New Book Designs and Release Dates

The covers have been unveiled for Philip Mazza’s forthcoming fantasy novels, a continuation of The Harrow Saga. A re-design of the first book, From Under a Tree, is scheduled for republication.

We’ve embedded the full image for the jacket designs above—what do you think? The second installment in the trilogy, Shadow in the Flame, is scheduled for release late 2016.  Children at the Gate, last in the series, is scheduled for a 2018 release.

The Harrow is the story of two teen-age girls and their adventures in a fantastical world. At first, they are frightened by this new world until they discover their role in a struggle between good and evil. The girls are drawn deep inside this new place with their two pet cats, and begin to see the magic that takes place around them.

The Harrow is a coming-of-age novel with a twist. The sisters do not follow the usual pattern of growth. Both are thrust into a strange fantastical world in turmoil. Together, they face hardships, confusion and complexity, and have moments of clarity of insight. For better or worse, the sisters begin to grow up in their strange world. They begin to take risks and make decisions based on their core values. Sometimes they fail while at other times succeeding. Through their many adventures they begin to understand their identity, learn many emotional truths, and garner a sense of home and belonging.

"You’ll have many questions and all will be answered in time."

- Philip Mazza, The Harrow: From Under a Tree

The Harrow Books Shop Coming Soon!

  Woman's Shirt

Woman's Shirt

  Drinking Glasses

Drinking Glasses

The great folks from Omni have just sent word – The Harrow Books Shop – the official online store of The Harrow Saga will soon open on this web site! You can come to this web site for all information on the author and the Harrow Saga. The shop will sell Harrow related products ranging from t-shirts and caps, to totes and mouse pads, and of course books. Apparel will be for men, women, kids, and infants. If you are looking for merchandise of The Harrow Saga the online shop will be the right place for you.

       Harrow Tote

     Harrow Tote

The Harrow Books Shop will have all of your favorite official merchandise. Celebrate The Harrow Book Saga with a t-shirt, cap, or drinking glasses! While one does not simply walk into the Crag, we make it easy to bring home all of your favorite Harrow merchandise at The Harrow Books Shop!

 

 

An Interview with the Author - About the Harrow and Tolkien v. Martin

RasAmon

Omni Publishers of NY is pleased to present an interview with The Harrow author Philip Mazza. In the interview we decided to ask some intense questions, questions that some fans have been asking for some time. Like, is this series only three books long? What is the history of this fictional place called the Harrow? What is his inspiration? Here's what he told us.

Warning: There may be spoilers below!

Here's the complete unedited text of our interview Philip Mazza, author of The Harrow series.

Are you surprised by the reaction to your book? Did you think it would sell the way it has?

  Philip Mazza, Author

Philip Mazza, Author

I suppose so. I never thought of book sales, though. For me, that is something the publisher worries about. My job is to continue to bring the story forward and move it along to a natural conclusion if there can be one. Don’t misunderstand me. I am happy that many people find the book interesting and have enjoyed it. But like I’ve always said - I write for myself.

You mentioned a “natural conclusion.” Is this series a trilogy only?

I really don’t know. I plan on completing two more books because I have committed to doing so. With that said, though, I think there is so much history and so much more that can be told about the Harrow and its inhabitants. At the same time, I have other stories in my mind I would eventually like to tell, stories not about the Harrow. Only time will tell if I can be successful at the others.

In the past you’ve described how you write. Why does it take you so long?

Well, writing is not easy. First, it’s a matter of finding time. Secondly, it’s a matter of form and shape especially when writing an epic fantasy. People have to remember I have a day job and paying the bills requires I work at keeping it. Writing is and has always been a release for me. It took ten years for me to complete the first book and I am more than half-way done with the second. Developing characters and plots-lines, and keeping a certain level of suspense is not easy.

Writing is a labor of love and hate. I love doing it; it is my release. I love creating characters, placing them in situations and seeing what happens. I love the act of creation. But I hate the time it takes and the stitching together that is required to make it all work. The great science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein had four rules for writers and I try to keep to three of them. They are: write, finish what you start, and don’t tinker endlessly with what you’ve written. I try to stick to all three, and when you look at the rules you can see how it is such a time-consuming process especially with the epic fantasy and the detail that is required. What Heinlein calls tinkering, I call stitching. I want to bring readers into my world. I want them to see it, to hear the sounds, to smell the smells. In this way the reader can more easily relate to the story and the characters.

