Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Classical Atlantis: Plato's Vision

When I set about to write my Atlantis series, I did so with the writings of Plato. In fact, his works are the only ones I knew existed. It’s probably because I was in high school at the time, but my focus was academics. I went to the local community college and looked at reference books the way my English teachers had taught me. I was also young, and my world was small. Therefore, I didn’t realize how many alternate views of Atlantis exists.

But what I find stays constant is the idea that Atlantis is a Utopian society. Not Utopia as in the perfect/peaceful people. In fact, the mythology states that Atlantis was pretty aggressive toward their neighbors and growing in corruption. No, Utopia as in “it takes a village to raise a child” sort of way. I tried to portray that by clustering the houses within the novels. I had originally planned on having the children raised in a type of boarding house and a community food hall where they would eat. But the plot soon demanded other things to be emphasized and that detail was dropped.

A detail I did not drop was the idea of ringed islands protecting them. In Plato’s work, there were two ringed islands surrounding Atlantis with ports leading through to the center. I didn’t surround my entire island, but I did surround Palace Island much the same way. I liked this idea of protection. In today’s age with planes, it doesn’t make much sense. But by boat, it seemed ingenious to me.

Another aspect I like is that it follows Greek mythology. Atlantis was ruled by Poseidon. He’s always been an interesting god to me. He seems very emotional compared to the others. Strong. But this could be because he controls the sea. Much about the ocean is unknown and mystical. That almost transposes onto the god mastering such an area.

Looking back, I like Plato’s view of Atlantis. I love the mystery surrounding it. The manuscript he wrote depicting the country is incomplete. In fact, it ends on the gods deciding how to handle the corruptness of Atlantis’ kings. Legend has it the island was destroyed by earthquakes and volcanoes in a very mini-apocalyptic way. But Plato's cliff hanger left a lot of room for my imagination. I am glad I went with the classical route, but I must admit that the alien alternative could have produced a completely different novel.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday's Quote

Last week's favorite quote from my facebook page comes from Dracula by Bram Stoker. "We learn from failure, not from success!"

It is funny how often rich advice and inspiration comes from the novels we read. I am a big proponent of the classics. I know they are tough to get through, but they are great for little words of wisdom. Thanks to all who liked the quotes last week.

Happy Monday.

Read more quotes I find on Twitter: @WriterBJKurtz

Friday, April 26, 2013

It's a Man's World: Questioning Female Leads in Literature

As a teenager new to the writing community, I was asked if used my initials because I was afraid I wouldn’t be respected as a female author. While I don’t like being referred to as an “authoress,” my common answer is that my 18 year-old mind was just not that sophisticated. I had always split my identity between the person in school and the writer at home. It felt only natural to continue that tradition outside of school.

The next female issue arose at the proclamation that today’s works are filled with male protagonists. I like to think this tradition is shifting. A few television series have female leads…but accompanied by a male. This leads the question, are female characters strong enough to stand alone? I thought it would be interesting to look at some of my favorite female leads to answer this.

The strongest character I could think of was Antigone from Sophocles’ play by the same name. She is locked in prison by a brother because she buried a rival brother. I read a short monologue as a teen in drama and was captivated by her strength. She stood in jail proclaiming the importance of humanity, ready to die for this proclamation.

The next is Josephine “Jo” in Little Women. I must admit that I have never read the book, but have seen the movie. I was captured by Jo probably because she is a writer. But, more importantly, writing was a man’s profession at the time. I remember when she got her first work published under a boyish name. Her love interest chastised her for hiding behind the veil. Jo stood as the pillar of her family. She was strong willed, which got her in trouble at times, but ultimately her ambition drove her success in a society that insisted women stay at home.

In recent works, Katniss Everdeen is another example. What I like most about the Hunger Games series is that she dominates. Sure, an argument can be made for Peeta, but he is not what I call “strong.” Katniss enters a game of death to protect her sister. Before that, she risked her life leaving the district boundaries to search for food. She was the rock of her family and eventually the revolution. More importantly, she didn’t want fame and glory. So respectable.

Finally, I thought of Hester Prynne. The woman lived with a letter “A” on her shoulder because she would not give up the father of her illegitimate baby. She raised a child on her own being chastised the entire book. But never did she cave to the pressures or give up her dignity.

