author C.C.Cole's blog

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Afterlife of the Viking

Ragnar "Vikings"

Ragnar of “Vikings” faces judgment in the Underworld before Gastar characters Shevata and Zermon.

Shevata leaned back on the armrest of the obsidian throne.  “Zermon, no more savages!”
“I’ll remind you that you released the last one?”  Zermon rolled his eyes looking over a short man brought before them in chains. 
“If you want to drop this one in the pit, then do it.” Shevata attempted to jump down to leave, but Zermon held her back. 
“No, little devil.  Let’s meet this man.”  He handed her the scroll.  She glanced a scowl as she unrolled it and read aloud.  “Ragnar.  You’re a savage.  Throw him in.”  The demons lifted him.

“Wait!” Said Ragnar.  “How can you call me a savage considering what you do here?”
Zermon leaned back.  “Keep him up a minute.”
Shevata looked over Ragnar.  “You are an idiot for saying that.  This is hell.”
Zermon looked at the scroll at roared in laughter.  “He expected to go to Valhalla!”  Shevata snatched it back from him. 
“There’s no Vahalla Ragnar.”  She looked over the page.  “But you’ve been a great warrior, traveled far, and led your men to great victories in battle.”  She smiled.  “But it’s always the details, isn’t it?”  She continued to read.  “You led you men to Northumbria, captured the King’s brother, and killed him when you said you wouldn’t.  Nice.  Let’s see.”  She looked further down the page.  “ You abandoned your family for your own gain, took and impregnated another woman, causing your wife to leave you for another man and later separating her from her son she bore for you.”

Ragnar stood with pride.  “Anything else?”
Shevata looked over the page again.  “No Ragnar.  Nothing else.”
“So why should I be condemned?  I needed another wife to bear me more sons.  As for Northumbria, we never met them before.  It was war.”
Shevata looked back at Zermon and he nodded.  She slid off the armrest of the throne and walked toward him.  “So perhaps we have it all wrong down here in the Underworld, is that right, Ragnar?  That you’re just a good man, misunderstood?”
“I’m a man that lived in a violent world.” 
“You’re a man that committed treachery, murder, infidelity that lead to the death of one of your children.”  Shevata withdrew her dagger.
“My child died of illness!”

Shevata motioned to the demons to pin him down on his back.  With the dagger she cut down his breastbone from top to bottom.  She stood up and looked down at him.  “Now Zermon will take over.  This is the custom of your people that treachery bears this punishment.  Only a savage would think of something like this to do to another!”  She kicked him hard in the groin and walked away. 
She heard a scream in the distance and Zermon say “Oh, I guess that’s why they call it the Blood Eagle.”

On High in Infidelity


Regardless of the story, is it historical romance, sci-fi, Dark Fantasy, or documentary, somewhere in a marriage if there is infidelity, there will be controversy.  Even in the most accepted of cultures of arranged marriages and multiple wives, one wife “trumps” another wife usually over when they married and how many sons were born, depending on the culture.

So when I see historic series on television, it’s interesting to me how human feelings transcend the centuries; because not matter what, if a man chooses another woman, the first wife will not be happy about it in most cases.  Why should she?  After marriage and supporting her man, giving him children, and taking care of things while he’s away, he brings home another woman?  What gratitude!

But am I being too hard on men?  I’ll point out the Victorian period and a Churchill biography I read where a woman told him if he didn’t take a lover then he was “selfish.”  Really?  Wow, that’s an interesting take on things.  However, the upper classes had their own agenda, certainly not to exclude Winston’s mother, known for her lovers. 

I’ve had a few men (very few) give me the argument that a single man is really needed to “provide” for many women for breeding children.  OK, I get that.  But for most societies, the population is generally 50% of each gender.  I’ll take the high road for that discussion and leave it for the sociologists.

