Another Music Monday and a new project means it's time to make a new playlist! Part of the fun of working on a new novel is putting together a playlist for it. I wrote the first draft of The Source-Fixer without really having a playlist in mind, but now as I'm planning the revision, it's started to come together.
The Source-Fixer (this may graduate from working title to actual title) is about two people in the middle of life (Kaniev is forty; Fransisa won't admit to her age but, just between you and me, she's also forty) who lose everything that's given meaning and purpose to their lives up until now, then find new life and hope in a place they never expected. And yes, it's a fantasy-romance (I am who I am), but kind of different. So with that in mind, here are my songs for the book:
For your listening enjoyment, here's the playlist on Spotify. (click link to listen directly on Spotify)
Taking a break from final proofreads on For the Wildings for another Music Monday! This week I'm featuring Haven, the most recent album from one of my favorite symphonic/progressive metal bands, Kamelot. This is another album I've been enjoying a lot lately, and it's a heavy influence on one of my upcoming books, Heir of Tanaris.
It's hard to say what the strongest point of this album is, but the vocal performances are definitely a highlight. Tommy Karevik (the more-than-worthy successor to Kamelot's previous singer, the extremely talented and classically-trained Roy Khan) has a powerful sound, amazing range, and virtuoso phrasing and vocal shadings that make each song an incredible listening experience. I'd have to say, among a lot of amazing singers I'm a fan of right now, he's my favorite.
There's some great songwriting on the album, both musically and lyrically. The instrumentals, played with the skill and polish of a longtime professional band, combine serious headbanging metal and beautiful string arrangements. The members of Kamelot are masters of their instruments and definitely know what they're doing. As well, there are a lot of memorable melodies, some of the most beautiful melodies I've heard in metal. The bonus album contains the instrumental tracks of all the songs, which stand up well by themselves, as well as orchestral arrangements of some of the songs.
And then there's the lyrics. A lot of authors who listen to music as they write prefer music without lyrics, so that those words and their words don't get mixed up, but I get a lot of inspiration from the right lyrics, and when I start a new project I spend a lot of time carefully choosing songs that fit the overall plot and mood of the book as well as for specific scenes and characters. Lyrics matter to me, and I love the lyrics on Haven. They have a somewhat dystopian feel to them, and center around a loose concept of being torn between personal desires for good and evil, longing for power on the one hand and love on the other. At least that's my read on it, and the theme fits perfectly with Heir of Tanaris, about a man torn between the evil that's been instilled in him for years and his longings for personal power and domination, and his newly-awakened desires to be a better man and to be worthy of the love he's found. The first six songs on Haven - Fallen Star, Insomnia, Citizen Zero, Veil of Elysium, Under Grey Skies, My Therapy, and a song from further down, Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy), form the core of my writing soundtrack for Heir, and I must have listened to it hundreds of times over and over and over while I wrote the first draft, and never got tired of it. My Therapy is especially appropriate; the female lead character in Heir is a healer, and Davreos, the male protagonist, looks to her to heal him not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually with her love.
To give you a taste of this amazing album, here's the official lyrics video for Veil of Elysium, one of the most beautiful metal songs I've ever heard:
So I hate it when I want to write a blog post but I have no idea what to write about. There's only so much I can say about my own writing before it gets boring, and unlike a lot of writers, I'm not interested in blogging about writing. But thinking of interesting stuff is hard. Then it occurred to me, I like music, so maybe sometimes I should blog about music. And I hate cooking but we gotta eat anyway, so maybe sometimes I should blog about stuff I like to make that's easy, especially on a busy day (like a long day of writing). And some other stuff. So I came up with a list of themes for blogging, Music Monday, Tasty Tuesday, Throwback Thursday (not original with me, of course), Friday Five (which I already do sporadically), Sneak Peek/Snippet Saturday. All alliterative, because alliteration makes everything easier. And author spotlights on Wednesday, but I couldn't think of a way to make that alliterative. So this is just a loose framework, don't look for a post on each of those topics every week, and I reserve the right to post on a different topic on any day when I feel like it. But when I want to write a blog post and have no idea what to write about, this gives me some ideas.
Anyhoo, for the inaugural Music Monday, here's a look at my most recent album purchase (yes, I buy my music by the album, instead of streaming or only buying individual songs. I guess I'm just old-fashioned that way. Though I mainly buy MP3s), Legacy, the brand new album (their 4th, I believe) from Tunisian progressive/symphonic metal band Myrath.
