horror self, I'll be sticking with it.
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I'm pleased to introduce one of my co-contributors to the new Haunted anthology, Alex Bledsoe. When we were chatting about how to promote the new book, a few of us chatted about guest blogging, and Alex volunteered to do a post here. I hadn't read Alex's work previously, so I immediately went to his site and found out that he's the author of novels such as fantasy Sword-Edged Blonde (a title I think is made of win), vampire tale Blood Groove, and his new Celtic-folklore influenced The Hum and the Shiver. Since the last is newest -- and relates most closely to our usual mythology theme -- I asked him to talk a bit about the concept behind the novel. I hope you all enjoy it and (like me) get a chance to check out his fiction!

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THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH AND THE TUFA
by Alex Bledsoe

My novel The Hum and the Shiver deals with a mysterious group of people living among the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee. They have a distinctive physical appearance (jet-black hair, darker-than-normal skin and unusually perfect teeth), a profound relationship with their music, and a history shrouded in contradiction and secrets. I call them the Tufa.

The novel tells of a rebellious Tufa girl who leaves home to join the Army, then must return after being seriously injured in Iraq. She has to find her place again in her family and among her people, where since birth she’s been prepared for great things.

To create the Tufa, I looked at the true stories of the Melungeons, who genuinely are an isolated, distinctive group living in Appalachia. But because I intended to write a fantasy set in modern times, I didn’t want to use something so real. I needed room to bring in magic.

Instead, I imagined a group like the Melungeons, forced from their ancestral home and settling in the mountains because of the similar terrain. After all, the real Scotch-Irish settlers did that very same thing. At first the Tufa were able to stay hidden, but as technology and populations grew, it became impossible. So they decided to hide in plain sight by passing for normal human beings. They drove trucks, watched TV, used computers and farmed with tractors. Occasionally they intermarried with other races. Some of them left home, but the majority of them stayed. And for the most part, this approach worked and the world ignored them.

A touchstone for my writing--both in its contents, and the tale of its composition--was Robert Kirk’s supposedly nonfiction book, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, written in 1691. Kirk, a minister with an unusually sympathetic view of the supernatural, was supposedly captured by the fairies for publicizing their secrets, and never seen again. While the truth of this can’t be established, the power of the story is undeniable: mess with the fairies at your own peril.

I wanted to embrace that element of danger, something we’ve bled out of what we now refer to as “fairy tales.” The supernatural is always dangerous, and the Tufa are no exception. They will try to hide, to dissemble, and even to agree with a falsehood to avoid scrutiny. But back them into a corner, force them to acknowledge their true nature, and they will fight back, just like the fairies encountered by Reverend Kirk.

Kirk also detailed the various societies among the “Good People,” as he called them. I created a mostly unseen structure for the Tufa, with a loose system of government and a sense that certain tribal divisions are intrinsic. In this first book the reader learns about one particular aspect of their society: a governing body called the First Daughters.

I call The Hum and the Shiver a “gravel-road fantasy,” as opposed to “urban fantasy,” since it takes place in the contemporary world but not in the city. Its roots, though, go back as far as the human belief in magic. They represent a modern version of those ancient and mysterious “Good People.”
alanajoli: (Default)
Sorry for the radio silence -- the hurricane had us off the air here for a few days, and I've been busy catching up from the lack of power. It's amazing how just a few days can set back your schedule!

With that out of the way, it's time for me to join the voices raised in celebration of the geek community. Writer/editor Monica Valentinelli posted over at Flames Rising about how the negative stereotypes of geekdom are continually perpetuated by the media. As Josh Jasper reported over at Genreville last year, the New York Times is one of the guilty outlets. So Monica suggested that we geeks unite a bit and share how proud we are of our various geeky hobbies.

My dear readers, you know a lot of the geek hobbies in which I indulge, just from reading bits and bobbins here at the blog. Here's a list of these things, in descending order from commonly known to possibly previously unknown online. If you partake -- or have partaken -- in any of these lesser known hobbies, I'd be glad to celebrate our mutual geekdom!