What does infidelity have to do with the writer?  Answer:  If you’re writing about marriage, everything.  One has so many possibilities in character development and taking in a culture to consider the risks and consequences of the behavior.  Generally it’s thought women don’t have the upper hand and depending on the time in history, they didn’t.  But I don’t believe it made things easy for men with integrity.  Men needed wives to raise their children, and most of us understand the importance of a parent’s relationship to a child, and when the father is away, the mother is paramount. 

It’d be convenient to say there should be marriages that are completely open without jealousy and if so, that’s great.  But so often, marriage vows are considered sacred, and breaking them breaks more than just a ceremonial promise.  It breaks hearts, breaks families, breaks relationships, and sometimes forms opportunities. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Prince in the Underworld

Tom Kane "Boss"

It’s time for the ultra-Machiavellian character Tom Kane of the Starz series “Boss” meet the lead Gastar character after living his philosophy to the end of his life and now faces judgment of his eternal soul.

Shevata sat at her desk in her hideout in Hell, finding a bit of time to escape Zermon’s hideous job of sending souls to eternal doom.  She closed a book she’d finished reading entitled “The Prince” Zermon sent with a scroll about a visitor she will be meeting soon.  “Send him in.”  She nodded toward the tall demon standing at the entrance of her office. 

Shevata felt underwhelmed by one of the most unassuming men she had ever seen.  The tall, balding man strolled in with quiet confidence, wearing a button down shirt and trousers, with no weapons.  Other than taking directions from the demon that led him inside, he seemed completely unafraid.  He motioned to the chair in front of her desk.  “May I?”  She nodded and he sat, crossing his legs. 

He smiled as if he were to calm her down.  “Look, I realize the awkwardness of it all.  Tell me, what can I do for you?”  He placed his hands open on his lap.  Shevata rolled his scroll to the side of her desk. 
“Zermon wanted me to meet you to teach me some kind of lesson, as if I need to learn anything from the likes of you, Mr. Kane.” 
“If I may say, Lady, the world I know is a place of deals.  There’s no reason it be different here.”
Shevata feigned amazement.  “Really?  What can you offer me Mr. Kane?”
“Well, the..” he motioned toward the demon in the doorway, “those guys talk about you a lot.  It seems that you’re here against your will.  So am I.  Maybe I can get us both out.”
“You will not be the first to try to talk me into overthrowing Zermon, so save you story for the fire pits.”
He chuckled and shook his head.  “You’re just like the others that serve, always thinking small.”  Shevata raised an eyebrow.  He leaned toward her.  “You can put me in Zermon’s place, I can give you freedom, any leftover humans freedom, and will work with you once you establish yourself back in your own world.
Shevata leaned back in her seat.  “So from now on, with Zermon out of the way, all of my problems will be over?”  He nodded. 
“Don’t you agree?”  He said.   

Shevata reached back and hurled a chain at him, binding him tightly to the chair.  “I agree with Zermon that all Machiavellians think they’re the smartest in the room and find their own way to the fire pits.  You, Mr. Kane, are no different.  Take him away.”  After the demon carried him away, she picked up “The Prince” and resumed her reading.

On the Love of Intrigue

"House of Cards

So many aspects of stories reel in the readers of books or viewers of films or shows, be it action, fantasy, drama, horror, but on the short list of it all is the lure of intrigue, when we must know what happens next and a few hours sleep or loads of laundry won’t stop us.  Many daytime television dramas I recall watching as a kid not missing them so much when school started, but during summer I hated missing what would happen the “next episode,” far before my mature days of speculation.

Being an unapologetic fan of gangster films like “Goodfellas” and “Casino” I’ll admit intrigue glues me to the screen and served as migraine headache companions many years ago.  Other films like the Dutch film “Black Book” kept me on the end of my seat, and as shown, political intrigue, when done well, reels me in when the Machiavellian lead character sticks to the rules of the Prince and takes his (or her) hits but manages to come out on top in the long run, by any means possible.