One of my favorite sayings comes from Han Solo in Star Wars. When explaining to Luke Skywalker the detail required for making a jump into hyperspace he says “it ain’t like dusting crops.” The same can be said when writing fiction. It is so different than writing business reports. 

We’ve already released an excerpt from your second book and will release more excerpts in the coming months. The reaction to the excerpt was greater than expected. It seems you are introducing more characters and story lines. Why is that? Was this planned?

Nothing is planned! I’ve never written from an outline and refuse to do so. For me, the act of creation is what I truly love about what I am doing. In the first book when I was writing the beginning chapter, I did not even know Erol Carrick or Bombadorn Roundthaler existed! They came to me when I needed them, tugging on my shirt, telling me to write them into the story. It’s a lot of fun!

A great story deals with the human element and the conflicts we face in everyday life. It’s about how we deal with situations and the conflicts, and how we deal with each other. The second book is the further development of the first book and its story. New characters have sprouted because they are required to fulfill the story.

So you write in a linear manner?

Yes. I do not get ahead of myself. I simply place one foot in front of another! (Laughs)

You talk of situations and conflicts. Can you better explain?

We read for enjoyment but also to learn something. Many literary scholars believe that we are predisposed to appreciate works of fiction that encourage us to speculate about other minds, because our brains are structured to attribute goals and intentions to others. This tendency served us well in our prehistoric past: our ancestors were people who could accurately decipher the motivations of other animals and humans, because they tended to reproduce more successfully than those who did not.

Also, where fiction is realistic or deals with realistic themes, it allows the reader to experience or relate to a real life situation but at the same time, since the reader knows that it is fiction, creates a remove. The reader is always safe because the reader knows that it is only a story and none of the horrible or fantastic things are actually happening.

For example, in Shadow in the Flame we see how Glaeynd comes to grips with her family and its predisposition to evil. In the end of From Under Tree we learn of Ras Amon’s dark secret – Amin Tarn. Later in Shadow in the Flame we see how he battles this addiction. We also experience the conflict between Moondancer and the Tura, Mori Mengel. We learn of the emptiness of vengeance. We witness first-hand the struggle the young and beautiful wizard Morna Anya faces with the wizard Argannon. Of course, we learn for the first time the demons that Erol Carrick wrestles with.

Situations and conflicts allow an author to communicate to a reader a certain concept or philosophy. Readers enjoy reading a parable and find it easier to understand the message.

So an author is a teacher. What is it you are teaching?

Yes, an author is a teacher of sorts. In every good story there is something to be learned about the human element and ourselves. In my books the major themes center on tolerance, the importance of learning from each other and becoming better creatures, of acting on centered values and morals, and of dealing with those of weak spirit and mind.

In the second book there’s a scene that seems to harken back to World War II. Azariel speaks to the En’ Raama in a manner similar to how Hitler spoke to the masses.

Yes. Exactly. The mood in the Harrow is grim. This is similar to the setting that brought Hitler to power. Hitler was a powerful and spellbinding speaker who attracted a wide following of Germans desperate for change. He promised the disenchanted a better life and a new and glorious Germany. The Nazis appealed especially to the unemployed, young people, and members of the lower middle class. Like Hitler, Azariel uses similar conditions to stoke a fire and rise to fire. He tells the En’ Raama that they’ve become a lesser race. Here is where the human condition becomes weak. During such times, we lack resolve, we lack the ability to stand for what is right and just, we throw our values and morals out the window. During such time it is so easy to buy into a dark rhetoric. Thankfully for the En’ Raama Azariel is overthrown by the Shori Orn. Yet, even this act comes with a price. Under the Shor Orn the En’ Raama becomes a neutral entity which has a negative impact on the forces of good. This changes when the Shori Orn suffers a great personal loss.

The question we are often asked is what is the Harrow? Is it strictly a fantasy world? Is it a parallel reality?

(Laughs) The clues are all about you.

What are they?

The Shyjael Tyl in the first book. In the second book we learn about a place called I’il N’dor which is east of the Drueger.

Is that all you’re going to say?

