The Past is a Horrible Country

I was recently on an alternate history panel for the World Fantasy Convention. Technically, it was about alternate history and fantasy, to wit…

“Alternate history has long been the domain of science-fiction writers, but it is now being enthusiastically colonized by writers of fantasy, who are bringing in magic, dragons, and the full panoply of the uncanny into what used to be an orderly and rational sub-genre. Who’s doing this and what’s going on?”

Actually, I don’t think it’s that big a deal. A lot of alternate history has had or assumes magical elements. It goes all the way back to Robert Heinlein and his story, Magic Inc. I’m not one of these guys who draws hard and fast lines between fantasy and science fiction, or fantasy and magical realism, or whatever. All of Speculative Fiction simply assumes that at least one thing, and sometimes many things, goes unnatural and you take it from there.

I just want to talk about one thing that struck me during the panel, that I never got a chance to talk about.

Steampunk. I find it interesting, but the entire steampunk genre seems to be in the process of being colonized by, or is entirely colonized by Fantasy. Blame it on Kim Newman and his Anno Dracula perhaps, or the novels Gail Carriger, or the Weird West subgenre. But as often as not, when you’re reading steampunk, there’s strong fantasy elements – ghosts, vampires, goblins, weird creatures, magic, etc.

I think part of that is that when you’re writing in this genre, you’re reaching back into the literary traditions of the ‘weird tales’ of the day, and it all starts to melt together.

But there’s another element to consider.

Victorian, England was a pretty horrific place.

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World Fantasy Convention – Panels and Reading

The World Fantasy Convention is the great ‘Business Convention’ of the SF/F/H Literary World.  It’s not a Comic-Con, it’s not a fan con. There’s dealers, but they’re just one room.  Mostly, it’s Writers, Agents, Editors, Publishers and Artists, people in the trade, and people trying to get in the trade, hanging out, hobnobbing, socializing, enjoying each other’s company, and sometimes wheeling and dealing.

Go there, and odds are you’ll meet all your favourite writers.  You can walk down a hallway, and see the writers you grew up with, the writers that helped form your identity, the people you passed time with, the writers who were guilty pleasures, and the ones you’re reading now.  You can just go up and talk to them.  It’s a business Con, the panels are about writing, serious writing, genres, where the industry is going, insider views.

It’s the place to be if you’re dedicated to the craft.  This year, it’s in Salt Lake City, and due to Covid-19, it’s online.

I’m doing two panels and a reading!  Wow!  I feel like Pinochio when he turns into a real boy!

Check out the panels I’m on….

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Booklife Contest: Update – The Luck

The review came in finally, with The Luck, my second entry into the Booklife Contest.  Just to recap, it’s a legit contest.  All the entries get a professional review, which you can use, or bury forever in a lead lined vault, depending on how the review turns out. Some of them are pretty scathing, I gather, looking at previous comments (complaints).  After the initial round there’s the quarterly finals, the semi-finals, the finals and then a First prize of $5000.00.  My first entry, The Princess of Asylum, has made it into the quarter finals.

Plot: Valdron’s The Luck is a sequel/prequel to The Mermaid’s Tale, but it succeeds as a stand-alone title. Valdron’s complex, well-woven work of fantasy immediately thrusts readers into a detailed world occupied by a menagerie of beings living at odds with, and in suspicion of, one another.

Prose: Valdron’s writing is immersive and colorful, providing a a fine blend of descriptive worldbuilding, exposition, and dialogue that lifts the storytelling.

Originality: The world of The Luck is filled by familiar beings, but provides freshness in the dynamics between these occupants and communities in conflict, as well as its mystery element. The journey of an orc and her unlikely gnome companion, is a rich and enjoyable one.

Character/Execution: Valdron’s protagonist is immensely intriguing. Her identity is slow to emerge and readers expecting a quick moving fantasy may grow frustrated. Those willing to invest in her and other creaturely characters’ story arcs, will be deeply rewarded.

Score:

  • Plot/Idea: 8
  • Originality: 8
  • Prose: 8
  • Character/Execution: 9
  • Overall: 8.25
You are welcome to use this Critic’s Report as promotional copy or as a blurb to promote your book. Please note: When attributing quotes from this Critic’s Report, you must credit The BookLife Prize.

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I’m officially a Quarter Finalist!

My unpublished novel, The Princess of Asylum, has officially made it into the Quarter Finals, for the Booklife Prize.  Yay!!!

https://booklife.com/prize/5/category/6

The BookLife Prize is an annual writing Contest  sponsored by BookLife and Publishers Weekly. The Prize seeks to support independent authors and discover great written works in nine categories across the two Sections. The categories in the Fiction Contest are: Romance/Erotica; Mystery/Thriller; Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror; General Fiction; and Middle-Grade & YA Fiction.