These books are still held today as strong fiction. I believe they are even stronger because of the women in them. Can there be more strong female leads in fiction today? Always. But a woman character will never weaken a story. No more than a male character. After all, women have a different way of thinking and interacting. They provide their own twists and options. What author wouldn’t want to explore that?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Glee's "Songbird"

There are a few songs that I always rely on when I need motivation writing. Most are sappy, depressing, probably concern my family members. The one I wanted to share today was originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac (whose song "Landslide" is also a favorite"). However, the version I play actually comes from the TV show Glee sung by character Santana.
The show has been running for quite some time, and I admire the vast span of music appreciation the show provides. This song came from season two. I think what adds to the song is knowing the character. Santana is a strong willed girl. She proclaims self-confidence and dominates any room she enters. But, most fans will know she was insecure about her sexuality, the deepest core of her character. The rest was a front. This song was the first time the character truly let her vulnerability show. The actress sings it with such heartache, that her emotion always transfers onto any page for any scene that I am writing.


For you, there'll be no more crying,
For you, the sun will be shining,
And I feel that when I'm with you,
It's alright, I know it's right

To you, I'll give the world
To you, I'll never be cold
'Cause I feel that when I'm with you,
It's alright, I know it's right.

And the songbirds are singing,
Like they know the score,
And I love you, I love you, I love you,
Like never before.

And I wish you all the love in the world,
But most of all, I wish it from myself.

And the songbirds keep singing,
Like they know the score,
And I love you, I love you, I love you,
Like never before, like never before.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Jocasta: A Woman in Charge

Most characters in my novels come from Greek mythology. I like the Greek names because they add an essence to the fantasy of the novel. Some characters match their mythology, some are vastly different. Such is the case with the mythology of Jocasta. The literary Jacasta comes from Oedipus Rex, a play most famous for a son who unknowingly marries his mother.

Far from this platform comes my newest character in the second Atlantis book. Zeus citizens strive for two professions: military or the arts. Jocasta’s family valued military honor above all else. Being an only child, she was the only hope her father had of earning such honor to the family name. This compelled her to join the military as a teenager. With keen eyesight, the general of Zeus' army begins grooming her as a sniper, the newest form of weaponry that has made its way onto the battlefield. Her weapon: a sophisticated slingshot that can shoot glass blades.

Stubborn, she refuses to accept a superior status, quickly catching the eye of the president of the country. He places her in charge of an elite army of Immortals with numerous powers. She balances respect and fear by her strong nature and savvy view of politics. She is a soldier above all aspects. But she comes to realize she may not be as free of a thinker as she once thought. And the people she served might not be as honorable as she believed.

I like Jocasta because she is the strongest character I have created. When writing the sequel to The Curse of Atlantis, I wanted a role model. She is not perfect, her imperfections forming the plot of the story. But she strives to be great for her country. She will battle the toughest of men without flinching. She has the surety of herself that I often lack. She is a picture of the type of person I would like to be...maybe without the bloodshed. I hope you all find her just as appealing when the newest in the series arrives!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Who Says Women are Always Nice? Introducing Artemis

When selecting country names for my Atlantis fantasy series, I wanted to name them after the Olympian Gods. A name can speak volumes about the character of a person, but also a country. When I named a tribal country with a dark side "Artemis" (briefly viewed in The Curse of Atlantis), it seemed fitting. Now, as I am older and look back on feminine roles, I am reminded that women characters of ancient times are a little more kick-butt than today.

Artemis is the goddess of hunting. Sure, she watches over animals and the wilderness, but she also can bring about sudden death among women. She oversees childbearing, but there are countless mythologies on her wrath when others crossed her. She is therefore the perfect portrayal of a woman: sensitive at times, but also holds a commanding presence. She is to be respected.
Most images of Artemis depict a maiden yielding a bow and arrow. She is the Katness Everdeen of the Olympian world in that respect. Her character most certainly can be the foundation of many strong female characters, especially in a day where women are viewed as sex objects or weaker in intelligence. Artemis should be held up as an example of what is missing in our literature today; the free-thinking female character who can hold her own. Maybe similar to Laura Croft…just without the big boobs.

When researching my first novel, Artemis was one of my favorite gods in the throne room. Now, I think she is also one of my favorite examples of what female characters can represent. I want to structure my characters around this image. I want to provide a fresh take on the female character in hopes I inspire young women to be independent.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday's Quote

"Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." ~ Lanston Hughes

This isn't a writing quote, but got the most likes on my facebook page. It is easy to let people convince us that our dreams are not possible. I have learned in the writing business that I am the only one who can make the decision to quit. And I am no quitter. :)

Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Five Things Tinker Bell Taught Me: a cat’s life

