Wednesday, February 19, 2020

More Fairy Tale Fun Featuring OTPs Galore

Fairy Tale Central is doing some daily challenges on Instagram featuring OTPs (One True Pairings) as part of their celebration of all things fairy tale this month. For those of us who wind up doing these things in blog form, Arielle had kindly shared the full listing on her own blog here.

Fairy Tale OTP Challenge:


1. The first fairy tale OTP you shipped

     Probably Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin and Jasmine. These are the earliest fairy tales I can remember getting deeply involved in.

2. The cliché fairy tale OTP that everyone ships but you still love

     I think I'll probably go with Snow and Charming from Once Upon a Time. Do I sometimes feel like they get too much of the spotlight in later seasons? Yes, but their relationship is wonderful in the first few seasons as we see them fight for each other.

3. Your favorite hate-to-love fairy tale OTP

     I'm assuming this is an enemies to lovers trope rather than an example of "I don't want to love this, but I do." In which case, probably Elphaba and Fiyero from the musical Wicked (it's still a fairy tale, right?).

4. The fairy tale OTP with the craziest relationship

     Let's talk about Philip and Aurora, shall we? They're promised to each other when she's a baby and he's . . . definitely older than that. Then she's whisked away for sixteen years and everyone still expects them to get married without any time to interact. They happen to meet in the woods and fall in fascination with each other, and somehow everything works out in the end. (See also: Derek and Odette from The Swan Princess)

5. The best-dressed fairy tale OTP

     Going to bring Beauty and the Beast back into this. That blue tux is about the only way I'd ever get back into a tux and who doesn't love Belle's golden dress? Runner-up: Westley and Buttercup from The Princess Bride.

6. Star-crossed love: the forbidden love fairy tale OTP

     I'm going to step outside of Disney's canon for this one: Thumbelina and Cornelius from Don Bluth's Thumbelina. Cornelius has the audacity to fall in love with a girl who isn't also a fairy, and then gets himself trapped in ice while searching for her. There's a lot of devotion in this relationship, and Thumbelina's succumbing to doubt and grief before the happy ending is such a heart-wrenching moment.

7. The funniest fairy tale OTP

     Definitely Naveen and Tiana; they have such an odd couple story and watching his charm fail in the face of her down-to-earth work ethic is such a good time.

8. The fairy tale OTP with the most growth in their relationship

     Rumple and Belle from Once Upon a Time. At least, they have a lot of growth at any given point in the story before the writers decide to retcon it.

9. The sweetest, most adorable fairy tale OTP

     Eugene Fitzherbert/Flynn Rider and Rapunzel; pure fluff, I tell you.

10. The OTP who snuck up on you, the one you didn't expect to love

     Cress and Thorne in the Lunar Chronicles; even though they're very obviously supposed to be Rapunzel and her prince, I just didn't expect to be as deeply invested in them as I was.

11. The moodiest fairy tale OTP

     I'm going to say Scarlet and Wolf from the Lunar Chronicles. So much angst. 

12. The class-crossed fairy tale OTP

     Dmitri and Anastasia! If you don't love them by the end of the movie, you aren't paying attention.

13. The obscure fairy tale OTP who isn't shipped by many people (or anyone)

     Probably not that obscure but Navarre and Isabeau from Ladyhawke (because I have to give a shoutout to Ladyhawke)

14. Your very favorite fairy tale OTP you'll love for the rest of your days

     At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Beauty and the Beast.



Writer's OTP Challenge:


1. The first OTP you wrote

     This is probably Josiah and Magdiel from The Elves of Non de Velai (which is deep in the depths of my to-be-revised vault). They were my first real attempt at writing a romance (along with another couple) but they're still one of my mental touchstones when it comes to fictional romance.

2. Your cliché OTP from an early work that you still love

     Yontos and Coran (the other couple from The Elves of Non de Velai); really, these two answers kind of go hand in hand. They're my first OTPs and probably my least nuanced (at least from my view now).

3. A hate-to-love OTP you’ve written. (Or your favorite, if you’ve written several)

     Josiah and Magdiel count here, but the ones I'm most happy about/pleased with are a spoiler from the Albion series (book three, folks; it's going to be such fun!) and the main characters from Ashes and Dust (who aren't quite a romantic couple, but are definitely a dynamic duo with an enemies-to-allies arc).