  • Not only do I play RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, I'm a game writer. This makes me a professional geek in this sphere of geekdom.

  • For a long time, I was also a card-carrying member of the RPGA. I really kept the card in my wallet.

  • The same that went for RPGs goes for comics. I admit that I came to comics late in life -- after graduating college -- but I fell for them hard. And now I get to write and *review* comics! Best job ever.

  • If geeks are pop culture related and nerds are academic (one of the breakdowns I've heard recently and have begun to use), I am both a geek and a nerd in general. I went to college after 10th grade and graduated at 20.

  • More specifically, I'm a myth and history nerd. I have been known to geek out -- or even squee -- about archaeology news.

  • I am not a serious videogamer, but I do drive a mean MarioKart. I grew up with a hand-me-down Nintendo (not even a Nintendo 64) and played computer games on our old Commedore 64. Currently, we have an Xbox at the Abbott house. Plants vs. Zombies lives on my desktop.

  • I am completely tempted to play The Old Republic, not because I love Star Wars (even though I do), and not because I love MMORPGs (MMOs have the potential to eat my life), but because I am a huge BioWare fan. Love those guys!

  • Speaking of Star Wars, I did used to read all the Extended Universe books. Being a lit major in college totally made me fall behind, but I do pick up a novel now and again if the continuity isn't too confusing. I also own several volumes of the Star Wars: Legacy comic.

  • Clearly, you already knew I was a Browncoat. I also dig Star Trek and Eureka. I was super excited to find Earth2 and SeaQuest on Netflix.

  • Before I was a gamer geek and a comic geek, I was a band and choir geek. I was in marching band and swing choir. After graduating college, I took my music geek self and performed with a semi-professional choir at Renaissance festivals across the state of Michigan. I have an awesome Italian Renaissance era costume which is, sadly, not as accurate as a member of the SCA would make it.

  • Speaking of getting dressed up in costumes, I have LARPed and enjoyed it, and I have worked in True Dungeon at GenCon, playing a drow.



The list goes on, but while my geek side would love to put me back on a night-owl schedule, my mom side knows that Bug is going to be up at six, so I'd better get some rest between now and then. In the mean time, celebrate your geek! Check out the posts at Flames Rising and elsewhere around the internet, including Max Gladstone's over here. Join us on facebook or tweet whenever you see a geek post with the #speakgeek hash tag. Unite!
alanajoli: (Default)
A few years ago, I stumbled on Karma Girl, the first romance novel in the "Bigtime" series by Jennifer Estep. I've mentioned it a few times on this blog; superhero romance? What's not to love? I've followed Jennifer's career since then, and she's had some excellent urban fantasy success with her "Elemental Assassins" series. When I found out, via her newsletter, that she was launching a young adult series called Mythos Academy, I couldn't wait to invite Jennifer to do a guest blog post here. Months have passed since then, and the release is coming right up -- and thus, I'm pleased to introduce Jennifer and her new series!

Even better, Jennifer offered to do a giveaway of Touch of Frost, the first book in the series. Answer Jennifer's questions at the end of the post, and you're entered! Give us a second comment with a link to a tweet or blog post where you mention the contest and we'll enter you a second time. (This contest is U.S. only -- sorry international friends!) Only livejournal comments will be counted as contest entries, so if you're reading this on a syndicated site, pop over to lj to comment! Update: Comments must be posted by 7/28 at midnight EST to be counted as contest entries.

If you're interested in a review of book one, Touch of Frost, you can read what I had to say over at Flames Rising, where Jennifer has also posted an essay on her world design for the series.

So, without further ado: Jennifer Estep!

--


Greetings and salutations! First of all, I want to thank Alana for having me on the blog today. Thanks so much, Alana!

My name is Jennifer Estep, and I write the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series for Kensington. The books focus on Gwen Frost, a 17-year-old Gypsy girl who has the gift of psychometry, or the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it. After a serious freak-out with her magic, Gwen is shipped off to Mythos Academy, a school for the descendants of ancient warriors like Spartans, Valkyries, Amazons, and more.



