SG-1: Brought to you today by the letters U & Z

Looks like my SG-1 media tie-in novel, Four Dragons, just might make its August 16th release date.  MGM has happily signed off and galley proofs should be ready for my final read-through in the next 24 hours.

For those who haven’t been keeping score (and yes, there’ll be a test at the end… or rather a contest (once we have a definite date for books-in-hand)… the storyline for Four Dragons goes something likes this:

Shortly after Daniel Jackson returns from his time among the ascended Ancients, he volunteers to join an archaeological survey of Chinese ruins on P3Y-702. But after accidentally activating a Goa’uld transport ring, Daniel finds himself the prisoner of the Goa’uld Lord Yu. Blaming himself for Daniel’s capture, Jack O’Neill vows to go to any lengths to get him back – even if it means taking matters into his own hands.

A key question in the book is WHY does Lord Yu capture Daniel?  And why has Yu always seemed to have his own agenda when it comes to the Tau’ri? You’ll have to read the book to find out though I can promise you the story gives us an opportunity to explore Yu’s past before and since being Goa’ulded.  In turn, we get a chance to look at ancient Chinese history and some of the archaeological breadcrumbs left behind on Earth… and elsewhere.

With MGM’s sign-off, I thought it might be a good idea to start sharing some bits and pieces about the story. Once the galleys are put to bed, I’ll post the book’s prelude – the opening pages for the book.  In the meantime, let me introduce you to this fellow:

Zhenmushou

This is a ZHENMUSHOU – otherwise known as a Tomb Guardian. In Chinese archaeological writings, the Zhenmushou is identified as a mythological creature, a spirit that has the power to keep the spirit of the dead from roaming. While mostly popular in the sixth century and onward, they can be traced back to the Western Jin dynasty (265-317 AD) and earlier.

And the SGC finds one on another planet…along with a variety of ruins containing a mix of Goa’uld, ancient Chinese, and ancient Ancient writing. Clearly, Daniel’s interest is peaked. Hopefully, yours, too.

The Primordial Unas ("SG-1: Thor's Hammer) Courtesy of Gateworld.net Property of MGM-TV

Now of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a certain similarity to another creature born of the Stargate mythology:
Recognize him?  You should – he’s the Primordial UNAS who tangled with Jack and Teal’c down in the dank caves of Cimmeria.   He’s a craggy, less refined version of Chaka (Daniel’s Unas buddy) with more horns, more jagged teeth, and a lousy temper.  And yes, he does bear a resemblance to the Zhenmushou.

Gotta wonder… does Lord Yu has anything to do with that?

The Electric Kool-Aid E-Book Test

Like pretty much every techno-readaholic on the planet, I’ve been ‘in the market’ for an eBook reader for quite some time. Not because I can instantly get books (versus an almost 2 hour drive RT). Not because I can carry dozens of books around on one lightweight device, but because I’m sick and tired of wearing glasses when I read. Between the easy-on-the-eyes eInk and the ability to increase the font size, the eBook reader and I are made for each other.

Of course, my imagination goes to other possibilities as well. As a screenwriting professor, I suffer from guilt every semester when I have to ask my students to kill small forests — all in the name of our workshops where dialogue and action are read aloud and the critiques involve rapid fire notations taken during said readings. A device which allowed edits and critiques would be more than amazing. Heck, it’d be good for the environment! In fact, something like this CourseSmart Tablet Concept would be PERFECT.
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You Should Be Reading: CC Finlay’s ‘The Patriot Witch’

If you’re like me, you don’t get to read as much as you’d like, or rather, what you read isn’t exactly “for pleasure.” Therefore, when you do have the opportunity to read what you want, you get picky. In my case, that means turning to the works of a rare dozen or so authors who have never failed to engage me in their fictional worlds.

C.C. Finlay is most definitely on that list. There’s an ease to his use of language, a rich tapestry of setting and character that immediately pulls me in, and his stories are always fresh in their plotting. I’ve yet to be disappointed in reading any of his work.

Finlay’s latest historical fantasy novel, The Patriot Witch, provides an extra bonus as it’s set against the rich AND realistic backdrop of America’s struggle for independence (a personal favorite historical period).  War is not pretty and Finlay never shies from showing us the clear and dirty details without ever slowing down the story. If you wanted to fight for freedom, more power to you. Don’t have a rifle? Just wait a few moments. Someone else will fall and you can use theirs. If nothing else, Finlay makes it clear that a pragmatic mind is the only thing that keeps you alive in the midst of battle… if you’re lucky.

