Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Shadow's Master

The extremely talented and lovely Kat Richardson tapped me for The Next Big Thing. Kat and I met at World Fantasy Convention a few years back, and we've kept in touch. She's the author of the Greywalker paranormal detective series and a good friend. Elaine Cunningham also approached me for this, so I want to thank her as well. Elaine is the author of several series, including books for Forgotten Realms and the Pathfinder RPG worlds.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I had the basic idea for this novel back when I first started working on the concept for the series. I knew that Caim would one day return to the land of his birth and confront the forces that had torn apart his family. This book is Caim's search for answers, and vengeance.

What genre does your book fall under?
Some call it "sword and sorcery" and Amazon lists it under "Historical Fantasy" (which it isn't.) Let's just say bloody, emotion-fueled fantasy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh, this is a hard one. I think Hugh Jackman would be a great Caim, or perhaps Channing Tatum. A young Kate Beckinsale would be my ideal Josey. Kit is the hardest one to pin down. She's ethereal (literally) and irrepressible. Maybe Emilia Clarke, because she looks so good in Game of Thrones. For the Northmen, just recruit a band of drunken Nordic hooligans.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I'm represented by the JABberwocky Literary Agency and published by Pyr Books.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About four to five months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
My series has been compared to the Night Angel series by Brent Weeks (who is an awesome guy, btw). If a book has magic and assassins, I'm down with it.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I had to find out what happens to Caim. And I had a desire to write about a land of cold and darkness ruled by an immortal king.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Well, it's got plenty of action, Northmen (think brutal, landlocked Vikings), dark sorcery, a fae girl who wants to be human, and shadow-swordsmen, and battles galore.

These are the folks Kat tagged with me:
Adrianne Wood.

Progress Report

Last night I finished the last major revisions on BLOOD & IRON and sent it out to my agent. Now onto the final polishing phase while I wait for his comments.

I've got my fingers crossed that I can break ground on the next book in the series in January.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Star Wars Discussion III

(NOTE: There is a link to discussion II below).

BTS: Well, you can't get much better than that 36 minute opening at Jabba's Palace. What a great way to enter back into the series after the cliffhanger of Empire, huh?

JS: Hell to the yeah. I enjoyed the Battle of Hoth opening over Jabba's palace, but it was still a great sequence of scenes. And it grounds us (again) in the personal stories of these characters. Yes, this movie is about the final battle with the empire, but we're never allowed to forget that the story is about the people involved in these events. Right after Jabba, we're thrust into the ramp-up to the final fight. I love, love, LOVE the shots of the fleets in this movie, including the space battle later. The technology had progressed far enough that we got incredible, kinetic dogfights in space. Pure heaven. I was not so impressed, even now, with the middle of the movie. But by the end, I was back into it.

BTS: Actually I think I prefer this to Hoth BECAUSE of the character stuff. I think this gets us back to the heart of how much these people care about each other and how well they work and are together. The various alien characters and personalities are a lot of fun, even if Boba Fett's end is wimpy. He's always been a character whose rep and look are cooler than his actions anyway, at least in the original films. I do agree that the fleet shots are fantastic and stunning. I even liked the celebratory shots at the end of all the planets as well, but we'll get to that. I agree about the middle. The film has an odd structure, with a feeling like two short acts followed by a long one. It's not really structured that way but with the three major set pieces being the Jabba Palace rescue, Luke's return to Dabobah and the final battle, it feels that way very much. The problem is that other than the Leia is your sister reveal and confirmation that Vader's Luke's father, not much significant happens on Dagobah. It's like he went there just because he said he would and just to give Yoda and Ben roles in the film. Beyond that, we already know he has to face Vader and so it has a quieter, bogged down feel to it.


JS: Yeah, poor Boba Fett. I don't know if Lucas understood the intense love that Fett got from the fans. I'm glad Luke returned to Dagobah because it fuels the rising tension. We know Luke isn't done with Vader yet, but Yoda has to die so that Luke understands he is the last chance of the Jedi (almost). Watching Return again, I couldn't help but think how I would have changed the story. For instance, once Luke learns that Leia is his sister and has Force-potential, why doesn't he tell her right away and start training her? Sure, the Alliance is all set for a major offense, but Luke has been told again and again that the real battle is between the two sides of the Force anyway. It might have been better to have him and a Jedi-trained Leia confront Vader and the Emperor together. However, my major beef with this movie is the Ewoks. They just suck. After a gritty Empire, Lucas takes the audience to kiddie-land for the epic conclusion. If Lucas wanted to show an indiginous population helping to fight the empire, then give it a serious treatment. He had, literally, dozens of races/species to choose from. Create a clan of freedom fighters with stolen imperial weapons, have them engaged in a bloody guerilla war with the empire when the rebels arrive on Endor, and then the rebels get caught up in that war while they undergo their mission. Battlestar Gallactica did something like this with the survivors on Caprica (?). No, instead we get Ewoks. Ugh. The speeder bike chases were pretty cool, though. Oh! And having Chewie fall for a "meat trap" was just pathetic. The Wookie can repair and fly a starship, but he falls for that? C'mon.


