Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The hidden horrors of Star Trek

I've never been a rabid Star Trek fan.

Sure, as a kid I begged my parents to let me watch the original series. It's what we talked about on the playground. A rite of passage in the '60's. Camping out on the floor in front of the TV, watching Shatner put the moves on a multitude of mini-skirted alien babes. I'd snarf down a "3 Musketeers" candy bar while breathing in the exotic worlds and aliens. Space helmets were pointless while Shatner chewed up the scenery, sucking up the oxygen around him. My hero. For a kid? Heaven. Naturally my brothers made fun of me for it, little realizing one day the "geeks" would inherit the entertainment industry. I mean, one of my brothers still belittles people for reading books. I know, right?

Back on track...recently my wife and I had a chat about Star Trek. I told her I wished I could teleport (because I hate traveling, love the destination, despise the journey..."are we there yet?"). She said, "No, you don't want to teleport." Curious, I asked her why. My mistake.

The answer horrified me. As it will you, too.

Apparently the teleporter doesn't just "transport" molecules, DNA, flesh, bones, the gnarly works. No, nothing that nice and tidy and comforting. My wife explained, "The Enterprise crew dies every time they teleport. Basically, they're clones."

WHA? "Live long and prosper," my ass!

An absolutely horrifying concept. I had no idea, not a clue.  

Childhood dreams shattered ("Shatnered?"). Nightmares ensued. Never again would I look at the silly voyages of the Enterprise in the same light again. I mean, we all know about the "Red Shirts," right? (For the uninitiated, any time a red-shirted crew member beams down to a planet, they basically have "Dead Man Walking" emblazoned on the back of their red shirts). But the entire crew? Dead? Again and again? I spent my childhood years watching stunt doubles. Clones, for God's sake! How many Shatners can the universe handle?

No wonder "Bones" was always kinda' pissy about the teleporter. "I'm a doctor, Jim, not a reconstituted corpse!" Now I'm severely locked into "Team Bones," forget about the Shat.

Look, I'm by no means a "Trekkie." I've never watched the series where the Reading Rainbow guy wears an air filter around his head. Or the series where some dude has a back-bone running down his forehead and says things, in a very deep and serious voice, like, "Captain, there are strange, sticky substances enveloping the nucleon TV dinners." Didn't watch any of those. I always thought a "Klingon" was a sock stuck to a sweater in the dryer.

But part of my childhood died the day my wife clued me in to the ugliness of the televised future.

"Beam me up, Scottie?" Um, no thanks, Scottie. How about, "Scottie, book me on the next interstellar Greyhound bus to Hemrrhoidon 12?"

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hangin' with interstellar travel agent (actually writer) Rosalie Skinner

I'm stoked to host writer Rosalie Skinner today. She's Australian. Yeah, yeah, yeah, she's a terrific author, but did I mention she's Australian? Mega bonus points. Let's get started...

*Rosalie, I really enjoy your prose. It’s evocative, descriptive, sometimes old-fashioned and at times quite lyrical. Did you adopt this style to fit fantasy writing in general? Is it your usual style? Would you change it if you wrote a contemporary thriller or other genre?

Stuart, first off, thanks for having me as a guest. You were correct when you said your questions would take some answering. I will endeavor to answer truthfully and where I can’t I hope my attempts at least sound believable.

My voice I guess is fairly old fashioned when I write fantasy. The location of the chronicles is on a planet where modern language would seem out of place. If, or should I say, when, I write in another genre, I am pretty sure my ‘voice’ and the language used would reflect the change. Or, perhaps I am just old fashioned and love to use archaic words. 

*I believe you said that Adrift: In Search of Memory is a stand-alone book in your Chronicles of Caleath series. To be honest, I was just as confused as the protagonist during some of the information drop scenes. But I’m dumb. That’s the bad news. The good news is it’s intrigued me to read from the beginning. I’m curious if the other books would enhance the enjoyment of Adrift.

I hoped ADRIFT: In Search of Memory would stand alone. Caleath/Tag spends much of the time confused, so perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. You and he can both complain to the author.

*Clearly, you know your way around the world of sailing. I felt like I was out on the seas of turmoil with Tag Seawell. Did you toss on an eye patch, tour the world on a fishing boat, and growl, “arggh” a lot? Or is this the result of extensive research?

Arrgh. Ya’old landlubber, was’t the eye-patch what gib’it away? I drew a line at the eye-patch, but have sailed under a jolly roger. Thankfully we weren’t shot out of the water. Plenty of research, wonderful hours spent on sail boats, whale watching vessels and fishing boats. Every trip out of the harbor helped. Having access to, and a tour guide’s notes, while exploring the Bark Endeavour and climbing over Notorious a visiting pirate ship also helped gain an insight into what it would be like traveling aboard a tall ship.

