Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Blog Tour: Paul Shortt with Memory War

If you've been around here long enough, you may remember Paul Shortt from his blog tours for Locked Within and Silent Oath. The final book of the trilogy, Memory War, has just been released, and Paul's here to talk about one of the key underlying mechanics for the series: reincarnation. Here's what he has to say about why he chose to go that direction for these books:

Reincarnation - The Ultimate Afterlife?

A major element of The Memory Wars is reincarnation. When I set out to write the first book, I knew I wanted to try something different with it. Typically, reincarnation is the purview of prophecies, the Chosen One, or fated lovers. I didn't want any of that.

No, in the world of The Memory Wars, reincarnation is as common as magic spells and vampires. It's just one more aspect of life. Granted, it comes with ideological conflict between those who view death and rebirth as the natural cycle, and those who fear that only a person's memories survive the process, and the vital essence of who they once were is lost forever.

To the former, the reborn and their conclaves, reincarnation is the chance to live a full life again. The chance to find lost friends, to experience new things. But of course, with that comes another lifetime suffering through the challenges and pain of a typical person's life. And that's to say nothing of the kinds of problems faced by more adventurous reborn like Nathan Shepherd.

So why would I call reincarnation the "ultimate" afterlife?

Let's consider how the afterlife is often represented in fiction. Two examples which spring to mind are Supernatural and Toy Story 3.

In Supernatural, Heaven is depicted as a place where each soul gets to relive their happiest memories. That seems nice, but there's definitely a finite number of happy memories to be experienced, depending on how happy someone's life was. And then there's the fact that most people who die seem to be unaware that they're in Heaven. It's more like a dream, where they don't realise it isn't real. In a sense, when good people die, most of them don't even know that they're being rewarded. But even for those who do, and for the rare few who manage to create a Heaven that's more than just a memory, they know it's not real. It's an illusion. Eternity being granted everything you could desire might sound nice, but eternity is a long time...

It might seem strange to bring a children's movie into this, but at its heart, Toy Story 3 is about death. It features several different stages of the afterlife, from the idea of limbo (the attic), purgatory or Hell (the daycare centre as we first find it), oblivion (the furnace), and finally the last two, Heaven (the daycare centre once Lotso has been removed) and reincarnation (when Woody and the others are left with Bonnie). We even see the potential for immortality (Woody's hope to go with Andy to college). Now, while Heaven is depicted as being pretty great, and everyone is happy and content, the happiest ending comes for the toys who are reincarnated. Even Woody gives up his chance at immortality, because it's not as fulfilling as getting to really live again. The toys have been through the worst, and they receive the greatest reward, experiencing active and fulfilling lives. Even the way some toys recall their previous owners echoes how the reborn in The Memory Wars remember their past lives.

Why would Heaven, ostensibly the greatest reward anyone can receive, always be tinged with a little bit of murk? I think the answer is simple.

Life is not all good or all bad. It is struggle and reward, together. Good things mean so much more to us when we've earned them, when we feel we deserve them. In order to do that, we have to overcome obstacles and challenges. While Heaven is amazing, life is better. And only reincarnation offers another chance at life. The secret is to make each life worth living.

This is something that Nathan Shepherd is forced to consider in Memory War. As his enemies amass their forces, he wonders why he should keep fighting, when there will always be someone else to fight, and even when he dies, he'll come back, just like his enemies, and the fight will begin all over again. Sometimes, the fight isn't about winning, it's about making sure the dark knows there will always be someone to stand against it.

About Memory War:

War is coming to New York. Nathan Shepherd's growing band of followers is dedicated to protecting the city, but they now face their greatest threat.

Athamar returns, plunging the city into chaos. Uniting the forces of darkness against Nathan and his allies, Athamar strives to discover a secret hidden for thousands of years. A secret lost to Nathan's memories. Something so dangerous, even the gods themselves fear it.

Nathan and Elena were once the greatest of heroes, champions against evil. Now, haunted by Nathan's past-life betrayal, they must work together and brave the pain of long-buried lifetimes. Somewhere, locked within their former incarnations, lies the key to stopping Athamar, an enemy who has hunted them from one incarnation to the next.

As the city burns and innocents suffer, as heroes fall and hope dies, Nathan and Elena face their final battle, a battle where legends will be reborn.

About Paul:

A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren’t enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life.

Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group.

He lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends.

The following year, Jen gave birth to twins, Amy and Erica. Their fourth child, Olivia, was born in January, 2014.

Connect with Paul on Facebook and Twitter, or on his blog.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Three Act Structure and the Saga of the Glasses

I got new glasses last week. (Last week? Really? Seems like I've had them forever already.) I'm not sure what I think of them yet. I like seeing the world clearly again, but they don't look quite as cool. According to (*ahem*) "a certain member of my household" (*ahem*) they are the mom jeans of glasses. But then, my last pair was a super spiffy frameless kind that just didn't hold up with a toddler in the house. What do you think?

If you follow me on Twitter, you may already be privy to the saga of the glasses. It was told in three parts, on three different days, It occurred to me that, silly as it was, it was an excellent model of three act structure.

Act 1: Set Up

This is our introduction. We have a protagonist (me! *waves*) and an inciting incident (acquiring new glasses). We also have a small obstacle introduced with the inciting incident that must be overcome (adjusting to the depth perception).

[Apparently this was from the astigmatism, and was it ever strange! I drove home with the old, broken glasses because I couldn't bear to look long distance for more than an instant.]