BTS: Well, the meat trap is silly and so are the Ewoks, so I guess it's fitting. Perhaps Lucas feared his audience was outgrowing interest and wanted a younger generation, I don't know. I find the Ewoks a lot less annoying than JarJar was, and they have their moments. The speeder chase is one of my all time favorite sequences. So much so that I created a flying bike chase in both my Davi Rhii books. I do agree that Yoda had to die for the purpose you  mentioned but I also felt that was a bit of a dragged out sequence as I said. And I think the opening and the sequence leading to the battle are far more compelling. I think the length of the movie would have suffered from Luke training Leia, but yes, he does that in the books, yet he also is very protective of her as well, so perhaps he's torn. He also has a very singular focus here on facing his father. It drives every move he makes. Leia has only begun to discover her Force gifts and so taking time to develop that enough to make her an effective Jedi would have rung false or required another movie. Not that I wouldn't mind another movie, but it kills the trilogy arc for sure. Remember how long it took Luke to reach this level, after all. Would we really buy a 30 minute training sequence as enough to prep Leia for what's to come? The final Battle of Endor is another favorite sequence of mine. I love all the little action vignettes and the humor of it where all of the characters are well utilized. Despite the distraction and weakness of the Ewoks, the film is very strongly written, which makes me all the more excited to have Kasdan back for Episode VIII coming up.

JS: I just wish Lucas had thought of using Leia as something more than an Ewok ambassador. Luke wouldn't have had to train her, just entertain the idea. Or have her bring it up when Luke breaks the news to her about their family bond. "Luke, don't face Vader alone! You say I can use the Force, too. Well, show me how and let me help you." I give Lucas credit for making Leia more than just a damsel in distress, but the whole subplot of Leia being Ben's and Yoda's next, last hope is wasted because nothing comes of it. I think having Luke and Leia wielding lightsabers (in matching black outfits), cutting a path through a legion of stormtroopers together, would have been infinitely preferrable to Leia sitting on a log and feeding an Ewok. And don't get me started on the Ewoks "saving the day" at the end. If stormtrooper armor can be defeated by arrows and spears, then why even wear it? But the finale space battle was awesome. And I have to admit that I was glad they gave Lando command of the fighter wing. It fit perfectly. 

BTS: Well, yeah, the arrows through armor thing was a bit puzzling, as if the laser beams are less powerful or require different deflection. It's a bit odd. How does the armor matter then? I think the problem was, he needed a way to deal with the Leia-Han storyline which required keeping them together and not Leia gallavanting off with Luke. I got my Bachelor's in screenwriting and there are times you make short cut choices out of necessity, which is not necessarily aimed at satisfying all coolness and audience but getting the story told in the timeframe allowed. I think there are obvious cases of that here. I do enjoy the endor battle. I think it's a lot of fun, silliness and stretches aside. And yes, the final space battle and the zipping through the Death Star's innards is great. I enjoyed Lando getting a nice role as a rebel, too. Given his history with the Falcon, it was fun to see him flying it and being less of a weasle to redeem himself. Billy Dee Williams is extremely charismatic and likeable, in general, so I think it was good to have him get that chance. Also, they can't make the only black character a bad guy. Why there aren't more, I don't know. I suppose Lucas could say "They were all wearing stormtrooper armor," but seriously, amongst the Imperial crews and rebels, actors of color could have been easily sprinkled throughout easily to even give the appearance of diversity in the human populations, which is a big oversight.

JS: Well, the movies are a little short on minorities, including women. Why no female fighter pilots and commandos? I think a female imperial would have been a nice touch, as well. Chicks can be evil, too! I hope the new movies will include such. However, for all their flaws, these movies are still a joy. Even Return.

BTS: Yes, they fixed all that in the Expanded Universe. To be fair, it may be a product of Hollywood at the times. Even today, strong female roles can be hard to come by in scifi movies. Women had trope roles as damsels, etc. They just didn't envision them as kickass warriors. Now, at least the Rebels have Mon Mothma here, a female leader. That's important. But they could have definitely done more. I agree they're a joy. Let's talk about great moments. One of the things I loved about the opening sequence and really much of the film is that they did a good job of giving every character a unique part to play. Some were barely developed like Lando and Chewie, but still, each had a role in the rescue events and that was very smartly written. I think the development of Darth Vader's arc is really well done as well. We see all new sides of him that add real depth.

