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Archive for April, 2014

Since I write a blog about dragons, you might think I have a few of them in my house. And I do! At least, in the form of artwork. So today I thought I’d share some of the dragons that grace my home.

Starting at the front door, you’ll notice three small stained glass panels by Roberta Rice with blue and green dragons.

In the living room, a larger stained glass design, also by Roberta Rice, hangs in the front window. This is the image I use for some of my online presence. There’s also a small gold rubber dragon attached to one of my hanging plants. I got this at Norwescon years ago, but there’s no signature on it.

In the main floor den are prints by Gail Butler and Quint. (His full name isn’t on his print; artists, let this remind you to always put your contact information on your prints.) There’s more 3D work here. A larger blue rubber dragon hangs above the desk, and a brown stuffed dragon made by our good friend, Mary Albers, perches on the book case. A ceramic mug with a dragon on the side holds pens and pencils. (Again, I can’t read the artist’s name, but it may be Natalie Pitman or Putnam.) There’s also a dragon snow globe (mass market, no artist identified.)

In the corridor between the den and bath, we have prints by Ellisa Mitchell and Susan Van Camp.

Upstairs, art hangs in a sheltered hallway. Prints are by Betsy Mott, Robert Costa, Diana Gallagher Wu, Robert Daniels and Lynne Goodwin. One of my favorites is a 3D piece made with liquid paper that I picked up at MosCon years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t read this artist’s name at all.

In my bedroom, amazingly enough, I only have one little stuffed dragon, a mass market Valentine gift. Awww.

Finally to my office, where I do my creative masterwork and am writing this just now. I have a molded ceramic tile with a dragon and phoenix (unsigned) and a 3D wire sculpture that really gathers dust but looks very cool. Plus a mass-market resin clock with a pair of small blue dragons that “fly” on top. I have a prints by Leslie d’Alessandro Hawes and a small Karen Lee Carmack original watercolor.

There are 22 art pieces in my house with dragons — not counting gaming miniatures, book covers, and my daughter’s stuffed toy collection. Plus the assorted merfolk, fairies, unicorns, knights, Anime characters and space ships. These assure that I’m pretty much surrounded by fantasy all the time. And that’s the way I like it!

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I mentioned J. A. Pitts’s urban fantasy, Black Blade Blues, and how it draws on characters from Norse myth that I hadn’t been aware of before. The chief of these is Nidhoggr, the Curse Striker.

This fell dragon lives in Nastrond, the Shore of Corpses. In Norse belief, people who committed grave crimes such as adultery, oath breaking, and murder were doomed to rest on Nastrond, where their bodies were savaged by Nidhoggr and similar evil creatures.

Nastrond was part of Niflheim, or Mist-Home, a primordial domain of ice which was one of the two original worls in Norse myth. It was ruled by Hel, daughter of Loki, whose subjects were all those who did not did heroic deaths.

Despite this dismal atmosphere, the roots of the World Ash Tree were founded in Niflheim. Nidhoggr crept among the roots and chewed on them, trying to kill the World Ash. In some tales, Nidhoggr is imprisoned by these roots. In other versions, he merely acts out of malice.

Nidhoggr is not alone in this. At the top of the tree is a wicked giant named Hraesvelgr (Corpse Swallower), who has the ability to take the form of an eagle. These two are not allies, however. An equally wicked squirrel named Ratatoskr is said to run up and down the tree, carrying spiteful messages between them. Like the dragon, Ratatoskr chews at the bark of the World Ash Tree, trying to wound it. The ultimate prediction of Ragnarok holds that Nidhoggr will succeed in killing the tree and at last fly free, taking part in the ultimate battle at the end of the world.

Although I hadn’t previously heard of Nidhoggr, plenty of others had. There’s a well-known video game by the same name, with various soundtrack music available. I might have to check this one out!

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Full disclosure: I know this author personally, and I like him. But I won’t go soft on him in my review because of it! Also, the main relationship in this book is between two lesbians. Even though there’s no graphic sex, if you aren’t comfortable with such content, this book probably isn’t for you.

This is the start of a series, and a breath of fresh air in Urban Fantasy. The fantasy element is grounded in Norse mythology. It’s nice to see someone venture beyond the ordinary werewolves and vampires! This isn’t, however, the slick and packaged Marvel-Norse mythology from that certain movie series. Nor are these dwarves the same as the short, surly ones from that other big Hollywood fantasy series. Pitts returned to the source material for a darker, gritty take on things. He’s brought up elements of Norse myth that I haven’t seen before, and I really enjoyed that.