In Australia we are lucky to have a scheme available where young people can learn about sailing aboard a tall ship. So, we sent each of my three kids for a ten day trip on the tall ship, the Young Endeavour. When they returned I used their experiences to add to my own. My son is a skipper of a dive boat and swims with sharks most days. He proof reads my sea faring stories. It sure helps having an expert available.

*I imagine it was tempting to keep your kids afloat. I kid, I kid. 

Memory plays such a huge theme in the book, almost a character in itself. As a newcomer to the series, I feel somewhat like Tag/Caleath in that I’m discovering identity, characters, worlds along with the protagonist. Intentional?

Yes, of course it is. Phew, that was an easy one.

*”Balls of a hairy goat!” I think this is my fave catch-phrase, well, maybe ever. Where can we get t-shirts?

Let me know your size and preference for long or short sleeve! I can do anything through Vistaprint. LOL.

*I read that your daughter inspired Caleath’s triumphs and struggles. In what way?

I will explain as part of a later question… if that is allowed.

*Your books are billed as fantasy/science-fiction epics. The first part of Adrift is firmly anchored in the fantasy genre with dragons, death as a character, sorcerers, quests, and other such tropes. Then suddenly sci-fi elements are introduced just as Caleath begins to remember parts of his past. Coincidence? A commentary on progress?

At this stage I think I must confess to coincidence. Now you mention it, though, I like the idea of the juxtaposition as a commentary on progress.

*Let’s talk about the character of Caleath, your protagonist in the epic series. Some of the other characters describe him as “arrogant.” At times, I’d agree. He’s also quite tempestuous. Yet he strives to take the moral high ground. I get the impression he hasn’t always been this way. Is the series a tale of redemption? How do you see Caleath?

Caleath is looking for redemption. He’s been through a lot before he reaches ADRIFT and rediscovers himself. By this time in his journey, he has grown from seeking revenge and relying on hate and rage to sustain him. He has almost completed his quest. He still has a few lessons to learn, challenges to overcome but he can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

*Again about Caleath. At the start of the tale, he’s committed to his goatherd lady love. As the adventure continues, he’s definitely tempted by several other women (also hinting at past dalliances with men). He’s ready to ditch his pregnant girlfriend at the end of the book until he sees her, remembers how beautiful she is, then changes his mind. Dude’s a “player!”

Is this a question? (Stuart: No, but it gives me more of a chance to blab.) Caleath has been in a few relationships during the previous books. Regaining his memory jolts recollections of those women and the relationships, not always successful, he shared with them. No wonder he’s confused when Tag is committed to the goatherd. Tag is committed to Naomi and protecting his unborn child. Now he finds himself thrown into the company of the feisty and attractive witch, Melody, during his struggle to remember who he is/was. All his confusion clears when he sees Naomi and Tag/Caleath remembers her faith, strength and vulnerability.

*The book’s packed full of action, Caleath running from one skirmish to the next, not to mention remembering his past adventures on different planets, different lives, even different clones. Yet there’s also time for introspection, even philosophy. Are all the books this lively?

I would like to think so, though I feel as I worked through the series each book improves on the last. They all have lots of action, adversaries, challenges, relationships and a little introspection.

*Okay, poor Caleath takes a beating (Thank God he has a special healing ability). He’s captured, beaten, stabbed, arrowed, burned by dragons on several occasions, runs around the countryside with bleeding feet…that’s just the start. Um, do you have it in for this guy, Rosalie? Perhaps a closet literary sadist?

In a previous question you asked how my daughter inspired the Chronicles. It seems pertinent to answer here. The chronicles loosely follow the journey/battle my daughter faces living with three chronic, painful, incurable but not terminal illnesses.

From the time she was first ill, at age fifteen, she has experienced a lot of pain, loss and dismay and yet her courage, strength and determination continue to inspire those around her. Often people don’t even realize she is unwell. Her smile hides the pain, the despair. Each day is a battle. Pain is constant. Only the depth varies. She was told she had had appendicitis but she didn’t even see a doctor because she was so used to the level of pain she just thought it was another day in her life.

So Caleath’s journey was written while I cared for my daughter. I watched her struggle as her future crumbled. Relationships fell apart, friends stopped dropping by, jobs failed and yet she refused to give up trying every avenue to manage her life. She now has a supportive partner and two children who make life worth living when the pain becomes too much.

Caleath, sadly, gets to face a lot of pain and disappointment during his journey. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. Ooops… no spoilers.

*Bravo to your daughter, Rosalie!

