Review: Thank God King Arthur will survive ‘King Arthur’

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword poster

The latest take on the King Arthur legends opened in US theatres May 8.

The legends of King Arthur and the Round Table are possibly the most abused of the West’s mythic texts, more than the Greek myths, and certainly more than venerated texts, such as the Bible. It’s amazing they’ve survived almost 1,500 years of telling and retelling by most of Western Europe’s cultures, aristocratic Victorian poets and painters, and in the last century or so, Hollywood producers.

I’m certain they’ll survive King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, but the tradition never had it so hard.

Fans of the Arthurian legends—Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, and the world of Camelot—have waited a long time for a fresh version of the story. The last big attempt of note, King Arthur, was released in 2004. This year’s effort, directed by Guy Ritchie, whose last hit was the action-adventure retelling of the Sherlock Holmes novels, brought together stars Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, Jude Law as Vortigern, and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey as “The Mage,” a follower of Merlin, the famed sorcerer and Druid priest.

Except for the names and a few popular themes, you’d hardly recognize the narrative from your reading of The Once and Future King or children’s books on King Arthur. Vortigern, Arthur’s uncle, usurps the throne of Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. The boy escapes an assassination attempt and is raised in a brothel. He grows into the leader of a gang that protects the brothel and extorts money from whomever crosses him. When Excalibur appears at the bottom of a bay embedded in a stone, Vertigorn fears a threat to his power, and (taking a lesson from King Herod of the New Testament) orders all men of the right age to attempt pulling it out so he can kill him. Continue reading

Repurposing Wawona: Pieces at new exhibit made from ship’s salvaged wood

Jewelry sculpture

Jewelry artists made this piece, titled Travel the Ocean, for an exhibit using wood salvaged from the schooner Wawona.

Earlier this year, I was contacted by Kari Berger of the Seattle Metals Guild, a non-profit arts group with a focus on metalworking. The group was working on an exhibit of jewelry and sculpture made from wood salvaged from the historic schooner Wawona. I published a history of the ship in 2006, three years before she was broken up on Seattle’s Lake Union, 112 years after she was launched in Eureka, Calif.

The Guild will exhibit the pieces at the Northwind Arts Center May 4-29 in Port Townsend, Wash.

I spent several years working on maritime history projects, but none captured my heart quite so much as Wawona. She was launched in 1897 and carried lumber from Puget Sound and Washington coast ports to San Francisco and other California ports until World War I. After the war, fishermen based in Seattle took her to the Bering Sea to fish for cod. Northwest Seaport, the non-profit that once owned Wawona, worked for nearly a half-century to preserve her, but the elements finally won the battle and she was deconstructed in 2009.

Port Townsend’s Northwind Arts Center hosts the exhibit May 4-29, 2017.

Continue reading

Five Questions: James Marquis and his Dark Day Dreams

Dark Day Dreams cover

Dark Day Dreams is a collection of shorts by Seattle writer Jim Marquis.

James Marquis is a Seattle writer and author of science fiction novels, a memoir, and a collection of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories titled Dark Day Dreams, written under the pen name of James Hawthorne. He enjoys writing as a way to explore and expose the ways pop culture, politics, music and literature shape our everyday lives. An Amazon reviewer calls Dark Day Dreams “a book filled with curiosities.” I know Jim exclusively through Facebook. His posts are thoughtful and funny.

Do you remember the first character you created? It was a guy named Time Hunter. He was the hero of a comic book I created when I was around nine or ten. He went back to ancient Egypt.

James Marquis

James Marquis

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time? When I first saw my book in print, I was so happy. It just seemed like a miracle. And I felt reconnected with the creativity I felt as a child but had set aside for several decades.

What is your favorite piece of advice for new writers? Immerse yourself in the writing world as much as possible. Your friends and family will be supportive but networking is what actually gets stuff done. Continue reading

How LibreOffice freed my inner rebel from the shackles of Microsoft Office

meme

Yes, you do have a choice.

As moral beings, humans try to align their behavior with their values.

I don’t use Microsoft Word to write. I’ve successfully resisted putting Office on my laptop. I refuse to have anything to do with Office, if I can help it.

I admit it’s a quirk, but it’s how I live my values.

Why would a writer care about his word processing software? Do painters worry about the brand of paints they use, so long as the colors are true?

Writers don’t care about software, but they ought to.

Artists in general, and writers in particular, like to set themselves against The Man, whether it’s a corporation, a government, or some other institution that demands control and stereotyped thinking. But no writer ever thinks of the software they depend on.

I do.

Microsoft is a behemoth of a company that rakes in billions of dollars a year mostly because its convinced manufacturers and the general public that it’s the only game in town.

It isn’t.

