Nov 30, 2011

Christmas Shopping

Yep, it's an oft-cursed thing, but no matter your beliefs or traditions, every year we must all brave the crowds, if only to get to work or meet some friends for a coffee.

I've taken a few days of my annual leave to both get some editing done and to attend the National Crafts and Design Fair in the Royal Dublin Society. My wife and I went last year and loved it, so we decided to make sure to go again this year. We'll be able to get a good start on our Christmas shopping.

Christmas is really the one time of the year when my wife and I go ahead and spoil each other. My family tends to chip in so that each of us can get one thing we really like or need, rather than several things we'll never use, so most of what Jen and I get in is stuff we can both enjoy or share with others. We have a Christmas dinner for friends every year and it's really the highlight of the season for us. So we'll be looking for lots of things we can bring home to share.

What about you? Do you love or hate Christmas shopping? Do you prefer online, the crowded city centers, small market stalls, craft fairs?

Nov 28, 2011

Hero's Journey: Thor

I figured it was high time I did another Hero's Journey post. I've been wanting to talk about this movie for a while. It's one of the best recent examples of monomyth in film, and a damn near perfect superhero story:

Because he's worth it
Many heroes in later interpretations of the Monomyth are blessed with some form of divine or unique heritage. Well as the son of Odin, Thor's got that covered. His story starts with what is to be his coronation as the new king of Asgard. One of the key moments in this scene is when the audience is introduced to Mjonlir, the hammer of Thor, forged in the heart of a dying star. Although Thor has possessed this weapon for some time by this stage, it still qualifies as his Talisman, the symbol of his right to be a hero and challenge the forces of evil. Mjolnir, and Thor's right to wield it, will form the heart of this story.

The Call to Adventure: The frost giant attack on Asgard spurs Thor into action, leading him to defy his father's orders and take his friends on a quest to strike back at the giants in the heart of their home, Jotunheim. On the way, we meet Heimdall, the watcher of the ways and the story's Threshold Guardian, protecting Asgard from invaders and acting as gatekeeper between the worlds.

Crossing the First Threshold: Heimdall agrees to allow Thor and his friends to pass to Jotunheim, sending them across the Bifrost. The battle against the frost giants represents Thor's first challenge, to establish him as a mighty warrior and cause the offence which results in his banishment to Earth.

Belly of the Whale: Thor's separation from his mundane world is completed once Odin strips him of his power and sends him to Earth. Here, in an unfamiliar place and without any of his powers, Thor must undertake the quest to redeem himself and, eventually, restore peace and safety to Asgard.

It's a hard life

The Meeting with the Goddess: Though not a literal goddess, Jane Foster represents a stabilising force in Thor's journey. Standing above most mortals by virtue of her theories on the nature of the universe, Thor sees in her a quality that could help guide humanity to heights to rival those of Asgard. His growing feelings for her help steer him on his path to humility and redemption.

Yeah, I can make out with him. I mean, if you really need me to, I can manage it, I think

The Road of Trials: Thor is put through several trials on his path, starting with acclimatising to life as a mortal, then his failed attempt to reclaim Mjolnir, and finally facing the worst possible outcome of his actions in the lie told to him by Loki: That his father has died and peace between Asgard and Jotunheim is dependent on Thor remaining in exile, an exile which his own mother insists remains in place.

Apotheosis: In order to ensure that Thor cannot come home, Loki sends the armoured Destroyer to Earth. Realising that it's him Loki wants dead, Thor sacrifices himself so that his friends and the other innocent bystanders can be saved. The Destroyer seemingly kills Thor with one strike. However, in facing death, Thor transcends his mortal form, having learned his final lesson and proved his worth.

Still, beats New York rush hour

The Ultimate Boon: Thor's newfound humility and willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good prove his worth as a hero. Mjolnir returns to him and its power revives Thor, returning to him how power which he uses to defeat the Destroyer. With his power restored, Thor returns to Asgard to confront Loki.