Myrath combines the metal rock, symphonic arrangements, and big, dramatic melodies and lyrics of symphonic metal with the rhythms and melodic hooks of North Africa and the Middle East for a sound that rocks hard and is musically gorgeous and unique at the same time. Along with the usual instruments you'd find in a metal band, they also use traditional instruments. The lead singer's vocal stylings might sound a little unusual and take some getting used to, because again they draw heavily from North African and Middle Eastern musical traditions. The songs on Legacy (really a self-titled album, since "Myrath" means "Legacy") integrate these traditions more heavily than on the previous albums that I've heard (Desert Call and Tales of the Sands), but it's still very listenable. The songwriting and musicianship show a band that is gaining depth and maturity with each album. The lyrics are positive, on subjects like the desert, adventures, facing life's challenges, and a good portion of love songs. With my own love of the desert and of writing fantasy set in the desert, Myrath's songs are a great fit for my books, and of course I always love a good love song. I've used a couple of their songs on playlists for my books, "Silent Cries" (from Desert Call) on the Urdaisunia playlist, and "Silent Cries" (again) and "Madness" (also from Desert Call) on the playlist for The Lost Book of Anggird.
Me being something of a musicology nerd (I got my Master's degree in music history, though I never got into ethnomusicology), I love coming across music that's unique and powerful and draws on long, deep tradition. I see symphonic metal as being one of the latest evolutions of classical music, and the addition of North African/Middle Eastern music traditions to the mix makes Myrath one of the most fascinating bands I've come across. I recommend you give them a try, especially if you like symphonic/progressive metal. Even if you don't, sometimes it's good to take a chance and try something new, anyway :-D
To give you a taste of Myrath's sound, here's the video for "Believer" from Legacy:
J.J. DiBenedetto, author of the paranormal suspense Dream series (which I highly recommend!), did something fun on his blog today. He wrote a little about the research he did for one of the Dream books, and invited other authors to comment about interesting or unusual research they've done for their books. I talked about some of the research I did for To The Gap, then I decided to expand on that here.
Fantasy usually requires less research than, say, historical fiction, but there are a few things fantasy authors need some knowledge of, like horses, how different weapons work, and a basic understanding of social structures, economics, and forms of government. But Daughter of the Wildings, being set in a world loosely inspired by the American West of the 1880 (and thereby dipping its toe ever so slightly into historical fiction), needed a little more research than that.
Take Silas and Lainie's guns, for starters. I know nothing about guns, so I did a lot of research into them, especially six-shooter revolvers of the sort that would have been used in that period. Not to the extent of naming specific makes and models, which of course wouldn't exist in a fantasy world, but enough to make what the characters do with their guns realistic enough that the gun enthusiasts among my readers (hopefully) won't laugh at me and then stop reading. My search history now shows a lot of Googling for sites that sell authentic replica guns and ammo, as well as Youtube searches for videos about shooting and quick-draw techniques. (My rule of thumb for writers: if your Google searches don't put you on a government watch list, you're doing it wrong :-D)
I also researched clothes of the period, mostly when I was working with my cover artist, Mominur Rahman, to develop Silas and Lainie's look in the cover art. Wild West Mercantile and Western Emporium are two great sites to look at for replicas of authentic western clothing of the period (and maybe buy yourself a little something, too!).
One thing I did a lot of research on was wages and the cost of things in the 1880s West. Money has to come from somewhere, and there has to be a rational basis for wages and prices, and this seems to be something that not a lot of fantasy authors pay much attention to. One of the most useful sites I looked at, that listed prices on items from canned goods to a new house in Deadwood, South Dakota, in the 1880s (based on newspaper ads of the time) is now, sadly, defunct. I was also able to dig up lots of information on other sites, too. This site, How Much Stuff Cost Long Ago, was really useful for calculating prices. So I did a lot of research and calculating and converting from dollars into the currency used in the series, and filled sheets and sheets of paper working out stuff like how much a meal would cost and how much a trail hand would earn on the cattle drive. Maybe it doesn't really make much difference, but I hope it gives a little more authentic feel to the world.
And then there's horses. Horse lovers, I've learned, are as particular about accuracy as gun buffs are. And I have the same amount of real-life experience with horses as I do with guns, which is to say, none at all. Fortunately, I have a number of online friends who know and love horses, who have also served as test readers on my books. They've given me a lot of information and corrected a lot of inaccuracies. And of course, there's always Uncle Google, for when I have questions like how far can a horse travel in a day (I already know a horse cannot gallop 90 miles in one day), and what's that horse color called? Do horses even come in that color? And how much does it cost to board a horse in a stable?
