Monday, April 11, 2016

The Soldier Chronicles - a series of military history novellas by David Cook

Hello, commies!
In a mood for some military history but not sure if you can commit to the next 500-pager? Maybe you should check out David Cook's series of novellas The Soldier Chronicles. Each novella is bite-size masterpiece, packed with impeccable research and fast-paced action. Some spectacular battles and unforgettable characters.

MJN: Your Soldier Chronicle series covers a range of historical events. Are the books tied by any themes or characters?

DC: The Soldier Chronicles will encompass the years 1793-1815 and are companion pieces to another twenty volume story arc. I want to get the attention of an agent to go the traditional route for these. So far a half dozen rejections, but I'm continuing to search. All the main characters from the Chronicles will appear in the main story arc. The main theme is one of overcoming the odds. Succeeding when things look impossible. Faith. All the characters have flaws though. I hope with each new book, as I sharpen my craft, the characters will become even more alive, human and believable. 

I called it the Soldier Chronicles because every main character is from the United Kingdom and Ireland (was originally called the Union Flag Chronicles in honour at the countries they come from but I thought any ACW enthusiasts might confuse it with the Union and Confederates, so changed it. All the Chronicles are standalones though and can be read in any order.

MJN: Your covers are absolutely stunning. One thing I noticed over the years of reading historical fiction is that some authors - and even cover artists working for big publishers - often place images from a different era. They pic an image because it "looks catchy", even if it doesn't fit the era described in the book. Do you make a conscious effort to avoid anachronisms?

DC: I make sure that my designer knows exactly what I want. My ideas for TEMPEST, just released were: dark skies, waves, a storm brewing, a ship looking in the distance. That was it. A few tweaks and a stock photo with some manipulation and texts and it’s the best one yet. It all comes down to budget as well. One of my early covers I struggled to like even when giving final proof the nod. The money wasn't there to make it how I wanted it, so had to settle with something else. I do hope each cover is eye-catching. It has to be, no question about that.

MJN: Liberty of Death is set in 1798, featuring the Irish rebellion with assistance from the French. There were several novels written about that historical event. And there is an entire repertoire of rebel songs that came out of that era. In fact, the Fenian movement of the 1860s adopted many of those songs. Can you name a few?

DC: Short answer no. I do know some AMC songs and I know some songs sung twenty years after the War of Independence such as Yankee Doodle. That sung was well known during the Irish Rebellion by British troops. However, you'll find there are some songs that have been altered over the years that are actually two hundred years earlier.

MJN: Your Soldier Chronicles are a series of novella length works. It takes special talent to condense such intense historical events into a shorter fiction form. People are so used to historical novels being 500 page giants.

DC: The Chronicles were designed from the start to be novellas. Plain and simple. They started out as character backstories and then edited several drafts later, swelling them to 43k words. I wanted them as just snapshots of historical events. Easy reads where reader can just get straight into the tale. It's difficult to write them to make sure the backdrop is historically correct and then the characters story fits.

MJN: Have you visited the actual historical sites where your novellas are set?

DC: Yes, some of them. Ireland, Malta & Gozo, Belgium and Wales. I think it's vitally important to see the ground you're writing about. He can get a sense of the place, the smells, the sounds. I try to go at the same time in the year that the event happened. At Waterloo I was there on the battlefield, sat on the ridge where Napoleon massed artillery tried to blast a way through Wellington's line, to pound the ridge, soften it for his infantry. Throughout the day, and I stayed there all day, I had goose bumps. I didn't see any ghosts, but I was on hallowed ground. I got interviewed by a French TV crew and I explained I was there not to celebrate a British/allied victory, but to honour all the men that fell. I think they were quite surprised by that!

Friday, April 8, 2016

"Drowning" - portrayal of domestic violence by Katelin Maloney

Rebecca has simple dreams. A promotion. Children. A happy marriage. But can she have it with Mitch?
Though she carefully keeps secrets to guard her safety, her marriage to Mitch, a successful doctor, is brutal, and his abuse is escalating. A promotion at the bank could be the answer to her prayers, but Mitch has different plans for her life.

Ultimately, Rebecca must face her own inner demons before she can act. Will she be able to find her former, stronger self before Mitch destroys her completely? 