Growing up, I had a cat named Tinker Bell. Here are a few things she taught me.
1. The sweetest things can come from the wickedest of circumstances. When we obtained her mother, we weren’t planning on a litter. But, at six months our cat became pregnant with Tinker Bell’s litter. This mom was wild. She rubbed against people’s legs, suck them into petting, and then attack with claws extended. She would hide in hallways to attack feet. She even got hit by a car, crawled home, and still managed to live another thirteen years. But Tinker Bell, a cuddly kitten, came from her. It’s good to remember that sometimes life can deliver a lot of evil, but many times the best things arise from it.
2. When you get kicked out of one spot, find another. Her said mother also kicked her out of our front yard and the back belonged to the dog. Therefore, Tinker Bell had to find other places to roam. I find this relevant, especially in a profession like writing. There are a lot of publishing houses and agents who might not think I am good for them. But, there is a place for me. So I might bounce from place to place, but eventually I will find my spot.
3. Being held back on a leash is never good. One year, the city placed a quarantine on all city animals. I think it had something to do with skunks in the city. Anyway, my parents were going to ignore the order until said mother cat decided the one person she loved was the nice animal control agent patrolling the neighborhood. Trying to cater to our outside cats, we decided on a leash. Tinker Bell tasted freedom, lunged for the gate, and found herself propelled back to the house. She ignored my father for years after the incident (he was the one to put her on the leash). Don’t allow anyone/anything to hold you back. Forever grow and explore.
4. Sometimes we must do undesirable things. I was in elementary school for most of Tinker Bell’s life. Therefore, I dressed her up and paraded her around. She was not a willing participant, tolerating it until she could escape. One time she made off still wearing a shirt and shorts I never saw again. But, at the end of the day, it was my bed she slept on. Sometimes, life requires us to do undesirable things; school, bills, activities. We have to do them, because the rewards are better than solitude.
5. Life is too short and unpredictable, so make the most of it. Tinker Bell died right after I graduated from High School. She was only eleven at the time. Due to her outcast state, she wandered the neighborhood wash where coyotes eventually found her. Life is too short. There are so many uncontrollable things that can change our lives forever. Spend life pursuing your passion. Spend it reaching for the stars. But, most of all, spend it loving those around you. That is the only way to live.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Muse...The Dragon

I know it is totally stereotypical for a fantasy author to have items in their writing room like dragons. But...I do. No, the rest of the room is not decked out in swords and wizards and wands. Just the dragon. It sits right next to a bear wearing glasses that props up my thesaurus and dictionary. I got him at a Renaissance Festival when I was in college. My favorite part is that he is hollow, so I can fill the figure with lamp oil and light a wick. He inspired a lot of writing when I first got him. Now, he sits a little neglected. Maybe it’s time to reintroduce myself to my former muse of fantasy.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Setting a Goal for Time

Being a teacher, I find writing easier to do in the summer and winter months due to the "off hours." However, as a novelist, I know it is important to continue to write throughout the year. Last year, I finished my newest novel in the matter of a few months by setting aside about 15 minutes every morning to write. Some mornings I would write more, but I would never write less. I found the results slow, but steady. I also finished the novel at a quicker pace than otherwise allowed.

I am currently working on my 3rd in the Atlantis book series. I have dutifully set my alarm 15 minutes earlier to rise before the sun and write/plan/edit. The results have been two chapters completed in a couple weeks. It is still slower than I would like, but if I didn't do it then the book would still be in the prologue. I highly recommend setting aside time to write, or do whatever your passion is. If we don't make time, then it will not get done. Life will always get in the way. I have encountered that truth time and time again.

I view that 15 minutes as my own time. Especially this week, when the world is filled with tragic news that tears at the gut, I find that 15 minutes before the break of day the most refreshing time. It is my own time, trapped in my own bubble. I don't worry about bills, or news, or jobs, or family. Nothing. It's just me and a keyboard hanging out with my characters. Setting aside the time is no longer a chore. It is a luxury I will not pass up.

Happy Wednesday to everyone.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What does Zeus have in common with the USA?

Most know Zeus as the most powerful of the Olympian gods. People associate him with lightning, strength, and perhaps promiscuity. But what some might not know is that the symbol of Zeus is actually an eagle. For similar reasons, the USA selected the eagle to represent a hopeful nation. I remember learning one chief reason for the choice was the eagle’s reputation as a symbol strength and power. What I never understood was how far back this reputation traveled.

If this were a book, I would draw some sort of parallel between the founding fathers and the Olympian gods. Joe Campbell spent years doing so in his works. But, I hardly doubt real life mimics the intricacies authors throw into novels. Sometimes life is simple. I am just glad we did not follow Benjamin Franklin’s idea of making a turkey our country’s symbol. Yet, his reasoning for not liking the bird certainly fit with Zeus’ character: low moral character, not honest and a coward.

