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Author: Karen Myers

When preachy messages overwhelm story and characters

Posted in Irritated Reviews, and Just for Writers

Image of movie poster for HostilesI recently saw the movie “Hostiles” (distributed widely 2018), and found in it a perfect example of how message fiction can completely kill a story. So, naturally, I had to write one of my Irritated Reviews™ to get the consequent rant out of my brain.

The premise is straightforward. It is 1892, and a cavalry captain in New Mexico is commanded, under Presidential order, to escort a long-captured Cheyenne war chief (who is dying of cancer) and his family to his old territory in Montana to die. The captain will then retire. The full synopsis is here.

Let me get a few unimportant things out of the way. The acting is quite good (to the limits of the script material) and the cinematography and costuming are well done. There — that's about it for the praise.

There are a handful of own-goals, pointless errors that could trivially have been avoided.

  • When a man defends his cabin from a raiding party of Indians, he leaves the shelter of its walls to stand out front pointlessly and be shot. (Because otherwise his wife and children who are watching from a short distance instead of running away won't get to see him die, for the benefit of the audience.)
  • When attacking Indians burn a cabin poorly defended by a family, they have no interest in raiding it for goods or burning any other buildings.
  • When coming across the horses of their dead enemies, this small group of riders has no interest in taking them along as spares to join their other pack horses, despite no shortage of water or fodder.
  • In one soulful moment, we see a white character playing a primitive musical instrument, clearly meant to be of local relevance. It is, in fact, a kalimba, an African instrument that few Americans knew existed before the 1960s, and certainly nothing to do with the local indigenes.
  • When constructing a cairn (!) for one of the dead Cheyenne, the characters find suitable rocks in the grass of one of those endless meadows that hasn't seen a surface stone since the glaciers last paid a visit.

These are the sorts of things that throw you out of any story, whether in a book or a movie, and make you question your confidence in the storyteller.

But no matter…  I wouldn't bother writing about the movie for things this small. No, this movie had much bigger problems.

You see, this movie had a message. And it was going to make sure that we heard that message, loud and clear.

Agar Art

Posted in Artwork, and The Affinities of Magic

Image of bacteria on a Petri dishMy new series, The Affinities of Magic, has a microbiological basis for magic.

What that means in practice is that I have to describe cultivating bacteria on an equivalent of Petri dishes as part of the contextual background for the novels.

That's a matter of diluting your source multiple times and scraping streaks across your dish, and other ordinary conventions of basic bacterial cultivation.

And then this comes along…

The American Society for Microbiologists hosted the first bacteria art competition called ‘Agar Art.’

Image of bacteria in Petri dishOf course, there's more than one way to cultivate bacteria.

Like the Horsehead Nebula? I especially enjoy the obligatory Hokusai and van Gogh homages.

Check out the full set of a dozen intricate “paintings”.

Image of bacteria in Petri dish

Image of bacteria in Petri dishes

Cover Artist Audition Sketch – Rich Whyte

Posted in Artwork, Structures of Earth, and The Affinities of Magic

CoverSketch-RichWhyte-karen1Here's the second candidate for cover art for The Affinities of Magic from artist Richard Whyte. He's taken a different approach to the academy building.

Both Jake Bullock and Rich Whyte are British, and I'm amused that, given encouragement to use any period in any region, or to make up something out of whole cloth, they each defaulted to more or less Victorian England. (Apparently you can take the Brit out of England but you can't…)

Is this the influence of steampunk, do you suppose?

I find that the sketch by Jake Bullock seems to capture more of the flavor of “fantasy” and more of the notion of the academy building as a “main character” in its own right, where Rich Whyte's has more of the flavor of a period mystery or of the aforementioned steampunk. Covers are very important for genre fiction — they should immediately suggest the appropriate genre, and I think Jake Bullock's is doing a better job of that.

What do you think?

You can find more of Rich's work here.

New Audiobook – To Carry the Horn

Posted in Audiobook, Release, and To Carry the Horn

ToCarryTheHorn - Full Front Cover Audio 200x168-RGB
The complete and unabridged audiobook for To Carry the Horn is now in the hands of the distributor. It will take a few weeks for it to become available in all channels, so stay tuned for updates from Perkunas Press on where you can purchase it in all three formats: Digital Download, CD-Audio, and CD-MP3.

In the meantime, the Digital Download (MP3) version is available now, direct from the author. You can listen to an excerpt and link to the retail site here. You'll want to have a high-speed connection to download the file from the retail site, since it's quite large – 1.3 gigabytes.

It was lots of fun to record and produce this audiobook, but I had no idea how much work it was going to be. To begin with, this recording runs 14.5 hours and spans 13 audio CDs. (The MP3 CD is much smaller). Just to record it, correcting errors as they occurred, took half a week. Then I had to listen to it carefully at least twice, and then re-do bits of it. I was fortunate to have a good studio engineer nearby to do the technical production (I still don't understand how he was able to remove all the pops and swallows without mangling the words — must have some impressive software filters.)

I turned up a few more typos in the process of reading it aloud, including one really impressive wrong name. My eagle-eyed readers who tell me about my typos (I'm looking at you, Joan) missed these, too, amazingly. One of the pleasures of self-publishing, however, is that I get to fix these things and upload ever-cleaner versions.

I'm sure that everyone who has stumbled over one of my Welsh names will be pleased to think of me trying not to mangle them myself, now that I had to read them out loud. Serves me right, eh?

If you listen to the excerpt, or buy the audiobook, I would very much appreciate your feedback on the narration. I am waiting for feedback before I proceed with audiobook production for the rest of the series. After all, if you don't like my voice, better I hear about it now rather than later.

My blog has moved

Posted in Admin

twin-bulldogsAs I begin my second year as a writer, I've started to take steps to further professionalize my publisher presence. What that means, in practice, is that I am separating my Author activities from my Publisher ones.

Hollow Lands is my new Author site, where I will maintain my blog, provide all sorts of extras and goodies for my books, and offer special “direct from the author” deals. Perkunas Press will remain my Publisher site, where I will reformat the book offerings into more of a catalogue form. Right now Perkunas Press only publishes the works of one author (me), but that could change, and likely will.

All of the blog articles so far, and all of your comments, have been copied to this site. The old links will still work, but each of the old posts and stories will point to the new ones here. When you click on the banner for Hollow Lands, you will end up on the “Home” page, which is this blog. If you've been getting RSS or other feeds from Perkunas Press, you will want to point to Hollow Lands instead (or as well), since all the blog posts will come from here.

There will be a “latest works” front page for Perkunas Press, but no blog. Each book page will be streamlined there, and some other commercial stuff will be added. It will take a little while for all the changes to be made to the Perkunas Press site, so please be patient.

If you have signed up for the newsletter, don't worry — the same newsletter will be used for both sites and you don't have to do anything. (And if you haven't signed up for the newsletter, I encourage you to do so).

Most of my blog posts are for my readers, but occasionally I post something intended for fellow writers. I've given those posts their own place, under “Just for Writers” in the menu.