Intrigue, I believe is what makes series so popular, even if the story isn’t the cloak-and-dagger secrets waiting to come out.  We just want to know what happens next, which is part of intrigue.  During the Harry Potter mania, I remembered exactly when I started reading the final book, stopping only for short bathroom breaks until finished.  When “The White Queen” series came out, my poor kindle was on almost non-stop the weekend I ate all three novels the show was based upon.  I consider myself a very impatient reader, so once I start a book, I consider myself already finished it; everything in between are words keeping me from finishing it.  If I miss something, it’s time for a re-read.

For books to be intriguing I don’t believe they require being a series, being gangster or political stories, or Machiavellian lead characters.  What I like is for the story to make me turn the page.  Usually writers will achieve that with their strengths; some write great action, others write great character development, others write great non-fiction, and we all know some are great at it all.  I say, go for it, and tell us about it.  The readers decide.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Judgment of The Khal

"Game of Thrones" Khal Drogo

Khal Drogo now stands before Shevata, the lead character of the Gastar novellas, awaiting judgment for eternal doom in the fire pits of Hell.

Shevata’s face froze as she read the length scroll.  One of the higher demons sat a stone table beside the obsidian throne where she sat and placed an elaborate goblet of gold and filled it with a green liquid from a silver pitcher.  She shook her head at the demon.  “Only Zermon can make this happen.  Only he can create a higher demon.”
The demon completed his task, making certain the mug was completely filled.  “You killed Kuvern.  Now he must be replaced.”  He walked away.

A pair of huge winged demons, larger than Zermon, brought in a large, muscular, powerful man, with dark skin, scant clothing, and a long braid down his back.  She read down the scroll.  “Khal Drogo of the Dothraki, is that right?”  He mumbled something and one of the demons twisted his arm backwards.  He did not show pain. 

“Khal Drogo, we all speak the same language here.  Just look at me and speak clearly and I will understand you.” 
He glared at her.  “All of you can fuck yourselves.”
Shevata raised an eyebrow.  “Well, I’m afraid you’re past the battles of insults, battles for gold, battles for blood.  You’re in a dark place, Khal.  In Hell, Zermon decided all savages that go through lands mindlessly killing women, children, and other innocents will see their afterlife here.  Now you, only you, have a chance for redemption.  So you can either tell me to fuck off, or offer something for the lives you’ve taken.”
“It is known they are ours to take!”  Shouted the Khal.  A demon hit him hard in the mouth.

“It is not known here.  Don’t prove us right by being stupid.  You will either offer something of worth back to those you killed or you will become one of those that hold you now.”  She motioned to the goblet.  The Khal relaxed.  “The moon of my life.  Daenerys.  I give everything.  To her.”
Shevata leaned back and read through the scroll again.  “She has dragons.  She lost your son.  I’m sorry.”
“If anything left of me, I give to her.”  He said again. 
Shevata handed him her golden-jeweled dagger.  “Killing yourself here won’t help her.”

He took the dagger and cut off his braid to his scalp and threw it into the fire pit.  He reached down with it and cut his Achilles tendon then handed the blade back to her.  “No more Khal.  No more battle.”
Shevata felt her mouth drop open with awe.  She reached into her pocket and handed him a clear gem, glittering in multiple colors, like a prism.  “Take this and it will guide you out of Hell.  Your soul will go to your Khaleesi.  Rest well, Khal Drogo.”

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Gastar and the Captain

"BlackSails" Captain Flint

I’m having a little fan fiction fun with the lead character of Black Sails, Captain Flint, meet the lead character of the Gastar novellas in the Underworld.  Let’s see how well they get along:

Shevata leaned back on Zermon’s huge obsidian throne.  “No, I don’t want to see anyone else!  Find Zermon and tell him I said to come do his own job.”
A demon handed her a scroll.  “He almost declined this one so he wants you to meet him.”
Shevata unrolled and read the paper.  “A pirate captain?  They are thieves and murderers, destined for the fire pits.  Why does this one get special consideration in Hell?”
The demon motioned with his hand and a tall muscular man stood before her.  He was bleeding from several wounds and the manacles cut through his skin.  “I take it you’ve been fighting them, uh,” Shevata glanced over the paper, “Captain Flint.”
“Yes, I was.” He stood unwavering. 