First Frost, a prequel e-story to the series, is available now. The first book, Touch of Frost, will be out on July 26, while the second book, Kiss of Frost, will hit shelves on Nov. 29.

So today, Alana asked me to talk about how I’m using mythology in my Mythos Academy series. The thing I love about writing fantasy books is that you can take elements from mythology, fairy tales, folklore, or whatever other kind of stories that you like and put your own spin on them. Creating a fantasy world is a step-by-step process, and when I get one thing nailed down, it seems like it always leads to something else. So here’s how I did some of the world building for Touch of Frost and the other books in my Mythos Academy series:

I use bits and pieces of various mythologies and more, but mostly, the book draws on Greek and Norse mythology. The bad guy is Loki, the Norse god of mischief, and I draw on the myth of Loki’s tricks leading to the death of another god and Loki being imprisoned for that. But in my world, Loki managed to get free and decided to try to take over the world. So he created an army of followers known as the Reapers of Chaos, and he plunged the world into the long, bloody Chaos War.

But the other gods and goddesses banded together, forming a group known as the Pantheon. Led by Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, the members of the Pantheon defeated Loki and imprisoned him a second time. Ever since then, the Reapers of Chaos have been working to free Loki so he can plunge the world into a second Chaos War.

So you have two gods struggling for control of the world. Once I had that set up as my backdrop, I figured that Loki and Nike would both need something to help them in their epic battle – warriors. So I populated the book with Spartans, Amazons, Valkyries, Celts, Romans, Vikings, and many other types of warriors. I thought using such a wide range of warriors would give me the chance to come up with some interesting powers for the various warrior whiz kids, as my heroine Gwen calls them.

As for Gwen herself, she’s a Gypsy, and she doesn’t know what that really means or where her power comes from. Those questions get answered in Touch of Frost, though. The answers surprise Gwen, and I hope that readers will find them interesting too.

Of course, warriors need to be trained, and that’s how I came up with the idea for Mythos Academy, a school where the modern-day descendants of all these ancient warriors train with weapons and learn how to use their magic to fight the good fight – or the bad fight, since some of the students are really Reapers of Chaos. Also, putting Gwen and the other warrior whiz kids in a school setting let me come up with a landscape where a lot of the action in the books can take place.

But warriors need something to fight, and that’s when I thought about monsters. There are tons of monsters in mythologies all over the world – everything from gargoyles to gryphons to dragons to sphinxes. Again, I decided to use a variety of monsters just because I thought they would be fun to write. Plus, I think having statues of these various monsters on all the academy buildings adds some creepy atmosphere to the Mythos campus.

So there you have it – a little bit about the mythology and world building in my Mythos Academy series. I hope everyone has as much fun reading the books as I did writing them. Happy reading, everyone! ;-)

What about you guys? What are some of your favorite myths and monsters?
alanajoli: (Default)
This is my last day to post about my experience reading the MFA nominees this year before the winners are announced, so I figured I'd better do a write up quickly!

I have to say that this year's finalist lists were a real joy for me. Usually, there's at least one book in the finalists that I detest, or appreciate but slog through. Sometimes there's one that I just don't get. This year, I'm happy to say that, whether or not I feel they're the best choice for the award, I enjoyed all of the books on the finalist lists for both the adult MFA and children's MFA.

Children's List

The awards finally got me to finish Megan Whelan Turner's "The Queen's Thief" series. I'd started The Thief some time ago and hadn't really enjoyed the style; when I got to the end of that book, however, I realized what all the fuss was about, and why it was an award winner. The rest of the series really won me over, and I'm very glad to have read them. Polly Schulman's The Grimm Legacy was a great discovery, and I thought Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson was a great recasting of a Grimm fairy tale in a non-Western setting.

