26 March 2017

Using Bunnies in Epic Fantasy

My writing colleagues often declare a state of "writer's block" or else request help in deciding what happens next in their stories. Just as often I suggest introducing a magic bunny. And rather more than I would like, my suggestion gets a polite chuckle and goes nowhere. It's sad, really, because bunnies (or, rabbits, in their scientific designation) offer so much in the twists and turns of a story's plot, especially in an epic fantasy.

In the early days of social media, when everyone of my friends were posting pictures of their dogs and cats, I reached point where I was feeling saturated. Then, as luck would have it, I happened to see a picture of the most cute, most perfect itty bitty bunny wabbit ever! (Look to the right->) And so I posted it, simply for its cuteness - and with contemplation of that cuteness came a certain lessening of my stress level. Little by little I sought out cute bunny pictures and posted them. I soon became known as the bunny guy, both loved and loathed - mostly loved.

Then came the dramatic tome known as EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, which I have discussed at length here and here. Also here. (And here, if you are still curious.) Even though there are dragons in this mighty tale of daring-do, I found places where a magic bunny could make a significant contribution. After all, rabbits have a long history of portents in medieval people's lives - perhaps even further back to the dawn of bunnydom. Rabbits also have meaning associated with animal totems and sometimes serve as messengers of the gods ("More treats, please!"). Some of us place great meaning on the simplest of acts, such as "What Does It Mean When a Rabbit Crosses Your Path?" while conveniently forgetting a time long ago when mankind lived in fear of rabbits

But I digress.... 

I choose to use rabbits, nee bunnies, in much more wholesome roles in my Epic Fantasy novel. While always appreciated and adored, I've found bunnies work best as plot point prompts. In that capacity, they may be either a source of nourishment (if one is near starvation) or a harbinger of the future. They may also be recognized as symbols of fertility! (Recommended use: Have a bunny hop across the grass outside the bedroom chamber windows as your hero and the seductive queen begin their love making.) For further bunniness, I recommend this earlier post on this blog.

As a source of nourishment:

After some time on the trail, our hero and his cohort pick up a couple of rogues. The food they have to share is not too delicious.

    “I wish we had some drake walk across our path tonight,” said Gorral. “I need some meat. Real meat. Not this...this grandfather food, food for old men with no teeth....”
Corlan smiled at the boy.
“You need a magic bunny,” said Tam.
“What’s that?” asked Corlan. “A magic bunny?”
“Chef always said that. Whenever we would run out of food at the palace, he would pray for a bunny to appear in the garden. By magic.”
    “Did it work?”
    “Sometimes a bunny arrived just in time for dinner.”
    Corlan laughed and licked his fingers. “That would be magic.”

As a harbinger of the future:

At one point in the journey our hero and his cohort seek help from an old magus and body-stitcher, an ancient woman named Urma.

“I remember you talked about Yvella, but never said anything about Dreva. How are your powers now?”
“I haven’t gone up in flames yet.” Urma started to chuckle, then stopped herself. “Magic powers grow stronger as we count down the years. I have one-hundred-fifteen years now, with only fourteen more to live. So says the rabbit in my visions. I didn’t listen at first—who would take a rabbit seriously?—so I didn’t believe. Then she hopped ahead of me on a long trail and at each bend of the path sat a stone with my name on it, written in Luvali. Counting the stones, I came to the final number. The tally was complete. I knew then what day I shall be done with this life. That’s both a blessing and a curse.”

Furthermore, the qualities of the bunny can shed light upon a difficult situation:

In one of the interludes that together comprise a separate novella woven through the novel, we follow the adventures of a little princess and her faithful tutor as they flee the cruelty of the queen.

    “Some people, especially in the north and the east, believe we are born and we die, yes, then we are born again in a different body. It’s a great mystery. We say such people have twice-beating hearts. You could be one of them, little majesty. You are young in age yet much older inside. I have always felt that way about you, little majesty.”
    “Oh,” was the princess’s reply. “I always thought I was a bunny. I thought it was only a dream.”
    “Perhaps you were a bunny in a previous life,” said Jabuli.
    “If it’s true, I don’t remember it much. Vegetables is all. Lots and lots of vegetables.”
    “Do you still like vegetables?”
    “Oh, yes!”
    “Then perhaps it is true.” She smiled. “Now you are a princess.”
    Adora pouted. “I think I prefer being a bunny.”
    “Unless a dragon comes to eat you,” said Jabuli.
    “No, not then.” The princess watched the hillside, marked the city in the distance, the strait and the island beyond. “This is the farthest I have ever been from my slumber chamber. I never knew a world like this existed. It was only written on parches.”