The Crossing of the Return Threshold: Loki's plans threaten to destroy all of Jotunheim. Having learned the value of his responsibilities as heir to the throne of Asgard, Thor now knows he cannot allow this. Although the Jotun have been his enemies, not all are responsible for the recent attacks on Asgard, and it is wrong to destroy an entire race for the actions of a few. Applying his lessons of self-sacrifice, Thor does the only thing he can to save Jotunheim. He destroys the Bifrost, though it means he may never see Jane again.

You can't touch this!
Freedom to Live: His brother defeated and both Asgard and Jotunheim safe, Thor is free to live his life again, though not yet as king. He has learned to accept that he still has much to learn, and though he mourns for his brother and wishes to see Jane again, he neither holds on to guilt for the past, nor does he fear what trials are yet to come. Even as the story ends, he asks Heimdall if Earth is lost to them and he is told simply, that there is always hope.

Nov 25, 2011

Being Thankful

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Even though I'm Irish, I think Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. People need to take the time to be thankful for the things in their life.

It's been a rough year. A damn rough year. But I think I'll talk about that some other day.

It has also been a good year in many ways. I've watched friends get married, have babies, start new relationships, take on new challenges, follow old dreams and discover new ones. I've seen friends rally around my wife and I. I've felt the thrill of signing a contract for my first novel to be published. I've learned that my wife and I can go through hell and come out still standing.

I am thankful for all of these things. For all of you who read my blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter. For every comment I get. Every word of advice and support I've received as I carry on my writing journey. For every friend who just said "what do you need?"

It's good to be thankful, to see the things that are good in life and embrace them. It's good to hug a friend and tell them you love them. Or pass on a favour or good deed. We can make the world such a beautiful place just by taking small steps in our own little corner, and helping others be thankful.

So go do it.

Nov 23, 2011

Threatening Language

It's not wrong to say that someone screaming and swearing is a very intimidating thing to experience. It's loud and aggressive and scary.

I find though, that swearing can be overused in fiction, especially movies and television. Take the show Deadwood as an example. When this show was being created, it was decided that period-appropriate swearing sounded a bit silly by today's standards. That's fair enough, modern audiences need to find something they can relate to in a story to feel connected.

But in the first scene alone, the amount of repetitive swearing takes over and it feels like dialogue has been replaced with swear words. This doesn't feel intimidating or edgy, it feels lazy. 

Take another HBO series, Rome as a different example. The writers used a variety of modern swear words and slurs, but in a very measured way. The menace and intensity of the characters comes across in smooth dialogue and sharp delivery. Sticking with westerns, watch Unforgiven and see if the lack of frequent swearing makes Gene Hackman or Clint Eastwood any less intimidating.

We have a beautiful, diverse language available to us. Why rely on quick fix words to get a brief reaction when you can take the time to build real tension and fear between your characters?

Nov 21, 2011


I'm deep in edits for Locked Within and it's hard to concentrate on much else, to be honest. Unfortunately I lost a chunk of last night's work because the file didn't save correctly for some reason. It's not an impossible setback to overcome, but it has doubled the amount of work I had left to do before I was going to move on to scene re-writes.

These re-writes have been burning in my head for weeks now. I'm really eager to get them done while they're strong in my mind and I have that enthusiasm to get them done. I may take a chance and just dive into them, leaving the last 40 pages of word-culling until I get back to them. The re-writes will be the most intensive part of the process, I think, and I already feel like it's taking too long to get them done. I really would like to have both the edits on Locked Within and the second draft of Silent Oath done by Christmas.

Have any of you ever felt such a strong desire to get re-writes done? Mine are going to have a really big impact on the course of the series and I'm so glad I had Silent Oath written before Locked Within came out so I could see what changes would be the best to make the ongoing story the best it can be.

Nov 18, 2011

Our Hero's Flaws

I've been thinking a lot lately about character flaws and how they're used. The kinds of quirks that flesh out a hero and make him feel more alive. In my experience there tends to be two main types of flawed character, around which their specific traits are defined.