The main character is Sarah Beauhall, a blacksmith and lesbian who belongs to the SCA, goes to Renaissance Fairs, and moonlights as prop person for an independent studio. Anyone who’s been in the SCA or worked in movies will enjoy the inside jokes and jabs at actors, re-enactors, and metal workers. Sarah acquired a really cool sword at an estate sale. Her mistake? Using it in a movie, where it gets broken by a careless idiot actor. After repairing the blade, she discovers it’s not just any old weapon. It’s Gram, the sword that slew the dragon Fafnir.

Once this is known, life gets more than a little crazy for Sarah. Dwarves, giants, gods, witches, dragons — everybody wants Gram. Sarah, who’s bonded with her re-forged blade, has no intention of turning it over. To make things even worse, she’s a semi-closeted lesbian trying to keep her relationship under wraps. Not easy to manage with dragons in the sky.

Oh, did I mention the dragons? Pitts does a fine job bringing us dragons with their own society, mores and goals. Dragons are a sort of Illuminati, disguised as humans and controlling the destiny of millions. Now, I’m not sure their shape-changing is exactly according to Norse legend. That seems like more of a Chinese thing. However, it works for the purpose of the story in that human and dragon characters can be in the same spaces without one side being too large or too small. Whether disguised as investment bankers or revealed in their monumental savagery, these dragons are frightening antagonists. One of them might possibly by an ally, but how many dragons there really are remains an open question, and some of them seem to have future plans for Sarah.

There are drawbacks to the telling. I felt that Sarah see-saws between being confident and insecure, skillful and inept. And in many cases I felt the characters were being “appropriately stupid.” That is, not asking obvious questions or not telling people important things, because the author feared this would end the plot to soon. Some major questions that could have been answered, weren’t. Possibly this is a tactic to bring readers back for future books. As Pitts writes more novels and gains confidence, I hope he won’t need such devices.

Despite these flaws, I do recommend “Black Blade Blues” for ages 16 and over.

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Do you ever tell people about your writing? I hope so. You’ll have a hard time building an audience if you don’t. Even more important, do you tell people about your work in a way that slights or insults yourself? “Oh, it’s just a hobby of mine.” “I’m not very good at it.” “It’s a little poem/song/story I wrote. Really bad, isn’t it?” If any of these phrases sound familiar, you’re a victim of the evil dragon Self-Minimization.

I often hear other writers minimize themselves. Sometimes men, but more often women. Our culture has this thing where we teach men to stand up and speak for themselves while women are taught to sit down and be quiet. But, as writers, we simply can’t afford to sit quietly.

Naturally, we all have moments of doubt. The competition is intense and rejection hurts. Minimizing ourselves can be a way of deflecting pain. It can also be a chain that holds us back. If your spouse said to you, “Why are you wasting your time with this?” you’d be pretty upset. You’d probably defend yourself. But when it’s your own voice saying, “You’ll never sell anything,” self-defense is that much harder.

Yet, it’s because the competition is so intense that we must slay this dragon. No one ever sold a story without submitting it first. Self-minimizing can be as much a habit as a reaction to stress. Begin to train your brain for the battle. “Yes, I’ve been writing for ten years.” “I’m getting pretty good at this.” “It’s a poem/song/story I wrote. Isn’t it great?”

Funny thing is, most people will take you at your word. If you say you’re a poet or author, they’ll believe you. Once you fight off that self-minimizing dragon, you’ll see how high you can fly.

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Another “inner dragon” we writers often battle is our tendency to become obsessed with things we can’t control. This can mean editorial rejections, sales figures, negative reviews, or the length of time it takes an agent to answer your query. Even worse, writers sometimes make resolutions like “publish five stories this year.”

All of these are things we can’t control, but I have several friends who consistently work themselves into a tizzy, swear to quit writing, then apologize to everyone who got worried about them.

Let’s just look at these logically. We have no way of knowing, when we query or submit a story, how many other queries and submissions come in the same day. We don’t know what else is going on in the editor’s or agent’s life. We have no way of knowing what past experience readers bring that affects how our work appears to them.