Adult List

The best discovery on this list for me was, without a doubt, Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord. Based on a Senagalese folk story, this short novel grabbed me and didn't let go, and I was very pleased to see it make it from the long list to the finalists. I was also tremendously excited that Devon Monk's collection A Cup of Normal made the finalists; Devon's been a great inspiration for me a number of times, from both her blog and her fiction, and I'm tickled to see her recognized. Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven is another excellent contender, and definitely shows how the definition of mythopoeic can expand to include epics outside of a Western comfort zone. There's always a lot of conversation on the jury lists about what it means for a book to be mythopoeic; Kay's novel uses a different cultural language, by being set in China, than the usual candidates, and it's not directly tied to a folktale the way Lord's novel is. And yet, magic and the supernatural are always just on the other side of a boundary from Kay's characters -- sometimes crossing over it directly but other times only hinting at the presence of Other nearby. It worked for me not only on the fantasy fiction level, but also on a mythopoeic level, and I'd highly recommend it ([livejournal.com profile] lyster, this means you, although I'll be surprised if you hadn't discovered it already *g*).

That said, I'd recommend all of the finalists this year, even the ones I didn't directly point out here. I enjoyed all of them, some of them to my own surprise, and some of them just as I expected. (I can't think of the last time I didn't enjoy one of Terry Pratchett's novels, for example, and it's never a surprise to see him on the finalists list. Speaking of Pratchett, Genreville linked to a cool discussion about gender in Discworld this week, which is worth checking out.) So, if you're looking for something good to read, pop by the MythSoc Awards list and you'll have ten good things to put on your to-be-read pile. The winner will be announced at the Mythcon 42 banquet tonight!
alanajoli: (Default)
I read a lot of books. As of today, I've read 74 books so far this year, including children's books and graphic novels (though I weigh some graphic novels differently than others -- it usually takes two volumes of manga to count as one book on my list, for example). I've been thinking of how to do a recommendation of what I've read so far this year that I think pretty much everyone should pick up if they haven't already read them, but haven't really gotten my thoughts thoroughly together on that. So, it being Friday once again, I thought I'd share an excerpt from one of my favorite discoveries of the year: Triptych by J. M. Frey. It's a time travel novel, a story about aliens trying to integrate into their new homes (while their perspectives continue to remain completely foreign), and a tale of the trouble societies have making changes in worldview to accommodate new ideas.



When people leave one land or world to come to another, they bring their stories with them, and those stories reveal a lot about their culture. The way the listeners receive the stories says a lot, as well. This section is from more than midway through the book, and so that I don't reveal too much, I'm only including a very small part of the retelling of a legend, from the perspective of the main alien, Kalp. It describes why romantic family units on his planet come in threes. I think it captures a bit of the novel's tone -- and I hope it'll whet your appetite to pick up the novel in full. It's very much worth reading.

--

"In a place that is not here," he starts. Kalp's parents had told it like this. All parents did, where he was from. They started their stories differently on the other continent, but neither was better than the other. It was just a preference. Tradition.

"In a place that is not here," Kalp repeats, because the start is the most important part and bears repeating, "There was Vren."

"Who's Vren?" Basil asks, sinking into the sofa on the other side of Gwen, clutching his mug of tea like a lifeline, like he always does.

"Shut up," Gwen says.

"Vren was tall," Kalp said. "And his eyes were very yellow."

"Is that usual?" Basil asked. "Yellow eyes, I mean? Or is it a... a, yunno, a signifier? A symbol?"

Gwen elbows him. "Shut up, Baz."

Kalp does not lift his head. The story is for the baby, not Basil, and Basil's questions will wait for later.

"Vren had long strong arms and a long strong body and a long strong mind."

"How can a mind be long?" Basil asks. A glare from Gwen and Kalp both makes him roll his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, shut up Basil," he says.

"Vren was not wealthy. He was not High Status. He was not renowned for any particular trade. He was, however, completely and devotedly happy, and in those days, that was rare."

"Why rare? Yes, yes, shut up Basil. I gettit."

[Note from Alana: the myth goes on, but, to avoid spoilers, we'll skip to the ending]

"Is it true?" Basil asks, ever the empirical scientist.

Kalp performs the shrugging motion. "Does it truly matter if it is?"