In an earlier work of mine, THE DREAM LAND TRILOGY, I also used rabbits. In Book III, at a time of warfare, the opposing armies used giant war rabbits and battle hamsters, ridden by pilots and laser-archers. The beasts truly won the field that day! However, it is best to keep rabbits to a normal size and healthy disposition. Or else we might all succumb to the terror of the Middle Ages.
Not quite as I depicted them in THE DREAM LAND Book III, but...still impressive!
Therefore, when stuck in one's writing, always consider a bunny to liven things up. Fear not the hubris of old nor the salivation of culinary quislings, for it is only with the Zen of Bun that one may go forth with renewed vigor to face the world, a world which is often inhabited by decidedly unbunny-like dragons!

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

19 March 2017

Plotting an Epic Fantasy With Dragons

Once upon a time there was no epic fantasy with or without dragons. Then, one day, there was! How did that happen? I'm still wondering myself. When my head clears of the sleepy cobwebs, my intellectual mind reminds me that it is a simple thing we like to call plot - or, in the superlative, plotting.

Plotting is the positioning of plot points (i.e., "things that happen") along a route through a tale. With a quest tale, it is considerably easier because you have an actual route to follow. Such routes are best laid out on maps. The first step to plotting is to have a good map of the quest area. Normally these are not laying about willy-nilly in a dusty cartographer's shop. No, you might very often need to make your own. 

The first step is to find a map of any ol' place. Let's take America, for example. Find a map of America, that ancient land of myth and merriment that scribes will not cease talking about. Now, we know from our basic studies that the world changes through the centuries. We know seas rise and mountains rise. We know also that rivers may flow away and become lifeless canyons. We know that once fertile fields may become inundated by the sea and turn into marshlands. Forests will fall in one place yet grow thick in another. 

The second step is to mess up the map. Create chaos. Let the seas rush in and the lakes overflow. Let mountains sprout and volcanoes thrash the land. Quakes will alter the landscape, as well. Cities may need to be rebuilt as others collapse into ruin. We are talking centuries, remember. Kingdoms rise and fall, borders change. Legends are passed from campfire to tavern to a fine court of ladies and gentlemen. And there are always stories to tell that explain the world we inhabit today - the today of our tale.
The lower valley in the Ancient Era.

The lower valley as we know it today.
The third step is to designate a starting point. Let's say it is a city at one end of the map. Then designate a destination, perhaps at the opposite end of the map - depending on the size of one's map. Bigger is not always better; remember the stamina of your hero/heroine and his/her cohort. Think of the dangers along the way: a longer journey must necessarily be fraught with more dangers. Something significant must happen at regular intervals which will cause the hero/heroine to press on. Yet what does happen at those regular intervals must also be entertaining in its own right, almost as though that scene were its own tale.

The fourth and final step is to draw a line connecting the two points: start and finish. Next, draw an X at regular internals. These Xs will mark where something significant happens, such as a dragon attack. Perhaps there are wild people blocking the route. Or interesting ruins that must be explored. There may even be a magus or two here and there. Or a city, grand and glorious, that no one in your hero's party ever suspected existed. Or another dragon attack. The possibilities are nearly endless - though do keep in mind the length of the route and give your heroes a break once in a while. 
The entire realm of the Americus, circa 9845.
Keep in mind that a good tale has ever-worsening events. This rule was invented by scribes long ago who had too much time on their hands and too much ink on their nubs. This rule is important for testing your hero. A hero is not so heroic if all he/she must face is a magic bunny. Let your hero face doom. It's really not so awful. Remember that you can enjoy it all from a comfy chair. For your hero, however, it is a blessing: the chance to prove himself/herself and reclaim that reputation once lost (hence the need for a road trip in the first place). The final plot points should take your hero down to his/her worst, ready to fail, ready to die. Then go get a fresh cup of tea and let your hero/heroine dangle a bit.

