Category Archives: misc

Classics You’ve Never Read cont.: Why Pretend? Part Two

Classic: a book that people praise and no one reads.

-Mark Twain

I might set a record for confusing new readers before they even finish the title. If you just came in, I’m blogging about works of heroic fantasy everyone would recognize, but few of us may have read. So you might wish to return to Part One before continuing, where I used the work of the Baroness d’Orczy to explore the theme of the secret identity. And I promised there, that this theme would cover two great works of heroic derring-do, fairly close in time but far apart in geography (though both are set in the Alleged-Real World). So, who ranks alongside The Scarlet Pimpernel as one of the earliest heroes with a secret identity? Of course, it’s the main character of that incredibly famous tale… The Curse of Capistrano!!

Subtitle: The Mark of Zorro

Title-Tracking

Indeed, one of the all-time bad title choices in history, I’d say. Johnston McCulley published this immortal yarn under a name that makes me think of swallows pooping on your car, back in 1919 as a serial in five installments of the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly. I’ve been keeping an eye on the way the written works wend into other forms, and this is one of the great good luck stories for any aspiring author to remember. Who knows what would have become of this little tale with that title and publisher: but the great movie stars Fairbanks and Pickford saw it and decided it would make a great debut movie for their new studio. The rest is certainly history- a big hit for United Artists (!), causing McCulley to re-issue the tale as a novel, and the title we’ve all known has stuck ever since. Whew.

whisk-whoo-whask !
whisk-whoo-whak !

In the Solar System of Fantasy, Zorro clearly ranks as Cinematic Heroic for its rollicking style and humorous escapades. I smiled practically the whole time reading, much as I did during The Princess Bride. Where Percy plans, Don Diego seems only to act- he barges into a room, then conducts a duel, hurls an insult, whistles up his horse, rides like the wind. Both men, in their mild-mannered alter egos, refuse to duel a hothead in a way that makes them seem ridiculous. But The Pimpernel never once draws his weapon or throws a punch, whereas Zorro cannot seem to keep his sword in its scabbard.

There He Is!

This brings me to one main point- Zorro is REAL. I mean, he’s got a mask, he rides a horse- he’s actually THERE in the scenes, taunting his foes and daring to speak words of love to the gorgeous Senorita Lolita. People see him, take a shot at his back, duck his blade- the Pimpernel is a name, but there is no “him” there, just his many disguises. The contrast between Zorro and Don Diego Vega is shown to the reader, often within the breadth of a single fast-paced page. Time and again, the poetic, disinterested, weak Don Diego begs the need to retire and rest, trudging from the room- and mere seconds later, the dashing masked outlaw has arrived through a window, to announce another breathtakingly bold and honorable intention. The hero pledges his love, or promises revenge, laughs, leaps, disappears- and here just a moment later the tired caballero Don Diego returns, complaining of the noise and horrified to hear that Zorro just left.

So we come to another big point- our hero not only has a secret identity, he uses it to stay close to the action as well as far from suspicion. Don Diego complains of any exertion, even the need to woo Lolita, but most of all he bemoans how this masked menace ruins any chance for quiet contemplation. Seldom has an alter-ego been so openly disdainful of his heroic side. If this was a stage-play, you’d need your costumes fitted with velcro seams to get on and off in time. Though the action of the tale is fast-paced and seems random, we find by the end that Don Diego, like Sir Percy, has been planning this meticulously. Everyone believes he cannot be Zorro because he’s been acting this way since he was fifteen.

Behind the Mask

zorro1The differences between Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel are legion. Blakeney has a cadre of followers from the start, and acts to save them. Zorro only recruits the other young caballeros very near the end, and they play a key role in rescuing him. British and Spanish honor aim at somewhat different targets but both men pursue them with vigor. Taking a lady’s arm is about as far as they go in Britain, but the Spanish dare to hope that they may kiss her hand. Yeah, me either. I was surprised to note how many times Zorro wielded a pistol; the writer made it clear each time that he was only balancing the odds before forcing a man to duel him unaided (at which point the pistol in his other hand becomes a liability for Zorro). The Pimpernel leaves his mark in red, but only on paper, and he uses a pen: Zorro, of course chooses a somewhat more dramatic medium and settles for a single letter.

But the biggest difference, to my mind, is in the writing. Ms. D’Orczy really reaches some literary heights with her comparisons and descriptions, whereas Mr. McCulley aims only for a riotous romp filled with action but very little scene-setting and almost no reflection. Zorro would be sword and sorcery except the entire country is imperiled by the corrupt government and cruel soldiers who run it as the story opens. He is Robin Hood without the bow, breaking the law to serve justice. Blakeney risks his life as the Pimpernel but has an entire nation to run to for safety. Zorro has only his mask and wits to hide from his enemies.