"No, don't suppose," Basil allows.

"We call those myths," Gwen says. "Histories that are fantasy."

"Myths," Kalp repeats, committing the new word to memory.
alanajoli: (Default)
How did it get to be Saturday again already?

First, some quick celebratory news: My very first Dragon magazine contribution is in the current issue! "Surely You Joust!" is available to D&D Insider subscribers, and it gets into how to customize a 4e character for jousting and, for DMs, how to integrate jousting into your game. (Lest the illustrious Shawn Merwin put me in the penalty box for punning again, the title was actually assigned that way. Not that I wouldn't have come around to the same pun on my own, of course!)

My very first solo-project as a game writer was Gallia, for DogSoul, back in the 3rd edition Open Game License days, so I drew on some of the same real-history research I'd done for that project about chivalric competitions. I also used jousting in a module I wrote for former LFR Regional director Andrew Schneider (who has an adventure up in this month's Dungeon), so it was great fun to be able to put all of that together in a new format.

It's also super exciting to be published in Dragon!

--

But on to the thought that spurred me on to blogging: namely, Maryah Morvena. If you've not read her fairy tale (she's here as Maria, and she's in Andrew Lang's Red Fairy Book in "The Death of Koschei the Deathless"). Max Gladstone mentioned this story to me awhile ago, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it until today. It's a very odd tale for a number of reasons:

1) Maryah is not at all a damsel in distress. When Prince Ivan, the hero, comes upon her, it's because she's just slaughtered a whole army. Possibly by herself.

2) The tale reads like you've come in at the middle. Prince Ivan, despite being a hero (and a weepy one at that), is the least powerful, and possibly the least important person in the tale. Before he enters in, Maryah has already captured Koschei the Deathless and held him captive. Koschei has already stolen a horse from Baba Yaga. All sorts of things that we never get the full story of have transpired before we step in -- which makes me think that Maryah is probably in a host of other tales that are less well known than this one, just like Koschei and Baba Yaga are.

3) This one is the most striking to me: there's this great synergy between Maryah and Baba Yaga herself in one important detail. They both ask Ivan if he's come of his own free will, or because someone else has compelled him to be there. This doesn't sound like your usual "are you friend or foe?" greeting -- no, something else very cool is going on here. It makes me think that Maryah has a relation to Baba Yaga that doesn't get mentioned in the story, either because they are both women of Power in some fashion, or in a more archetypal connection.

I don't have any thoughts beyond these musings at the moment, but I really wanted to point this story out. It's a great, weird little tale, and it's obvious why folks like Catherynne Valente have grabbed onto it for retelling. There's a lot of meat here, and I'd chew on it for a novel or two.
alanajoli: (Default)
Back in March of 2008, author Melanie Nilles first posted here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything, talking a bit about the angel lore she was using in the series that became her "Dark Angel" novels. Since then, she's released several e-books, including the first two stories in the "Dark Angel" series. The third volume, Crystal Tomb, is releasing this week! I'm honored to be one of the hosts on Melanie's blog tour, and am hoping for a fantastic book birthday for her newest title. She's offering a prize for commenters here at MtU&E, so be sure to read to the end of the post!

To check out the first book in the "Dark Angel" series, you can currently download it for free at amazon or Barnes & Noble. You can also follow Melanie's adventures here on livejournal at [livejournal.com profile] amsaph.

--


Crystal lore applied in Starfire Angels

When Alana emailed asking to host a day of my blog tour, I felt a little giddy inside. It's an honor to be asked back. Yes, back. I've been here once before, a couple years ago, when Starfire Angels was going to be a different book with a different name, before it was rewritten into something greater. It's done well for itself, and I'm proud to announce the release of the third book in the series, Crystal Tomb. (The second book, Broken Wings, was released last August.)

In keeping with the theme of myths and legends in books, I want to discuss crystal lore and how it applies in the series. Crystals have long been considered to have mystical powers connected to the earth from which they come. I actually knew very little about the metaphysical properties of crystals when I started writing the books, but that changed in searching for what might best represent the Starfire crystal in the stories.