A good tale is like an enormous puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle, by itself, does not seem to make sense; the shape provides a bit of help but the content is but a blur of color and without specific form. It is only until you properly place all the pieces together that you see the whole picture.

Who are your inspirations?

As I’ve noted before, they are Vonnegut and Tolkien.

You do not like George R. R. Martin?

Not especially. There are major differences between the type of storyteller, between Tolkien and Martin. As writers we are all influenced by who we are and the times in which we live. For Tolkien, it was World War II where there was devastation but victory. For Martin, it was Vietnam. Still devastation but not victory. Tolkien is generally recognized as the father of modern fantasy with his epic novels. The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion are all genre defining masterpieces. On top of creating thousands of years of history and his own mythology, he's also created multiple real languages, making him the best world builder in the history of fiction. Martin is known for political intrigue and character development. He's basically made a living deconstructing classic fantasy and medieval literature. As a result he's popularized the sub-genre of dark low fantasy.

So, each has its own following. For me, in an epic fantasy, good should prevail and in a majestic manner. Tolkien so wonderfully created it.

In my opinion, to compare Martin to Tolkien is not fair to both writers. First off, Tolkien is an inspiration to nearly all modern fantasy authors, Martin included. Tolkien has put the “epic” into fantasy, and set the mold. No one today, if ever, will be able to build the kind of detailed world that he did—and who has the degree and time to create their own language like Tolkien did? He spent decades on this stuff. His knowledge and time spent creating his world is in itself “epic” in scale. Tolkien gave the world a story that people of all types and ages could enjoy over and over through generations.

Martin is a good writer that has produced a solid, gritty, graphic piece of fantasy fiction. Perhaps too graphic for my taste. But A Song of Ice and Fire is a treat in modern fantasy, and is a trend-setter, and that’s about it. Like Twilight is to Paranormal Romance, or like Fifty Shades of Grey is to Erotica, or like Harry Potter is to YA Fantasy; A Song of Ice and Fire is to modern Epic Fantasy. That’s it. It has just become popular. Just because Martin’s works are hugely successful doesn’t make Martin out to be some great, groundbreaking writer of our time who will set the standard for a new genre. There’s no doubt that Martin has and will inspire a lot of new authors, but every great and popular author does that. It’s nothing new.

So let Tolkien be Tolkien, and let Martin be Martin.

Can we let Mazza be Mazza?

In the words of Shaer Thol, “I do what I do and that’s the best I can do.”

A Moment of Pure Joy - Remembering My Parents

Molly.family.soulless

It has been a year since my mother passed; four years since my father’s passing. The death of a mother or father can strike a person unexpectedly hard. Parent death brings a unique kind of grieving, regardless of ones relationship with their parent. The break in a parental relationship bond can reverberate for the rest of a person’s life.

The passing of a parent is difficult, of course. Our parents are our wisdom keepers. We spend a lifetime looking to our parents for answers. They're the repositories of knowledge about our history, our upbringing, family traditions, names of all those faces in old photos. With their passing so, too, goes the information and insight that hasn't already been transmitted or recorded.

Then, there may be unresolved issues that sometimes follow the parent-child relationship into adulthood. The balance of the parent-child relationship shifts several times, first as we gain maturity and create our own families, and then as parents grow older and often need our support. These realities bring plenty of opportunities for misunderstanding or discord. And not all these bumps are smoothed out by the end.

A parent’s death always feels sudden - even when it's not. People often expect that the death of someone older or someone who's been ill for some time will feel easier to endure because it's predictable. Yet the disappearance from your life of a figure you've known since birth is, when it finally happens, always a sudden change.

Finally, there’s the loss of the buffer generation. Here, we are forced to reexamine our own mortality. When a grandparent dies, there's still a whole generation between you and death. With a parent's death, your own eventual demise may feel uncomfortably nearer. And in fact it is nearer for time is forever.

On the anniversary of my mother’s passing I first celebrated with a beer and cigar. I watched the sky and viewed the many cloud formations; I stopped and looked over the wondrous colors of the many flowers in my yard. I renewed my parent’s images in my mind by looking at a picture of them together.

I did not weep; instead a smile came to my face. For you see, my parents did exactly what they set out to do – to prepare my siblings and I for the difficult journey we call life.  And they did it so well.

It was a moment of pure joy, because I knew my parents were smiling, too.