When it came to the cattle drive in To The Gap, I was really at a loss, because I knew nothing about cattle drives except they involved herding large numbers of cattle from here to there. So I set out to find some good, accurate information about cattle drives in the late 19th century - not the fictionalized, and sanitized, versions we see in fiction and movies. Luckily, I came across The Log of a Cowboy, by Andy Adams. Adams was a working trail cowboy in the 1880s. Some years later, he became disgusted with the inaccurate portrayals of cowboy life in the popular culture of the time, so he wrote Log, a fictionalized account of a cattle drive based on his own experiences, which was published in 1903.
From Log of a Cowboy, I learned how cattle drives worked, what cowboys did on them and what daily life was like on the drive, how cattle behaved, and, best of all, what kinds of things could go wrong on a drive. I learned about river crossings and dealing with flooded rivers - and why most cowboys had a deep fear of drowning, the effects of bad weather on the cattle and the work, dealing with stampedes and rounding up the cattle after a stampede, tactics used by rustlers, and all sorts of other fun stuff. If you're interested in learning about that period of history, The Log of a Cowboy is available free online at Project Gutenberg and AmericanLiterature.com, and in various editions at Amazon. Keep in mind that it wasn't written for 21st-century sensibilities, so some readers might find some of the content offensive, even though it was perfectly acceptable for its time.
Some other helpful resources for Daughter of the Wildings research were the blog Wild West History, Legends of America, and Google Earth, which is great for researching physical settings.
Of course, Daughter of the Wildings isn't meant to be a factual account of life in the American West in the 1880s, and the heart of the story is not the research but Silas and Lainie's magical and emotional conflicts and journeys. But I hope that my research makes their world a more authentic, believable place and will help readers have a richer, more enjoyable experience.
Plus, I learned that cows can swim :-D
For this Friday: Five fantasy books/series (well-known and not so well-known) that influenced me. (links go to Goodreads, to first books in series. Covers shown are the editions I own.)
1. The Prydain Chronicles, by Lloyd Alexander. The first epic fantasy series I ever read (that I can recall, anyway). A great starter series for kids, and also entertaining for adults. The struggle between good and evil, the colorful characters, the adventure, and the love story between Taran and Eilonwy (even as a child, eight or nine years old, I loved love stories) all caught my imagination and made me want more.
2. The Earthsea Trilogy, by Ursula K. LeGuin. My parents gave me a nice boxed set of this when I was 11 or 12, for my birthday or Christmas (they're close together). Magic and adventure on the oceans and islands of Earthsea with Ged, one of the greatest fantasy characters of all times. Ged was one of my book crushes when I was a tween (of course, I'm far too old for that sort of thing now *coughcough*). This introduced me to the idea of the wizard dedicated to that life (and to the concept of schools of magic), and contributed to my thinking that it wasn't fair that wizards didn't get to fall in love and if they did they could never do anything about it. Naturally, I was intrigued by what could have been the romance between Ged and Tenar. The relationship is finally continued in the 4th Earthsea book, Tehanu, but I had a lot of problems with that book, especially feeling like Ms. LeGuin changed her characters almost to where they were unrecognizable to suit the political/philosophical points she wanted to make in the book. So, for me, Earthsea stops with book 3 and I let my imagination take it from there. (I actually have three different sets of this series. The cover shown here is from that original boxed set. Down at the bottom you can see another cover that I have, and one I definitely do NOT have. Or want.)
3. The Riddle-Master Trilogy, by Patricia McKillip. Gorgeous prose and dripping with magic in a world where riddles hold the keys to ancient, lost knowledge, no one thinks there's anything strange about rulers who are hundreds of years old, ghosts and spirits walk the earth, and magic isn't a discipline, it's the fabric of which the world is made. Morgon, the farmer-prince, is another of the greatest fantasy characters ever (and another of my teenage book crushes), and the relationship between him and his betrothed Raederle is another great love story. (The cover on my original copy of book 1 is hideous. Get the very nice omnibus edition instead.)
4. Crispan Magicker, by Mark M. Lowenthal. I'll say it right now, yet another of my teenage book crushes. There are a lot of problems with this book, but the character of Crispan makes up for them. He's a wizard dedicated to the Order, naive and honorable, who has to go after his teacher Vladur who has become corrupted and put a stop to his evil plans. Along the way he is tested and tried and stretched, required to become a military commander and take lives, and ultimately has to risk losing everything that matters to him in order to protect the world. Really an awesome character. This book again brought up the themes of wizards dedicated to the practice, and to a formal order, and also risking losing everything you have and everything you are in order to do the right things. And again, why don't wizards get to fall in love and do something about it? There's a tantalizing hint about "a woman by an unknown sea", and Crispan clearly has a lot of adventures ahead of him, but no sequel was ever published. Which makes me sad. Long out of print, which also makes me sad, but used copies are available. I would love to see Mr. Lowenthal (also a prominent figure in intelligence and national security circles) get the rights back, republish independently, and write some sequels.