Part of the reason I love writing fantasy and paranormal novels is because I can take from mythology and expand. If Zeus the god acted in such manners, what can that say about Zeus the country? I can make connections to real life knowing such realities don’t exist. The truth does not make writing fiction fun. It’s the possibilities.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday's Quote

Every day, I post quotes on my twitter feed (unless work gets crazy). I decided every Monday to post my favorite of the week here to help inspire you through the week. This one from Stephen King: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

I will have to look at his books, as thick as they are, and see if he uses a lot of adverbs, but his recommendation is shared by many in the writing field. Too bad...they are such fluffy words!

Happy Monday!

Want more quotes? Follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/WriterBJKurtz

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Plot Structure: Combine Action with the Hero's Journey

Beginning a story is often harder than ending one. Introduce a character, but don’t be boring. Show the normal life, but not too normal…nobody wants to read that. It seemed like there were more methods for starting a novel before, but now, it seems the “start with action” is favored.
I went from writing 20 page stories to over a hundred within the matter of an idea. I had only a little inkling on how to form a plot. My state of confusion led me to Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. I love this book. He took Joseph Cambell’s studies on mythology and the Hero’s Journey and mapped them to popular movies and books. In his approach, the first scene of a novel requires the reader to see the hero in his normal state. I can only think of movies at the moment, so let me give the example of Men in Black. When you first meet J, he is a cop in New York. We see him in action trying to arrest a man who blinks with two sets of eyelids. It is his first encounter that there might be something off normal. Changing genres, in The Proposal, we meet both Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in the publishing office where he is frantic to get her coffee and she is speaking to authors as people scurry out of her way.
When thinking of my novels, this method is always ingrained into my process. Yet, my first scenes are not of the characters, it is of the plot. The murder of Pandora’s family. The death of Madison’s best friend. But even then, some say they begin too slow. I just read an article in which the columnist stated something that I am starting to hear with more frequency; it is a mistake to open outside of direct conflict. A lot of books are beginning with fight scenes, especially from debut authors. Why? Because they have to capture editors and publishers in the first page. Competition is fierce. When time is money, the gatekeepers are not going to spend a lot of it deciding to pursue a story. I think the same can be said for readers. They constantly ask the question “why do I care?” If the answer is “I don’t,” then the book will be tossed aside for a more intriguing one.
Does that mean writers can’t show hero’s in their ordinary world? I used to think not. But, still thinking of the two movies above, these introduced ordinary worlds with action. J is chasing a suspect through the streets of New York and Ryan Reynolds is running around like his job depends on it (which it does). It’s interesting and not without conflict. I think the key is to be relevant. Nobody wants a scene that has nothing to do with the story itself. That’s cheating. Tying everything together is what makes writing fun.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Perseverance: How can The Voice encourage all dreams?

This spring, I have been captivated by the show The Voice. I think it provides a very nice illustration of how subjective the world can be. Unlike other shows, this one presents only those who can sing. The result is an illustration of a world full of talented singers. I am left wondering, if there is that much talent in singers, what about writers? What makes me different from all the others? Some singers are good, but others are extraordinary. How do I know which one I am? 

There are two things in particular that showcases the publishing industry to me. First, the judges might pass on someone who sounds great because it is early in the auditions. Then another singer comes who might not be as good as the first, but the time is right. They have something the judges are looking for, or they have come at a time when the judges feel pressured to fill their teams. Life revolves around luck. I constantly hear it from people who break into any industry. They worked hard, yes, but then they were at the right place at the right time. It’s good to remember this in the midst of the battle to break into any business, and let that drive persistence. 

The second thing that strikes me about the show is the singers themselves. There are those who always knew they wanted to sing. There are those who did it as a hobby. There are even those who hid it from everyone but their family. But, more often than not, the singers want to propel their careers. What becomes clear are those who go in without a set plan, following whatever path life opens up, go further. The ones who walk in with a solid plan, what judge they want and all the things they can do once on the show, often leave early in heartbreak—or don’t even make it on. I think this is a good lesson to take away. Don’t over plan. I practically begged an agent to re-examine my sample because I had convinced myself they were the best for me. The result was me questioning life’s purpose when the “perfect” publisher said it “wasn’t right.” I no longer try to oversell one path. This world is tough. The more flexible someone is, the better they can survive when storms arise. 

It’s funny how one show can bring me back to the life I’ve chosen. Perhaps I see writing everywhere because it lives in me. I think that’s the same no matter the passion. We see it everywhere. The world is full of people searching for a way to accomplish dreams. I am thankful for a show like The Voice. It shows me that the world is competitive, filled with others just like me. But, it also shows me that perseverance pays off. Those who quit will never make it on the show. So I will never quit.