Now that you have your plotting done, wish your heroes well and send them on their way with ample supplies and a healthy dose of fortitude and bravura. Perhaps assign a comic relief (a kitchen boy?) or some other minor actor (a hunchback?) to divert attention from the blustering braggadocio of the dragonslayer - for who else is best suited for such a journey but a dragonslayer in search of dragons? As scribes long ago were wont to scribble: "It takes a whole cohort to slay a dragon!"

You, too, can ride along on this heroic quest to rid the world of the scourge of dragons by reading EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS on slices of shaved wood or as light upon a smooth stone. The choice is yours.

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

12 March 2017

The Quest for Magical Realism

The quest is everything. Each morning to arise and seek fortune in whatever form it may be found - that is a quest, is it not? To make hay while the sun shineth! That, too, is a quest. To live life in the fullest, if you can, and if not then to strive for such as best you can. For it is the quest which drives us on each day, not the petty amusements of good friends sharing jokes or poor road food we pretend is gourmet fare. Everything comes down to the quest. The quest is real. The quest for magical realism, however, takes more effort.

When I was challenged (yes, challenged, I say!) to write an epic fantasy with further stipulation that it must include dragons, my first thought was of a desert canyon where someone much like a gamekeeper in a park was tasked with culling the herd. That seemed suitable as an opening scene. 

Then, a few paragraphs down the page, my hero needed to move, so I typed 'horse' and immediately stopped. I thought to myself: 'Why does he ride a horse?' Everyone rides horses in fantasy! In fantasy worlds there must be more interesting animals to ride, so I imagined a stockier sort of beast and in my mind's eyes a hippopotamus appeared. I envisioned Mongo riding an ox from Blazing Saddles. All right, I said, let us go with that for now and see how it develops. Later, when the fantasy world that was blossoming slowly transformed into a far-futuristic America (though I would never have admitted it at that time), the hippo became the product of the "Clona Arts". There were no more horses to ride. For an epic fantasy, the stipulation to include magic was automatic.

And here our tale turns from fantasy to...well, something a bit more scientific. Is that allowed in an epic fantasy? In my less-than-humble opinion, if the persons at hand believe it is magic, then it is magic; for what is magic but science which has yet to be fully understood as science? Purists will disagree, yet allow us to inquire of a true magus. Joragus, the magus of Metta, explains how he does what he does magically by describing the nature of things in layman's jargon. Because magic nevertheless relies on rules which a magician would understand innately, it could be explained to anyone and thereby understood. It would be similar to a scientist explaining something complex to a simpleton - or a child. To whit:

“You must understand the workings of everything—everything seen and unseen in the world—before you can learn magic.” [said Joragus]
“Teach me, Joragus!” the boy shouted.
“As you wish.” The magus gave an annoyed glance at Corlan [the dragonslayer] who was happy to grin like a thief. “Everything is made of dust—very tiny dust, so small you cannot see it. The dust of the earth is solid so you can see it when it comes together in large enough piles. The dust of the air is thin so you can see through it even when it comes together in large piles. It is these tiny particles of dust which magic can move.”
“How does playing with dust stop a spear that’s thrown at you?” Corlan asked, a little more curious.
“Ah! I see your plan. You also want to know how to stop a sharp spear amidst the air.”
“That would be a good thing to know,” said Corlan with a nod at the boy. “Wouldn’t it?”
“Oh, yes,” said Tam.
“Have you ever seen lightning strike down from the sky?” asked Joragus. “That is the same fire-root that runs through every living thing. People, too.”
“If that’s true, how are we not destroyed by it?” asked Corlan.
“What is inside us is much smaller, not enough to hurt us. And yet, some people—a trained magus, for example—can draw together all of that fire within him and send it out just like lightning.”
“But I didn’t see anything like lightning when you held up your hand to stop the spear.”
“No, it is still invisible. Just as the air is invisible.”
“I think your magic is all in your words, old man,” said Corlan.
“I told you there is an ocean of tiny particles, like dust, that make up all the air around us. When I use my magic power to gather all the fire within me, I charge those particles with the fire. It’s like black and white. Everything is either black or white. The particles in the air are white—you can see through them and throw spears through them. When I send my inner fire out to those particles, they turn black—although they are still invisible to our eyes.”
“So these tiny dust specks turn colors....”
“No, it is merely a tale to explain to you what happens, to show you. A magic lesson for the boy...as you suggested.” He turned to Tam. “You follow my tale, don’t you?”
Tam nodded eagerly.
“When those particles turn black,” the magus continued, “they become tight to each other and nothing can come through them. They become like a shield, even though you cannot see it with your eyes. You must remember that our eyes do not see most of the things in the world—and what we do see is most often a mere trick of light. There is much more we do not see than what we do see.”
“So that’s what you did back there to stop the spear?”
“Yes, in brief.”
“Though not quick enough to keep the speartip from cutting your palm, eh?”
“As we say in magus school, it is better to be late than to never be ready at all.”