JS: You took the words out of my mouth, especially in regard to Vader. To take such a truly evil villain and switch him around to be a sympathetic hero is not an easy task. I love how Luke matures in this film and how his story ends, going from naive farmboy to Jedi knight. And the movie ended with so much ripe material for additional storylines (as the copious EU attests). So, great moments. Well, Luke and Leia destroying Jabba's barge and swinging away on a cable, for one. Luke's last meaningful discussion with the ghost of Obi-Wan--they are now more like equals than teacher-student, and that realization starts a roller-coaster of emotions for the audience as well as the characters. Luke telling Leia about Vader and their family, then Han wanders in and gets the wrong idea. Classic. The entire Luke-Vader-Emperor situation on the Death Star. And the final space battle. So, pretty much everything except the Ewoks. LOL.

BTS: I really like the scene where C3P0 tells the Ewoks their story with sound effects. I don't want to negate our mentions of neglecting color and female roles but the bikini...damn...enough said. The torture scene of the robot area is so reminescent of the Jawa ship scene that it's a nice flashback. I also like the barge sequence battle, the other battles mentioned, and the briefing scene which is fun. This one had more pop out lines, to me, than Empire for some reason. From Vader's "Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them" to some great Han one liners and more. As far as set pieces, I really like the Palace and barge, especially exterior scenes. I like the Emperor's chamber set. And, of course, the forest with the bike chase.

JS: "It's a trap!"

BTS: Thinking about what you said about character arcs, one of the things that really came out for me in Return was the nature of the heroes. Luke is the hopeful, unsophosticated, smart but focused/driven kid who still hopes he can change the world and that it's not as evil as it appears. These days such heroes are hard to find as are such people. Being as I tend towards that line of thinking myself, I've always really related to that. Yet Han is the guy I wish I was. Rogue, scoundrel, rough around the edges, street smart, good with the ladies and yet on the edge with morality but often less defined or stretching past lines others like Luke see clearly. Leia is born to lead: smart, educated, powerful, entitled, determined, and strong-willed, with a more girl next door beauty than model quality. Yet the energy of her presence is something no one in the room with her can ignore. It's an interesting trio and these traits play out in their arcs. Han is cynical and often discouraged or frustrated with a singular focus on surviving the moment, while Luke is optimistic, driven by that hope, and Leia is somewhere between.

JS: Han lives by the seat of his pants, which can be alluring. He's Huck Finn. (Does that make the Falcon his raft? Is Chewie a version of Jim? Dunno, perhaps too much analysis.) Luke serves as the audience's entry point into the setting, learning things as he goes along, but he believes in order and justice, things Han suspects aren't very evident in the universe as he knows it. Leia could have been just a prop, but through her personality and vibrancy she transcends to become a true member of the team. It's funny how she's so much more mature than Han and Luke, even in the first movie. She begins the story arc as their goal, but morphs into their guidepost, showing them the way to a place in the community.

BTS: You know, that's insightful. I hadn't thought as much about the guiding role she plays. She's almost a mentor to them on how to be a rebel and be part of the structured resistance in many ways, let alone refined society and leadership roles. It's easy for her, since Leia grew up with it. It's new to either of them. It parallels to the Annakin-Obiwan relationship in films 2 and 3 as well, which is interesting. Seeing Han operate independently of Chewie a lot in this film is a nice change, too. Before, except for the Hoth segment and Leia scenes, they've been so tied to each other. Here they work as a team but also play separate roles, showing Chewie is not just in Han's shadow but has an independent path as well. That's also good, since Chewie never had a very well developed arc, so here we see him growing a little for once.

JS: In Return, Han separates a little from Chewie to cleave closer to Leia. Is Lucas trying to illustrate how a man breaks away from his adolescent friend group when he finds the right woman and forms a new unit/team with her? Fortunately, Chewie takes it well and doesn't rip off Han's arms. The droids seemed to play lesser roles in the final film. R2 holds onto Luke's lightsaber until he needs it to escape Jabba's clutches. then Threepio plays "god" to the Ewoks and translates. Otherwise, the droids are more in the background, which was fine with me. I like their interaction well enough, but a little can go a long way. Lucas was smart not to distract too much from the main storylines.

BTS: Funny that you mention the droids, as I was just sitting here trying to figure out if they have an arc. R2 always seems the smarter and calmer one, while 3PO is always on edge. They do have a bit of a reduced role here, unlike Empire where 3PO played a huge role, but their ongoing mutt and jeff routine is as strong as ever. No one before or since has done droids quite as well. There have been attempts, some less successful than others, but these two are the force to be reckoned with when it comes to droids, the gold and blue-and-white standard, if you will, and no one has topped them, to my mind.

JS: I agree totally. They work because they are so human.