First, a little science. Crystals contain structures formed by repeating arrangements of molecules or ions throughout. The internal arrangement of those particles is often related to the external appearance. I assume everyone understands what atoms and molecules are. Often, we think of salt, which has a cubic appearance, or quartz with its hexagonal points when we think of crystals, but they aren't always faceted in these ways when we see them. It all depends on the molecular arrangements, which is revealed by the external shape. Crystals can contain other crystals or strands within them (phantoms or rutilations). They may also be polished or cut, such as gemstones, which changes the external appearance; but the crystalline structure remains intact.

Crystals are more than a geologist's inspiration, however. They have also inspired mystics. The history of using crystals in healing can't be dated. It has been with us for as long as we can trace our history.

In science, we learn that everything is made up of atoms, which are constantly in motion, even when matter is in a solid state, thus everything has energy. This energy resonates at a particular vibration, which varies for each object; thus the shatter of a crystal wine glass from a high musical note. In the study of crystal healing, it is understood that each crystal has a unique vibration that affects the body's energy and can realign it so that the negative energy can be cleared and the body cleansed to promote healing. Some crystals are thought to be record keepers said to hold the imprint of all that has gone before and open the self to spiritual wisdom.*

In many science fiction series, crystals are often seen as data storage devices or to align energy in a particular way, such as the Go'a uld ships on Stargate SG-1 using crystals rather than circuit boards in their devices, which was adapted into the Prometheus, Daedalus, and other ships of that fleet. Babylon 5 used memory crystals like we use flash drives, for data storage. In real life, we're not far off—lithium and quartz and silicon are in our computers and clocks.

Given all this, I didn't consider it a big leap to create a living, sentient crystal as my Starfire. Originally I needed a tool to give my angels the powers attributed to angels in mythology. But it couldn't be just anything. In a trunked novella from many years earlier, I had a story of a living, magic crystal that needed protection from those who sought to abuse its power. In that story, it had fallen to the world from the stars and was called the Starfire. I took that and modified it to give me what I needed, but there was one thing missing.

The Starfire needed a reason for existing, and I gave it one. It had to be special and it had to be plausible, not magic. I decided that the new Starfire would be from another dimension, one where solid matter can't exist, where only energy can. But in crossing dimensions, that energy must become solid matter, so it formed a crystalline structure, which would allow its energy to be contained and the entities to live. But in that form, they could not move. They could only influence the atomic energy in contact with them, whatever its form of matter. They were subject to the whims of physics and the intelligence of creatures which discovered them.

In giving the Starfire a background and history, it took on a life of its own. I'm still continuing to learn more about it, and learning about the metaphysical beliefs of crystals has helped to open up possibilities. My own spiritual beliefs have given me something more in deciding how the Starfire entities fit into the setting of the story. In Crystal Tomb, readers will gain a larger glimpse of the crystal's purpose in the series beyond life after death.

Learn more about the Inari as angels on Earth in the Starfire Angels series (Starfire Angels, Broken Wings, and Crystal Tomb) at the website at starfireangels.melanienilles.com.
To enter the drawing of a Starfire crystal (aqua aura natural quartz point) and a set of the ebooks in your choice of formats, please post your comments on or before June 1st. (Comments may include questions for the author.)
-------
* For more information on crystals, I recommend The Crystal Bible by Judy Hall. (Walking Stick Press; Cincinatti, Ohio. 2003)
alanajoli: (british mythology)
In an earlier entry, I mentioned being asked about sacred objects and passed along the questions for general consumption. I did not post my own answers, since I didn't want to pollute anyone else's brainstorm. However, Randy Hoyt from Journey to the Sea and others mentioned wanting to know what I'd come up with, so here's my original answer, in all its brainstormy glory.

1. An object given to a hero to see the future.

Persian king Jamshid was said to own a seven-ringed wine cup, which was filled with an elixir of immortality and allowed him to see the future.