It’s a multi stage process.

Quarter Finals:   All novels submitted to the BookLife Prize will be initially judged by the professional book reviewers of Publishers Weekly. Each submission will receive an evaluation called a Critic’s Report. Each Critic’s Report consists of a brief written critical assessment of the novel, as well as a rating–on a one to 10 scale–of the book’s strengths and weaknesses in the following categories: Characterization, Plot, Prose/Style, Originality, and Overall Strength. The submissions with the 10 highest scores in each genre will move to the quarter-finals.  THAT’S WHERE I AM.

Semi Finals:  All submissions advancing to the quarter-finals will be critically assessed by the editorial staffs of Publishers Weekly and BookLife. Of the ten quarter-finalists in each category, five will be selected based on merit by PW and BookLife’s editors to advance to the semifinals in their categories. The semi-finalists will be announced on BookLife on October 22, 2020. TOMORROW

Finals:  All semi-finalist submissions will be critically assessed by a guest judge–professional book editor or bestselling/award-winning author–in each of the five categories. The guest judges will select one submission from each category to advance to the finals round. These five submissions will be the winners in each of their respective categories.  The finalists will be announced on November 15, 2020.

The Prize From the five finalists, the panel of guest judges will select one grand prize winner for the Fiction Contest with a grand cash prize of $5,000 going to the most outstanding finalist in each Contest.

So….  Today, I ride high.  Tomorrow, I may end up as just another nobody.  A has been, a second place contender.  But right now, I’m a quarter finalist, with a shot at advancing to the Semi-Finals, and perhaps further.

Who knows?  But it’s exciting, right?

Meanwhile, here’s the review, once again….

I might as well make hay while the sun shines.

Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 9.25 out of 10

Assessment:

Plot: D.G. Valdron’s bold, funny, fast-moving fantasy The Princess of Asylum follows quick-witted actress Dae Zea Lors after the destruction of her city. Dae survives in the wasteland by improvising a series of increasingly outlandish lies and personae, convincing bandits and orgus and more that she’s, variably, a princess, or an expert in jewel magic, and eventually a priestess. The story’s scope is epic, with airships and military sieges galore, but its tone is light and its perspective intimate, always tied to Dae. Inevitably, the hero’s lies make her a leader, and she’s surprised to discover herself caring about people beyond herself. The novel opens as a picaresque, with Dae bumbling from encounter to encounter, but by the end, as the plot takes shape, readers will actually care for Dae’s world and companions. The sense of urgency that powers the novel’s final third, though, is sometimes missing in the book’s middle, especially in the occasional cases when the balance between comedy and fantasy storytelling proves uncertain.

Prose/Style: Valdron excels at both the narrative perspective of his protagonist, a savvy actress who finds being on a fantasy adventure something of a comic imposition, and at the demands of epic fantasy storytelling. His worldbuilding is memorable and unique but communicated to readers in Dae’s offhand observations; his descriptions of the fantastic or terrifying are quick and powerful. Much of the novel is driven by dialogue, as Dae improvises new selves and lies to stay alive; at times, the characters she’s hoodwinking, such are written as if they’re willing participants in a comedy routine, such as the tyrant who apologizes for scheduling conflicts with her upcoming execution. The novel’s pleasures and occasional problems rise from the same source: the tricky balance between the comedy of Dae’s improvisations and the threatening reality around her. For the most part, though, Valdron aces that balance.

Originality: It is rare for a fantasy novel to center on such an exciting new character and idea. Besides the strength of the premise and Dae’s general delightfulness, the world of The Princess of Asylum is itself original, wrought with care, and revealed in tantalizing glimpses.

Character Development: There’s no doubt about it: Dae is a character readers will love, and her wit and sensibility drive the book. She faces hard choices, makes surprising sacrifices, and movingly comes to care about more than her own life. At times, especially in the novel’s middle, the complaints and patter of Dae’s inner monologue cut against the narrative urgency, especially when she’s joking or crabbing about the book’s cast as if they’re all in a play together rather than continually facing their own deaths. At such moments, she seems not to have grown during her adventures, reverting to being a comic type rather than a fully-shaped protagonist. That makes the novel feel long, even as it’s entertaining: If she’s not taking the situations seriously, readers will be tempted to join her. The saps, villains, monsters, and occasional upstanding folks she encounter also prove memorable, driven by their own coherent but interesting motivations.

Blurb: A fast-talking actress makes her scrappy way across the wasteland, surviving by her wits — and shaping empires with her lies. Imagine a vivid high fantasy, full of beasts and sieges and cults, narrated with the wit of Anita Loos.