The goal in writing anything of the fantastic is to make it seem accurate and true, plausible at worst. The reader must believe in the possibility of the magic actually occurring. And in the extreme nature of a dragon attack, a good magus is good to have. You see, no matter how brave the dragonslayer may be, no matter how strong his will, how tight his belly, there may come a moment when nothing more can be done to ward off death. It is at this moment when a magus, even one in his fourth iteration, might step forward to save the day - and thereby be rewarded with yet another day. Another quest. For each day is a new quest, seeking forever the horizon, a new meal, and ultimately the final chapter.

For more pearls of wisdom, read on!


The Paper Version
The Kindle Version

For a different view, check out my interview on author Connie Jasperson's blog.

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

05 March 2017

How to be a Master Dragonslayer

It is Spring on this side of the world, the time when a young man's thoughts of fancy turn to the scourge of dragons and how to rid the world of them. 

To that end were dragonslayers born and guild houses formed. Apprentice for three years and tally three kills and you become a dragonslayer. Fifty kills and you become a Master Dragonslayer. Not many make it to fifty. There are too many opportunities to be killed, either by fang, claw, or fire. Only a few can lay claim to a hundred kills and those warriors are held up as gods. Many retire from the guild when age and injury pile up. Only a daring few continue clearing the skies of the aerial beasts. 

One of these Master Dragonslayers is our friend Corlan Tang, with more than three-hundred kills. "Making the roads safe for clean boots!" is his motto, never one to endure boots soiled from falling dragon waste. No, he has sworn to rid the realm of all dragons, large and small, all of the varieties that terrorize his city. He even dares to go into the Valley of Death to do battle with them! He climbs the mountains, stakes claim to a rugged cliff with a far vantage and waits for dragons to wing past. Then he launches iron bolts at them from his dragonslinger weapon and laughs as they fall, crashing to the red soil below. Making the prince's quota each month, Corlan can then enjoy a good brew and a better woman during a few days of rest before once more returning to do battle with the dragons. 

Unfortunately, men can be jealous, can even petition the Prince to banish such a man as Corlan Tang, lest they never again be shown small against his dragon kill tally. Where is proof of his kills? He never brings back dragonware to show off - whereas Braden Batiste makes lavish parades of the carcasses of his killed dragons, and offers the flesh to the poor house kitchens! It should matter not that the braggart Corlan says he has 300 kills. 

The Prince, being a sniveling snoot of a man seeing threats to his throne at every turn, is easily persuaded. Never having been much impressed with Corlan's prowess in either dragonslaying or in his earlier profession in the military, the Prince knows it is better to get Corlan out of the city and have no further worries about the succession - now that the aged king, his grandfather, lies on his death-bed. Send Corlan out into the Valley of Death he so loves and be rid of him! Banish him for at least a year - that should be long enough for him to see death in the fire of dragonry - or else return then with sufficient dragonware to prove his claim as the greatest dragonslayer ever!

Yet the Valley of Death is a thousand miles long. There are tales of vast marshes at the far southern end where dragons lay their eggs on low islets and where the draglings hatch in the spring. If only he could journey there, thinks Corlan as he sets foot once more in the Valley of Death. Then he might smash their eggs and lance the draglings and thus be done with dragons once and for all time, thus saving humanity from their horrors. It seems a good plan, something to strive toward for the coming year. A quest worthy of a man with dark secrets and - what's this? - and a runaway boy from the palace kitchen! 