A dangerous location in Welsh mythology is Cadair Idris in the Snowdon mountains. The location is said to look like the seat of a giant (Idris being the giant in question). Men who spend the night there are either given the gift of prophecy, blessed with the gift of poetry (which is sometimes the same thing), or go stark raving mad.

This one isn't given to a hero, sadly, but is interesting -- Tezcatlipoca, one of the four creator gods of the Aztecs, is also called "Smoking Mirror." He's related to obsidian (which is what the Aztecs used to make mirrors), but he's also often depicted with a mirror in place of the foot he lost during the creation of the world. There's an association between the mirror and seeing all of the world, or seeing the future, depending on the source.

2. An object given to a hero that allows him/her to step into a new world/realm.

I can mostly think of fairy tales that fulfill this sort of requirement, as far as objects go -- and even then, it's usually a boat or a horse or some other vehicle with the potential to cross between the world of men and the world of the fae/the dead/some particularly difficult to reach location. In "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," for example, the heroine is given a horse; in at least one of the stories in 1000 Nights and One Night, there's a flying horse that travels faster than any living creature (and may be mechanical, if I remember correctly); and one of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain (from Welsh tradition) is the chariot of Morgan Mwynfawr, which could instantly transport the driver to the location of his desire. There's also the flying carpet, which does similar things, but doesn't really cross *realms* -- just makes travel to human-world locations much faster.

3. A structure/entrance that acted as a gateway to a new world.

There are three major categories I can think of for this -- it's a trope that appears pretty frequently. In the British Isles, particularly (and probably along parts of continental Europe), fairy hills are all over the place. They're typically sites where archaeologists have found ruins of hill forts, and such, but local tradition dictates that the hills are entrances into the Other world. One of my favorite of these is Glastonbury Tor, which is topped by St. Michael's Tower and is beautifully iconic.

The second category are caves, which can connect either to the Other world in that same fairy sort of tradition, or to the land of the dead. I believe Orpheus begins his journey to Hades in a cave, and I know there are cave entrances in Ireland that have a connection to the Other world. There are urban legend sites that mention associations between caves and the opening to the world of the dead in Latin America, as well, but I don't know how good the mythological basis is for that.

The third category is just the shoreline. At World's End, in Cornwall, for example, at certain times you're supposed to be able to look out and see the drowned land of Lyonesse, apparently accessible through the mist if one could just get there. Odysseus in the Odyssey communes with the spirits of the dead, consulting with Tiresias, after having beached his vessel. Shoreline is liminal space -- space where things aren't quite one thing or another -- so the idea of the shore as a crossing point from one world into the next is a pretty common theme. (To use Jungian analysis, it's also the place where the conscious meets the unconscious!)

For a stretch, you could say that a pok-ta-pok court (the Mayan ballgame playing ground) is an entrance into the underworld, as well, given the way that the gods of the underworld tend to summon people from one of those courts. Along those lines -- as far as a stretch goes -- there are lots of man made sites, such as tholoi or some pyramids, that are built with the intention of transporting a *spirit* to the other world. The Treasury of Atreus is a very cool looking one of these.

4. An object given to a hero to help him/her find his/her way out of the labyrinth (or a general state of confusion or blindness).

The easiest of these, is, of course, Ariadne's thread, which Theseus used to find his way back out of the Labyrinth of Crete. Fairy tales offer other options, as well -- the traditional marbles, bread crumbs, or pebbles that children or heroes leave behind them to find their way back. There are also stories about various liquids enabling a person who smeared them on his eyes to see the Other world -- dragon's blood, fairy spit, etc., etc., -- but a lot of those are literary conventions, I think.

5. An object used in storytelling ceremonies that gives the holder permission to speak to the group.

This seems to me to be most commonly a Native North American tradition, and, of course, the most common item is the "talking stick," which I'm sure you're familiar with! Some things I've read posit that the "peace pipe," feathers, or even wampum belts could be used for this same function.