5. The Apprentice, by Deborah Bickmore. Yes! Fantasy with a real romance in it! Jaimah, the young apprentice/servant of the powerful sorceress Shayna, is drawn to and terrified by Corwyn, Shayna's mysterious and powerful new apprentice. When it comes to a showdown between Corwyn and Shayna over a powerful, dangerous spell, which wizard will destroy Jaimah and which one will save her? The kind of book I love to write (and love to read if I can find them), where the fantasy and the romance are in equal balance. This book was out of print for a long time, but now Ms. Bickmore has indie-published it in Kindle and paperback editions, hooray!
Addendum: As you'd expect with a book that's been around for more than 45 years, A Wizard of Earthsea has been through a lot of covers, good, bad, and indifferent. Here are two that stand out:
Guess which one I like better?
The physical world of Daughter of the Wildings was inspired by the landscapes of the western U.S., where I was born and raised and still live. From the surroundings I grew up in and live in, to scenes viewed from the car on family road trips, it's all familiar to me. I do my best to paint these landscapes in words in my books, but sometimes you can't show everything with words. There's a reason for the saying, A picture is worth a thousand words. So for those of you who aren't as familiar with these scenes, or if you are and still want a visualization, here is a collection of photos of landscapes and scenery that helped inspire Daughter of the Wildings. (Most of the photos are by my husband or myself; the old west town photos come from freeimages.com; photographers are credited on the images.)
1. Bitterbush Valley - Beneath the Canyons opens with Silas Vendine riding down into the Bitterbush Valley, a high grassland valley situated between hills in the east and mountains in the west. This view was inspired by the Verde Valley and Sunset Point, between Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona.
2. Canyons of the Great Sky Mountains - A large part of Beneath the Canyons involves Silas pursuing the nefarious Carden and his band of miners through the canyons running down from the Great Sky Mountains. A lot of people, when they think of canyons, probably think of the Grand Canyon, an enormous rift in the ground. But the kind of canyon I'm writing about here runs between mountain ridges, basically a long, steep valley that starts higher up in the mountains and opens out into the valley at the foot of the mountains. The Great Sky Mountains were inspired by the Santa Catalina range north of Tucson. If you load the map on this National Forest page, you can see these ravines, carved by streams and creeks, coming down from the mountains, flowing together into larger streams, and also the network of washes on the valley floor. My husband enjoys hiking in the Catalinas, so I'll turn the next gallery over to him:
Down in the bottoms of these canyons, it's steeper and narrower than it looks from up high; take a look at this video of a flash flood in Bear Canyon to get an idea of what it's like when a lot of water is flowing.
3. The Bads - Book 2, Bad Hunting, takes us to the Bads, the lowest, hottest, driest part of the Wildings. This was inspired by the low Sonoran desert that I see out the car window every time we make the drive between Tucson and Phoenix on I-10. Not the most attractive desert scenery, but it has its own challenges and stark beauty. The hills in the distance in this photo are a model for the hills in the Bads where Silas and Lainie are hunting for a killer.
4. Washes - Bad Hunting also involves a hunt through a large network of washes, or creek beds, in the desert. These are usually dry, but can flood quickly when there's a large amount of rain. If you look at this watershed map of the Tucson area, you can see how extensive and complex these systems can be. On my street, there are two washes; one is fairly small and shallow at this point (in fact, it begins in my backyard!) but the other one is far enough advanced that it has a lot of vegetation growing along it and can flood pretty well when it's been raining a lot. The other day, I took my camera with me on my walk and took some pictures. You can see how hard it would be to be climbing in and out of these washes all day and trying to hunt someone through them, with all the thick (and thorny) vegetation!
5. Bentwood Valley, BC Crown Ranch - In Book 3, The Rancher's Daughter, we go north to the beautiful Bentwood Valley, in high country between pine-covered mountains. This area was inspired by some of the ranches you pass on I-17 just south of Flagstaff. (Of course, the BC Crown Ranch doesn't have any cars or trucks on it!) Silas and Lainie arrive in this area in early winter, so I feel fortunate that I was able to get some photos with snow remaining from a recent snowfall. (Which is why the color is funky; my camera metered for the snow and, zooming by on the freeway at 75 mph, I didn't have time to adjust the settings!)
6. Finally, here are some pictures to give you an idea of what the buildings in the towns look like. You can see the false fronts and covered wooden sidewalks. There's also a two-story hotel, with a bath house to the side. There's a saloon on the bottom floor, like the Bootjack and the Rusty Widow in Bitterbush Springs, saloons with rooms to rent on the upper floors. The physical setting is also very much like Bitterbush Springs, grassland with the hills behind the town.