Like an annoying child, I’m gonna’ hit you up with a question no parent ever wants to answer. Which book in The Chronicles of Caleath is your favorite? (And you CAN’T answer “I love them all the same.”).

Good question and no, I do have favorites. Although I enjoyed writing each book, as the story develops I think I enjoy the journey more. What am I trying to say? For me, ADRIFT: In Search of Memory and ADRIFT: The Fragile Sun (since in my mind they are one continuing story) were the most fun to write and most rewarding to revisit. I guess it’s the pirate life and sea faring adventures that draw me. Arrgh, the eye-patch is back.

*Alright, Rosalie's taken to the seas again. In the meantime, you can find out more about her adventures at Rosalie Skinner's Amazon page

Friday, November 14, 2014

One Plumber, Two Cracks

Everything was cool while the handyman ranted on about silicone, threading water tubes, calcification, old houses. Fine, whatever, have no idea what he's talking about, job done. He managed to make the Magical Refrigerator generate Magical Water again, all that mattered. Ta daa! Rabbit out of the hat, get out of my house now. Thanks.

A final flourish, he thrust an electronic pad toward me to sign, the last step. I scratched indecipherable hieroglyphics on it because who can really write on those things anyway? Whatever it takes to get back to normal.

But the handy-guy had an itch in his craw, a metallic glint in his eye.

Crap. Trouble.

Just my luck to connect with a handyman who wanted to do a thorough job. For this self-proclaimed hermit, it felt like an invasion. Big time.

A seeming afterthought, the handy-guy decided to check the ice-maker. Battles have been won over weaker appliances and clearly I lost.

Parts were torn out. Indiscriminately, frozen food was dumped into the sink. A wrrrrrnch drew black marks across the floor when he yanked the fridge from the wall. No way out, no help, no mercy.

Dave--by this time, we'd reached first name status--told me the ice-maker was WAY off. Parts were out of order, not connecting, a screwed up puzzle where the pieces didn't lock together. With a sad shake of the head, Dave asked, "Has your fridge EVER made ice?"

I had no choice. Like being drafted into a war I was politically opposed to, Dave enlisted me into service. My duty as a home-owner. Handy-man's soldier.

Together, we unloaded the rest of the food from the freezer. Shelves were dismantled, nuts and bolts unscrewed. Frozen syrup draped my arms, gross and sticky and invigoratingly manly. We swept webs and sweat from our brows. Then we cursed, laughed, reveling in our recent shared good times.

I put on music. Manly working music. We sang Hall & Oates songs. I was tempted to don a pastel colored sports jacket, roll up the sleeves, and pump my arms like a jackhammer. Just like Hall did in that awful '80's music video (or was it Oates? I  can never tell the difference. They're pretty interchangeable except the shorter one bebops around "oohing" and "ahhing" on occasion). My dog howled, joining the fun. At that moment, nothing mattered except appliances.

I felt empowered, mechanically apt for the first time, well, ever. Flipped a wrench and actually caught it. Muy macho. Then the job was done. As were my dreams of finally feeling useful around appliances.

Without so much as a smile, Dave left. Grabbed my money off the table, no looking back. A cough of smoke from his truck's exhaust and he vanished out of my life.

I felt so used.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Call for the stunt double! Death Scenes with author Sara Jayne Townsend

Something special today. An interview with a terrific British mystery writer, Sara Jayne Townsend. When you read the following, please do so with a British accent in your head. It's like gravy.

*Welcome, Sara. At first, I was under the (mis)impression Death Scene was going to be a horror tale as I knew you enjoyed writing and reading horror. To my surprise, it was a cozy mystery. My first! And a very good read. Is this your usual genre?

 *Your heroine, Shari, was born in England then moved to Canada. Yet she seems to hate Canadian weather. I’m wondering…why is she living there?

SJT: I describe myself as a crime and horror writer, but I was a horror writer first – from age 14, when I wrote my first horror novel. I started to discover women crime writers such as Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton in the early 1990s, and by the end of the 90s, horror seemed to have dropped out of favour, in the UK, at least. I loved reading crime so much I thought I should start writing in this genre, since it was selling better than horror was at that time. I didn’t have the confidence to write a police procedural, so I decided to create an amateur sleuth. Thus Shara Summers was born. SJT: There’s a lot of personal experience from me in Shari, including my dislike of Canadian winters. I went to Canada as a child when my family emigrated there and I came back to the UK when I finished high school, while they stayed in Canada. And the winters had a lot to do with it. I wanted to give Shari an affinity to Canada, so I had her stay there. But my dislike of the cold is so overpowering I can’t imagine how anyone could love it, and so she shares that trait with me.

*I, too, hate the brutal midwest winters. What am I doing here again? There’s an awful lot of background color about the world of acting, all of it ringing true. Do you have personal experience in that field?