Harrow Series Fans Teased by “Shadow in the Flame” Excerpt

RuinThatch

Philip Mazza just made the wait for Shadow in the Flame a bit easier for Harrow Series fans - or perhaps more difficult, as a recently released excerpt may only leave them wanting more.

Mazza has been torturing us with his Harrow Series, as recently Omni Publishers announced a delay in the release of the second book. We're not going to get Shadow in the Flame this year because the author is taking his time. In a recent blog, Mazza stated, “It is my hope I can finish both (Shadow in the Flame and a Companion book) before the end of 2016 but I make no guarantees. After all, this is my novel, and I write first for myself. I believe this practice really helps.

HarrowExcerpt

Mazza and Omni have debuted an excerpt from the upcoming entry in his ongoing book series on the book’s web site. The passage is more than a few lines - it appears to be a good portion of a chapter, and presents new characters. At this point in the book series, Molly has found herself captured by the Ru Gwaith, a sect of brood, and is imprisoned in a dark chamber.  

Mazza has warned that the second book is darker and sinister and this excerpt clearly lives up to the claim.

The excerpt can be read on Mazza’s web site.

From recent Omni Publisher press release

Delay of the Next Book - New Map of the Harrow Revealed

  The Utine Heru, Lead of the Balor Warriors, direct descendant of Ra Carathor - From Book Two: Shadow in the Flames

The Utine Heru, Lead of the Balor Warriors, direct descendant of Ra Carathor - From Book Two: Shadow in the Flames

Douglas Adams once said: “I love deadlines. Especially the whooshing sound they make as they pass by.”

Well, welcome to my life and welcome to the grand whooshing sound!

I am told that writers can feel a lot of pressure to meet publisher deadlines. It’s something new to me. My first novel took ten years to complete, an on-again off-again labor of love, as I maintained a full-time job. Now that I have a publisher writing has become almost a task, a job to be completed (as if I need another job), a daily word count goal that must be maintained, or else.

New Harrow Map. From Companion Book

For most a deadline can either move ahead easily or be very daunting, depending on the work, the publisher, and what’s going on in your life at the time. I am fortunate. I have a publisher who seems to be forgiving, a publisher who is reasonable and looks for quality storytelling instead of word counts.

You need more time Mr Mazza?

Yes, I do. I have a Companion book and two more novels to write. Remember, the first book took me ten years to complete.

How much more time do you require Mr. Mazza?

Oodles! You know no one is more qualified to get this done!

Perhaps Mr. Mazza. Ok. Let us see.

Yet, even though deadlines can be extended, the new target date is but a new deadline, an extended sense of horror and fright. At the end of the day, the only deadline is the one I give myself.

How can I deal with these deadlines? I remain, calm and focused. I plan my goals week-by-week, instead of day-by-day, to avoid any low feelings. I also try to encourage myself by setting my own personal deadlines while compiling a potential manuscript – deadlines such as, I shall go 2-weeks without writing, then finish at least one chapter in one-weeks’ time. After all, this is my novel, and I write first for myself. I believe this practice really helps. But don't let the publisher hear this!

So, for my fans, both the Companion book and the second book are delayed. It is my hope I can finish both before the end of 2015 but I make no guarantees.

In the meantime, Omni has done a wonderful job working on new graphics and a new map of the Harrow. This blog has a portion of the map that will appear in the Companion book and future books. You will see it in this blog and if you click on the map it will enlarge.

It seems that even though I write pretty much year-round, I definitely do less when a deadline is looming.
 

Of Evil . . .

  The Ru Gwaith, I' Mor Ba - from Book Two,  Shadow in the Flame

The Ru Gwaith, I' Mor Ba - from Book Two, Shadow in the Flame

When it comes to writing fiction, it seems each author has their own unique challenges. For some, it may be something as simple as coming up with names for characters. For others, perhaps it’s hard to write lifelike dialogue. Yet, even for others it may be difficult to craft a really good scoundrel, the nemesis to the main character.

In the epic fantasy genre, the scoundrel or nemesis is absolutely critical to the story. And the author has to excel at crafting not only one evil character, but usually several. For in an epic fantasy, much like life, evil and despair is all-around.