4. Your OTP with the craziest relationship

     That same spoiler from the Albion series. Let's just say complicated doesn't scratch the surface of this pairing.

5. Your best dressed OTP

     Oddly enough (ha!), clothing doesn't really find an emphasis in my writing so there's not a couple I can point to and say, "Yes! My best-dressed characters." But for the sake of argument, let's go with 

6. Star-crossed love: your forbidden love OTP

     Merlin Ambrosius and Vivienne; their romance is one I'm really looking forward to writing down someday. They have such a wonderful meeting and finding love in spite of "fate" story.

7. Your funniest OTP

     Mortimer and Spork, hands down. They have the best banter.

8. Your OTP with the healthiest relationship

     Molly and the Beast from "Paper and Thorns"; they respect each other and put the good of others ahead of themselves. I just love them.

9. Your sweetest, most adorable OTP

     Though it's not even close to being written, I have a story that combines elements of Treasure Island, Peter Pan, and "The Little Mermaid" and my merman character and the Jane Hawkins character are going to have a very sweet romance to counter all the danger and disaster they meet along the way.

10. The OTP who snuck up on you, the one you didn't expect to love

     You could say this about almost all of my pairings; most of them didn't let me know ahead of time that they were getting together so I got plenty of "Huh, so it's like that, is it?" moments as they developed.

11. Your moodiest OTP

     I hate to keep saying it, but that spoilery couple from the Albion books? Yeah, them. They get all the angst and crankiness and put it together to make happy little storm clouds of romance.

12. A class-crossed OTP you’ve written

     Although it's not written yet, I'm going to put Marie-Clare and Alex from my Midwinter Night's Dream here because even though they don't realize it at first, they are definitely crossing some class boundaries. He's a prince of the Fae and she's a plain jane human. Talk about bridging the gap!

13. An OTP you wrote that most people don’t ship

     I actually don't know who among my characters people do ship at this point, but there are a number of potential pairings in the Albion books that won't be coming to fruition, so I'm sure there are OTPs that will make this list some day.

14. Your very favorite OTP you'll love for the rest of your days


     At the moment, this is Molly and the Beast from "Paper and Thorns," partly because it's a Beauty and the Beast tale and partly because I'm working through the final rounds of edits on this story. We're getting closer to having this book out in the world and I can't wait to share it with you all.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Link-Up with Fairy Tale Central

Hello, again! I have been plugging away on some projects (and crocheting away, as I'm due to have a new baby nephew this summer!) -- one of which is to finish a round of edits on Paper and Thorns. I hope to have some exciting news on that front in the next month or two, but for now we'll have to be satisfied talking about other fairy tales.

Today I'm participating in Fairy Tale Central's blog link-up. Fairy Tale Central is a website dedicated to fairy tales, including their origins, history, and retellings. Every month they feature a new tale, but in February they pull out all the stops and celebrate fairy tales of all kinds.

FTC: What’s an obscure fairy tale you love?

I always feel like "The Wild Swans" is a bit obscure since it's not one of the "big" tales that everyone knows thanks to Disney and the multitude of illustrated picture books that abound in the children's sections of bookstores.

FTC: If you got to choose Disney’s next animated princess movie, what fairy tale would you choose to be adapted?

Well, I wouldn't say no to a "Wild Swans" adaptation. Or maybe "Tam Lin" or "Puss in Boots."

FTC: What is the first fairy tale you remember hearing when you were a child?
Hmmm . . . I have very early memories of seeing Disney's Beauty and the Beast on VHS, and I can remember reading fairy tales like "Thumbelina" and "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" at my grandmother's house, but I can't remember hearing (or having been told) a specific fairy tale early on.

FTC: If you were to embark on a fairy tale quest, what necessities would you pack in your bag?
Rope, a flashlight or other light source, a map (assuming this is in a mappable realm), food, and some sort of weapon.

FTC: What’s your favorite fairy tale trope?
The love that redeems and transforms. The curse that must be broken.

FTC: If you could be any fairy tale character archetype (the princess, the soldier, fairy godmother, talking animal, mischievous imp, wise old woman, evil stepmother/sister, etc.), who would you want to be and why?
I would probably end up as some sort of wizard/fairy godfather/amusing sidekick type person. I like the idea of being this wise old person who helps people find their happy endings directly or indirectly.