SJT: I spent a lot of time in the 80s, 90s and 2000s doing amateur dramatics, and loved it. That’s one of the reasons I decided to make Shari an actress. I toyed with the idea briefly of going into theatre professionally when I left school, but I was never really good enough to make a success of it. Once I decided I only had time to pursue one creative vocation that wasn’t going to pay around the day job that would be necessary to pay the bills, I decided it had to be writing, not acting. So instead I’m sort of living the actor’s life vicariously through Shari. I do have a number of friends who have done acting professionally for at least some part of their lives, and I collected anecdotes from them all when I was doing research for the book. Many of those anecdotes are blatantly stolen and stuck almost verbatim into the story. But I have given credit to said actors in the acknowledgements.

*One thing I’d like to warn your readers about? Don’t read the acknowledgments until after you’ve finished reading the book! Major spoiler alert!

SJT: I guess that’s true and I never really thought about it, I was just giving credit to a person who had a major influence on how the plot worked out. The book has now been published twice, with the same acknowledgements both times. I guess I assumed they would end up at the back of the book. But it’s probably good advice – read them last!

*I enjoyed the relationships in the book. The way Shari and her mother interact, prickly conversations and battling personalities struggling to be dominant over one another; how people react toward the rapidly deteriorating health of Aunt Ruthie--part empathy, part sympathy, all bother. Very universal. I’ve lived through very similar family situations. Good job. How much is true for you, Sara?

SJT: I have two younger sisters, so sibling rivalry was familiar to me as I was growing up, as I suppose it probably is to everyone with siblings. A major theme of the novel was family ties and the fact that you can’t escape your family’s love no matter how far away you run. I would like to emphasise that I did not base any of Shara’s family members on any of my own. But I think family tensions are familiar to most people.

*Shari is a strong, independent woman. But sometimes it seems she puts her needs before others. She doesn’t appear to have a very good relationship with her family, having rarely seen them. Now I know there’s a geographical barrier, but how do you see her? Well-adjusted, self-centered…maybe a little of both?

SJT: I don’t think she’s very well adjusted. She has a lot of emotional baggage. And she is a tad self-centred. But I think a lot of actors are – you have to be acutely aware of yourself to be able to act, and that can come across as being rather narcissistic. I wanted Shari to have flaws. Perfect characters are boring. She’s far too nosy for her own good, but what amateur sleuth isn’t? She has commitment issues, because I decided that relationships with problems are far more interesting than ‘happy ever after’ kind of relationships (but as is evident I’m not a romance writer). But she also stands up for what she believes in, and will fight for a cause she’s passionate about, and I hope this makes her sympathetic to readers, despite her flaws.

*I agree. Perfect is boring, flawed is fascinating. But here's something that's been bothering me...please tell this clueless Midwesterner what in the world Marmite toast is!

SJT: Marmite is a yeast-based spread that you have on toast for breakfast. It’s got a meaty kind of taste, but it’s vegetarian friendly. Brits are firmly entrenched into one of two camps – Marmite lovers and Marmite haters. There’s no middle ground with Marmite. Australians have a similar product, called Vegemite. But it’s not something available generally in North America. I decided it would be a way of showing Shari’s British roots, by having her miss Marmite and getting her mother to send it to her when she’s in Canada. And by the way, I’m in the ‘Marmite lover’ camp.

*In the chapter where the romantic interest is seducing Shari, she remarks many, MANY times about his lovely, long eyelashes. Is this a subtle way of showing she’s getting sloshed? Or do you, um, just like guys’ eyelashes?

SJT: What can I say? Romantic scenes are not my strength. I wanted a subtle way of showing her attraction, and that she was getting slowly sloshed, without having say it. So I decided to have her keep noticing his eyelashes. I think it’s fair to say that Shari likes long eyelashes on guys (without giving away spoilers, she sort of does it again in the second book). I don’t think the same thing can be said for me. Though I do share Shari’s fondness of hunky blonds. Especially Chris Hemsworth. Now he can throw his hammer in my direction any time. Uh, sorry, where were we??

*By Odin's nostril hairs, Sara has thusly spoken! Thor is the man to beat!

Alright. Done, now. Here's a cool sneak-peak at the sequel's cover:

The first book in her amateur sleuth series about Canadian actress Shara Summers, DEATH SCENE, is now available, with the sequel, DEAD COOL, released on 25 November and available for pre-order. Visit the MuseItUp Publishing book store to buy both: http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/our-authors/70-our-authors/authors-t/420-sara-jayne-townsend

You can learn more about Sara and her writing at her website at http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com or her blog at http://sayssara.wordpress.com.