Welcome to the third part of the Western With A Twist blog series, music! (Part 1 is books, Part 2 is movies and TV.) As we're gearing up for the launch of the Daughter of the Wildings series with Beneath the Canyons, enjoy some music that's western in spirit, style, or both, but with a twist.
Now, I'm not a country listener, but for the most part these aren't country songs. Rather, they have a sound reminscent of the west, spaghetti westerns, wide open spaces, an attitude of independence and individuality.
To keep the post from being too long, I'm only posting YouTube videos for a few of the songs, and including links to the rest; there's also a Spotify playlist of the music down at the bottom. I've also put Amazon buy links for as many of these selections as I could find them for (not my affiliate links; that would have been too much work!) Enjoy!
The song that immediately comes to mind when talking about westerns and fantasy or supernatural themes is Ghost Riders in the Sky. This has been covered about a zillion times; here are three of them:
Johnny Cash, traditional country (Amazon)
Outlaws, country rock (Amazon)
and this retro instrumental version from the 60's, by the Ramrods (with fan-made video): (Amazon)
The other "real" country song on this list is Ring of Fire. Of course, the original Johnny Cash version is classic (Amazon), but personally I prefer the cover by Social Distortion (Amazon):
The album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, by My Chemical Romance (one of the greatest rock albums ever made, if you ask me), makes up the bulk of the Daughter of the Wildings playlist. Set in a post-apocalyptic California, it's an in-your-face statement of individuality and independence. The whole album is excellent, but for the Western With A Twist theme I picked out Bulletproof Heart and Save Yourself, I'll Hold Them Back as being the most western in spirit. (Amazon)
The entire album The Joshua Tree by U2 (another one of the greatest rock albums ever made, IMNSHO) also celebrates the wide-open feel of the west, especially the songs Where the Streets Have No Name and In God's Country. (Amazon)
I picked two songs from the album Communique by Dire Straits for this list. Once Upon A Time In The West doesn't have a whole lot to do with the Old West, as far as I can tell, but it has a real spaghetti-western feel to the music, especially in Mark Knopfler's guitar playing. Angel of Mercy is a sweet and sexy country-flavored song that would be great to dance to. (Plus the lyrics mention catching a dragon; I know it's metaphorical, but still, dragons :D) (Amazon)
Peacemaker, by Green Day (Amazon), also has that spaghetti western feel, as does Kiseki no Umi, the theme song from the fantasy anime Record of Lodoss War. The show is about elves and the typical pseudo-European fantasy, but the beautiful theme song (by Yoko Kanno, the brilliant composer who also wrote the music for Cowboy Bebop and the theme songs for Ghost in the Shell) has a wide-open western sound.
Finally, probably the greatest Western With A Twist song of all time, and one of the greatest music videos of all time, the futuristic spaghetti western Knights of Cydonia, by Muse: (Amazon)
Stay tuned for Beneath the Canyons release news!
Welcome to part 2 of the Western With A Twist Blog series, setting the mood for the upcoming release of Beneath the Canyons, Book 1 of my high fantasy-western series Daughter of the Wildings. This time: movies and TV. (Part 1, Books, is here)
[Note: Amazon links are my affiliate links.]
First of all, if you're talking about TV and movies that are sci-fi or fantasy with a western twist, or western with a sci-fi/fantasy twist, you have to include Firefly on the list. I don't know how much I need to say about it, except adventures in space with a wild west feel - guns, fortune-hunters, independent-spirited people trying to make a new start in wide-open territory not necessarily on the right side of the law. I haven't seen the entire series yet, but what I've seen I loved. And, of course, there's the companion movie, Serenity. [Amazon]
Possibly the next most obvious entry is the old TV show, The Wild Wild West. Basically James Bond in the old west (the main character is Jim West; get it?), with lots of cool gadgetry, it also has elements of science fiction and alternate history, and is sometimes considered a forerunner of steampunk. I don't remember watching it as a kid, although I do remember the little animations between segments, but there are some episodes on YouTube so I've been watching those lately. Lots of fun. There was also a 1999 movie version which gets pretty bad ratings, which is too bad because with Will Smith and Kevin Kline you'd think it would be good. [Amazon]