FTC: What animal/mythical creature would be your sidekick for fairy tale adventures?
Either a dragon, a phoenix, or a talking owl. Because never underestimate the importance of having powerful and knowledgeable friends.

FTC: What is your favorite historical era, and what fairy tale would you love to see in that setting?
I have a hard time settling on one historical period because I don't often dive deeply into historical studies, but here are some periods that I think are fascinating in some fashion, along with a tale or two I'd love to see in those periods:
  • Victorian/Edwardian England (Bluebeard)
  • American Old West (Beauty and the Beast, Cupid and Psyche, Sleeping Beauty)
  • Feudal Japan (Rapunzel, Wild Swans, Snow White)
  • 1920s America (Pinocchio, Cinderella)
  • Napoleonic Wars (King Arthur, Mulan, Red Riding Hood)

FTC: If you could change a fairy tale’s villain into a hero, who would you choose and why?
I'd say the witch from "Hansel and Gretel" or Cinderella's stepmother, largely because I haven't seen either of those done satisfactorily yet, and I'd be curious to know what the other characters would do in response.
FTC: Do you prefer fairy tales with happy endings or sad/tragic endings? why or why not?
Definitely happy or at least bittersweet. I believe stories exist partially to kindle hope in the hearts of mankind, and that's difficult to do with sad endings.

Monday, December 30, 2019

12 Days of Christmas (Author Style)

I've seen this tag show up in a few places, but Kate over at Seek Him First was the first I saw put an authorial twist on it and answer based on her own stories. I liked the idea so much I had to try it myself.



ON THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS, MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE.


The partridge stood alone in the pear tree. What is your favorite standalone novel?



Definitely There's No Place Like Home? because I think it's probably the strongest of the few standalone books I've written. I can't wait to dive into editing it later next year.


ON THE SECOND DAY OF CHRISTMAS, MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: TWO TURTLE DOVES.


Love is in the air! Who is your one true pairing?


So, this is a tricky question because the Albion series has its fair share of pairings, but with only the first book released, none of them are exactly "canonical" yet. But the one pairing that's fairly set up (or at least implied to be in the early stages) in Albion Academy is Merlin and Morgana, and they are the one couple in the series who didn't surprise me by becoming a couple.


ON THE THIRD DAY OF CHRISTMAS, MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: THREE FRENCH HENS.


In the spirit of threes, what is the best trilogy you have written?


Okay, so I have not yet written a trilogy. I have series, and standalones, and some books which aren't quite either. But no neat little 3-and-done sets. Unless you count the three short stories that featured the same character at different points in his life that served as part of my thesis collection. We'll call that a trilogy of sorts.


ON THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: FOUR CALLING BIRDS.


Since series usually consist of four or more books, what is your favorite series?

Picking favorites is tough, because so many of my books are part of a series, and I love them all. For the moment, though, I'll have to go with the Albion series, if for no other reason than it's one of my main focuses at the moment. I have other series that I expect will grow to be just as favored (at least in my heart) but for now Albion is the standout sibling.


ON THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: FIVE GOLDEN RINGS.


One ring to rule them all! Who is your favorite villain/antagonist?

I really liked writing Tik-Tok in There's No Place Like Home? because he was such a change for me as a character. I hadn't really written any characters who recognized that they were evil and relished it before. It gave him a strong dynamic no matter who else shared the scene with him.


ON THE SIXTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: SIX GEESE A-LAYING.


Creation is a beautiful thing. What is your favorite world/worldbuilding?


Because so much of my writing lately has been contemporary fantasy, I'm not really sure which to go with. Even the series that I have up my sleeves are all contemporary/urban fantasy, so the worldbuilding feels less like construction and more like remodeling. I think my favorite at the moment is the mythos that informs the phoenix/vampire detective story. (Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. It's going to be such fun!)


ON THE SEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: SEVEN SWANS A-SWIMMING.


Who needs seven swans when all it takes is one good animal sidekick? Who’s your favorite animal sidekick?

Huginn in the Albion series. No question. She's one of Odin's ravens and a good friend to Bryn. Having her along for the ride has made the series just that much more fun to write.