"Please, Sir, take me with you," says the boy. "They always beat me in the kitchen. Teach me to kill dragons, Sir, and I'll cook one for your supper!"

"Very well, lad," Corlan replies. "I have no choice but to take you. And don't call me 'sir'!"

And yet we must remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a dragon attack....

Available now in paperback at Amazon.com and Kindle.

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

26 February 2017

The Making of an Epic Fantasy

*With Dragons

There comes a time in every boy's life when he simple must write about a quest. Moreover, a quest in which a hero strives to save the world. Much has been written on this endeavor throughout the ages and I can add little to the long list of works which demonstrate this enduring theme. For it is truly the soul of our art, when the human takes up arms against the gods, the forces of nature, and all the assembled entities summoned by evil or black magic. What could ever be a better tale to tell? 

And so it is that I set out on that well-trod path to seek my own fortune, not a fortune of gold and glory but of a history never before written of a world that was at once both strange and full of the unknown as well as uncomfortably familiar. And to take us through this tale of universal drama, a story which by decree must involve dragons, I elected to set the weight of the world upon the shoulders of a dragonslayer. Alas, not only a dragonslayer but the best in the city: Corlan Tang, late to the craft yet already surpassing his seniors, a man with dark secrets - because a hero without secrets is like a cloud without vapor!

Thus, in the opening scene, I introduce our hero: a hunky man with broad shoulders and auburn hair - a stereotype, perhaps, yet many things will happen to him which will destroy such stereotyping. In homage to those who have gone before, I open our story by setting him in his element: hunting dragons in the well-named Valley of Death, a desert canyon out from the Burg. In the usual circumstances, it should have been an easy expedition, the quota of kills easy to measure. Then home again to the Burg for brew and bedding.

And yet, as readers should know, we must produce an inciting incident! Dragons wing by so Corlan fires his weapon, the mighty dragonslinger, at them! Yet this time all does not go well and he finds himself set upon a perilous journey - first a return to the Burg where everything that can go wrong goes wrong, a situation which does not showcase our hero at his best. Corlan's missteps and miscues, the loss of the expensive cloned hippo he had ridden into the Valley, not to mention the jealous meddling of his rivals in the Dragonslayers' Guild - likely instigated by uber-rival Braden Batiste! - all lead to Prince Vilmer banishing him from the Burg for one full year, after which Corlan may be allowed to return if he has acquired enough dragonware to prove himself.

His fate sealed, Corlan says farewell to his mistress, Petula. He is taken by guards before dawn to the palace precincts, there to be outfitted for a long journey and sent on his way back into the Valley of Death. He is given two cloned giraffes as pack animals and an extra quiver of iron bolts to shoot from the dragonslinger. Lowered into the Valley, Corlan discovers one of the boys from the palace kitchen, helping with the giraffes, has decided to run away. Of course, the compounding of troubles is always a good way to start a quest tale. Our hero must suffer under ever harder hardship!

And so Corlan, Master Dragonslayer, and Tam, a curly-haired boy of 12 from the kitchen, set out with their giraffes, Pex and Elo, heading to some place far, far away. Corlan has heard talk of a vast marsh at the far end of the Valley of Death, a place where dragons lay their eggs. He believes if he were to go there, he could destroy all their eggs and doom dragons once and for all time. That act would surely earn him a welcome back into the Burg, and back to his Petula! It seems as good a plan as any for spending a year under the dragon-thick skies. His sidekick, Tam, agrees. 

However, the first step is to survive the first dragon attack....

If they can survive to morning, a journey of a thousand miles awaits them, one that we understand from a multitude of literature past and present must necessarily be set with perils unknown, for the way westward has never been explored by those from the Burg. Yet Corlan will encounter dangers, distractions, and detours at every turn! Only by his stubborn will, his skills in dragonslaying, and a little help from friends and foes along the way, can he possibly reach his destination and achieve his goal: to save the world from dragons! 