As it turns out, luck – or to be more specific, MAGIC, may have something to do with staying alive as well.

While there’s ample historic underpinnings to The Patriot’s Witch, the story’s heart lies with Finlay’s protagonist Proctor Brown, a 20 year-old young farmer and minuteman. Proctor learns many a painful lesson in this first part of the Traitor to the Crown trilogy. Coming of age during the American Revolution is one thing. Discovering the dark ugly side of magic is another. Up until the story’s kicked into gear, Proctor’s only exposure to magic is the benign art of scrying – the ability to see into the future (though interpretation is key as he painfully discovers). He soon learns that his dreams of peaceful farming have no place in the harsh realities of a war reaching far beyond the battlegrounds of Lexington and Bunker Hill into the realms of the rights and wrong of magical power.

It is that exploration of what defines right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, which makes up a sizeable portion of this novel.  Finlay allows the reader to share in Proctor’s confusion, discovery and realizations by exposing the character to witches loyal to opposing sides in the colonies’ fight for independence. Desperate to hold on to their lands, the Brits will do whatever is necessary… including enlisting witches of dark magic to defeat their enemies. The American witches, however, (ever the underdogs) resist the use of life taking magics, even when it comes at a price.

Yes, there’s a metaphorical element to the story with bad witches as the British (the bad guys) and good witches as the Americans (that would be us good guys). That said, several threads are set up in this first novel that make promise of a more complex, less easily defined sense of good vs. evil. In fact, as fun as this first book was, I’m a bit impatient to start the second one (A Spell for the Revolution) as I’m eager to see how Proctor and the colonies maintain their youthful optimism as the Revolution’s first blush subsides and the harsh realities of fighting a war with limited resources can make the line between good and evil all the thinner.

Creating the Creative Habit

Available at Amazon.comBefore I had my daughter, I could drop 5 pounds just by skipping a couple of meals.  No breakfasts, no lunches for 3 days and bam! back to my fighting weight.  Post-baby, the old ways didn’t work so hot.  I could starve myself but barely lose an ounce.  I learned the hard way that I would have to eat in a completely different way to lose the 30 pounds I’d gained.

Believe it or not, that little allegory has everything to do with the a few epiphanies I had today upon finishing Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit.  You see, before the holidays, I’d created a few ‘creative habits’ to get me focused each writing day.  I’d get up, feed the horse, spend an hour reading email and scouring the net for news.  Next up, a shower and then down to the business of getting my head in the game which meant listening to a playlist entitled “Pre-Write” while playing Freecell until I won.

Then I’d write.

Silly?  Maybe.  But it worked for me.  I wrote (and rewrote) several extensive outlines for books either in progress or ones I’d hoped to work on in the near future.  I even wrote a few short stories this past fall.

Then the pattern was broken thanks to Santa Claus, a menorah and the five thousand things that knock us off our schedules during the holiday.   I came back, forced myself to believe I was back in the ‘zone’ but my heart wasn’t into it.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Of course, there’s days and weeks we’re going to feel like hacks when we work — at whatever we do.  But seriously, life’s too short.   More importantly, I’m a big believer that if your heart isn’t it, the world will eventually figure it out.  Disingenious, anyone?

That’s where Ms. Tharp’s brutally honest and insightful book comes.  Playing a round of Freecell isn’t going to get me bupkiss.  I need to rein in the unruly child that is my creative industry.  She gives some excellent advise about how to find your own methods of madness to do so, from physical actions such as creating a literal box for each project, to developing the objectivity you need to not beat yourself up when your work is less that perfect.  Deadlines are discussed, natch, but so is the value of creating and finding the spine of your work… and no, that doesn’t mean having the backbone to see it through.  It means knowing the point of your work in question so you never wander too far afield and get lost in a morass of pointlessness.

New habits for me?  Up an hour earlier.  Feed my animals, do my 1 hour of internet but then, a bit of stretching: a 1/2 of literal body bending as I think out what I want to write that day.  In other words, a daily review of my story’s spine so that morass never comes too close.