ON THE EIGHTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: EIGHT MAIDS A-MILKING.


Milk is so 18th century. Which book or series takes beverages/food to a whole new level?

Since I grew up reading the Redwall books, you would think I'd have gone to some similar lengths in describing food and drink in my books. However, I rarely mention it beyond what is necessary to the story, and I honestly can't think of a single story or book that features food to a major extent (certainly none that compare with Redwall's standards).


ON THE NINTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: NINE LADIES DANCING.


Dancing is just one skill of a Lady! Who is your favorite female lead?


Bryn from the Albion books. Ava from the phoenix/vampire story. Elizabeth from my Non de Velai books. They're all very different as far as strengths, flaws, and character arcs, but I love them all equally. They also all take different paths in regard to their heritage. Bryn loves her family but feels pulled away from her traditional vocation. Ava is a staunch believer in her people and their cause, but her tendency to push the envelope of tradition's boundaries in pursuit of the spirit of that cause puts her in the path of some less than benevolent folks. And Elizabeth is one of those whose heart truly believes with little effort, and her spirit is tried by the heartbreaks of life she and her friends must endure before the end.


ON THE TENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: TEN LORDS A-LEAPING.


How about your favorite leading lad?

Merlin and Mortimer from Albion, because they are both such fun to write. Josiah from the Non de Velai books because he's such a good balance to his sister, Elizabeth. Radley from the Shadow series because one of these days his story is going to be written and it will be one of my favorite things ever.


ON THE ELEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: ELEVEN PIPERS PIPING.


What is your favorite book or bookish thing with musical influence? (It can be about music, reference music a lot, etc.)

Like I said with the food question, I don't have a lot of music going on in my books. However, there's a side story/folktale for one of the Non de Velai books about the origins of that world's take on the guitar that is (I hope) beautifully tragic and that's probably the strongest magical influence in my writing.


ON THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME: TWELVE DRUMMERS DRUMMING.


Drum roll please . . . what is your favorite writing moment of this year?

Cover design by Meredith Hodges-Boos

Probably writing my short story "Grandmother Moon" (which can be read in the second Crazy Buffet anthology here on Amazon). This story helped exorcise some thoughts and emotions surrounding a very difficult situation in my family's life this fall. It also served as one of the first times I set out to write something in the vein of Ray Bradbury, who is one of my authorial heroes. I like to think I succeeded in imitating the emotion of a Bradbury story; if you read it, let me know what you think.


(By the way, this anthology also includes a short story related to my Saint Nicholas story "Winter Warrior" which can be read here. This time around, we're getting Jack Frost's story.)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Fangs, Skins, and Whiskey-Scented Candles: An Interview with Mirriam Neal

I'm excited to welcome back Mirriam Neal for another interview, this time to discuss her new novel, Dark is the Night. (In case you missed my review of Dark is the Night, you can find it here.)



ED: Last time we talked about a book of yours, we spent some time discussing your redemption of certain mythical characters. With Dark is the Night, you're not so much redeeming these characters as taking a different tack on them. Which aspects of vampire (and werewolf) lore were you most excited to explore? What drew you to these creatures and this genre?

MN: Honestly, as much as I enjoy the physicality of creatures like vampire and werewolves, it’s their psychology that fascinates me the most. You have people who (mostly) used to be human, and can remember it all, and still look human to most people—but have been altered into predators in ways most people can’t see. It goes beyond having fangs or howling at the moon, and getting to explore those dynamics is like Christmas for me.


ED: Salvation is populated with a lot of inhuman folks, some of which you barely scratch the surface of before the story ends. What creatures or aspects of lore are you most excited to explore in future installments? 

MN: I’m excited to bring lesser-used unnatural creatures into a Southern Gothic town. My Dungeons & Dragons DM, Tyler, would call it reskinning, and that seems like the perfect term. Taking something that seems wildly out of place and modifying it (without lessening its power) for a completely different situation. Dark is the Night stays fairly close to the typical vampire-werewolf cast, but as each book in the series progresses, so does the amount of unnatural creatures.


ED: Any chance of a Cassis-centered prequel? (He's tied with Angel and Colton as my favorite.)        

MN: Probably not, I’m sorry to say—but I don’t want to back myself into a corner so I’ll add, ‘You never know.’ Just to be on the safe side.