Though they may grumble, individuals and independent businesses feel compelled to fork over hundreds of dollars every few years for the latest version of Office because they don’t think they have a choice.

They do.
Continue reading

Five Questions: Sherry Decker, author of A Summer with the Dead

A Summer with the Dead cover image

Sherry Decker’s A Summer with the Dead is scheduled for release May 1.

I heard author Sherry Decker read from her upcoming novel A Summer with the Dead at Two-Hour Transport, a monthly open mic and guest reading series at the famed Cafe Racer in the city’s Roosevelt neighborhood. I’m not normally a fan of horror, but her reading was so compelling, that I thought she was perfect for my Five Questions project. From her novel’s blurb:

“On the run from her abusive husband, Maya Pederson takes refuge with her Aunt Elly on her farm. Her first night there, Maya is wakened by a whisper. ‘Help me,’ someone begs. ‘Don’t leave me here.’ Thus begins a string of nightmarish events in Maya’s already stressful life. Disturbing dreams that seem far too real, dreams about the farm’s history, dreams about murder and blood and bodies buried under the house.”

Sounds pretty cool!

Do you remember the first character you created?
That would have been in fourth grade. The protagonist’s name escapes me, but it was about a little Native American girl who wanted to do something important, but was sickly and smaller than all the other kids. All I remember is that someone shot at her with an arrow. The arrow went through one of her long braids and she was carried up into the sky where she became a bright star.

Sherry Decker

Sherry Decker

How did you feel when you saw your work in print for the first time?
That was a short story was titled The Lender. It appeared in local writer/editor Lisa Jean Bothell’s magazine Heliocentric Net in 1994. I recall standing in my kitchen, holding the publication, heart pounding, staring at the story and my name in print, thinking . . . wow! It was a surreal feeling, something I had tried to picture since second grade. Even now it’s a miraculous feeling. I always feel honored and confused both. It’s amazing that other people not only want to read what I write, they apparently like it and will actually pay me for it.

What is your favorite piece of advice for new writers?
Persevere! Don’t give up! Don’t write what you know; write what you love! Also, read everything: advertisements, comic books, classics, experimental, fiction, nonfiction, movie reviews, books reviews, anthologies, collections . . . everything! Writers have their favorite parts regarding writing. Some love the imagination-creative process where we “open that vein and spill our blood all over the paper” and some love the editing process where we perfect our work. I’ve gone from one to the other and back again.

I also love marketing and communicating with editors and publishers. I pay close attention the writer’s guidelines provided by most editors and advise beginning writers to do the same. You can seriously irritate an editor by ignoring those guidelines.

This is usually ignored by most beginning writers: avoid adverbs! Seriously. Not in dialogue, of course, because people use adverbs when they talk, but you’ll be way ahead of other beginners if you refuse to use adverbs in your narrative. Instead, go to the effort and agony (I went through verbal gymnastics) to find a powerful verb instead. Dig for your verbs. And, attend conventions. Take a big breath and approach those editors, publishers and other authors. Continue reading

Two-Hour Transport: A journey into Seattle’s sci-fi and fantasy community

Two-Hour Transport

Podcaster Anaea Lay of Strange Horizons reads her work at Two-Hour Transport in Seattle.

Seattle’s reputation as a literary town includes an enormous presence in the science fiction and fantasy universe. The great Octavia Butler, author of the Parable of the Sower, penned her works in the shadow of the Space Needle, the city’s iconic landmark. Other authors include Don McQuinn, Cat Rambo, and Shawn Speakman. Lesser known and budding writers are nurtured by a vibrant writing community, and recently a new series of events is encouraging fresh voices to speak up.

Theresa Barker, Nicole Bade, and other writers are producing “Two-Hour Transport,” a monthly series featuring readings by established sci-fi, fantasy, and horror authors. These invited readers share published work or test out new work on an audience at Cafe Racer, a funky, arts-oriented watering hole in Seattle a few blocks from the University of Washington. The most recent THT I attended was on March 22, and it featured horror writer Sherry Decker, reading from her upcoming novel A Summer With the Dead, and Anaea Lay, the fiction podcast editor for Strange Horizons magazine.

In a new group called “Brag-a-Thon,” participants win a sticker when rejected by an agent or publisher.

The quirkiest segment of the THT program is the open mic, when up to ten writers ranging from pure novices to experienced pros take five minutes to share something and build up their presentation chops. Almost anything goes, from poetry in the style of Lewis Carroll to excerpts of full-length science fiction novels in progress. I’ve had great fun presenting my own work a few times, and the audience is always friendly and appreciative, no matter the skill level. It helps that everyone sips a beer or a glass of wine to support a neighborhood business.

