Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Feast of Souls

One of the toughest things about writing fantasy is magic. People don’t really appreciate how tough it is to write about the supernatural. As soon as you stick a bonafide sorcerer/sorceress in a story, the reader is constantly asking, “Well, why can’t so-and-so just cast a spell and make all the bad guys go bye-bye?” On a stage, a magician needn’t worry about such things, but in good storytelling, magic must be a science rather than a cheap tool for getting your characters out of a jam when the need suits it. With that in mind, let’s discuss C.S. Friedman’s latest novel Feast of Souls.

The basic concept behind the fantasy world in Friedman’s new book is that magic must be fueled by the soul. A witch can do almost anything, so long as his/her life force is sufficient to perform the task. The catch? Each little spell performed makes your natural lifespan that much shorter. A special breed of spellcasters within this world have found the way to cheat this limitation. They are called magisters, and the closely guarded secret to their power is that they feed on the souls of others to power their magics. Up until the point where this story begins, all the magisters are men. Enter the character of Kamala, a young woman who has survived as a prostitute but decides to use her gift of magic to find a better life by becoming a magister.

Things get complicated rather quickly as Kamala’s first host turns out to be the prince of a powerful kingdom (a fact of which she is ignorant for most of the book). The prince’s failing health creates a crisis among the magisters as the prince’s condition threatens their very existance. The know they cannot cure the prince, but they cannot expain the truth of his condition without exposing their own dirty little secret.

Friedman handles the rules behind this world’s magic all but perfectly. If I had to nitpick, then I might question why there haven’t been any female magisters before Kamala. The book suggests that women aren’t suited for the price demanded, that “Nature has prepared her to bring life into the world and nurture it, and the very essence of her soul is shaped to that purpose.” I must confess to finding fault with that logic, and I think part of it might be how it seems to sell men short even as it gives women too much credit. I’ve seen enough women prove themselves very poorly-suited to nurturing their children, and as a father of two, I find this notion that “nurturing” is a predominantly feminine talent somewhat insulting. I had the pleasure of meeting Celia (that’s what the “C” stands for in C.S. Friedman) at this past James River Writers Conference, so I can easily say that the blanket statement given in the book might not be her opinion as much as it is of the character whose point of view is used in that scene. Her talent for getting into a character’s head who thinks nothing like her is just one of her many gifts as a writer.

As to the writing merits of the book, Celia deserves a lot praise. I think Feast of Souls might be one of her best books ever. One of the book’s most admirable traits is the pacing. What little I’ve revealed is all pulled from the early part of the book, and there is so much more here to enjoy. We’re also given an ancient race of soul-eating monsters that serve as a foil to the magisters and threaten to destroy the world. Things move quickly in this book, and more so than in the traditional fantasy novel. It’s a pity more don’t move at this pace.

The book finished up more neatly than I would have expected. Feast of Souls is only 448 pages long (at least, it is in the advanced readers copy I have), and for a fantasy novel, that’s pretty short even if the book is the first in a promised trilogy. We are treated to a bit of a cliffhanger, but I think it’s handled well. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next two books.

Other Books by C.S. Friedman:

Oddly enough, I took quite a long time to finish reading this book, perhaps the longest I’ve taken to read anything. I started reading Feast of Souls shortly before last year’s James River Writers Conference, and for some reason, I found myself struck with a sort of reader’s fatigue once the conference was over. Not only did I leave this book half-finished, but I found myself unable to read anything during the past few months. A lot of that had to do with my work on The Last VanDaryn. My wife and I have been so close to finishing that book. Everything seemed to suffer for it, including this blog. I didn’t even dare to crack open Feast of Souls until we’d finished writing our book.

Speaking of The Last VanDaryn, there’s something ironic in that our book also deals with soul-stealing monsters. My wife had worried over this for some reason, fears that people might think we were stealing ideas from Celia’s book. Having finished Feast of Souls, I don’t see many reasons to worry about that. That’s one of the fascinating things about books, they can share similar concepts and still end up worlds apart while being equally satisfying.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Uncle Kerouac's Visit, Episode I

A special thanks to "" where I borrow some of Uncle Kerouac's dialogue from the real Kerouac.

A special thanks to "" where I borrow some of Uncle Kerouac's dialogue from the real Kerouac.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Coffee Break

Friday, February 23, 2007

JRW Conference 2007 Update

My wife and I are once again organizing this year’s James River Writers Conference. I’ve made mention of it a few times in the past months, and I’m happy so say it’s taking shape. Wednesday probably gave me the most exciting news I’ve had since we started inviting speakers. One of my favorite writers will be speaking at the conference: Kyle Mills. Kyle’s gotten quite a few mentions in “The Wildcat’s Lair,” since I started blogging. Last year, he even appeared in a “Wordslingers” interview entry, and I think any who read that will see why he has plenty to offer aspiring writers. I owe a thanks to thriller writer Steve Berry (The Alexandria Link) who helped me make contact with Kyle. I’ve never had the chance to meet Kyle in person, not even at a book signing. I’ve traded a few e-mails with him over the years as a fan, though.