Read It Yourself

I procured a digital copy of the original book from Amazon on my laptop Kindle; the full title is Zorro: the Curse of Capistrano and Six Stories, all by Johnston McCulley. The usual missed words here and there, a couple of repeated phrases- it happens with these quick transcriptions, but I’m happier with that when it’s free than this time when I paid $2.99. . I was interested in the other tales, but oddly, while the plots were interesting the level of the writing came nowhere near that of Zorro. The tone of McCulley’s other stories runs closer to Robert E. Howard and other pulp

OK, I surrender
OK, I surrender!

writers of the day- darker, less fun, and I’m sorry to say less inspired. Again, good plots and some nice touches but overall stick with Zorro.

I was just too young to enjoy the Disney TV serial version: I can only picture Guy Williams wearing a spacesuit. I grew up expecting to see The Fox with the  bullwhip, not a pistol, alongside the rapier, and the movie-versions I’ve seen did not disappoint. Using Antonio Banderas in the most recent movies (as a “Zorro 2”) was as natural a choice as taking Michael Jordan for pick-up basketball: and as for Catherine Zeta-Jones… my Lord, what words could suffice? I really enjoyed those movies and think they truly carried the spirit of the book (in a somewhat different- certainly more explosive- setting). It’s hard to name a character from a century ago who has seen more rebirths on film, TV, comics and elsewhere.

Sure, But Can It Work In Your Tale?

In “straight” heroic and epic fantasy, the characters seldom resort to disguise or secret identity. Frodo and Sam try to sneak into Mordor wearing orc armor, and sometimes one of Arthur’s knights or Robin Hood would don a disguise for adventure. But to create another character or persona is rare- as a fantasy author, you have enough to do introducing a new person (and his or her world) to your readers, without layering on more! This is one reason Feldspar in Fencing Reputation can get away with his many guises- no one around him in the city of Cryssigens would consider hiding their “real” selves, they spend all their time and money advertizing exactly who they are for fame and influence. So the infamous stealthic can adopt not just one, but a dozen guises and no one is the wiser- including Feldspar, who comes to have a bit of an identity crisis in the tale when he decides to “just be himself”.

Secret identity as usually seen in the comics provides the hero with a safety-valve, a way to interact with people without endangering their lives, and sometimes a chance to collect information which they then use in hero-guise. Also, wearing spandex all day can raise issues in the mall bathroom. Finally, we’ve seen themes in the comics lately to indicate that if heroes “came out” on a more full-time basis, the world itself would react and change: becoming more of a straight fantasy or sci-fi setting. Keeping a hero under wraps and letting a regular guy do the work allows the author to stay grounded in a “default real world” background, and limits dreaded world-building to a minimum (things like hiding the lair, managing the costume change).  There could easily be fantasy stories where evil has run so far amok that a secret identity would be useful to the hero.

I’d be interested to hear your recollections of such instances in “pure” fantasy.

An Interview with Annie Lima

Q: Well, harumph. I can’t say I’m happy to be doing a “civilized” interview, after the fun I’ve had in Hahn_critic_1my author interview dungeon. Alas, all the cool stuff has been moved to my home blog now; here on IB, there are only soft, cushy chairs, curtains too thick to use for binding ropes and some completely dull, soft plastic tea cups. How am I going to get any information from this vict- ahm, guest? ::muttering:: It’s been so long since I’ve been polite during questioning.

::game-show face :: We welcome Annie Douglass Lima today to talk about her new release The Gladiator and the Guard. This is the second title in her Krillonian Chronicles series, set in a world where modern life coexists with permanent slavery.

Q: Let’s see, a tale of arena combat? You won’t need to work hard to hook this former history teacher! Of course, in the Roman Empire most gladiators had families, and some were quite young, though we hardly think of that. Where did you get the idea to combine these threads and have siblings face the pressures of the arena? It’s a terrific dilemma, very evocative.

Annie Douglass LimaA: Thank you! The idea grew out of the first book, in which I established the principles of slavery and how it works in the Krillonian Empire, a modern world very similar to our own. Of course slaves would have families, and of course they would be separated from them if they were sold away. I just had to decide how and why people would become gladiators (who are perceived by most of that world as athletic heroes but are really still just slaves). In The Gladiator and the Guard, the arena manager obtains new “glads” primarily by purchasing slaves who are already martial arts experts. He occasionally offers contracts to free athletes, but it’s rare for anyone to accept, since that involves payment in advance and then voluntarily entering into slavery in the arena. Plus, contracts are always for a lifetime (and glads’ lives are notoriously short). In the Krillonian Empire, enslavement (usually involving sale by auction) is the legal punishment for certain crimes, so he also keeps an eye on the online auction sites. When violent criminals become available – or anyone with combat experience or documented martial arts abilities runs afoul of the law – he is quick to place a bid.