And yet, even as our hero's determination to succeed is attacked each day, the gods have much in store for Corlan: the tests are many, and they are harsh - for in any Epic, the hero must be crushed by all he opposes, for, until that moment when there is nothing left yet he does still rise, he is not, nor ever shall be, a hero! 

"A tale of poor peaceful dragons being hunted by mean manly men!" - Hidel
Available in paperback at Amazon on 1 March 2017. Kindle coming soon thereafter.

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

19 February 2017

How I wrote about Dragons

In every boy's life (and girls' lives, too, I suppose) there comes a time for writing about dragons. Whether this comes as the afterglow of some dire encounter or merely reading about such encounters in selected books of the age, he/she will find the need to reconcile the beast with the myth and come to some balance in understanding. This happened to me, although it was not until later in life...in fact, not until last year.

Having been a scientist-wannabe for the longest time,
I simply could not find it within myself to give dragons a pass as mythological creatures. When I was challenged by my author "frenemies" to write an epic fantasy and further challenged to include dragons, I decided right from the start that the dragons would be fully biological. In other words, they would not speak in British accent, they would not horde gold, they would care not a whit for virgins, they would not be cute, cuddly pets. They would look and behave as any animal does, including the more unsavory aspects of being a beast.

So I set out on a quest to find information about what we now know about dragons in their many forms.
First some official definitions:
1a mythical monster like a giant reptile. In European tradition the dragon is typically fire-breathing and tends to symbolize chaos or evil, whereas in East Asia it is usually a beneficent symbol of fertility, associated with water and the heavens.

2another term for flying dragonAlso: Komodo dragon, a large monitor lizard of Indonesia.
There you have it: a reptilian creature that may project fire and may have the capability of flight. 

We all know what a dragon is, I suspect, for they have been depicted in popular imagination for most of human existence, according to history books. Whether the work of literature calls the creature dragon or some other name, they are major players in many well-known stories, from the deadly serious of the Bible to the playful in children's animation. Here is a handy list of dragons in literature and a list of famous dragons you may have encountered via film and television. 
My purpose here is not so much to offer you a complete dragonology, information which you can easily find from your local scribe perusing the archives, or to enumerate endlessly on dragons, but, rather, to explain my rationale for how I depicted dragons in my forthcoming novel EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS.

From a childhood filled with theories of aliens and alternate histories, I came to understand that the dragons ancient people may have seen were possibly alien spacecraft zipping around the sky - from the Native American thunderbird to the European wyvern to the Asian flying serpents. It seemed more plausible to me that the phenomena was based on technology rather than biology. For my novel, however, it would be all-too-easy and perhaps in the realm of cheating to simply have "my" dragons be flying saucers.

So, as well-described as dragons have been in literature, I knew I must accept them as real, flesh-and-blood beings. Thus, I studied the physiology of dragons. Most importantly are two fundamental features: 
1) the ability to fly, and 
2) their "fire-breathing" aspect.

The ability to fly is a simple matter of aerodynamics. How does a huge Boeing 747 lift into the air? Engine power. And the curve of its stationary wings. What kind of engine power can a reptile of, say, 50 ft. or more bring to lift-off? Only the beating of bat-like wings can provide its lift and thrust mechanisms. Observation of bats show them to drop from a perch down into the air and soar on the buoyancy of their outstretched wings. The wings can support the small bodies they have. I once read an article, perhaps in a volume of the World Book Encyclopedia I was always perusing as a child, that the maximum size of a bird is limited to how big its wingspan could be. The California condor is the largest bird on Earth today, with a wingspan of 8 to 10 ft., almost as long as the family car. Condors do not flap their wings so much as glide on them. The body weight supported by these wings is still only 15 to 30 lbs.

Our next model might be prehistoric flying reptiles, most recently featured to great effect in the Jurassic Park film. According to PlanetDinosaur.com, these creatures were prominent in the Triassic period and died out before the Jurassic. Their wingspan varied from 2.5 to 3.5 ft., hardly monsters. However, there were a couple of them that could qualify as dragon-like: the Pteranodon's wingspan was 23 ft. and the Quetzalcoatlus measured up to 43 ft. Their long wings were, like the condor's, more for gliding than flapping. They still supported rather small bodies. I can accept a fairly large creature with appropriately large wings, large enough to raise it off the ground, certainly. The practical side of me wants to limit their size to what is known to be aerodynamically plausible. However, pesky little dragons, somewhat akin to hummingbirds, do not seem very satisfying in literature.