  The Nnar’ Vasa - from Book Two,  Shadow in the Flame

The Nnar’ Vasa - from Book Two, Shadow in the Flame

Readers of The Harrow: From Under a Tree seem to be very curious about my methodology relative to the development of evil characters. I have received several emails asking questions about some of the characters in From Under a Tree, but also about the upcoming sequel and especially in light of some of the artwork that has been posted on this web site and my blogs. [Yes, some new artwork is included in this blog.]

  The Tura, Mori Mengel of the Lok Tumu   - from Book Two,  Shadow in the Flame

The Tura, Mori Mengel of the Lok Tumu - from Book Two, Shadow in the Flame

For me, characters that embody evil provide a critical plot element – conflict. Conflict is everywhere in real life and should most assuredly exist in any piece of fiction, to include the epic fantasy. To get to conflict, the author has to find weaknesses, or failings in the story’s protagonists. Such failings give birth to the antagonist, and their character makeup. Yet, each antagonist will also have weaknesses.

So, as you see – failings permeate life and therefore conflict abounds.

In real life, perhaps it’s the self-absorbed boss who overworks employees and neglects customers. Maybe it’s a dirty politician, or people who committed heinous crimes. Or, maybe it’s a family member whose motives seem unclear or not aligned with the issue at-hand.  

I notice people’s flaws, mistakes, and think about what people would be like if those flaws were embellished and magnified to outweigh the person’s good qualities and positive traits. Suddenly, an evil character is born. And before you know it, you will have created another, and then one after another, and more and more, like a little herd of evil creatures.

I make up characters in my head all the time. Sometimes I write down my ideas, but most of the time I let my ideas stew in my mind. Most of them never make it to the story, but the really compelling ones do.

If you want to write a good piece of epic fantasy, you need characters who create tension and who are at odds with the forces of good.

Now that I’ve found a surefire way to harvest evil characters from reality, the character sketches have really started to pile up. The challenge is to ensure a good harvest, carefully selecting those nasty characters that make for a delicious feast of words.

If you want to write good fiction, you need a character who creates tension and who is at odds with the forces of good. For the writer, conflict is absolutely fun! Evil characters are those we love to hate because they are the harbingers of obstacles and challenges through which the heroes prove themselves. They bring us both conflict and conflict resolution!

Dreaming While Awake

  From Book Two: Ruin Thatch and his eagle companion Tiri Thoron

From Book Two: Ruin Thatch and his eagle companion Tiri Thoron

Aimee Bender once said, “As a writer you ask yourself to dream while awake.”

Writing can be a frightening, distressing business, and whatever kind of structure or buffer is available can help a lot. For almost 12 years now, I've been faithful to the Harrow and its many plot twists and varied characters. I try to provide myself with structure, at least one hour a day and 500 words, for five or six days a week. I am sometimes most effective in the morning. I get up, sit down, check e-mail briefly, turn off my e-mail and Internet, look at the time on the computer, and begin. I hope to get in my 500 words before it is time to prepare and go to work.

  From Book Two: Straya and one of the fire swords

From Book Two: Straya and one of the fire swords

Inspired by the highly regular routines of writers like Stephen King and Flannery O'Connor, and many more, I tried to tailor mine to my own idiosyncrasies. But alas, I am not a full-time writer. I am limited by the mere 24-hours in a day, a full-time job and family concerns. Yet, it is important to cleanse my mind, to dump my ideas if you will, onto paper, and thereby forward the process for but another day.

All writers require some form of structure, much like the idea of the cramped closet, is freeing, and for me, the more I can externalize the process, the easier it is to submit to it.

  Dwarf Commander, Bombadorn Roundthaler

Dwarf Commander, Bombadorn Roundthaler

I love writing. Since I’m aesthetically challenged, writing is my only creative outlet. It feels great to finally have the confidence to get my words out on paper. To shape and polish them until they shine. To meet characters who I grow to love and hate. Writing is amazing.

Writing gives me such enormous pleasure, and I'm a much happier person when I'm doing it. There's a place in my head that I go to when I write and it's so rich and unexpected – and scary sometimes – but never ever dull. I first went there when I was young person and I wrote short stories and poetry which startled me a bit because it felt like someone else had written them. And, yet, I still retain the feeling. Sometimes when I review what I have written for the Harrow I will ask myself, Did I just write that? Wow!