ED: As I was reading the book, I couldn't help but draw connections to The Vampire Diaries. In what ways did that show influence Dark is the Night? Were there any elements you consciously steered away from to keep yourself from repeating what others have done?

MN: Oh boy. You know when you get inspired by something, write a book, and then realize it’s TOO similar, and you have to tweak it? That was the first draft of Dark is the Night. There are still some similarities (which will be obvious to anyone who’s watched TVD) but the story, characters, etc. have moved, and continue to move, away from the constraints of their original inspiration. I consciously steered away from the kind of witchcraft in the show (which was also, ironically, the reason I stopped watching it) because there’s witchcraft, and there’s witchcraft. My characters aren’t messing with dead spirits because they fully know better.


ED: Were there any other stories, shows, or movies that influenced this story world and its characters?

MN: I’ve always imagined Skata as Jensen Ackles, so in that way I guess you could say Supernatural—but aside from that personal casting choice, nothing else really influenced the Salvation series (as far as I remember). I know other things did but they're too subconscious to recognize.


ED: What would you say the major themes are for this book and the series as a whole?

MN: Redemption. One hundred percent. Redemption in all kinds of ways.


ED: Your characters have a way of leaping off the page with complex histories sometimes only hinted at. How much of that is planning for the future and how much is just bringing characters to life?

MN: I would say most of the things I hint at are definitely being brought up later as larger plot points. I enjoy hinting at things way too much to leave them alone once I do it. I’m a big fan of Chekhov’s Gun—so if I mention A Thing, and you Notice It, then it’s probably coming back up later in the book or series.


ED: Why is everyone in this book so much fun to read about?

MN: It was purely accidental.


Image courtesy of Morgan Farris
ED: You don't shy away from the consequences of these characters' actions. They're in a war and often have to face difficult decisions. What drove you to keep the violence in this story, particularly in certain scenes involving the questioning of antagonists? Are there consequences to some of these decisions that we won't see until later books?

MN: I never want to shy away from violence, especially ethically questionable violence. I want readers to wrestle with questions as much as my characters do. People don’t always make the nice, or right, decisions, and that will always have a consequence whether internal or external.


ED: On a scale of Bob the Tomato to C-3PO, how stressed are Easton and Colton going to be keeping this crew from killing each other?

MN: Gandalf.


ED: If Dark is the Night were a scented candle, what would it smell of?

MN: Whiskey. No modifiers. Just straight whiskey. Just absolute ‘are you all alcoholics, why does it smell like whiskey in here.’


ED: Do you have any reading recommendations for those of us dying for the next Salvation book?

MN: I wish I could point to something and go ‘This is a lot like that!’ but nothing comes to mind immediately so I’m going to be That Person and recommend you write books so that I can eventually read them.



ED: If you had to choose: would you be a vampire with an insatiable appetite and a guilty conscience, a werewolf with no control over your wolf self, or a shapeshifter with no conscience but unlimited resources?

MN: I’m going to have to say . . . a werewolf with no control over my wolf self. Because at least the people around me have a moment of ‘oh, she’s changing,’ and would be able to scram before I fully wolfed out. 




Dark is the Night is out now! Get the paperback here or the Kindle edition here.



MIRRIAM NEAL is an author frequently masquerading as an artist. When she’s not scrubbing
paint off her hands, she’s thinking about writing (actually, if she’s being honest, she’s always
thinking about writing). A discovery writer, she tends to start novels and figure them out as she
goes along and likes to work on several books at the same time—while drinking black coffee.
She’s a sucker for monsters, unlikely friendships, redemption arcs, and underdog protagonists.
When not painting fantasy art or writing genre-bending novels, she likes to argue the existence
of Bigfoot, rave about Guillermo del Toro, and write passionate defenses of misunderstood
characters.


To learn more about her fiction and art, visit her website: https://mirriamneal.com/, where you
can find a full list of all her social media, or join the Citadel Fiction newsletter:
https://www.subscribepage.com/b1h5v9

Dark is the Night: Vampires Hunted and Haunted

Three years ago, I had the pleasure of helping introduce Mirriam Neal's second published novel, Paper Crowns, to the world (see here for my interview with Miss Neal about redeeming myths and here for my review of Paper Crowns). Today, I'm heralding her third.