Next up is one of my favorite movies, High Plains Drifter, with Clint Eastwood. Spaghetti western about a Man With No Name who comes into a desolate western town, uncovers its dirty secrets, and punishes it for a long-ago crime. Is he just a wandering Stranger, or is he something more? (The link goes to Rotten Tomatoes because the Wikipedia article was written by someone with a definite bias against the movie. :P) [Amazon]
Finally, while we're on the subject of movies, we can't forget Cowboys and Aliens, which I haven't seen but I love the idea. Critical reaction seems to be mixed; some reviewers love it, others just don't seem to get it. [Amazon]
Next up are two of my favorite anime series. Cowboy Bebop is set in space in the near future, after Earth has been made mostly uninhabitable by a natural cataclysm and mankind has moved to Mars. Lawlessness and corruption are rampant, providing plenty of work for bounty-hunting "cowboys" like the crew of the Bebop: Spike, wisecracking gunslinger/martial artist and refugee from the criminal Syndicate; Jet, tough but tender-hearted owner of the Bebop; sexy Faye, a woman without a past; Ed, the 13-year-old hacker girl, and Ein, the super-intelligent Welsh Corgi. Science fiction/space opera with a definite Wild West feel, an awesome jazz soundtrack, and the famous tag line, "See you, space cowboy." [Amazon]
Trigun is also set in space, on a desert planet where spaceships evacuating humans from a ruined Earth crash-landed. With the destruction of the ships, technology has, for the most part, gone back to the level of the late 19th/early 20th century (with a few things salvaged from the ruined ships and, of course, the Plants that provide the planet with power and water). The society is wild and lawless, and the most wild and lawless of them all is Vash the Stampede, the Humanoid Typhoon, the outlaw gunslinger with a $$60,000,000,000 bounty on his head. Vash believes in Love and Peace, but a darker destiny hounds him across the planet. Along the way, he meets up with a series of renegades, bandits, bounty hunters, and desperados, an intinerant priest who's more than he appears to be, asssorted lovely ladies, and two "insurance girls", investigators assigned to make sure he doesn't prove to be the ruination of the insurance company. [Amazon]
I like to think that Silas Vendine, the hero of Daughter of the Wildings, has a little bit of Spike and Vash in him :)
Cowboy Bebop has bounty hunters, and Trigun has a character with an enormous bounty on his head, and the two come together in possibly the greatest anime music video ever made, Tainted Donuts. To finish off this post, sit back and enjoy some animated Wild West in Space action!
To set the mood for the release of Beneath the Canyons, Book 1 of Daughter of the Wildings, a high fantasy series set in a world inspired by the wild west, I'm going to take a three-part look at books, movies/TV shows, and music that puts a twist on the traditional western. The mythos of the Old West - the wide-open, lawless frontier, the desolate and mystical landscapes, the confrontation between good and evil, self-reliance, individual freedom and responsibility, the struggle to survive, and characters who are trying to make a new start in life, or find justice, revenge, redemption, or just a ton of riches, have made for a rich body of exciting stories, and easily lend themselves to other genres. For the "Western With A Twist" series I'll mainly be looking at western mixed with fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction, which also share a lot of the same traits - new frontiers, confrontations between good and evil, the struggle to survive, characters torn away from their origins who are on a quest. But I'll also throw in a few other things as well, to offer up a wide variety of western-themed entertainment to satisfy all tastes! (Note: Amazon links go to all international sites, and use my affiliate link. Image and title links go to Goodreads.)
First up, books.
I've had a hard time finding Western-themed works that fit my definition of "high fantasy" (and the definition I'm using for Daughter of the Wildings): fantasy set in an entirely different world from our Earth, with no reference to the real world, involving magic as an important plot element and a struggle between good and evil. But there are a few that come close, and there's plenty of other stories that fit into the Western With A Twist theme out there; "Weird Western" is a big trend, as is western paranormal romance (my own definition of paranormal is set in our world and dealing with things like ghosts, demons, vampires, etc), western steampunk, western alternate history, and western science fiction. Here's a rundown of some books and a web comic I've found that fit the bill of Western With A Twist.