Writing is a passion, however restrained, and it’s also a painful process, a misery that must be fed. For the words can never come quickly enough.

The Villain

  From  Shadow in the Flame , the Lor Shys torments Molly

From Shadow in the Flame, the Lor Shys torments Molly

Spoiler alert! The graphics in this blog reveal for the first time the Szard, and from the second book Shadow in the Flame, the villainess- the Lor Shys.

For a fantasy story to truly hit the mark, it needs a memorable villain.  In some cases the villain can be compelling that he or she overshadows the hero.  That’s not always a bad thing, because it is the villain that helps the reader to best understand the hero. It is the villain who actually drives the plot. He's the one with the plan, he's the one with the goal. But to really make a villain, or villains come alive there are five major characteristics a writer needs to convey.

Powerful

Great villains are staggeringly powerful.  In other words, they have a way of making things bend to their will.  In fantasy stories this often takes the form of magical powers.  In some cases, though, the villain’s power is less obvious.  A classic literary archetype is the femme fatale: a woman who uses her charm to control those around her.  Some villains posses keen acuity and cunning, which is far more dangerous than raw might.

  The Szard

The Szard

Intelligent

Effective villains are intelligent.  This does not necessarily mean that they are intellectually gifted.  Rather, it means that they avoid making silly decisions. A truly great villain is always two steps ahead of the hero, and carefully considers every option. This does not mean that they are above making mistakes.  Otherwise they would be undefeatable.  But they certainly don’t make the obvious ones.  Great villains pose a real challenge for the hero, and they do so by being on top of their game.

Immoral

True villains are immoral.  This is what makes them villains.  It’s not that they lack a sense of right or wrong.  On the contrary, villains often subscribe to a moral code.  But they are willing to violate accepted moral principles in order to accomplish their goals. They believe so strongly in the rightness of their own cause that they no longer see the normal standards of moral conduct as applying to them.

  Battle for the Snowwynne Barrens

Battle for the Snowwynne Barrens

Wounded

Memorable villains are usually wounded individuals.  More often, though, the most defining wounds are emotional or psychological. This reflects the great truth that no human being is born a monster.  Rather, people are made into monsters by the damage and abuse inflicted upon them.  Something must have happened to transform an innocent child into a homicidal adult. 

Determined

This is what separates the great villains from the lesser evil miscreants.  A truly formidable villain is possessed by an unstoppable drive to achieve his or her goal.  Under no circumstance will he ever give up. When a great villain sets his sights on a goal, nothing short of annihilation will stop him from accomplishing it.  This makes the defiance of the hero that much more perilous.

In The Harrow, From Under a Tree villainy abounds. From the race of the En’ Rauko , to Dark Wizards, to the Dree Dunn der witches, or to the many other forsaken characters, villainy helps to provide the backbone of any good tale. For it is villainy that gives us conflict and without conflict, there is no story.

I have always been fascinated by the dynamic of heroism and villainy in fictional narrative. When asked which type of character I enjoy writing, I usually respond by saying "those at the extreme" – the pure good or the pure evil. Tolstoy said that all good marriages are alike but each bad marriage is unique.  He argues that this is what makes bad marriages more interesting.  The same is true with any story.  Heroes are nothing without their villains.

Not another Elf

  The Elf-King, Dalgaes, in full battle vestments

The Elf-King, Dalgaes, in full battle vestments

Where does one start when it comes to an epic fantasy? Are races like elves, dwarves, orcs, and wizards fair game for modern fantasy?

Yes. You can write about anything you desire.

My first introduction to the “classic” fantasy races was Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it was continued in my younger days by other great writers. Growing up on a diet of elves and orcs, it was little wonder that I choose to feature them in my first book. I suspect that most authors begin by emulating their literary masters, but eventually you need to break away and find your own brand of storytelling. It’s difficult to find your voice when you’re playing in someone else’s sandbox.

Of course, Tolkien didn’t invent the myths of elves, trolls, and dwarves, but his novels brought them into the genre mainstream, and every one of us who follows afterward takes that legacy into account.

  Fenri pack aligned with the brood

Fenri pack aligned with the brood

Like so much in life, there are cycles and every genre goes through such cycles. Ideas become overused, get musty, and then are rejected. Eventually, someone comes along and makes them fresh and new.