Like many in Miss Neal's social circles, I have heard a lot about Dark is the Night and its cast of grumpy, broken people over the years. So when she announced a few months ago that it would be published this year, I was more than happy. I was ecstatic to finally get my hands on this book. Short enough to read in a weekend, Dark is the Night isn't short on one-liners, explorations of faith, and characters battling demons both internal and external. Now let's dive into it, shall we?

South Carolina gave the term 'God-forsaken' an entirely new meaning.
If that isn't an opening line to grab you, I don't know what is. From the opening howls of predatory werewolves to the growing bloodlust of a vampire going cold turkey, Dark is the Night balances its Southern gothic tone with levity that readers of Paper Crowns will recognize. The same snark and "bromance" chemistry that characterize much of Miss Neal's writing are present here. But so are added touches of realism that deepen these moments of humor: a revenge quest that threatens to derail a good man's life, a personal attack that may ruin friendships, the very real dangers of supernatural attacks, and secrets that refuse to stay buried. This isn't your Grandma's South Carolina. (Or if it is, your grandmother is probably related to a certain Riding Hood.)

"Everyone can be forgiven," said Colton, "even vampires."
Whether supernatural beings, especially vampires, can experience forgiveness and redemption is one of the central questions of this novel. Skata, a widowed vampire hunter with a stake to grind, doubts such creatures are capable of turning away from their nature. But small-town preacher Colton argues on multiple occasions that a vampire has the same moral capacity as any human, and therefore the same chance at redemption. Miss Neal doesn't close out this line of argument before the book ends, but with sequels in the works, one hopes to see further explorations of this concept before the tale fully concludes.

"You tell me, man. It's your quest. I'm just the sidekick."
The characters in Dark is the Night are a wild bunch. There's Skata, the vengeful vampire hunter. Colton, the grace-preaching man with a secret history. Angel, the vampire who can't control his tongue (or his fangs). And Easton, the girl with connections to all of them. From first moment to last, these characters make an impression, stretching beyond their predictable character types. Easton in particular shines in her interactions with Angel, not falling prey to the standard "girl meets vamp, girl develops unhealthy obsession with vamp" formula. Colton speaks truth without becoming preachy (except when he's actually supposed to be preaching; it's the gig, you understand) or veering into untenable doctrine. Even the side characters are captivating in their well-roundedness. One character became an immediate favorite of mine simply for his coercive kindness in not allowing a certain character to essentially kill himself by refusing to heal after an attack.

"[Y]ou have your bizarrely encyclopedic knowledge of us non-person-people. I'm sure you could think of something."
After bringing us through a wild ride of wolves, fangs, and stakes that rise with the moon, Miss Neal draws the story together in a way that satisfies while drawing the reader on to the next installment, which we can only hope won't be long in coming. Brace yourselves, folks. Dark is the Night has arrived.
Image courtesy of Morgan Farris

(Reader's note: Dark is the Night is best suited for teenage and adults readers. Use discernment when younger readers are involved, as there are many intense scenes of fighting and violence, including several instances of torture and a scene involving a child in danger, and smatterings of cussing on a PG-13 level.)


Dark is the Night is out now! Get the paperback here or the Kindle edition here.





MIRRIAM NEAL is an author frequently masquerading as an artist. When she’s not scrubbing
paint off her hands, she’s thinking about writing (actually, if she’s being honest, she’s always
thinking about writing). A discovery writer, she tends to start novels and figure them out as she
goes along and likes to work on several books at the same time—while drinking black coffee.
She’s a sucker for monsters, unlikely friendships, redemption arcs, and underdog protagonists.
When not painting fantasy art or writing genre-bending novels, she likes to argue the existence
of Bigfoot, rave about Guillermo del Toro, and write passionate defenses of misunderstood
characters.

To learn more about her fiction and art, visit her website: https://mirriamneal.com/, where you
can find a full list of all her social media, or join the Citadel Fiction newsletter:
https://www.subscribepage.com/b1h5v9

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Crimes of Grindelwald: Messy but Lovable

I finally had the chance to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald recently (both the theatrical and extended cuts) and boy do I have a lot of thoughts.

It goes without saying that there are massive spoilers ahead.