“This is your chance to tell me your case and maybe find redemption.  Tell me about your life.  The part that sent you down here.”
He looked at her with hatred.  “I left my country with my love and had no good choices to make a life for us.  Therefore, I became a pirate, so I lead crews of men that chased down ships to kill the crew and steal the cargo.  Over time, the men needed a leader, so I created the role for them by being their king.”

Shevata sat back, holding back a laugh.  “A pirate king? Go on.”
The man gave her a glance that would kill her if he could.  “I had to make decisions I couldn’t share with the crew.  They wouldn’t understand.  We needed treasure and a lot of it to make a home on land.  I wanted to make a home with the woman I loved.  I lost men trying to do that.  Should that condemn me to Hell?”
Shevata unrolled the scroll again.  “Your honorable intentions don’t change your actions of thievery and murder.  Educate me, Captain.  Why should I spare you?”
“Because it’s right!”

She handed him the scroll.  “What have you sacrificed?”
He read it as the blood ran down his arms from the wounds, ignoring them.  “This basically says I’m nothing but a brigand, a scourge, an outlaw scum.”
“Pirates usually are.”  Shevata took back the blood-stained scroll and set it aside. 
“So what will it be?” 
“I’ll send you to the upper levels to atone for the murders, and loss of the lives of your men.  You will live humble and accept your position of being of service to Zermon.  Sometimes he releases people from the upper levels and you’ll find redemption.”
“I serve no one.”

“Then your soul will burn and you will no longer exist.”  He turned and jumped into the fire pit without hesitation.  “What is it with Kings?”  Shevata threw the blood scroll down and walked away.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

On All Those Details

"Game of Thrones"

As I read great books by famous bestselling authors, one consistency that I often see is the huge detail these writers put into their stories.  I don’t find these details always additive; and sometimes I’m remembering who ate what when I’d prefer to know a side story about an ancient war.  I’ll admit details and side stories are not places I like getting bogged down in; often I’ll skim and move on to the main plot in many books.

My first example is the 1970s hit novel “Jaws” by Peter Benchley.  I read an excerpt in a magazine before the film came out.  My brother was interested so he purchased the paperback from a consignment store, so naturally I read it after he did.  As a preteen I recognized though I couldn’t process the vulgar language or adult scenes.  But when I put the book down asked my Mom, “Why did Hooper have an affair with the cop’s wife?  Is that going to be in the move?”  Not a Kodak family moment.

Another example is “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen, which I reviewed on this blog, and compared it to “Revolutionary Road,” masterpiece by Richard Yates.  While the media hype of “Freedom” and the author ensured me he stood out as a writer because he is one of the writers that “knows how to write” (wow!).  The part about a guy reaching into a recently used toilet to find an engagement ring to give to his true love didn’t make me swoon for my Prince Charming.  I know, some would say look what he was willing to do, I get it, but why couldn’t the writer have him climb a skyscraper or something?  I’ll agree with Franzen, he can write, he succeeded at nauseating me.

If any series of books contains over-the-top details, I’d say George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” (books “Game of Thrones” series is based on) takes all of the lemon cakes.  We’re sure of Sansa’s favorite dessert, we know about Cersei’s wonderful stuffed swan dinner, several times how sucking pigs are a delicacy, and Illyrio in Pentos having dinner picking up a mushrooms swirling in butter then licking his fingers.  Other details include Lancel’s pumping, Cersei’s finger licking (It’s not food, read the books if you’re curious), her gowns more elaborate than in the series, often white and studded with emeralds, and each change description every day. (I liked her wardrobe). 