On the one hand you've got the highly-capable protagonist who has skill and the wherewithall to use it properly, but who is in some way unlikeable. Antiheroes tend to fit into this quite well, and this kind of character is a staple of fiction. The ruthless assassin who redeems himself. The career criminal who turns on his old associates. The badass loner who reluctantly joins the fight against the villain. Scarface, Leon, The Killer, even X-Men, all feature such characters. These heroes's flaws are ones of character, in the real-world sense. They rarely make mistakes or fail when faced with a challenge, so the drama of their development comes from seeing them choose to do the right thing when everything about who they are tells them to do otherwise.

On the other hand, we have the person who wants to help and do the right thing, but who is either woefully undertrained or prone to making mistakes which create even further complications for them to overcome. The Dresden Files, Thor, Tombstone, and The Hunger Games feature heroes that generally want to do the right thing where they can, but because of rashness, denial, or simply not having all the information available, make poor chocies which lead them into trouble. Their failings are still personality flaws, but they get things wrong more often than their other counterparts, and their development becomes less about how they choose to become better people, but how they learn to do so.

The first type of hero tends to be more cynical and world-weary, and their stories often reflect this. The second fits a more idealistic type of story, though both can be mixed and there are certainly characters that fall between the two extremes.

Let's talk! Personally I find I relate more to, and sympathise with, the second type of hero. If I just plain don't like a character, I'll find it harder to care about their struggle and I'll usually start rooting for one of the supporting characters and become more invested in their story rather than the protagonist. Of course, there have been movies that have just swept me up in story and performances and made for forget the character's flaws. I'm less likely to experience this when I'm reading a book, though, probably because I like to get myself into the head of the hero and feel what he's feeling right along with him.

Do you have a preference for one of these two extremes? What examples do you know where the hero shares traits of both?

Nov 16, 2011

Faith, Hope and Love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:13

My wife and I chose Corinthians as part of our wedding mass. It's one of my favourite passages. That said, I've heard the argument that the passage is wrong, that in fact it is hope that is the strongest, because without hope what do we have left? I've considered how this applies in fiction for a while and I've come to the conclusion that, in fact, Corinthians is correct.

There are times when the hero has lost everything, when there's nothing left to fight for, even the hope that the villain can be defeated. A rational person would give up and let the bad guys win.

Luckily, human beings are far from rational.

Sometimes a person will keep fighting, despite all odds. They'll stand to protect someone because they can't stand to see them hurt and they'll do anything, even face certain death, to try and prevent their suffering. Not because they think they have any chance of succeeding, but because they love them. Sometimes, just trying to make a difference is what really matters.

And that is stronger than anything in the world.

Nov 14, 2011

Review: Invincible Summer

Just last week I finished reading Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz. The following review will contain some spoilers.

Score: 5 out of 5

Now, Invincible Summer is not the sort of thing I typically read. But Hannah Moskowitz is awesome and following her on Twitter attracted me to her work.

Nov 11, 2011


No proper post from me today, I'm afraid. Been a little preoccupied getting ready for the two weddings we're going to today. The first is a friend of my sister's, and my wife is singing at the ceremony. The second is down in Wexford, for two friends of ours. It's going to be a long day, but it should be fun.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Nov 9, 2011

Review: The Hunger Games

This review is a little late coming. I recently finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Score: 5 out of 5

The Hunger Games brings us to a grim future where the rich are richest and the poor are their playthings. The eponymous Hunger Games exist as a yearly tournament used to entertain the wealthy citizens of the Capitol and as an ongoing punishment for the citizens of the Districts for a disastrous rebellion seventy five years ago. Each year, one boy and one girl from each of the twelve Districts is randomly chosen to be taken to the Capitol and entered into the Hunger Games. The whole event reminds the Districts that the Capitol owns them completely. Even their children are not safe and can be taken from them at the Capitol's whim, and they are forced to treat it like a festive event.