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King: When talking about western-fantasy, this is the first thing most people think of. I agree, with qualifications. The first book, The Gunslinger, is very much fantasy in feel, and focuses on the western-like world of Roland Deschain. Book 4, Wizard and Glass, which I'm stuck halfway through, is also pretty straightforward western-fantasy. I'm having a hard time finishing it, partly because I know it can only end in tears (I'm all about happy endings) and because the 14-year-old kid having lots of sex kinda puts me off. I'm told Book 5, Wolves of Calla, is more fantasy-western, as well. Books 2 and 3 (which I've read) take on more paranormal and science fiction elements, and spend a significant amount of time in the modern world. Book 2 was good, though not at all western, and more paranormal than straight-up fantasy. The last two books, according to the information I've seen, mainly take place in the real world, and from the descriptions and reviews I've read, the series seems to go weirdly off the rails and this point (Stephen King is a character in at least one of them) and the ending sounds like something that would incite me to heave the book (or my Kindle, as the case may be) against the wall. King's books that I've read tend to have that effect on me, which may be why I haven't read very many. But if you want fantasy-western, The Gunslinger is worth reading. [Amazon]
The Haunted Mesa, by Louis L'Amour: By one of the grand masters of classic western novels, this book explores what might have become of the lost Anasazi people of the southwest. I consider it paranormal rather than high fantasy, since it's set in our world and deals with things like ghosts and alternate dimensions, but I read it many years ago seem to remember enjoying it a lot, so it belongs on this list as another personal recommendation. [Amazon]
The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson. Set in the same world as Sanderson's Mistborn series but in a later time period reminiscent of the late 19th century. High fantasy, and definitely with a western-type feel and setting, and has definite steampunk elements. I've enjoyed all of Sanderson's work I've read so far, including this. Personally recommended. [Amazon]
The Buck Johnson: Dragon Wrangler series by Wyatt McLaren: Cowboys, wrangling dragons. On a distant planet. What's not to love? Short, funny, entertaining fiction that's a perfect blend of western and science fiction (the dragons are actually large flying lizards native to the distant planet). Personally recommended. [Amazon]
The Hunter (The Legend Chronicles, #1) by Theresa Meyers: This was suggested in a thread on Goodreads looked for fantasy-western recommendations. Mainly paranormal romance set in a steampunk version of the real world 1880's old west. Colt hunts for demons and other evil creatures; Lilly is a succubus he summons to help him on a search. She's ordered to take his soul; she has her own plans. I'm currently reading this one, and so far it's lots of fun. [Amazon]
The Native Star, by M.K. Hobson: Also recommended on that Goodreads thread. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my too-read list. Also paranormal rather than high fantasy. [Amazon]
Not fantasy or science fiction, but also western with an enjoyable twist:
The Mick and Casey stories (Have Gun, Will Play; A Fist Full of Divas; The Curse of Scattershale Gulch, and two stories in the Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! collection), by Camille LaGuire. Young married gunslingers Mick and Casey McKee solve mysteries in the old west. Mick and Casey are great characters, the old west settings are beautifully conveyed. If you enjoy putting together the pieces of a mystery in a different setting, try these. Personally recommended. [Amazon]
Bailin', by Linton Robinson. Crime caper set along the modern-day Texas-Mexico border, but with a very old-west feel to it. So funny it had me laughing in the dentist chair while I was waiting for the hygienist to come in and get to work. It has gunslingers, bounty hunters, a desperado in the person of a town treasurer who makes off with the stadium fund, and modern-day banditos (the two-man motorcycle gang Flathead and Bogart, the world's most inept drug smugglers). Also personally recommended. [Amazon]
Not a novel but a web comic/graphic novel:
Next Town Over, by Erin Mehlos. Follow the mysterious Vane Black as she pursues rogue sorcerer John Henry Hunter across a fictional world based on the Old West. Western high fantasy with a good dose of steampunk, an intriguing story, and really cool art. Personally recommended. Read for free or buy collected volumes for your tablet or in paper at http://www.nexttownover.net/. (I read them on my Kindle Fire.)
Finally, check out Raymond Cook. Straightforward westerns (not with a twist) based on the historic Old West. I've met the author online and he's a genuinely nice guy and has an inspiring story of following his dreams of writing despite serious injury and disability. I haven't read any of his books yet, but he's definitely on my to-read list.
If you have any recommendations for books that are western with a twist that aren't listed here, please put them in the comments!
Part 2: Movies and TV
Part 3: Music
Something I read recently has led me to musing on Lucie's character development in Chosen of Azara. Lucie was kind of a risky character to write, and very difficult to get right (assuming I got her right). In fantasy, young noblewomen who go off on adventures are usually spunky and rebellious and seize eagerly at the chance to run off somewhere and do exciting and dangerous things. But with Lucie, I wanted to do something different - something that is pretty much the complete opposite of almost every fantasy heroine I've ever heard of.
Lucie is pretty happy with the way things are and the life she has. She does have a bit of a free-spirited streak that pushes the bounds of convention and propriety, but she is willing (though somewhat reluctantly so) to accept the reasons why one day she will need to give up the things she enjoys doing. She also has the occasional complaint about her fiance, Estefan, but she understands that in her society, marriage is about a lot more than the whims of the heart. In spite of her "eccentricities," she wants to do what's right and proper and expected of her and to be a credit to her family. She wants the handsome husband, the beautiful house, the fashionable clothes, the social standing. She is looking forward to devoting her life to raising her children and managing her household.