So this brings me back to the point:  How much in the way of “little details” are required in a story?  Answer:  I won’t touch that.  I know details add depth to create the world for the reader, to actually experience the world instead of words on paper.  But is there such thing as too many details?  Answer:  The readers always decide.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

On the Women


When the “Gangs of New York” film came out, the documentaries followed behind, uncloaking the history and reminding me again of my sore lack of historical knowledge but appreciation of it as it obtain it now.  Of course, with my vast hard science educational background, I had no clue there was a “Five Points” in New York City, draft riots during the Civil War, and had no idea who Boss Tweed was.  So as I absorbed the documentaries like a paper towel I remember a phrase used:  “Where there were men, there were women.”  (Something like that).

When I think about that, yes, in most stories, where there are men, there are women.  When men are the main characters, what to the women bring to the table?  Answer:  Lots.  While I don’t think every story should be a woman manipulating a man, women drive the plot as supporting characters in many great stories.  Men and women have roles expected of them, generally:  Men carry the outward violence and women carry the subtle poisoning, be it for real or of convincing others to do their bidding. 

As a writer of a strong female protagonist, I like strong women in fiction.  Weak women (sorry Sansa) will make me put a book down without a lot of support (“A Song of Ice and Fire” gives support, thank goodness).  So what are weak female character traits?  Answer:  Petty jealousy, vanity, fearfulness with no apparent danger, and unabashed selfishness taking no stand for her children.   So what makes a strong woman?  Answer:  Fearless, protective of her children, unconcerned about civil obedience, independence, and the intelligence to work around the male counterparts who often have the upper hand and beat them at their game. 

With the list above, one would think much is expected of women in fiction, but I don’t think so.  One needs to look no further than historical brave women like my favorite Queen Elizabeth I prototype and go from there either before or after to find inspirational women that lived in this world.  When women today speak of challenges, I understand that, but the past challenges make for fascinating stories now.  Research inspires great females in fiction today.

Writers go forth and write something great for we readers.  We’re waiting to meet great characters, men and women.  Each has a critical role and neither less interesting.  Where there are women, there are men.

On the Complex Characters

"True Detective"

With my non-stop film/novel addiction, strong characterization baits me to a story better than any fishhook.  Once I’m introduced to the world, the situation, and the people (or non humans) I’m ready to know them.  What are their backgrounds?  What are their secrets?  What force that drives the plot also drives these characters?

I posted recently my review of “Dracula” in my article “On Lawyers, Blade and Real Estate.”  A huge strength in this still great novel is the introduction of the lead antagonist character in the beginning.  The lawyer inserts himself into the castle realm of a dangerous inhuman monster that over time we gradually came to know as the power vampire.  By the time the big chase begins, the reader knows the creature and is running along with Van Helsing and his brave comrades with unyielding determination to destroy the essence of evil.  When the story is over, I’m not thinking about the protagonists, as great as they are; I’m thinking about the complex character created in the Count.  Even by today’s standards he’s no small potatoes in development, power, and complexity. 

My favorite complex characters are people in our present time.  When I think about another person in general, where he/she was born?  What was the childhood like, the school, the past and present love experiences, employment or family responsibilities?  How does this person arrive to he what he/she is now?  All of us follow a path that creates what we are.  In characters their interaction with others reflects our own feelings and beliefs.  While it’s easy to say a man is “just a guy” (or "just a girl" for the ladies) there’s really no such person that simple when taking in the human experience.  On that level, people are all complex characters to a writer. 

I tend to like characters I can relate to.  They may be from the same area of the country that I’m from, or just having a “bad day” (we can all relate), or have a history of similar experiences I either sympathize with or endured myself.  When they see the world, I see the world.  Complex characters make mistakes.  People rarely live perfect lives with every relationship successful, every road taken found to be nourishing in some way.  Sometimes people take destructive turns in their lives and we see the behavior in stories leading to tragedy or redemption.

Writers, complex characters go beyond the comic book.  Their traits are mostly our traits, and when not, they are unusual and interesting.  Regardless of the details,  in great stories they remain with us.