This approach – the fresh and new – is sometimes called elevation, and is one way of doing something new or unusual in the fantasy genre. Stories of the fantastic are so old that it is often difficult for a writer to do something unique in such well-worn territory. By elevating horses and reducing humans, Richard Adams employs elevation beautifully with rabbits in Watership Down and Tales From Watership Down. The rabbits have a complex social structure, politics, art, and even religion and myth. But both writers are using mundane creatures, not fantastic ones.

The irony is that the fantastic races - elves, dwarves, trolls, and the like - have sometimes become clichéd in fantastic literature. In dealing with his problem I have used elevation much as Adams had. Elevation helps to avoid a certain inertia when it comes to describing those races, that they have fairly firm boundaries in the mind as to what is a true elf, or dwarf, or troll considering the complexities of the new world in which they exist.

Elevation is not about the requirement to use new races, as Adams had, even though that is fun and exciting. Instead, it is about creating a given setting and without the extra baggage that comes with using the traditional fantasy cast.

For fans of the Harrow, the web site helps to provide much insight into the complexities of the races that inhabit the Harrow. As we progress together through the next two books, of course, more will be revealed.

So, just remember, it is just not another elf!

Of Witches . . .

  A Dree Dunn der witch

A Dree Dunn der witch

The fantasy genre has become popular the past few years. Once a genre restricted to a few Tolkien fans and literature aficionados, Fantasy become mainstream in a big way, from the mega-popular Harry Potter series capturing the world's attention for a decade, to Twilight, to a host of other popular fantasy books, games, and movies that have been popping up the past few years. The most recent craze is the new Game of Thrones on HBO.

By definition, the epic fantasy is a genre that typically features the use of magic or other supernatural phenomena in the plot, setting, or theme. Magical or mythological creatures often feature, as well as races other than humans, such as elves, dwarves, or goblins.

Fantasy draws a lot from classical mythology. Why?

Because mythology also consists of monsters and creatures and magic. The two lie very close together when it comes to contents and themes. Tolkien borrowed a lot from mythology when he built Middle-Earth, using Nordic, Germanic, and archaic English myths and legends. Even if an author does not want to borrow a whole pantheon or myth, they will tend to borrow the creatures, plots, or heroes instead. It creates a bit of familiarity in the book, and also gives the author the chance to play with some stereotypes too, both of which can make for interesting reading.

In my second book, Shadow in the Flame, I introduce several new characters and plot twists. Of interest is the introduction of witches, and specifically the Dree Dunn der. Why witches? Well, why not!

The most enduring character from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the Wicked Witch of the West. To this day, when one utters the word witch, it is she that comes to mind for so many. And, as with every character in a novel we tend to learn something about ourselves. In Baum’s tale, the witches nature is a volatile and yet somewhat cowardly one. Despite her immense power, she avoids face-to-face contact with her enemies, and is frightened of Dorothy at first when she sees the girl wearing the Silver Shoes. She is also afraid of the dark in Baum's original story for reasons never revealed. For that reason, the Witch never tried to steal the Silver Shoes while Dorothy was sleeping. What was Baum trying to tell us?

Well, simply put – the face of evil is often times masked in cowardice.

In a similar manner, the Dree Dunn der are malevolent creatures, but almost inconsequential to those of strong will and resolve. As I write,

. . . They seemed of normal appearance at first, the three of them. One was young and pretty with long blonde hair, sweet blue eyes and an enchanting smile. A second was a bit older in appearance than the first, with short brown hair and a darker complexion. The last was taller and the oldest of the three. She had long grey hair with striking green eyes. All three wore long black robes and smiles that combined affection with malice. But then there came a fourth, different in its appearance; for the fourth came from the forest, crawling on its belly, thin, and without hair. All along its black robe were worms and other forest insects, putrid creatures that had chewed their way through the clothing and now fed from the flesh of this crawling beast. It joined the other three, propping itself up on its arms, and gave a sinister smile. It wasn’t until the four spoke that the group realized they were witches. Their words were polite and friendly, but quickly changed to torment. It was not simply that their words were evil; their hearts were evil, they were evil, and from such a source nothing but evil could proceed. As they spewed forth their torment their bodies trembled and their heads began to turn to reveal a second face. Slowly and painfully their heads twisted, the sound of bone cracking into bone and breaking until the new face revealed itself. The vision of the four new faces was horrendous as each was dark, blue-skinned, contorted, eyes of pure white, and mouths with cracked black lips with pustules leaking from the corners. From the vile lips came corrupt words . . . these were the Dree Dunn der . . .