BTS: Going back to the battle scenes, I really like the massiveness of the command Star Destroyer compared to the ones we're used to. I remember how intimidating it was for the Star Destroyer in A New Hope to dwarf the rebel ship and Tie Fighters but now we see this massive ship of Vader's dwarfing them, and, to up the ante, the new Death Star dwarfs Vader's ship which gives us a far greater sense of the massive scale than we got the first time around. It's part of what makes those battle scenes effective and visually stunning. The entire sequence of the race to the core is really great model work and well paced.

JS: Yes to all of that, and add in the confrontation taking place at the same time between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor (I'm omitting the Ewok ground battle on purpose). It makes for an incredibly compelling finale. Lucas tossed in everything but the kitchen sink, and does a pretty good job of juggling it all.

BTS: Imagine Disney making a character movie with just JarJar,  Yoda and the Ewoks. Would you go?

JS: LOL. Not a chance. I'd rather see Stormtrooper Beach Blanket Bingo.

BTS: Stormtroopers in bikinis...hmmm, what an incredible change you've discovered LOL.  On a serious note, any favorite new characters here? I am definitely an Ackbar fan, and I enjoyed seeing Palpatine fleshed out plus it's fun to see Jabba again for sure.


JS: Palpatine in the flesh, for sure. The first visual on the imperial royal guards = very cool. Ackbar was okay, but I thougtht Mon Mothma had more presence. Jabba was also a fun character. Return is interesting in that (with the theatrical releases) the series waited so long to give us our first glimpse of the emperor and Jabba, both of whom were mentioned in the first movie. That delay really ramped up the tension, so that by the time we met these villains, we were already dreading them.

BTS: It's true about the build up. And, in fact, that put a lot of pressure on filmmakers for how to portray them, which is why I think they fire Clive Revill after Empire and brought in Ian McDiarmid. The fuzzy transmission screen time in Empire was one thing, but to be a major villain in Return, they needed to be sure they had the right man. Great gig for an actor who's now played him in 4 films and various assundry games, etc.  With Jabba, the original Jabba was this skinny guy with an alien head. One of the things that got fixed in special release versions. In the original comics, you see Jabba as the old imagining. But since Return, he's been the giant slug. I'm going to have to check how Alan Dean Foster described him in the novelization of A New Hope but I'll bet it was quite different. I really think there are lots of storytelling lessons to be learned. Here are a few I've picked up on: 1) Heroes you can root for and relate to have value; 2) Character arcs make things much more real and interesting (Vader, for example, becomes much more rounded over time as does Han and even Leia as opposed to Luke's growth with was strongest in A New Hope but proceeds more slowly in the latter films); 3) Comraderie matters. Not just a hero but his companions matter. The same with villains. It helps define who they are and how we relate to them and it gives us more to care about than just a protagonist and an antagonist; 4) Info dumps handled deftly in little bits can be much more memorable and effective--no long force preaching speeches here, etc. It's all done in pieces. Some of those are things you learn in studying writing and storytelling but I learned them first in the Star Wars trilogy and rewatching has reminded me how well they were handled. Even by comparison with the prequel trilogy (don't get me started.) What are some lessons you picked up on?


JS: Oddly, I'm going to disagree about Luke's development. I think he changed radically between each film. In ANH he was the wide-eyed farmboy. He starts off ESB looking and acting much older, and matures even more during his training scenes. By the end of ESB he's on par with Han's maturity and confidence level, if not more mature. Then in RotJ, he walks on stage with a calmness that is almost spooky, almost to the point where his companions can't really relate to him anymore. I think it's a wonderful transformation, and something I strive to deliver in some of my books. I agree the info dumps are handled so well, especially considering that the movies have to tell you almost everything, from setting to technology to mysticism.

BTS: I don't disagree that he matures. But the level of growth he goes through in ANH is much deeper and further from A to Z than the other films. His arc is the heart of ANH and less so of the other films, however, which has a lot to do with it. In any case, it's not a criticism of his character development but an observation of it.  One of the things it's interesting to see with all that's come since are influences. From Battlestar Galactica's two incarnations to more recent shows like Farscape, I think in space opera, it's still the big goliath. Cool ships, cool aliens, good v. evil--there are some distinct qualities it forces those who follow to immitate. I'll say a bit more on that but what are your thoughts?

JS: Isn't Luke's arc the heart of each film? Not to be contrary, but in Empire Luke's tutelage under Yoda is the main storyline. Han and Leia's entire subplot is based on Vader's pursuit of Luke. Now in Return, Luke's story is sublimated into the general rebellion storyline, but his struggle to free his father from evil is still the core of the movie (and the reason why I've always wanted more of Luke in that movie, and less of everything else.) I get that the Emperor wants to crush the Rebel Alliance once and for all, but I get the strong impression that he would trade that victory (temporarily) in exchange for having Luke convert to the dark side, which would be check and mate.