My thoughts
Every abusive jerk has a sob story. Sometimes the story is made up (my dog ate my grandma).  But it doesn't have to be made up. Very often it's true (baby sister died of cancer). But that story is always a powerful tool in neutralizing the victim's intention to stand up for herself. "He is rough with me because he had a rough childhood." That's a very common justification that abused wives and girlfriends use to justify their partners' behavior.

It's amazing that with so many books and movies depicting the horrors of domestic violence, this social phenomenon still exists. It's not like help is not available. The issue of domestic violence is no longer swept under the rug. And yet, why do so many women still fall into that trap? Many experts believe, and I agree with them, that the abuser and the victim find each other. One cannot exist without the other. There has to be a willing victim who will enable the abuser. In Maloney's novel Drowning, Mitch and Rebecca are such a couple. Mitch is a charismatic young doctor with a very dark and ugly side that nobody knows about. Rebecca is an eager-to-please and compliant wife, who struggles to stay afloat financially and professionally despite her husband's attempts to curb her autonomy. But Mitch is a clever sadist. He knows when to back off. He will drive Rebecca to the breaking point with his bullying and criticism, but then give her a pair of amethyst earrings and retell her the same sob story about his baby sister dying of cancer.  And that pretty much resets the mechanism to square one.

I have to warn you - and this is NOT a criticism - this novel is not particularly intricate from the literary standpoint. It's very bare bones in its structure. You are not going to see any fancy intricate techniques.  The most fanciful component, I would have to say, is the dream sequence. But this particular novel does not need to be terribly original. What the author describes is very trivial. Even if you have not been in an abusive relationship yourself, you probably know someone who has. You will sit and nod through many of the passages, muttering, "Yes, yes, yes, this sounds familiar." You will also wonder if you regular physician has a dark side. Very often domestic tyrants are not from the lower socio-economic strata. Educated, charming, high-achieving people can be absolute monsters. The novel sheds the light on the science of abuse. Believe it or not, there is a formula, a set of symptoms, or red flags if you will, to watch out for.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Krystine Kercher author of Christian fantasy

Say hello to Krystine Kercher, author of multifaceted, thought-provoking Christian fantasy series. Today she joins us to discuss the universal subjects of good and evil as well as gender roles in speculative spiritual fiction.

MJN: One of the readers expressed gratification over the general "good triumphs over evil" in your novels. But there are so few clear-cut happy endings in history. And sometimes it takes a while to see the results of good work. Sometimes good triumphs, but the casualties are horrendous. What is your personal definition of "good triumphs over evil"? Obviously, when you write fantasy, it's easier to manipulate the outcome to fit the desirable idea of "good guys" winning.  

KK: On a day to day basis, good triumphs over evil even when we fall down on the job or fail spectacularly as long as we keep going to our knees in repentance then getting back up again and pressing on. Triumphing over evil is a daily battle that takes persistence and intentionality.

From a wider, eternal perspective: God has already dealt our enemy the fatal blow, but he's still very dangerous and he isn't going down without a fight. You might say we're in the "mopping up" phase of an ongoing war... If we get sloppy, we can still lose battles and there will be some casualties along the way, but with God on our side, we've got the high ground and the end is in sight. Now we fight hard to the finish!

MJN: Most fantasies are set in some sort of loosely defined historical period and ethnic mythology. Your idol, J.R.R. Tolkien, relieved heavily on Norse esthetics to create his realms. In the Exile series, we tap into Middle Eastern motifs. 

KK: There is a lot of archaeological evidence for active trade routes between Scandinavia and the Middle East. When I started researching, I became fascinated with the idea of how these two very different cultures would interact, plus I'm really interested in everything Byzantine. The Byzantine Empire was a major player in European and Middle Eastern politics for 1100 years, and yet today most people are hardly aware that it existed!

Those 1100 years were crucial to the formation of western civilization, having a huge impact on our calendar, determining which books would be included in the Bible (and in what order), and setting the stage for the western world's interactions with the Middle East even today. Byzantines made significant contributions to the fields of architecture and science as well as the art of war.

There are historical and mechanical artifacts from that time period that are really fascinating too! I'm looking forward to including some of these nifty inventions in my stories where appropriate.

MJN: How do you tread the fine line between writing Christian-themed fantasy without sounding too moralistic? That's what many Christian authors struggle with. 