Q: This is fabulous, a kind of lifetime slavery that’s not strictly racial. Could you elaborate on the kinds of crimes that can get you dumped into this fate? We seem to be talking about people not born to slavery, and that’s always tricky. {Of course, everyone would like to believe they’d heroically resist, and succeed- but then Stockholm Syndrome was discovered…}. But at any rate, Bensin and his sister didn’t do anything wrong, did they?

A: Bensin and his sister actually were born into slavery. Slavery is hereditary, but there are other ways to become a slave, too. Bensin’s parents were enslaved as kids, when their homeland of Tarnestra (originally an independent nation) became part of the Krillonian Empire. The people of Tarnestra fought valiantly to retain independence, and when their resistance was eventually crushed, tens of thousands of Tarnestrans were ripped from their homes and sold into slavery across the empire as a warning to anyone else who might be tempted to resist imperial progress.

Punishing certain crimes with enslavement (not only for the perpetrator but for his or her family) is the government’s way of motivating people to keep the law. Bensin’s friend Ricky, for example, was born free but enslaved at age ten along with his parents and brother, when his dad (who worked for a government agency) was caught embezzling money from his employer. Other crimes punishable by enslavement include murder, armed robbery, and attempting to illegally free slaves.

Q: These works lie very close to the more orthodox epic and heroic fantasy genres, so that leads me to two questions, both driven by envy. When you laid in the “world-building” of the Krillonian Empire, did you find it necessary to go back and pull some out, move some around, etc. or else lose energy in the plot? And do you think it was easier to describe a setting closer to the Alleged Real World (except for, you know, slavery and people fighting for amusement), or was it perhaps harder?

A: I did a lot of planning and prewriting before I started my first draft of the first book, so I didn’t end up having to make too many changes to the worldbuilding once I had begun. Occasionally I thought of new details that I was able to add in as I went along, but those were mostly pretty minor. For example, since slavery in the Krillonian Empire is not based on race, there had to be a specific way to identify slaves. I knew from the beginning that they wear steel collars that lock around their necks, providing their names and their owners’ contact information. Obviously that makes it much harder for slaves to escape, but there are certainly tools out there (in any world) that can cut through metal. In The Collar and the Cavvarach, there came a point when I realized I needed to establish a reason why anyone with bolt cutters couldn’t just go around freeing slaves. So I had a certain mechanic explain to an inquiring young slave that he had to have a special kind of license to own and use such tools in his car repair shop, and that involved security cameras through which the authorities could be watching him at any given moment.

Q: BTW, try to get a little episode called “Gamesters of Triskelion” on your viewing list. Captain Kirk in his beefcake-prime and slave-collars you’ll really like!

I’ll keep that in mind! As for your second question, it was both easier and harder in different ways to create a setting so close to the Alleged Real World. I have a fantasy series that takes place in a totally different world, and with that one, I was able to make all the rules. But it took an awful lot of worldbuilding to flesh everything out. With this series in the Krillonian Empire, I mainly just combined a couple of modern-day Earth cultures and left it at that, of course with the addition of slavery and a made-up martial art. But then there was the challenge of making sure everything I said was consistent with how things really work in our world. For example, I know very little about firearms or martial arts training or the types of mechanical problems an old pickup truck could encounter, but I needed to make those details realistic in the story. I should say, I knew very little about those topics. Dozens of hours of research later, I’m much more knowledgeable!

Q: I should probably have asked this earlier, but who do you think is the target audience for these stories, in terms of age but also anything else you can think of? And is that your “core” audience, I mean the one you always thought you’d be trying to reach?

A: These books are young adult fiction, meaning they’re geared toward teens and adults. I teach fifth grade, and while I know a few of my students have read and enjoyed The Collar and the Cavvarach, I have never suggested it to them, or to anyone else below middle school, as recommended reading (unlike my fantasy books). The subject matter is dark in places, and while there is no sex or language, I don’t really want my fifth graders pondering issues like why the characters would say slavery is worse for girls, for example. The first book contains just a little violence, and that’s mostly in controlled settings like tournaments, where participants fight with unsharpened blades. But the second book would definitely be rated PG-13 for violence, as well as for a few mentions of blood and gore.