  • First off, let me say that the extended cut is better. It's only seven minutes longer, but those seven minutes add some very necessary scenes. Credence's rebirth in the alternate opening, Leta's fears in the ballroom scene, more time with Credence and Nagini, and an extended version of Newt and Albus Dumbledore's early conversation all serve to fill some of the many holes left in this film's plot. If you have access to the extended cut, watch it. It's worth it.
  • There's a lot of magic here. Some of it is old but fresh such as Portkeys and fantastic beasts. Other elements are new and strange (looking at you, blood pacts, Maledictus, and vision-spewing skull). Some of it could do with deeper explanation, while other pieces fit in and carry as much weight as they need to. Nagini's status as a cursed wizardborn destined to become a snake makes her a tragic figure, and I'm not sure how well it fits with her story in the Harry Potter novels. But I'm invested in seeing where Rowling takes her.
  • Okay, the timeline is all sorts of messed up (as far as we know now). McGonagall shouldn't be at Hogwarts, Credence can't really be a Dumbledore (or at least not Albus's full sibling), that's not actually the Titanic (much as it seems to evoke that image), and so on. For now, I'll overlook these things, but they are there and Rowling will have to deal with them eventually (at least Credence's lineage; the rest is hand-wave-able).
  • As much as I love the various beasts in the first film, they feel more integrated here. Aside from the kelpie scene in Newt's basement, the beasts fit into the story as needed rather than becoming a bunch of MacGuffins on legs.
  • For the record, I really, really, really dislike the way Queenie's arc was handled. It feels off, out of character, undeservedly heartless and naive. I am hoping she's been enchanted (her final exchange with Jacob seems to have some hints to this end), because otherwise I'm left trying to explain a powerful mind reader failing to see through Grindelwald's rhetoric to the truth of his heart. Maybe he's a skilled Occlumens; maybe his charisma is enough for him to project his desires on others. But Queenie's choice feels forced, not real, and I'm sticking with the enchantment theory till proven wrong.
  • Newt, Tina, Leta, Theseus, Credence, and Nagini are all skillfully written and acted, despite some clunky (but necessary) exposition in the final act. Most of these actors and actresses deserve awards for the emotional ranges they display in small moments throughout the movie.
  • This movie is complex; it bears repeated watching, much as the Pirates of the Caribbean movies do. The plot isn't as straightforward as the first, and it helps to not expect it to be. I don't think this film stands on its own as much as J. K. Rowling would like, but it certainly fills its place in the larger story. I have a feeling it will hold up better once more of the series is out, but it does feel less skillful than the first film. Honestly, it could have done with more movie, even beyond the extended cut, just to fill in some of the gaps (such as with Queenie's arc).
  • I really don't know what to make of the Credence is a Dumbledore thing. There's got to be something to it, or else it's a cheap shot and I don't expect that from Rowling. This feels like a Snape killed Dumbledore moment. We think we've got the whole story, but there's another ten layers to be peeled back in the next film (or three). Grindelwald is obviously willing to lie, but how much of what he says is false is still to be determined. I like the theory that Ariana's Obscurus resides in Credence, but unlike Star Wars' revelation about Rey, I don't think they can just make Credence a nobody with a magical accident after so much time spent on his heritage.
  • Please, please, please let us get more of Leta somehow. Flashbacks, revivals, unshown rescues. Something. She's this movie's Percival Graves for me. I want more.
  • In short, I don't love this film as much as the first. But I do still love it. Newt and Tina, Leta and Theseus, (surprisingly) Jude Law's Albus Dumbledore, and Credence and Nagini all make me ready to rewatch this one as much as I would the first. For all its flaws, there's still enough here to bring me back, and I'm already anxious for the next installment because I want to know what comes next.

So what did you think of Crimes of Grindelwald? Are you still excited for the series to continue? If you've read the screenplay, does it add anything to our understanding of the film (unlike the first one)?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Top 10 Fantasy Series

I often talk about specific books and series that I love, but I've never broken down (for myself or others) just which fantasy series I love more than all others. So I decided to work out what my top 10 fantasy series of all time are, based on the following criteria: I have to love the themes, the magic, the characters, and so forth (themes of hope, light conquering darkness, etc. being preeminent); how complete is my reading of the series; and how many re-reads have I completed, if any.