KK: I practice that golden rule of writing wherever possible: show, don't tell

I give my characters freedom to explore their faith and lack of it, their virtues and their flaws. Of course, actions have reactions and consequences, and they can be downright painful, but writing those scenes well is what makes characters come across as more human, more real. That, I believe, illustrates the beauty of the Gospel: Christ didn't come to save us because we're perfect; He came because we're flawed and broken, and desperately hurting. God's grace and mercy, and His divine intervention provide a sweet, healing counterpoint to the jangling misery caused by our brokenness and failure.

The more honesty I can infuse into my characters, the less moralistic they come across. Also--not everyone in my books chooses to follow God. Some do; some don't; some follow more poorly than others. They're people like us, trying to figure life out. God doesn't always bail them out of their messes, either. 

It is very important to me not to sugar coat my stories.

MJN: Tell me about the gender roles in your books. Mythology is filled with goddess-like heroines, while documented history has not always been kind of fair to women. Do your heroines adhere to the "woman of valor" ideal in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, or do they have more in common with their pagan counterparts of the pre-Christian myths?

KK: When you mention "women of valor, the biblical account of Jael driving the tent peg into Sisera's head comes to mind, as does the account of Deborah leading the people of Israel to war, Queen Esther, and Judith from the Apocrypha. There are definitely women of valor in that tradition represented in my books, although there are plenty who embrace a more traditional role too. 

There are also people worshiped as gods and goddesses, but while they were created immortal and perfect, they now have a broken, damaged side and vulnerabilities too

Probably the biggest group that collectively breaks the traditional gender roles mold is the mermaids (see A Shadowon the Land and King's Ride), who are ruled by a queen. Because of the nature of their realm and the requirements it places on them for survival, mermaids take on most of the leadership roles in their society and do most of the work outside their cities while their men stay closer to home. 

In Astarkand traditional women's roles come with a twist: Kandian women may look decorative at court and be expected to marry to cement political alliances, but at home they run their estates and keep track of the finances, and are capable of organizing a refugee encampment or a royal feast at a moment's notice (Eiathan's Heir). Maeve, the Duchess of Firewind, even rides with Bjorn to rescue her stepson and her city from an evil plot.

Then, there's the seeress, Kera, whose role as a prophetess means that the Horsethain treats her with great respect. Although she's just a slip of a girl in Galthain's Bones, I think we could consider her a woman of valor. 

On the Horse Plains, women among the Traders train with swords for self defense because life on the road can turn dangerous with little to no warning. Although she is expected to fill a more traditional role, Bjorn's sister Melora sneaks away from home to train with the Trader women. Plains women are also famous for being accomplished horsewomen.

In contrast to the more liberal and flexible society on the Horse Plains, women of Dracaena are seldom seen outside a harem unless they are slaves or without a male protector, and they avoid talking to men who aren't members of their family or their immediate household. In spite of this (or because of it?), married men in Dracaenan society have a tendency to be rather henpecked.

Men's roles generally tend to be more straightforward but there are some notable exceptions: 

Bjorn's training for knighthood also includes learning how to mend his own clothes and how to cook and clean, and other chores traditionally seen as "women's work." Bjorn's mentor, Sir Kyle, is his father's trusted right hand man, but one of his most important jobs is training and mentoring Bjorn, which means he comes in for a lot of babysitting Bjorn and his cousins and friends.

Men and women in Horse Plains society share the effort of raising children. Bjorn's father is highly regarded because he's a good Horsethain, a great war leader, and he's a large, powerfully built man, but the feat he's best known and appreciated for is raising his sons well. With seven sons this is no easy task!

MJN: The covers of Astarkand feature an armored knight. On the first two books you just had the armor and his hand. On the third cover you actually see more of his figure, though his eyes are still covered. It's like he is gradually revealing himself more and more to the reader. Was that intentional?

KK: This progression was more serendipitous than intentional. I could make it intentional now...but...I need the right model to continue the theme! Any offers? (hint hint)

I could really use a model with blond curly hair like Bjorn's and real chain mail, etc. to add that realistic edge to bring the photography to the next level from pretend to "real to life". I could also use stock photos of a few appropriately dressed women in medieval costume who are not in embarrassingly awful poses... I can't pay much, but for the right photos, I would be willing to pay something--if the photographer and I can come to an agreement on what's reasonable.