Date Submitted: August 14, 2020

 

Demon Hotel, Based on a True Story

The Demon Hotel is a real thing. Or it was. Demon Hotel used to be an abandoned three story apartment block at 44 Hargrave in downtown Winnipeg. It was a formidable brick structure dating from around 1910, with a red brick facade and old fashioned bay windows which loomed ominously. The stone stairs that fronted it had been slowly worn by thousands of feet going back and forth over decades. The front lobby was covered with mosaic tiles, and featured a long broken pay phone.

Inside the building was a maze of resident staircases going up and down, emergency stairs, and service stairs which concealed the ancient wiring and plumbing. I’d actually visited it decades ago, passing by the broken pay phone, its casing cracked, and hanging out with street kids in the basement, as they hot knifed hash and talked music and gossip.

I’m not sure why the building closed down. Perhaps settling or subsidence of the soil following the great Winnipeg flood a decade or so ago, you could see visible cracks running up from the foundation, crawling the length of the building, and skewing the window frames, giving the front of the building a wicked twisted smile, as if it knew something you didn’t, something dark and disturbing.

But close down it did. The last tenants moved out, died or were evicted. Desultory efforts at renovation were begun and then abandoned. The windows on the lower floors were boarded up, but now and then, lights seemed to shine from the unboarded upper windows. Shapes were sometimes glimpsed in those upper windows, the fleeting impressions of windows looking down.

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Booklife Contest: Princess of Asylum, Update

So here goes… I’ve entered my unpublished novel, Princess of Asylum into the Booklife Contest.   It’s a legit contest.  All the entries get a professional review, which you can use, or bury forever in a lead lined vault, depending on how the review turns out. Some of them are pretty scathing, I gather, looking at previous comments (complaints).  After the initial round there’s the quarterly finals, the semi-finals and then a First prize of $5000.00.

Anyway, I got my review back….

Blurb: A fast-talking actress makes her scrappy way across the wasteland, surviving by her wits — and shaping empires with her lies. Imagine a vivid high fantasy, full of beasts and sieges and cults, narrated with the wit of Anita Loos.

Plot: D.G. Valdron’s bold, funny, fast-moving fantasy The Princess of Asylum follows quick-witted actress Dae Zea Lors after the destruction of her city. Dae survives in the wasteland by improvising a series of increasingly outlandish lies and personae, convincing bandits and orgus and more that she’s, variably, a princess, or an expert in jewel magic, and eventually a priestess. The story’s scope is epic, with airships and military sieges galore, but its tone is light and its perspective intimate, always tied to Dae. Inevitably, the hero’s lies make her a leader, and she’s surprised to discover herself caring about people beyond herself. The novel opens as a picaresque, with Dae bumbling from encounter to encounter, but by the end, as the plot takes shape, readers will actually care for Dae’s world and companions. The sense of urgency that powers the novel’s final third, though, is sometimes missing in the book’s middle, especially in the occasional cases when the balance between comedy and fantasy storytelling proves uncertain.

Prose/Style: Valdron excels at both the narrative perspective of his protagonist, a savvy actress who finds being on a fantasy adventure something of a comic imposition, and at the demands of epic fantasy storytelling. His worldbuilding is memorable and unique but communicated to readers in Dae’s offhand observations; his descriptions of the fantastic or terrifying are quick and powerful. Much of the novel is driven by dialogue, as Dae improvises new selves and lies to stay alive; at times, the characters she’s hoodwinking, such are written as if they’re willing participants in a comedy routine, such as the tyrant who apologizes for scheduling conflicts with her upcoming execution. The novel’s pleasures and occasional problems rise from the same source: the tricky balance between the comedy of Dae’s improvisations and the threatening reality around her. For the most part, though, Valdron aces that balance.

Originality: It is rare for a fantasy novel to center on such an exciting new character and idea. Besides the strength of the premise and Dae’s general delightfulness, the world of The Princess of Asylum is itself original, wrought with care, and revealed in tantalizing glimpses.

Character Development: There’s no doubt about it: Dae is a character readers will love, and her wit and sensibility drive the book. She faces hard choices, makes surprising sacrifices, and movingly comes to care about more than her own life. At times, especially in the novel’s middle, the complaints and patter of Dae’s inner monologue cut against the narrative urgency, especially when she’s joking or crabbing about the book’s cast as if they’re all in a play together rather than continually facing their own deaths. At such moments, she seems not to have grown during her adventures, reverting to being a comic type rather than a fully-shaped protagonist. That makes the novel feel long, even as it’s entertaining: If she’s not taking the situations seriously, readers will be tempted to join her. The saps, villains, monsters, and occasional upstanding folks she encounter also prove memorable, driven by their own coherent but interesting motivations.