Katniss Everdeen is thrust into the Games when she volunteers to be taken in her sister's place. What follows is a harsh battle for survival, even before Katniss enters the Arena. The contestants are paraded as celebrities, playing it up for the crowds from day one to get the support they'll need to win. There's a gripping reality tv theme running through the book, playing on the real-world obsession with them. As much as The Running Man played on the Eighties' love of game shows, The Hunger Games delves into today's reality tv and rockets that obsession up to the most twisted extremes.

This is one of the most tense and exciting books I've read in a while. I was brought to tears by page 30, and it threatened to happen again a number of times throughout the book. By the end, I felt as exhausted and drained as Katniss. She really is put through hell and although she's a hardened, pragmatic girl, I still felt such strong sympathy for her, and for her fellow District 12 contestant, Peeta Mellark.

All I can really say to finish this is read this book! I'm itching to read the next in the series. Suzanne Collins' style, concise and direct, has incredible impact. It's a style I find easy to just fall into and she's definitely an author I can learn from.

Nov 7, 2011

Making Changes

As any of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook will know, I've been getting some amazing feedback from my editor, Kristine. I can't tell you how amazing it is having an editor who just gets me so well.

As you may also know, I've decided to try out a pretty big change. I'm taking two characters, both who treat my protagonist in quite different ways, and merging them into one. I'm hoping this will be the best choice for the book and for the series as a whole.

So here's a topic for discussion, have any of you writers, when editing, made a change that has a serious impact on how your story goes? And have any of you readers wondered how things would have gone if the author had made just one different choice at some point in the novel?

Nov 4, 2011

Pot Luck Dinners

My wife's birthday party is this weekend. Last year we had a pot luck dinner party and it was so successful we figured we'd do it again this year.

I love how simple pot luck dinners can be. Show up, bring a dish you've prepared, everybody eats. It appeals to my love of friends and of food both at the same time! With so many people bringing different things, there's bound to be something for everyone to enjoy.

We're not picky with what gets brought; main courses or deserts are all good in our book. Lots of our friends who don't have time to cook anything will just bring some snacks they've picked up on the way out. We don't even ask that everyone who comes brings something. We just like having a good time and sharing good food with our friends.

This year I'm thinking of doing a chili or maybe a jambalaya. I'm good at both. I think my wife's going to make her chocolate and peanut-butter cheesecake and possibly a custard pie. My problem is that I want to just cook so many different dishes.

Have any of you gone to a pot luck dinner? Do you have some favourite dishes that you've brought along, or think would go down well?

Nov 2, 2011


I'm sorry I missed my Monday post. The Gaelcon weekend is a long weekend here, and it tends to take it out of you.

It was a good weekend. I got to see lots of people I don't see very often, and spent the vast majority of the convention surrounded by beautiful ladies. I also took some time to consider how I can promote my book at next year's convention and talked with a friend about some of the sci-fi/fantasy conventions which take place around Dublin, so I have some homework to do there.

On the Sunday night of Gaelcon, my wife Jen and I went to see the Harlem Gospel Choir perform in the National Concert Hall in Dublin. The show was amazing. I never realised Dublin had such a strong Gospel community, but everyone was really getting into the show and got swept up in the mood.

The highlight of the night, in my opinion, was when one of the choir members invited people up to sing on stage. Jen decided she couldn't let the chance to sing on stage with a member of the Harlem Gospel Choir just pass her by, so she got up.

Now, due to a virus she contracted as a child, Jen needs a wheelchair to get around. She manages with crutches for short distances and whenever she's at home, but long walks can be painful. Still, she got up and walked with her crutches to the stage, climbed up, and stood there to perform. The choir member held the microphone for her as she sang Stand By Me.

The crowd went wild, giving her a standing ovation. After the show, people came up to congratulate her and one even invited her to audition for a Dublin-based gospel choir.

Jen has generally kept her singing and music for herself, but I think she may be giving serious consideration to doing something more with it. I've been suggesting she set up a Youtube channel for herself for a while now. This may be the thing that gives her the final push, so watch this space!

I'm off to continue being an immensely proud husband now.