And then the dream, the things she wants and that she's always been taught that she should want, starts to fall apart at the same time that she's presented with an alternative that, according to everything she's been raised to believe, is unthinkable, that would cost her her family, her friends, her reputation, and everything that's important to her. Lucie finds herself in a quandary: cling to what she believes is right and important, for the sake of her and her family's name and reputation and her own security, or throw everything away and take a leap into the unknown. Either option requires more courage and resolve than Lucie possesses at the beginning of her story, and a major part of Lucie's story is watching her find the courage to do what her heart insists is, in the end, the right thing to do.
I knew I was taking a chance of turning off readers with a character who seems weak, who wants to be proper and conventional, who is not only indecisive but outright offended when the handsome stranger says, "Throw everything away and come on my quest with me," and who wants to cling to the life she has even as it becomes increasingly clear that that life is detrimental to her. But it's a common source of conflict and growth in the real world: the person who hates their boring cubicle job but is afraid to quit because then how will they pay the bills? Or the person who hangs on to the same circle of friends they've known since junior high even though those friends aren't progressing beyond a junior-high mentality and the person wants bigger and better things out of life but they're afraid to leave those friends behind because what if they never make any new friends? Or the woman who can't bring herself to leave a bad relationship because what will she do once she's out on her own?
We see spunky, rebellious, and strong-willed all the time in fantasy. With Lucie, I wanted to start with a character who is the opposite of that and show her growth into, not necessarily spunky and rebellious, but strong-willed and courageous enough to do what her heart is telling her is the right thing to do, no matter the pressures on her from other people or the consequences to herself.
So that's the character growth part of this post. As for learning curves, that's my part.
The great thing about being an independent author is that you're in charge of every aspect of your book, from what you write about in the first place to the final presentation. It's amazing to have that much control, but also involves learning a lot of new things. And one of those things is book covers.
Book covers (though with ebooks what you're talking about is an image that represents the book on a website or on your ereader) are a hugely important tool for drawing attention to a book. They need to be eye-catching, attractive, and convey a good sense of what the book is about. For authors who publish with traditional publishing companies, the art/marketing departments take care of all that, and sometimes they do a good job and sometimes they don't. (Caution: any and all of those links may be NSFW. Brain bleach available in aisle 2.) Either way, the author generally has little if any input into or approval over what goes on the front of their book.
Independent authors have the opposite problem: It's all up to us. We have to think of the concept and then license or commission the appropriate images. And it isn't easy to think of a single image to represent your whole book. One character? Multiple characters? Just a landscape? An object? A literal representation of a scene in the book or something more general? It's mind-boggling if you aren't used to doing this, and sometimes it takes trial and error.
With Chosen of Azara, I wanted something representing one or more of the characters (I very much prefer book covers with pictures of the characters), and something representing the cove of Azara or another aspect of the magic in the book. I fiddled around with pictures of various crystals and necklaces, trying to get the magical talisman that is an important object in the book, but that didn't go anywhere. Finally I settled on a picture of someone who sort of looked like Lucie, and a picture of a rocky ocean cove, and tried putting them together, with results I wasn't entirely happy with.
When I went looking for a cover artist for the Daughter of the Wildings series, I came across Design by Katt and fell in love with her fantasy portraits of women. I knew I'd found just the artist I needed to turn my Chosen of Azara cover concept into something wonderful. And she did - she took my original images and concept and did a gorgeous job with them. Her rendition of Lucie captures Lucie perfectly.
It's a gorgeous cover and I love it, but I started feeling like maybe my concept doesn't really represent what Chosen of Azara is really about. Lucie is only one main character of three in the book, and the main main character is actually Sevry. So I started thinking he should be on the cover. As well, just having Lucie on the cover doesn't convey the dark, angsty, romantic, adult (as in grownup, not as in porno) nature of the book - it looks more like a Young Adult book, or maybe fantasy with a chick-lit-ish twist. So, reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that my original concept was a misfire.
In the meantime, as I saw more of Katt's work and as she did the lucious cover of Sarya's Song, I came to realize what a really skilled and talented artist can do with photomanipulation and digital painting. It was okay if I couldn't find a photo of two people who look exactly like my characters - the main things to look for were the basic physical type and the positioning. Everything else, hair color, hairstyle, even clothing and facial expression, can be altered. So I went browsing for stock images for a new cover and almost instantly came across the PERFECT picture to become Sevry and Lucie. I ran it by Katt and she roughed out an idea of what can be done with it, and oh my, it's going to be amazing! She's working on it even as I write this. :-D
So watch this space for the new cover for Chosen of Azara. Once I've revealed it here, I'll start uploading it to the various retailers where the book is available. The old cover isn't going away, though; it will still be around on the site, because I do think it's the perfect picture of Lucie.
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