I agree with your point about influence. Star Wars changed the movie industry by combining existing elements--like the hero's journey, WW2 imagery--with a fast-paced, often campy story that appealed to a wide audience. Even people who hate scifi and couldn't tell a Klingon from E.T. know what Star Wars is. "Luke, I am your father," is part of the American fabric.

BTS: Luke has less screen time and actually less dialogue than the Han-Leia sequences as I remember. But I counted that in film school out of curiosity. Whatever the case, his quest for who he is and to confront that is the heart of this trilogy for sure.  On part of the American fabric, we agree. Which, as we close this conversation, has me thinking about storytelling lessons again. What makes the story memorable is more than the tech, something Lucas forgot in his prequel trilogy. It's the humanity and the relatability and our mutual understanding of the needs, wants and desires of the characters. We relate to wanting more than our drab lives as Luke does and to his desire to know where he came from. We relate to Han's cynicism and rebellion against order and those who impose their rules one everyone. We relate to the quest for love. We relate to their friendship. And we relate to a desire to see good win over evil. Those are key elements to remember for writers, I think.


JS: You said it. The original trilogy is one of the best stories ever told on film. I'd only add another lesson that filmmakers/writers could learn from Star Wars: yes, listen to your originality, but also never forget your audience.

BTS: A lesson perhaps even Lucas himself needs reminding of. Okay,  that’s our discussion on Return Of The Jedi. Next week, at my blog, we’re going to discuss what we’d like to see and not see in future Star Wars movies with the Disney purchase of LucasFilm.

Previous discussions can be found at:

About Us:

Jon Sprunk grew up in central Pennsylvania, the eldest of four and attended Lock Haven University. He graduated with a B.A. in English in 1992. After his disastrous first novel failed to find a publisher, he sought gainful employment. Finally, after many more rejections and twists and turns of life, he joined Pennwriters and attended their annual conference in 2004. His short fiction has appeared in Cloaked in Shadow: Dark Tales of ElvesDreams & Visions #34 andCemetery Moon #4. In June 2009, he signed a multi-book contract with Pyr Books by whom his Shadow Trilogy dark fantasy series have been published. He can be found on twitter as @jsprunk70, on Facebook and via his website at


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Star Wars Discussion I

Hello friends,

Today I have a special treat. Author/Editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt and I are discussing the original Star Wars trilogy. Below is our conversation about the first movie, A New Hope.

Please feel free to comment.

BTS: So Jon, I watched the 2004 Special Edition release. It's all I have on DVD. I was awed by the clarity of the scenery. Tried to remember all the changes besides Greedo shooting first. The opening sequence still is one of my favorites ever with the droids, the Rebels fighting, the introduction of Vader, etc. It's just great stuff.Which version did you watch?
JS: I also watched the SE version on DVD. It looked fantastic. Some of the added effects, like the new people and creatures populating Mos Eisley, irritated me because I thought they detracted from the film, but overall the improved CGI was a blessing.
BTS: You know, it's funny you say that because I noticed the inclusion of Boba Fett in the Jabba scene when they replaced the original Jabba (that scene actually wasn't in the first theatrical version I saw). Also every time a Greedo alien shows up (forget their species) they are wearing the same damn outfit. I mean, seriously, George, you can digitally fix all that other stuff and you can't show that species with sartorial sophistication? But yeah, I did think some of the improved scenes were good, especially the panoramic stuff. But it was fun to rediscover old scenes. I loved, for example, rediscovering all the droids on the Jabba Walker. The first time I saw that it had gone by so fast and it's been a while, so I rewound and really paid attention, trying to identify as many as I could from my old toys. The stuff in Luke's workshop was fun as so much of the detail had not stuck in my mind. Which things stood out to you like that?

JS: Both of those scenes, plus the cantina. I also found myself paying more attention to the costumes and set design. When I was seven years old, the Star Wars universe was so cool and exciting to me. I was glad to discover that was still the case. If I could, I would build a full-sized version of the Millennium Falcon in my backyard and live in it. Or maybe an Imperial Star Destroyer....