I would say the target audience consists of any teens and adults who like an exciting adventure story. Anyone with an interest in martial arts, or perhaps in the gladiators of ancient Rome, would be especially interested. I never thought I would write a martial arts story; I never used to be particularly interested in martial arts myself, and it had never been my goal to reach readers who are. But then along came Bensin with a story that just had to be told, and martial arts were an inextricable part of it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: Can you give us a quick run-down on the gladiatorial combat, called cavvara shil, that happens in the tales? The weapon looks decently wicked, but the cover of Book Two also shows a disappointingly-protective looking helmet. You don’t mean to tell me fighters sometimes survive?

A: The martial art of cavvara shil is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with “have a rack”), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  cavvarachI wanted cavvara shil to be a combination of two or three different fighting styles, involving elements of unarmed combat as well as the use of a weapon. It took a few false starts before I had a fighting style I liked. At first I just pictured using a sword, but I wanted something a little less stereotypical.  The cavvarach, with its hook, ended up being just right for what I had in mind. Combatants try to snag their opponent’s hook to tug the weapon out of the other person’s hand, which is one way to win a duel. (They can also knock it away with their own cavvarach, or kick it away.) Besides disarming an opponent, you can win by knocking them over and pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds. Oh, and you can block blows with your shil, which is like a narrow shield that barely covers one forearm.

In The Collar and the Cavvarach, 14-year-old Bensin competes in cavvara shil tournaments to earn prize money for his owner. Like everyone else there, he fights with an unsharpened blade and wears poncho-like padding to protect his torso and groin in the event of a missed parry. Worse injuries than bruises or the occasional bloody nose are rare at such events. In The Gladiator and the Guard, however, Bensin (now 18) is forced to be a gladiator, and he soon discovers that everything works differently in the arena. All blades are razor sharp, and protective padding doesn’t exist. Most duels are not intended to end in death (that would be a waste; gladiators are valuable), but accidents can and do happen. The helmet you see on the cover is actually for the guards who keep an eye on the combat from a safe distance to serve as referees and (when necessary) bring the injured in on stretchers at the end.

Q: Oh, the helmet is for the guards? OK, then I’m glad it’s been broken! I couldn’t let you go without a nod to your life in the Alleged Real World. You may be the guest who’s come the furthest of anyone to be here on the Independent Bookworm! Assuming of course that “here” is in the US or Europe… pardon me, my ethnocentrism is showing. But do tell us a bit about your world, the one you see when you turn away from the screen.

A: At the moment, when I turn away from my screen I see twenty-six empty desks and walls covered with colorful science project display boards. (My students are out at lunch recess right now.) I teach at Morrison Academy in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. It’s a wonderful job in a wonderful place! My husband and I have lived in Taiwan for nearly nine years now, and we love it here! I’ve enjoyed inserting elements of Taiwanese culture into these two books. For example, some characters chew betel nut, a mild narcotic sold legally in shops decorated with flashing colored lights. When money is awarded as a prize, it’s given in a red envelope. Cheap boxed meals available at “hole-in-the-wall” eateries are a common and convenient meal for laborers or anyone in a hurry or short on cash. New Year is the most important holiday of the year in both places. In Book 3 (which I hope to draft in the fall), much of the action will take place in a different city of the Krillonian Empire, one which I plan to pattern closely after Taichung.

Q: Cities, climate, customs– too much to ask about! Let’s just call this a pause, and perhaps have you back when Book 3 is ready. I’d love to ::cough-cough :: show you my ahm, interview chambers, you’d love the decor. Thanks very much Annie for a terrific peek at an interesting world. Make sure to leave us with your contact links and a blurb about your current release.

=====================================

I’m excited to announce that my young adult action and adventure novel, The Gladiator and the Guard, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach.

First Things First: a Little Information about Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire’s most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie’s escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

 What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The Collar and the Cavvarach
sword isolated on white background; Shutterstock ID 109466807

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with “have a rack”), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

Click here to order The Collar and the Cavvarach from Amazon 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

 And now, The Gladiator and the Guard, with another awesome cover by the talented Jack Lin!

The Gladiator and the Guard.jpg

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard in Kindle format from Amazon

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

 Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard from Smashwords (for Nook or in other digital formats) 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.

Connect with the Author Online:

Email: AnnieDouglassLima@gmail.com

Blog: http://anniedouglasslima.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnnieDouglassLimaAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/princeofalasia

Goodreads: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnGoodreads

Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/AnnieDouglassLimaOnAmazon

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/AnnieDouglassLima

LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnLinkedIn

Google Plus: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnGooglePlus

Now, enter to win an Amazon gift card or a free digital copy of The Collar and the Cavvarach!

a Rafflecopter giveaway