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Standing at the Foot of a Mountain

I’m losing track of how many ebooks I have out.  I think ten.  Might be twelve.  Whatever the number, will probably be more before the year is out.

Anyway, recently, a facebook friend asked me if a paperback version of one of my ebooks was available.

I said no.

That lead into a discussion of why I hadn’t bothered.  Basically, at this point for me, it’s cost benefit analysis.  Something like half or two thirds the market is ebooks, up to 95% for some writers.  So how much time and effort do I want to put into doing a paperback version, when I could put that time and effort into something more useful to me… like doing another ebook, writing a novel or more short stories, looking for an agent, yadda yadda.

And to be really honest, doing a paperback seems like a lot of work for little practical return.  Suppose I do a paperback.  Online sales of the paperback are likely to be marginal.  Like I said, maybe 95% of online sales are ebooks, and 5% paperbacks.  Once the paperback is done, what do I do with it?  I’m not going to get distribution through Barnes & Noble or Chapters, sorry.  That just doesn’t happen.

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Rethinking: King Kong Meets Dracula

Image by SteveIrwinfan96, borrowed

First up, let me shout out to BigJack Films, a youthful youtuber who seems utterly fascinated by all things King Kong. He seems barely out of his teens, if at all, with a bad haircut and a reedy voice, which suggests that puberty was cruel. But he’s prolific as hell, and his videos ring with a level or research and genuine enthusiasm that can’t be faked.

And he’s got a lot of fascinating King Kong-iana. The skinny on abortive Kong projects, including the 1960’s Hammer films attempt which failed, but somehow resulted in Jim Danforth’s ‘King Kong’s Volkswagon commercial’, commentary on Universal Studios exhibitions, and surveys of giant apes generally.

He’s so comprehensive in his approach, that he even catalogues and reviews King Kong fan films.

Who even knew there was such a thing?

I’m interested in fan films, and I see them as relevant works in their own right. Fan films are seldom, if ever perfect, and quite often, many of them are flat out terrible. But every single one of them is made with love, and that counts for a lot. So I was very intrigued by his reviews.

Generally, King Kong fan films fall neatly into two categories.

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Death on a Lonely Road, the First

Between Winnipeg and The Pas, there is a long and lonely seven hundred kilometers.  There’s one stretch, over four hundred kilometers where there’s almost nothing. No off roads, no houses, no communities. There’s a gas station, a small community, Chemawin right in the middle, an intersection that leads to another community, Grand Rapids.  But apart from that, it’s just emptiness, a lonely rambling desolation.  Just the road winding on endlessly through the north, bordered by trees.  I’ve driven that road well over a hundred times, in all seasons, all sorts of weather, including through blizzards and storms.  A lot of people have wiped out on that road. Some have died.  Me?  Twice.  This was the first one. I wrote this shortly after it happened.

I am pleased to say that there was no lapse of concentration that lead to the vehicle going out of control. I wasn’t trying to kill a pesky bumblebee, or changing radio stations, or fiddling with the CD changer. I wasn’t singing a song or answering a cell phone or anything like that.

I had in fact, turned off the radio twenty minutes before in order to focus on the road, my seatbelt was on, my hands were on the wheel and I was staring over the hood. None of it helped.

The car fishtailed and slid forward, and in a split second, I had gone from driving a vehicle to riding a five thousand pound toboggan careening at ninety kilometers an hour to a steep sloping bank and the stands of trees beyond it. There was a very good chance I was going to die in the next five seconds.

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Review: Fear the Walking Dead, an Apocalyptic Rant

I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched Fear the Walking Dead for a couple of seasons now. I understand that just about all the original cast of characters are dead, and while I celebrate this fact, it’s not enough to make me watch the show.

I really hated it. The only thing that kept me watching the first few seasons was utter hatred. Every episode, it just kept getting more loathsome. Towards the end, I’d be sitting there as it played, my lips drawn into a rictus of grin, teeth grinding, muscles seized up, ever fibre of my being screaming at the television.

The problem with the show, is that it’s the worst celebration of White Privilege, I’ve ever seen.

Literally, this was a show that had Karen before Karens were a thing.

And here’s the thing, as far as I know, they were all completely unconscious of the suffocating racism and classism that permeated just about every single episode. Literally, how could you be that offensive, and that consistently offensive, by accident? Who the hell was writing this thing? Didn’t any of the actors ever come up and say “Hey, we’re practically the Swiss Family Klansmen, what’s up with that?”

Let me back up a little bit.

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