Act 2: Confrontation

As you can see, the first obstacle was overcome. But right on the heels of victory came a new, more difficult challenge: the glasses didn't fit! (Seriously, it was so annoying to have them falling off my face every time I bent my head more than 20 degrees.)

I tried to look up options for fixing them myself. Thus I came to the midpoint of my saga: the realization that I could not fix them on my own, and that if I tried I would likely break them(!).

I called the office where I'd gotten the glasses, but they were not open. Disaster upon disaster! What would I do?

Act 3: Resolution

Fortunately, the office opened again at a convenient time the following day. I drove over as soon as they opened, and they quickly assisted me. All was well.

I guess three act structure really does exist in the real world!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Three Random Things

It's been one of those weeks. The boy has strep. Hubby and I have been a bit sick too. So instead of a thoughtful blog post, you get a "three random things" post.

1. I'm currently reading The Golem and the Jinni and it is such a wonderful book. Love the writing, love the history and the research that went into it. It's a rich, beautiful experience.

2. I've started using HabitRPG. Let me know if you're on there. I haven't formed a party or done much of anything yet except gain levels.

3. I've got new glasses to pick up this afternoon! I'm so excited about this. The old ones finally broke beyond repair. (Note that this is not the first time they have broken.) Seeing as I needed a new prescription anyway, this is probably not a terrible thing. Can't wait to see what the world really looks like again!

Have a wonderful week, everyone. And happy new school year to those just starting back this week!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ten Books

Ten books that "have stayed with you the longest or have changed you in some way." My friend Eileen tagged me for this on Facebook, and I'm not having an easy time of it picking my ten.

It's sort of like asking me to tell my life story in ten sentences. Birth, marriage, the birth of my son--these are obvious choices. But do I go with my first job or the first time I traveled out of the country? What about that time I danced until my toenails fell off and then kept dancing anyway, or the year I went to the international science fair? You know, come to think of it, birth is kind of an obvious addition to the list... maybe I could get away with cutting it.

That's how I feel picking out ten books, so if I fudge it in a few places, please forgive me.

1. The Lord of the Rings & The Chronicles of Narnia

Why? These are the equivalent of "birth" in the analogy above. I'll never forget my dad reading the Battle of Helm's Deep and shouting "KHAZAD AI-MENU" at the top of his voice. Or how, after my mom read Narnia to me, I pretended my bathroom door could take me there. (The swirls in the wood of the door looked a little like a face.)

These are the books that made me a reader, and while they seem so obvious I wish I could cut them to make more room, I wouldn't really be here without them.

2. Harry Potter

Why? I never fell in love with a fictional world as much as I did with the wizard world. It was a revelation. I wanted to live there. Barring that, I wanted to create other worlds that made people feel the way Harry Potter made me feel. These are the books that made me a writer.

3. Ender's Game

Why? The psychology of it really resonated with me. My first real attempts at writing were very derivative of this book.

4. Watership Down

Why? It's one of the few books that gets better every time I read it. The characters stay with me. (And, I admit, the creepy warren does too.)

5. Howl's Moving Castle

Why? It's the only book I've re-read immediately after reading. I've read a lot of books that made me sad or made me laugh or even a combination of the two. But I never read one as whimsical as this. It fit the mood of my life so perfectly that I wanted to stay in it longer. Plus, Sophie's magic is precisely the sort I always wished for whenever someone asked me what my superpower would be, were I lucky enough to have one.

6. The Sparrow

Why? Perhaps it was because the main character was a linguist, and at the time I was studying linguistics. Perhaps it was the mix of horror and compassion at the end of the book. It hooked me, and then it tasered me in the feels.

7. The Merlin Trilogy

Why? Great series, but there's one particular scene that stands out to me. It digs into the relationship between the two central characters, and with a single sentence BOOM! emotional fallout.

8. Elsewhere

Why? It's one of the few books that actually has a recognizable influence on how I live. Sure, every book changes the mind in some way, but this one made me conscious of the change. It helped me to look at areas of my life where I'm wasting my time and think more critically about them. Also, it had the most bittersweet ending...

9. The Book Thief & Code Name Verity

Why? If you've read them, I don't need to tell you. If you haven't read them, I can't tell you.

10. Un Lun Dun

Why? Because it is funny and clever and doesn't take itself too seriously.

Aaaaand now I want to go back and read all of these again. Oops.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Penny for Your Virus?

How much would you pay for a virus?

Before you answer that, no, in this scenario you are not the villain of a Mission: Impossible flick.

If, instead, you are a 17th century Dutch investor, you might be willing to pay the equivalent of ten years' income. Ten years of hard work just to buy...


Yep, that's a tulip.

Back in the 1630s, in a phenomenon known as Tulip Mania, tulip prices in the Netherlands soared to unstable heights. The most expensive tulips were like the one pictured above: striped instead of solid.

And what caused those stripes? A virus! The "tulip breaking virus" specifically, which, in addition to the stripes, causes the tulip to weaken. Weak = rare. Rare = valuable. And there you have it--a virus worth loads of money.

Now I get that tulips are beautiful. Personally I like the solid colors better, especially the yellow ones.

gratuitous yellow tulips

But regardless of color or design, tulips are my favorite flowers. I mean, just look at these. Such vibrant colors! Still, I would never pay thousands of dollars for one bulb.

But then... I'm not a 17th century Dutch investor, am I?


[This post brought to you by: "Eeeeeee, tulips!" aka: "I have a shiny new book idea, but I can't work on it yet, so here's some research thinly disguised as a blog post."]