While I’m incredibly excited about Kyle, I’m also happy to say we’ve gotten quite a strong lineup of speakers. Perhaps one of the most recognizable names is Sheri Reynolds, whose book The Rapture of Canaan was a New York Times Bestseller and an Oprah Book Club pick. Another New York Times Bestseller speaking at the conference is mystery writer Sharyn McCrumb... although to call her simply a mystery writer really doesn’t do her work justice. Then there’s fantasy/thriller writer Eric Van Lustbader (another fellow Steve Berry put me in touch with). Eric launched his career back in the seventies, and he’s still going strong. He’s recently taken over Robert Ludlum's "Bourne Series" of books. He was a natural pick for the job as he was close friends with Ludlum.

These are just a sample of the folks we've confirmed. There’s still plenty more speakers to invite, but we’re getting closer to locking in our speaker list. It’s really nice to see it come together.

A Council of Dragons

I’ve got a few things to post on my blog today, so I’ll start with something I promised in a reply yesterday. Ever since I started my little comic strips with Frank, I’ve realized there was a lot of potential there. I wanted to expand the cast of the comic strips a little bit. First it was just me and Frank. Then I added a bunch of family for the Christmas visit from H-E-double-hockey sticks and my kids got in on the act, too. The most recent addition has been Hip the dragon. Well, Hip’s about to steal the limelight a bit. The picture below is a gathering of my wife’s dragons (not all, but a handful of them). Within the next week, I plan to do a comic strip entry, and it will be the first without Frank. A sign that the comic strip portion of my blog is really taking on a life of it’s own.

I took a bunch of pictures of the dragons earlier this week, so hopefully I can get a lot of mileage out of these guys as Hip is inducted into the “Dragon Queen’s Council of Dragons.” For now, that’s what I think they’ll be called anyway. We’ll have to wait and see.

Speaking of Hip, I need to give a shout out to CarnivAOL. “Frank Meets Hip,” episodes I & II are both being featured in the latest edition of the blog that highlights blogs. Paul’s given the Lair a few mentions since I first started this thing, so I definitely owe him quite a bit of thanks.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

HIGH NOTES: Casino Royale

Perhaps one of the most anticipated movie scores for me in recent months was the music for the James Bond film “Casino Royale.” This CD offered a lot of promise even before David Arnold scored it. The big question would be, “Did it live up to expectations?”

First, let’s discuss why this score was such a big deal. Perhaps the most obvious would be Arnold’s promise of a new sound for the Bond franchise. That’s risky given the Bond films offer an established sound fans have come to expect. Eric Serra (an excellent composer in his own right) made the horrendous mistake of banishing the “Bond” sound to the “nether realm” with the film “Goldeneye.” “Casino Royale” also marked Arnold’s fourth film within the superspy franchise. Then there was the entire premise behind the film, getting back to the franchise’s roots with a grittier Bond. To that measure, we were also given a new actor for Bond, and that upped the stakes for the entire film—score included.

So does Arnold deliver? Without a doubt. Not only do we get a great Bond score, but this is easily the best Bond score since Arnold’s first outing with “Tomorrow Never Dies.” There’s a maturity and passion to this score that I don’t think Arnold’s two previous efforts provided.

To be fair, the tone of the film does a lot to aid Arnold’s effort at something new. The grittier nature of the movie provides for a more suspenseful and grounded sound. We get something of a militaristic beat to accompany the action sequences. This shows up best in the opening track “African Rundown” and “Miami International.” The latter piece is easily my favorite on the CD and also clocks in as the longest track at more than twelve minutes long. Arnold really delivers a well-paced buildup to the excitement with “Miami International.”

What’s really interesting is to listen to the score and realize at the end, how Arnold does something similar to the film itself. Just as “Casino Royale” shows us how Bond became Bond… Arnold leads us on a musical journey as he takes all these themes and slowly builds up to the final track, “The Name’s Bond… James Bond…” which is the traditional Bond theme in all its glory. I think that might be the most fascinating thing about this score, and Arnold really deserves high praise for accomplishing this. In fact, it’s not until you reach the last track that you realize Arnold never actually gives us the “true” Bond theme prior to that point… not until Bond matures into the character we’ve all come to know. In a very real sense, the music of the film grows closer to the original James Bond theme even as the character draws closer to being “Bond.”

Other Scores by David Arnold:

The CD for this score isn’t without one major fault, though. For whatever reason, the CD was released without the opening titles song “You Know My Name.” That’s a pity, because David Arnold and Chris Cornell have created one of the best Bond songs in years. On top of that, they managed to make a great Bond song with a male vocalist. Most of the best Bond songs have relied on female vocalists. Some interesting trivia here: this is only the third Bond vocal “title track” not to share its name with the movie’s title. The other two songs and films are “All Time High” from “Octopussy” and “Nobody Does it Better” from “The Spy Who Loved Me.” “You Know My Name” is also rare in that the song is about Bond himself. Most of the theme songs have been devoted to the Bond girls or villains.

“Casino Royale” will remain a special score for me, because of the timing of its purchase. I bought this CD with money from my first sell as writer. The money I made from selling “I am Sam” to “Spinetingler Magazine” was used to purchase this CD—a small reward to myself.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Snot a Good Thing

Based on actual events witnessed by Wildcat during a Dayquil-induced haze…