So let's agree that an aerial beast whose body is approximately the size of a Nile crocodile (the largest currently existing reptile on Earth) but having wings can exist on the world I create. The gravity and atmosphere make it so. Such a creature would be 16 to 20 ft. in length, its weight 500 to 1700 lbs, making it a very decent size for a monster. Now add wings. Because feathery wings are seldom seen in literature involving dragons, we must go with the bat-like membrane wings with which they are typically depicted. How large must the wings be to lift a "Nile crocodile"? 

Now we come to "simple math" - the subject which doomed me to be a writer rather than a scientist. If a condor weighing 30 lbs is lifted by wings measuring 10 ft., then a body weighing 300 lbs should have wings measuring 100 ft., and so on: 600 lbs = 200 ft., 900 lbs = 300 ft. Seriously? Wingspan the length of a football field? I would call this beast a "mountain-master"! (Scientists: check my math!)
All right, it's just a story. I can do anything I want. However, I like to keep it real, as real as possible for a fantasy tale - until I write myself into a corner, that is. If we look at dragon artwork we see that the wings depicted are not nearly as large as we would think they should be to lift such a heavy creature. Let's play with that. I liked the appearance of the dragons in the film Avatar: biologically plausible and of a size such that a human or even the 10-ft. tall Na'vi could ride them. To my eyes, that makes the dragons' wingspan 20 to 30 ft, bodies weighing 500 to 700 lbs - a good-sized Bengal tiger but stretched out longer and thinner. 

I sense, dear reader, that you may be saying to yourself about now: "He is really thinking too much!" To that, I must agree. This is because I must get things right, meaning biologically accurate, or at the very least plausible. Maybe there are environmental factors which aid the beast in flying. Who knows? One theory I've read is that the gaseous nature of their bellies helps keep them afloat in the air. Ah hah! Then the gas would also serve as the source of fire, ignited by some fluid from glands in the throat! 
When you've been a bad city and the gods send a dragon to punish you....
Dragons have been depicted in literature mostly as solitary creatures. We encounter them in caves, mountain tops, or attacking sinful humans. Just the one - as though one is enough for each realm on a map. In Avatar they live in family clans, it seems. That follows the model of bats and other flying animals. Some birds live in small nests in widespread communities yet other kinds of birds fly in large flocks that blacken the sky. Imagine a flock similarly darkening the sky yet they were dragons - that is, reptiles of 500 lbs each, their wings stretching 100 ft, across! That would be a truly frightening scene to humans! Hence the need for "gamekeepers" to cull the herds...in my fantasy story.

Temperament? Well, they do have that nasty fire-breathing capability. Better to be friends with them. In European dragon lore, they are harbingers of doom and gloom, something to be feared. In Chinese culture, they are revered as symbols of good fortune, fertility, and a happy new year. I chose to walk a fine line between these two extremes. One society in the novel dreads and fears dragons while another society accepts them as welcome pets at best or pesky nuisances at worst. If we consider dragons as the animals they are, separate from all moral associations, we might treat them as we would any animal we encounter regularly. Take birds, for example. They alight on the fence around your backyard, spot your automobile, cry out in the early morning hours, are prey for cats, and sometimes color the whole sky with their flock's density. Imagine dragons doing all that. 

So I chose to treat dragons as ordinary creatures inhabiting a world more-or-less ruled by humans. The dragons live out their daily lives keeping to themselves but necessarily search for food every so often, food which may perhaps include humans, especially small humans under, say, age five. Just dragons being dragons. So children need to be warned and protected from dragons circling the neighborhood. One might even decide to employ a specialist in dragon control, a "gamekeeper", making the skies safer. And then there is the most disagreeable aspect of having dragons flying around the neighborhood all the time: the droppings! That alone should be enough to compel you to pay someone to take care of the problem.

And so I have! The opening scene of EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS depicts our protagonist in his element: set in the Valley of Death, shooting down dragons from the back of his mount....

