Monthly Archives: May 2014

We Need a Hero.

america

I know I’ve talked about this before–all the superhero movies that are so popular right now.

I know part of the reason is that we now have the technology capable of really showing live action movies where people can fly and turn into giant green monsters and walk through walls and have realistically rendered feathered wings. So for that reason alone it makes sense that Hollywood has been churning them out, one after another. But if you recall, we had superhero movies in the 70’s, the 80’s, and the 90’s. It just seems like now every single blockbuster movie is about a superhero. (Either that or it’s a Disney film.)

Superman was huge when it came out. I remember that. And the first Batman did pretty well. But other than that, superhero movies didn’t really capture the interest of people other than those who liked comics to begin with or just liked action movies in general.

But look at all the remakes of Superman in the last ten years (and Spiderman. And Batman.). And then there’s the whole Marvel production of all the pieces of the Avengers, both featured in their own separate movies (Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, etc.) and all together, and now even with a TV series on top of that. They’re producing more movies than ever before in this genre. And America is eating it up.

So why are we so desperate for a hero?

I suspect there are a few reasons, but here’s a couple off the top of my head. First, we don’t have the kinds of heroes that America used to have. In the forties, you had the war heroes, and leaders like Churchill and FDR and J. Edgar Hoover and the G-men. You also had a clear cut enemy–the USSR. In the sixties there were people like JFK and MLK. Plus there were a lot of sports heroes with squeaky clean reputations. We lost our innocence as a country after that, with scandal after scandal after scandal. Who are our real-life heroes now? Firemen. I think we can still count firemen, especially with 9-11.

I can’t think of any others. We support our military in general, but often not in specific conflicts like Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else. Most of the sports heroes are drug addicts, womanizers, or something else. Don’t get me started on politicians and supposed “political leaders.”

And then we have our modern world. There’s constant threat abroad, whether in the Middle East or North Korea or nowadays even Russia is something to be concerned about. No one has any illusions; any day some wacko could walk into Times Square with a dirty bomb in a briefcase. Goodbye New York. Generationally (if you believe things like Straus and Howe’s generational theory), we’re about to hit a crisis soon. It’s like the 1930’s, after America was recovering from the Great Depression and Germany and Japan started quietly swallowing up other countries. The Balkans? Yeah. It makes me wonder. And if you look back at the 1930’s, that was the beginning of Superman and Batman and all the comic books.

Interesting parallel!

So with those things in mind, maybe it’s not such a surprise after all. We feel threatened. And we look around, and there aren’t too many heroes.

Me, I vote that we find either Captain America or Batman. They tend to make less of a mess of the city than some like Superman or the Hulk.

Earth Magic

forest

So things are winding down now–the launch of the new book is over, I’m about 21,000 words into the next book, and I’ve been sending out some short stories to magazine markets. I’m also ready to start on my next short fantasy story.

I look to many things for my magic systems; ancient cultures (Aborigine, Saxon, Japanese Shintoism) and I also read a lot about New Age spiritualism and things like auras, crystals, and energy play. I think in today’s modern age we crave something that our ancestors had that we’ve mostly lost.

Our connection to the earth/Earth.

I don’t recall the percentages off the top of my head, but more and more people are living in urban areas, cut off from any real nature. Depending on where you live, urbanization may have taken up much of the landscape, even between major cities. I remember there used to be huge stretches of desert between Phoenix and Los Angeles, for example. Now rest stops are redundant; there’s probably a gas station every fifty miles at least.

How many of you have taken time recently to go on a nature hike?  Or even better, find a nice clearing in a wood, a nice meadow, a sunny rock, and just sat down to feel the earth beneath you and the sun and the wind? Maybe listen to the ocean or a bubbling stream?

Those of you who have know. There’s just something about having that direct contact with nature that isn’t like anything in our digitized, mechanical modern world.

So I think all of this explains why fantasy and paranormal have become so popular these days, both for books and movies as well as video games. It’s either that or we’re just so sick of science being able to explain everything that we’d like a little mystery or unexplained in our lives.

So in honor of that I’ll be looking at old druidic and pagan practices in medieval France for my next story, about a girl born who can tap into the earth to heal the sick, raise the crops, and bring rain. Unfortunately, the village priests would rather kill her.

 

 

Playing with typography

So I’ve been looking a lot at covers lately, particularly paying attention to the typography of modern fantasy titles. While I still don’t like the current trend of colored background + symbol (like Game of Thrones), I have noticed some differences in how titles are presented nowadays compared to before the eBook. The fonts are cleaner with all caps like these:

another   promise     kushiel

Meanwhile my fantasy covers use both caps and little letters. I still like this look for my Journey To Landaran cover, but I realized I had gone a little font crazy on the Heart of the Witch. So I played around with it. I think this version brings it more in line with modern fantasy book covers:

Old:

Witch cover ebook 2013 v2 250pixel

New:

Witch cover ebook 2014 250

What do you think?

Civilized practices

flogging_med

I’ve been doing some research for various projects lately. One of the areas I’ve been researching is the spectrum of punishment that a society uses for transgressors. In today’s “civilized” countries, there’s been a steady movement away from physical, corporal punishments into more of a rehabilitative kind of action. Of course in the United States, we just lock everybody away and let them turn into worse criminals by congregating and learning from each other (and having easy access to drugs). But it’s interesting to study the pattern and change over time and the prevailing “wisdom” of each civilization.

It seems that the field of psychology is mostly where the modern notions of abuse and cruelty emanate. Even as recently as the 1950’s there weren’t concerns about causing trauma (either physical or mental) for wrongdoing. This was true if you were a murderer or a boy who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Beatings were common, and so was the death penalty. Institutions such as Alcatraz were deemed necessary for the safety of the public, yet the public had little regard for the treatment of prisoners there.

So here’s my question. Why did we suddenly start caring?

For kids, I know it came about in the 1970’s with new advances in learning about child abuse and self esteem. Since then, studies have come out and have been posted in all the major news outlets that spanking (corporal punishment) harms children in various ways, including diminishing their intelligence and encouraging them to violence later in life.  And yet, shows like “Scared Straight” and “Beyond Scared Straight” show that scaring the hell out of a kid who is on the verge of becoming a criminal through boot camp-like regimes can have a positive effect. We’re not talking a simple time-out here.

So what about adult corporal punishment?

Apparently with the surge in prison populations and lack of funding for rehabilitation programs, some people are starting to think bringing back corporal punishment for adults might not be that bad a thing. Ten lashes or a five year stint in jail? Which would you pick? I read an article that states the U.S. has over 2.3 million people in prison. More than China. Think about that for a moment. More than the authoritarian nation with over a BILLION people. That can’t be good.

The ultimate question is this notion of “civilized” vs. “cruel” Civilized nations don’t want to use cruel punishments, and perceive things like canings or floggings as violent and cruel. But what about living for several years in a prison cell with only an hour of sunlight a day, no wages, possibly daily rapes or threat of death, and easy access to drugs to make things only worse? That’s kind?

I just find it interesting how society changes and how what seemed wrong could seem right under different circumstances. Also how we continually redefine what it means to be “civilized.”