BTS: LOL You know, there's a full size Millennium Falcon somewhere. They had it on the set. Wonder what all those parts ended up being recycled for. Or if they're in storage on a backlot in Hollywood somewhere or maybe up in Marin County at Lucasarts. I'd settle for a living room made up like the Falcon's gathering room with 3D chess and a little floating attack ball I can duel with. That would be plenty cool. But yeah, Mos Eisley and the Cantina were awesome too. For world building, Star Wars has had a huge influence on my thoughts about aliens. I certainly was inspired to invent various races in my Davi Rhii space opera series and even give one or two large roles because of Star Wars. I've also had to think more about how would they drink or eat or how would their bodies be different because of Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. And then, of course, it's not by accident my solar system has two suns or various planets with aspects of those we've seen in various Star Wars films. Plus I had an evil empire of sorts and a dark lord. Yeah, it's heavily influenced me. What are some obvious influences on your work?
JS: Too many to name, and probably more than I'm consciously aware of. First off, the hero's journey isnever far from my heart when I'm outlining a new project. I usually try to find new ways to present or subvert it, but it's in there somewhere. And worldbuilding, definitely. In A New Hope, I feel that Lucas takes a deft approach by presenting all these species and places and names to us, but moving the story along without including long, intricate explanations about how everything fits together. I think I've always tried to emulate that approach.
BTS: Yeah, I tend to scrimp on description and try and let things get revealed more broadly/explained as the context of the story requires. I think, for one, that it's more realistic to how we experience the world around us. And for another, it really does drag down the story. Just because it's there and looks cool doesn't make it significant enough for a long explanation. We want to know what we need to when it matters, otherwise, we just enjoy the view, if you know what I mean. Readers are the same way. The hero's journey is a big thing for me as well. Also, the coming of age aspects of A New Hope heavily indluence my writing in both novel series as well as some shorts and it continues to resonate with me: Who am I? Why am I here? Is there a grander purpose? Can I make a difference? Luke asks those questions and I have asked them myself.

Moving along in A New Hope, I really enjoy the tightness of the story structure. Not one wasted scene or moment. None of the fluff so many movies today have for humor or to flatter the artist, actor or set designer, etc. Everything in there has a specific pay off and purpose. It's truly a great example of story structure and story telling. I know you remarked on that as well in your opening quote.

JS: The film is just balanced so well. As Luke's story unfolds, we get all the information we need exactly when we need it, but it never feels rushed. Now, that doesn't always work in a novel because people enjoy seeing more depth of character and situation, but its a good basic structure. When I get stuck outlining a story, I often harken back to a movie like this and try to deconstruct how the plot unfolded, how the vital information was passed along and when. Then there's the delicate balance between the character roles, like Grand Moff Tarkin and Vader, or Ben and Luke. The symmetry is elegant. Mentor and student. One dies, while the other lives to fight another day. Just a Ben passes the torch to Luke, Vader will take Tarkin's place as the Emperor's chief servant.
BTS: Well, yes, it's very symmetrical, which is a typical way Hollywood deals with symbolism. It's interesting that in the EU and the books, I don't recall that relationship between Tarkin and Vader being portrayed that way, however. In many ways, Tarkin's loss frees up Vader to take a larger role and to develop more as a character. Empire, after all, is the first place we see him really show humility when he has those chamber comm chats with the Emperor. We also see his helmet coming off and get a sense of his not being as invincible as he seemed, etc. Other than the Emperor and Tarkin, Vader gives orders, he doesn't take them from anyone. And that, too, is telling. I'm still amazed with Carrie Fisher's strong performance. Considering she was 17 at the time the movie was made, the youngest co-star, she comes off much older with great confidence. Seeing her stand up to Vader and Tarkin--played by Peter Cushing, no acting slouch--in one of her first major roles remains remarkable to me. Although, I must admit, she's never quite as hot in A New Hope nor Empire as she is in the bikini scene we'll revisit in a week or two. At least to me.

JS: I suspect that Lucas was still clarifying Vader's role (within the empire) in his head while filming ANH. There's a bit of a mixed message about Vader's place in the hierarchy, but I really liked that. It added to his mystery. I remember I had a baseball-type card of Vader and it listed his title as "Lord of the Sith." That just exploded my mind with questions and possibilities. Who were these Sith and what did being their lord entail?
I agree about Ms. Fisher. She had so much presence. I'm pretty sure her confidence and attitude bleed through in my female characters. If I ever meet her in person, I'll have to thank her.
BTS: Yes and the confidence as her appeal, rather than skimpy, sexy look is one thing A New Hope did differently than the typical 50s B movies which inspired it, actually. Leia is hardly the stereotype damsel in distress. She's an equal partner in her escape after Han and Luke free her and in the further actions they take to thwart the Empire. Which I think is VERY significant. Even in the 1970s, the films were still using women in very stereotypical ways, especially in science fiction and fantasy films. And to have such a strong female who's not just a woman but a fighter, a leader, etc. was making a statement that defied the norm. Which is, I believe, influential today. I made my lead women strong in the Davi Rhii books, for example. Your lead female character in the Shadow books is a princess but hardly the kind sitting back needing rescue. She leads the way in many ways. Were you influenced in that by Star Wars, per chance?
JS: I'm sure I was. The idea of a female co-lead who is more of a partner than an accessory is important to me. I think Lucas handled Leia's character well, especially during the escape from the Death Star. She completes the ensemble of Han, Luke, Chewie, and the droids. And once we see how well that unit functions together, like a family, we spend the rest of the series wanting to get back to it.
BTS: Well, it was indeed a fine ensemble, and, I think perhaps, that's why he separated them in Empire. At the beginning, they're together, just as we like them, but then through the middle, we just want them back together again but they never quite come together until the middle of Jedi. Then they are separated again at the last third of that. It's an interesting structure. But it also fits the hero's journey, as each hero has their own journey in a sense. What are other great examples of ensembles that just soared together? Firefly comes to mind. Star Trek as well.