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

12 February 2017

The Valentine Dude Strikes Again!

Most people cannot handle a truly epic "epic fantasy" all at once so I'll interrupt the run-up to the launch of EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS with this holiday smirk....

As we approach the day of reckoning, the most dreaded day of the year for many of us, perhaps it's of some comfort to realize that it's all based on someone being executed. Yes, long ago Mr. Valentine was killed for daring to marry couples in secret against the wishes of the government. Romans, you know. So strict. Strange how what goes around comes around. At any rate, he paid for his crimes. And there is nothing more romantic than that, right? Dying for love, for the cause of love. So, well, there's that. Otherwise, it sucks.

Chocolate, flowers, tokens of affection, greeting cards, love notes.... Most of this slush funding comes as crass commercial putsch, of course. Marketing 101. It's all just a crummy money mill. Invent a season and sell stuff for the season - or else you will be labeled a rube, called insensitive, shown the door as the truly despicable person you are! It's foolproof inasmuch as only fools fall for it. And there are so many fools among us. Especially this week. I fall for it every year. But not this year! Oh, noooooo.

So this love thing.... What is it? Science tells us it's nothing more than a firing of neurons. It's a biochemical reaction to a certain stimulus. See a pretty face, feel happy. A pretty face is determined based on genetic programming and environmental quirks. Also cultural sensitivity training, perhaps. We know what we like; we have been taught what we like. For men, it's easy: there are ass men, boob men, and so on. For women...well, I've read they like broad shoulders and a non-physical attribute called confidence. Perhaps also some cash in the bank. I've heard that. Magazines can be wrong, I've also heard. Or it's all fake news. 

Even so, it's a walking stimulus.  Advertising is based on walking stimuli; Valentine advertising is based on sex-related stimuli. The problem is that such stimuli exists year-round, so what's the big deal with the focus being on one particular day of the year? Because, dear lovers of love, if you do not demonstrate said love to said lover on or near this special day of love, then you are identified as a dolt at best and an ex-lover at worse. There is no middle ground, only a pit of ruin, an abyss of regret. And that pit is not filled with chocolates - not even half-bitten chocolates.

Yet never fear! We have the means to solve your problem. Just like the commercials now on radio and television and with increasing annoyance the Internet (every ^&@#$%^&* web page!) there is a message that you (me? yes, you!) have a problem. You did not know you had it but you do. And it will zap everything that makes you the you that you think you are right out of you! You do not want that problem, do you? Obviously not. Well, as luck has it, we can cure you of the problem you did not know you had.
So for a certain amount of money we can give you something which will solve that problem. Drug companies seem to do this, too, and clearly have mastered the art. You go along with your simple, unadorned life thinking it's just a matter of getting older, not having a quality sleep, suffering a poor diet, not having enough friends, or at least not enough cool, hip, advertising-worthy friends (but who can ever have enough of those?), and then...BAM!!! It hits you. No, it's not your fault, so don't worry. Besides, we have a solution. 

Buy this! Plenty to choose from. Eat this! Drink that! Take this! Wear this! Drive that! Look this way! Pay me! Pay us! Pay all of us! Or else you are not the person you want to be. Or else you can never be the kind of person you think you are! Give us money and we will roll back time, give you a make-over, prep you for your big re-debut, help you sweep the lover of your dreams off his/her feet! We will make you a god/goddess! 

Give us your money. It's that easy. Oh, for shame. Got no money? Well, then you don't count. Never counted, in fact. And who would want you in his/her life anyway? That is, without all the money to buy all the solutions you need to fix all the problems you obviously have in order to fit into this perfect, virtual society we have constructed and dutifully maintain for the glory of all who worship the almighty Valentine and his many minions of Münchausen mania! Only then will you become worthy of membership in the Valentine Club. 

Just click off the obstinate media and return to your humble, quiet existence. Perhaps cuddle up with a wonderful, understanding book boyfriend/girlfriend. Many do. It's not that weird. Three-hundred pages or so will definitely last longer than an awkward round of that sexercise thing you used to do - well, that was before that Valentine thorn stuck in your side and started to hurt. Here's to that box of chocolates you eat all by yourself!

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.