The Elemental Masters



The least completely read series on this list, Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters wins a place by virtue of its unique blend of fairy tales, magic, and historical romance. Every time I read a new book in this series, I remember how much I love the world Lackey has created.

The Dresden Files



I'm all caught up on this series barring the newest short story collection, Brief Cases (which is in my ever-growing to-read pile). This series has it all: magic, romance, mystery, vampires, world-changing storylines, and very personal character arcs. It weaves hope and humanity into every story. The characters, relationships, and storylines grow with each book so that, while they can all reasonably stand alone, each book feels more fulfilling for all the hardships that have come before.

Bartimaeus


This trilogy (plus a prequel I've yet to read) packs a lot of development into its three little books. It features a pretty coherent magic system in a world that treats magicians as the upper crust of society (with all the good and bad that entails) and carries its main characters through some major progressions of character. I'm due for a reread.

Old Kingdom/Abhorsen


This series of five novels and two novellas features one of my favorite magical systems ever. There's a magic based entirely on stringing symbols together to form the meaning you want, and parallel to that is the magic of necromancy--calling up (or, in the case of the titular Abhorsens, driving back) the dead. The main characters are all staunch in their beliefs and strive to do the right things. The final book (unless Garth Nix graces us with more) ties all the stories together and finishes things off nicely. I'm also due for a reread here.

Osten Ard


A series so good I reread it to prepare for the long-awaited sequel trilogy . . . that I have yet to begin reading. Book 2 of that trilogy comes out this summer, so I need to get into gear on reading The Witchwood Crown. I've reviewed the books in this series here, but I'll repeat that this series features my favorite twist on a prophecy plot in fantasy along with a perfect slow-burn romance and some iconic characters. Williams's books are what A Song of Ice and Fire wishes it was.

The Dark is Rising


I have a love-hate relationship with this series. I love the Celtic and Arthurian touches in a (slightly) modern setting. I love the disparate storylines coming together. I love that it mixes coming of age, adventure, thriller, and more in its five books. But I don't love the ending, and there are a couple of scenes in the books that rub me the wrong way (like the scene in the church in The Dark is Rising). But it also features one of my favorite Merlins, and I've read the whole series at least twice, so here it is.

Harry Potter


At this point in the list, we're no longer surprising anyone. I've read this series through at least three times and some of the books I've read as many as five times. I love the themes of friendship, bravery, and justice that are the backbone of the series. I love how much Rowling makes us feel for her characters. I love the world she created. You guessed it. I'm due for a reread.

Attolia/Queen's Thief


I've read this series through three or four times (usually whenever a new book comes out). I'll probably read through it again next year when The Return of the Thief finally arrives. I love Gen's cleverness and the way he grows from book to book. I love the layers of intrigue in the middle books that reveal more details with each new reading. I love the way Gen's actions and the actions of those around him serve as the instruments for larger forces.

Middle-earth


I'm listing Middle-earth as a whole because, while The Lord of the Rings is the core of the legendarium, it's not the only book and I really do love The Silmarillion and The Hobbit as well, just in different ways. I've read LotR probably four or five times complete, with a few partial readings thrown in as well. I've read the Sil twice and The Hobbit two or three times, but with this series the number of reads means less to me than the fact that these books resonate with me on a deeply spiritual level. The struggle to find what is right and to do it no matter the cost, the hidden workings of the Valar and Eru in the world to bring about the triumph of good, the small moments of kindness and friendship in the heart of a dark and terrible world--all these and more make me come back to this series with renewed awe for what Tolkien built. And when I leave again, it is with renewed courage to face the world and defy the Shadow.

The Chronicles of Narnia


As I said, no one should be surprised that Narnia tops the list. I've read the whole series more times than I can count. It's been a part of my life for close to twenty years, and it serves me as encouragement and refreshment on some of my darkest days. This is the series nearest and dearest to my heart because it laid down roots there and cannot be removed. I will never not come back to Shasta on the mountainside, Eustace at the well, Lucy and Susan at the Table, Digory in the garden, Puddleglum under the earth. These characters are my constant friends and companions, and the love of their stories has led me to some of my dearest friends on this earth. Whenever I meet Jack Lewis in heaven, I don't know that I shall have words to thank him for what he has given me through these books.


What are your favorite fantasy series?