In many ways, we take a bit of reality from fantasy; we learn something about ourselves from others, even from the characters we read about. Whether it be the Wicked Witch of the West or the Dree Dunn der, we understand that strength resides in our spirit, and a resolve to do what is right and just.

Unstuck in Time . . .

  Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve often been asked about the last dedication of From Under a Tree. It reads:

Listen: The words stopped on April 11, 2007. This is when the master came unstuck in time. So it goes . . .

For many it is a riddle; for others, the words are understood.

It has been eight years since the passing of one of the great writers in modern history, and of a favorite writer of mine, Kurt Vonnegut. Best known for his books Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, Cat’s Cradle, and many, many more, Vonnegut had a way of creating alternate realities, while at the same time saying something important about our own.

Perhaps his most known work was Slaughterhouse-Five. Written in Vonnegut’s signature conversational style, Slaughterhouse-Five is considered a classic of American literature.

He had roots in upstate New York. Vonnegut was a chemistry major who cut his undergraduate career short when he enlisted in the Army in 1943. While at Cornell he was a columnist and editor at The Cornell Daily Sun. After the war, he worked as a journalist and began publishing short stories, gaining fame with his early novels including Player Piano (1952), The Sirens of Titan (1959) and Cat’s Cradle (1963). He returned to Cornell several times to lecture and to attend Sun alumni events between 1980 and his death in 2007.

Vonnegut’s eminence, his reflections on the ideals and challenges of a generation, made him an exceptional writer. He was a pinball wizard of cosmic cool, astral jokester, moralist and, yes -  a writer who offers subtle challenges wrapped in an enticing style. Vonnegut was a science fiction and fantasy writer but in a unique way, for rationalizing fantasy in such a manner that will make life endurable.

And, one cannot forget an unanswerable question Vonnegut once asked: What are people for?

Some words of wisdom from a great writer who is now unstuck in time . . .

I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’

The Trick of Particularity

  In a dream, Morna Anya and Delotha Sil' escape the clutches of Argannon.

In a dream, Morna Anya and Delotha Sil' escape the clutches of Argannon.

For writers, so much can be learned about their style simply by looking at the first paragraph of their book. That first paragraph can reveal many things, to hopefully include aspects of brilliant technique. In The Hobbit, although the hobbit is one of Tolkien’s great artistic inventions, he chose to start by describing not a hobbit but a hobbit’s dwelling. We quickly come to know a lot about hobbits as we go in the front door, down the hall, and into the hobbit’s cozy den of comfort.

For my second book, Shadow in the Flame, I begin by describing an evil character, the Lor Shys:

The black tower of Urth’ Goroth stood malignant under the night sky now made darker by smoke and ash from the underground forges. The air was difficult to breath, hot, and dry, making the Drueger a place where few creatures could survive for long that is except for one evil beast, the one called Lor Shys by the brood, or demon worm. Long had the creature lived there; it had been said for ages, far more years than any living being could recall. As the brood surmised, the creature was as old as time itself and had probably been born of the fire and chaos that had first created the world.

Besides the choice of what to describe, notice the specificity of the small number of details. We place the character in darkness, within the horrors of a smoke and ash environment. We experience how difficult the environment is, and how perhaps, the character has lived from the very beginning of time, surviving through fire and chaos. Later, we learn how the character finds its way through "a murky and dank labyrinth of confusing and distorted passages." You do not know that the character is evil but you get a sense of it from the description. These are the tricks of fiction. Here, I have selected a small number of details, and somehow, this convinces the reader that there is a “real” place with believable characters doing things of importance. The odder or more precise the detail, the more convincing.

This is called by some the trick of particularity. Dante mastered it, as did other writers. Why is there a lamppost in the woods in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia when the Penvensie children arrive for the first time? And why do we soon spy a faun carrying an umbrella? Something about it offers a concreteness to the scene. And we start to see it in our mind’s eye.

It is the writer's responsibility to guide the mind's eye using the trick of particularity.