JS: Battlestar Galactica (both versions), Big Bang Theory, M.A.S.H.. M.A.S.H is interesting because they changed the cast occasionally and still retained the compelling interactions.
BTS: I was thinking mainly science fiction, but you're right. I'd add Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, The Waltons, and a lot more to this if we go broader for sure. Other than the SE changes, did anything not hold up for you? Any surprising moments or disappointments in the rewatch? I still think Biggs' relationship was not set up like it should have been because they cut that earlier scene. It would have been meaningful to have just a little more hint of that relationship up front. Luke mentions the name but I think it would have made his death a bit more poignant as a motivator for Luke. I also found the Obiwan-Darth fight going by faster than I'd remembered. Not that it was wrong, but it sure played out bigger in my memory. It's hard to be surprised by a movie you've watched so many times over the years, but I hadn't watched it straight through in a good 5-7 years, I believe, so I did notice those. What about you?
JS: I still get annoyed when Obiwan first gives Luke his lightsaber and Luke almost hits the old guy when he turns it on. I wonder why Han only uses the quad-laser cannons on the Falcon once, when they are escaping the Death Star, and then never again in the series. I appreciate the Obiwan-Vader for the fact that Alec Guiness was old when they filmed it and David Prowse could hardly see anything through the mask. But as far as disappointments, only some of the SE stuff.
BTS: LOL Yeah, the quads scene is one of my favorites, too. And the lightsaber moment is rather classic. As silly as Luke was with it, I'm almost surprised he didn't turn it on and have the beam go through his eye or something. Heh. What about favorite moments that still give you chills? The battle stuff generally holds up as some of the best sequences in any scifi film, to my mind, let alone on film period. I still love the tension of the prison break, where there's no way out. The opening battle, as I mentioned. I love the power of the moment they find the Jawas burned out ship and Luke realizes he's alone. The introduction of Han is still a fun scene. And the Death Star escape sequence. Last but not least, the trench battle scenes, in particular. It amazes me still what they pulled of with such limited technology. I remember my cousin and I trying to do home made films and we couldn't get the ships to move on string without spinning, let alone looking real. And yet they build stuff from scratch. Yes, they had way more money than we did, but the film remains a technological marvel that changed the landscape for filmmakers to come.

JS: Haha, you said it all. Everything you mentioned is wonderful, especially the trench flight scenes. I still get goosebumps when I watch them. Another of my favorites is when Obiwan trains Luke with the remote aboard the Falcon. Lucas was trying to explain a concept--the Force--that would shape the entire series (and beyond), yet he used simple, effective scenes like that one to get the message across. No ten-minute training montage of Luke doing sit-ups and sprinting on the beach.

BTS: It's true. I paid particular attention to how well he wrote the Force explository dialogue. It was short snippets, not long speeches, expressed as simply as possible. And he made really good use of skepticism from others in both that scene (Han), the Imperial command meeting scene etc. to show that not everyone believed in it, which also told us a lot about it. Talking about all of this is getting me inspired to watch Empire, but before we wrap up. Favorite lead and supporting characters. For me, despite being more like Luke in real life, Han has always been who I wished I was so to speak. But supporting characters-wise, I'm always amazed at how much Peter Mayhew did (the only one of the actors I've met in real life) with Chewbacca. But I also really liked Cushing as Tarkin in this. I even stole a couple of quotes from him as winks to my Davi Rhii audience. "This bickering is pointless," for example.

JS: Favorite lead of this movie is Vader, too. I've always felt a closer connection to his story than anyone else. He's one of my favorite movie villains ever. As for supporting character, probably Obiwan. I love Sir Alec Guinness and I consider his casting as Old Ben to be one of the best decisions Lucas ever made. Second, he is Luke's guidepost, his foster father, his "Merlin." Such a great role.