A more productive approach is to focus on things that we can control. We can’t make purchasing decisions — but we can set a goal to write five stories and submit them. We can’t make people buy our books — but if we self-publish, we can choose enticing covers and work our social networks to increase sales. We can’t make agents represent us — but we can gather data and present it in a way an agent will look upon favorably. To attract friendly reviews, we might give a few favorable reviews ourselves.

To quote that one song, we just have to “let it go” on things that are not ours to decide — and do the rest just as well as we can.

P. S.
I have another blog. This one is about gardening. Once a week, I’ll be musing on gardening and life. If you’re interested in gardening, take a look at Lazy Daisy’s Garden Gazette.

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We writers often do battle against doubts, fears, writing blocks, etc. Call them inner dragons. If we aren’t careful, we can sabotage ourselves with negative self-talk.

One common Inner Dragon is to treat writing like a competitive sport. Say you struggled for an hour to finish a single page, 250 measly words. Then on Facebook an author friend brags about their wonderful 2,500-word day. It’s all too easy to compare word counts and conclude that you’re a slacker because you didn’t get as much done.

Or when your publisher is a small press and only pays royalties, you might hear publicity of another author’s six-figure deal. That might make you think you’re a failure because your deal isn’t as rich.

This, to me, depends on a backward definition of success. You’re looking at the end of the process while still at the beginning.

Every page you write is a battle. Life is so hectic, anything you complete is a victory. A single page, a stanza of a poem, a chapter of a novel — they all build to something larger.

One of my favorite writing quotes is from SF author Jay Lake. “If you write one page every day, you will have completed a novel in a year.”

Believe this, and go slay that dragon!

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Dragonflies are very noticeable in any environment where they live. They’re big compared to other bugs. They’re fast and acrobatic flyers. So it’s no surprised that dragonflies are a part of legend and myth. Even the name, dragonfly, is a reference to their ferocity as predators.

All over Northern Europe, people believed dragonflies were associated with the supernatural. They were called Teufelsnadel in Germany, L’aiguille du Diable in France (both of which mean “Devil’s needle”), and Devil’s darning needle in England. In Wales, the name was Snake Doctor, in the belief that if a snake was injured the dragonfly would fly over and sew it up. Clearly all of these refer to the dragonfly’s long, thin shape.

In Sweden, people thought dragonflies looked like a scale, and believed the Devil used them to weigh people’s souls. If a dragonfly flew around your head, that was bad luck because the Devil might be coming to get you!

People in Northern Europe also believed that dragonflies were a hazard to the eyes. Thus some dragonflies were called Blindsticka (Sweden), Oyenstikker (Norway) or Augenstecker (Germany). The Norwegian Orsnildra is harder to translate but appears to involve poking holes in one’s eardrums.

More charming is the folk belief that dragonflies could act as steeds for fairies and similar creatures. So we have the Spanish Caballito del Diablo (Devil’s horse), Swedish Trollslanda (Hobgoblin fly) and German Hollenrosse (Goddess’s horse).

Cultures in Asia also have legends about dragonflies. In Japan, the famous samurai warriors took these insects as symbols of agility and power in battle. When they saw dragonflies, they took is as an omen of victory. Dragonflies, or Tonbo, are most visible during summer and fall in Japan. They are an artistic and visual representation of those seasons, in much the same way Americans might use sunflowers or autumn leaves.

In China, meanwhile, Quingting (dragonflies) were thought to foretell harmony, prosperity, and good luck. This makes sense if you consider that dragonflies can’t live without water, a substance that’s also crucial to people, livestock and crops. If there was enough water for dragonflies, everyone would be thriving.

Possibly for similar reasons, there were Native American tribes that believed dragonflies foretold freedom, happiness and purity. Perhaps they couldn’t see that the dragonflies were hunting tiny insects, for they believed the dragonflies fed on the wind. Other tribes thought dragonflies had powers of illusion. Lakota warriors might call upon the spirit of Tannicala Tusweca (Dragonfly) to trick their enemies during a battle.

Because dragonflies, like all insects, go through a metamorphosis, dream reading and other modern spiritual teaching holds them as emblems of change, growth, and the shedding of illusions.

Personally, I like dragonflies because they look cool and they’re exciting to watch. My home is several miles from the nearest river, but every once in a while I get dragonflies cruising through my vegetable garden. I’m thrilled when I see them because I know my garden is healthy and productive for all kinds of life. Besides, how often do you see a dragon on the wing?

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