--

A few of the things that readers mentioned in comments that I hadn't: Orpheus's lyre, herms or hermae as crossing points between worlds, traditional fortune telling devices such as crystal balls and tarot cards, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (as an effective transport from Eden to the human realm), Coyote running toward a village with a firestick in his mouth and being chased by smoke spirits, pools of water and caves of prophecy, and literary examples like the AURYN amulet from The Neverending Story, the palantiri from The Lord of the Rings, and Adaon's brooch from The Black Cauldron.

I've asked to see the eventual logo that sparked these questions for the design team in the first place, and should I be allowed to, I'll share it here. In the mean time, what fun hunting for mythic objects!
alanajoli: (british mythology)
I took a week off back earlier in January and just read library books and books from my TBR pile and a few old review books that I'd needed to finish up. It was nice. Then I got a gig for School Library Journal that involves reading a bunch of series titles on world history and writing them up, and so I've moved from urban fantasy books to titles on technology in ancient cultures, how children lived in different eras, and the most daring raids in history. They're an eclectic mix, and even though they're short, it takes a long time to get through a pile of 100 page books! (Some, of course, read more easily than others, which is part of why they send them off to a reviewer.)

In the process, I've discovered that the Romans, who previously held little interest for me, were fascinating. They're not as interesting in the way that other ancient cultures are, to me -- they're interesting because they're so much more like us than other ancient cultures. The Romans strike me as a very material culture, interested in contracts and business arrangements, even with their gods. That certainly feels a step away from the all-powerful Greek gods, who would smite you for thinking for yourself (unless you're Odysseus -- there's a moment in the Odyssey where some non-Odysseus character has the idea that he doesn't need the gods, and he's immediately killed). It also feels far removed from the ongoing interference of the Tuatha de Danaan of Irish mythology or the pervasive sense of the Land-and-King unity in British legend. The Romans appear to be individuals with practical, material thoughts and goals -- and a tendency to observe other cultures and write about them the way that 19th century arm-chair anthropologists did. (And then, like good imperialists, they'd absorb those cultures into Rome.)

So, yeah, Rome is now on my list of interests -- which means I'm digging an ancient culture for its History rather than for its Mythology. This is sort of a shift from my usual thinking.

I've also been reading some web comics lately -- I finally decided I should read Schlock Mercenary by Howard Tayler. I also discovered that Love and Capes is publishing old strips online, which is exciting -- I got an issue of Love and Capes as a trial, either on Free Comic Book Day or through a special at my Friendly Local Comic Shop, and I really liked it -- but then it wasn't ever in stock. So now, I can catch up on all the back story and enjoy updates on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
alanajoli: (Default)
My mom has said in the past, and I'm sure she'll say it again, that in order to be an expert, you have to get 50 miles away from home. In other words, people don't always appreciate your genius on a local scale: feel free to branch out into the world!

A long time ago, [livejournal.com profile] jeff_duntemann and I had a conversation about how writers are often not experts, but generalists. I tend to think of myself in those terms -- I know a lot of random stuff about several broad subjects, but I'm not expert in any singular area. However, it looks like here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything, someone thinks we know something about mythology. I got a great ego boost of an e-mail from a designer named Lee, who's working on a logo for a storytelling conference. The team would like to use an icon from mythology -- any culture, any age -- as a starting point, and they're short on the type of random knowledge that I (and many of you readers out there) have off the top of our heads (or with a little quick internet research to back us up). I had a ton of fun trying to come up with objects and ideas that fit the list of possibilities that Lee sent me, so I thought I'd share them here (with his permission). If you have brilliant suggestions for any of the topics, please chime in! I'll pass your answers along to Lee as well, and see what kind of juices get flowing on his design team.

Here they are:

1. An object given to a hero to see the future.
2. An object given to a hero that allows him/her to step into a new world/realm.
3. A structure/entrance that acted as a gateway to a new world.
4. An object given to a hero to help him/her find his/her way out of the labyrinth (or a general state of confusion or blindness).
5. An object used in storytelling ceremonies that gives the holder permission to speak to the group.

What do you think?

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Alana Joli Abbott

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