BTS: A great role and a great actor. I don't know what to say about your relating to Vader there. Maybe I don't want to dig into that. But what about memorable lines? Some of my favorites are Tarkin: This bickering is pointless." Obiwan: "Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." Han Solo: "Boring conversation anyway...Luke! We're gonna have company!"C3P0: "Listen to them, they're dying, R2! Curse my metal body, I wasn't fast enough. It's all my fault!" Han: "Look your worshipfulness, let's get one thing straight. I take orders from just one person: ME!" Leia: "It's a wonder you're still alive." C3P0: "Hang on, R2. You've got to come back. You wouldn't want my life to get boring, would you?" Tarkin: "Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances." What about yours?
JS: Nice ones! (And yes, let's not dig too deeply into my psyche...) Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing. Cantina Thug: I have the death sentence in twelve systems. Vader: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've created. Han: Sorry about the mess.

BTS: Hey those are all good ones. Awesome. Well, this has been a blast, but I'm chomping at the bit to get on to Episode V, Empire Strikes Back. So you all out there, feel free to share your favorite moments, characters, lines, and thoughts on how A New Hope has influenced you, then go watch Empire, and we'll meet at my blog in a week to discuss again. If you missed our opening post, you can find it at Meanwhile, May The Force Be With You and watch out for Lord Sprunk!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Scariest Books

What Scares Us Blog Tour

Clay and Susan Griffith



We are pleased to make a stop at the blog of Jon Sprunk, one of the most talented fantasy writers working today. His Shadow Saga (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master) is an amazing work of dark fantasy. It is full of assassins, secrets, adventure, and mysterious ethereal women. We highly recommend it!


Today, we’re talking about our Scariest Books. So without further ado…





I’ve read a lot of scary books in my life. However, very few have scared me. Rather, I like them for the adventure and the tension and the occult aspects that reach into the real world. Around age 12, I read Dracula by Bram Stoker. This was a formative book for me as a lover of horror and Victoriana, but it wasn’t scary. I read a lot of H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos. I loved the history he created and the intertwining elements of myth that connected from story to story. I found the shadowy world compelling and intriguing, but not frightening. I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. It was terrific. But it wasn’t scary.


What was scary then?


Real things were scary to me when I was young. When I read books that were supposedly about real monsters or true hauntings, my flesh would creep. It didn’t matter if I believed them to be real or not, the fact that they were presented as fact, told within a real world setting by writers who claimed to be telling the truth, made them scary.


However, the one book that combined the concept of real monsters with actual reality for me was Helter Skelter. This was the story of the Charles Manson family and the Tate-LaBianca Murders of 1969. I read it while in high school some ten years after the bloody events in the book. In many ways, the book is a relatively dry retelling of the aftermath of the murders from the point of view of the prosecuting attorney. It is a much less evocative book that the granddaddy of all true crime books, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, but I read Helter Skelter first, so it has more power for me. This doesn’t mean I’m a true crime fan; in fact, I rarely read in that genre any longer because I find them so disturbing. This one book can probably not be fully appreciated any longer since the libraries full of murderous mayhem portrayed in true crime books over the last few decades have overshadowed the Manson family. But for me, there is something so terrifyingly simple and abominable at the heart about Helter Skelter. It’s the story of how beliefs and behaviors can be created and shaped within the cocoon of a comforting “family” structure, and then emerge into the outside world as evil. There is nothing scarier than that, nothing more horrifying.





            I don’t tend to read a lot of horror books except once for a literature class. It was Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. And even though I thought vampires wouldn’t scare me, having read Dracula and watched every vampire movie on television, this one made me glance up and examine the shadows every once in a while. Though that wasn’t the scariest book I ever read.

            The comic book Walking Dead gave me nightmares once, but I hate zombies anyway so that was an easy scare. It doesn’t count since you could say the word zombie to me and produce a shiver.

            Only once did I ever have a book truly frighten me. Not because it was a horror book or because there was a unreal creature in it. Those don’t seem to frighten me because my rational mind knows they aren’t real.

            The book was Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. It was terrifying in a new way because I got my first look inside the head of a killer and found it to be unfathomable. Serial killers exist. The thought of a human being so cold and indifferent, so brutally violent was startling. I finished the book somehow though it took far longer than it should have. I only read it when someone was in the house and in the daytime. I locked my doors, carried mace, and went to self-defense classes. That was a book that changed my way of thinking. There are few books in this world that could have done that. This was one of them." rel="nofollow">a Rafflecopter giveaway

Hey folks. This is Jon. On a person, Clay and Susan are fantastic people and superb writers. I hope you'll check out their Vampire Empire series.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Author James Enge talks about heroic fantasy

Hey folks,

I encourage everyone to check out this livejournal entry by James Enge about setting in heroic fantasy. James and I share the same American publisher, and his stuff is extremely good. He's so damned smart it makes my brain hurt.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ideas on the Brain

I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. A lot of ideas for the new book stirring around in my skull. Today I'm making some last-minute changes before it goes out to my beta-readers.

Sleeplessness is an occupational hazard.