Two-Hour Transport is part of a larger ad hoc collection of meetups under the banner of the North Seattle SciFi and Fantasy Writers, which started out several years ago as reading groups meeting in local cafes. The meetups include a regular Sunday critique group at Wayward Cafe in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood, and a new group, a monthly “Brag-a-Thon,” in which participants win a sticker for having a story rejected by an agent or a publisher. It’s all intended to build solidarity in a traditional publishing business growing less and less welcoming of writers, ironically, particularly new writers, if they don’t fit into a pre-existing pigeonhole.

I’ve enjoyed every moment of my participation in these groups. It puts the lie to the image of the lonely scribbler at his or her word processor pounding out the next great American sci-fi novel. Though a writer can isolate himself, writing is a social act that depends on support from friends, feedback from colleagues, and if you’re very lucky, help from a publisher. Here’s to a long run for Two-Hour Transport and her sister activities.

The next Two-Hour Transport is Wednesday, April 26, at at Cafe Racer, 5828 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle. To participate in the open mic, place your name in the hat near the stage.

Have you attended a Two-Hour Transport reading? What did you think?

Five Questions: D.F. Lovett, author of The Moonborn

The Moonborn cover

The Moonborn is the debut novel by D.F. Lovett.

I’m excited to welcome to Five Questions Minneapolis-based author D.F. Lovett, who released his debut sci-fi novel, The Moonborn, in 2016. David the head editor and writer for the blog What Would Bale Do, and he writes the acclaimed Reddit novelty account /u/DiscussionQuestions. He has also collaborated on several film projects with the production studio Corridor Digital.

The Moonborn is the story of Ishmael, who lands on the Moon to ghostwrite the autobiography of Adam Moonborn, first man born on the Moon. Ishmael soon learns the job is not as straightforward as it seems. In an adventure tale inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, they embark on a mission to destroy all of the Moon’s rogue robots, whom Adam Moonborn holds responsible for the death of his family and the impending downfall of civilization.

Here are the author’s answers to my Five Questions.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it. Not specifically, but it would probably be the personality assigned to one of my action figures. For most of my childhood, a lot of the writing I did was inspired by stories that my brother and I first invented with Star Wars and G. I. Joe action figures. I know this isn’t very specific, but a lot of those characters blended together or would evolve over time.

D.F. Lovett

D.F. Lovett

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time? The same way I feel now: a mixture of pride, excitement, and self-consciousness. I wrote for the junior high newspaper in seventh grade, which was the first time I encountered the frustration of an editor changing my words. I remember specifically some negative criticism I got from a classmate over a review I wrote of The Phantom Menace where I referred to Jar Jar Binks as an “alien.” My classmate told me that was incorrect, as most of the movie takes place on his home planet, so he’s not an alien. I guess that got me started early at learning how to respond to criticism, although it frustrated me at the time. I think I have a thicker skin now because of it. Continue reading

How would King Arthur’s knights cope with a climate-changed world?

King Arthur painting

James Archer painted The Death of Arthur in 1861. King Arthur lays mortally wounded after his final battle. He waits for a ship to take him to the Isle of Avalon.

My wife and I drove from Seattle to Powell’s Books in Portland a couple of weeks ago to satisfy an itch. At this point, I’ve written three novels and eight shorts in the world of Carbon Run, but the project has run its course. Is there another way to explore the idea of a post-global warming world in which protecting the environment is the society’s single most important value?

For a variety of reasons, my mind turned to fantasy, which is odd, because I’ve never been attracted to epic fantasy, or high fantasy. I found Tolkien too dense and I shrugged at most other dragons-and-magic stories. Having said that, I enjoyed the early novels in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). He plays down the wand-waving and flying lizards shtick in favor of character development and relationships.

This led to a realization: I do enjoy at least one fantasy tradition: the Arthurian legends. It’s easy to forget that these romances were the literary fiction of the High Middle Ages, and they’re full of magic objects, fabulous beasts, and so on. The stories of King Arthur are as much about greed, lust, pride, loyalty, bravery, and family drama as they are about enchantments and floating castles. Merlin, as an archetype, gets a lot of play in modern fantasy, but his role is relatively limited, though important, in the Arthurian stories. I like that. Continue reading

Five Questions: Sabrina Chase, author of the Argonauts of Space series

One Blood cover

Cover image for One Blood, the second book of the Argonauts of Space series.

I’d like to introduce you to Sabrina Chase, a Seattle author whom I met through one of my writers groups. She gave a fascinating talk about how to successfully publish as an independent. It can be very rewarding, but it’s a lot of work, she says. Sabrina is the author of the Argonauts of Space series, including The Scent of Metal, One Blood, and the upcoming Soul Code.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.
I’ve been writing since I was 13, so I’m afraid I don’t remember.

Sabrina Chase

Sabrina Chase

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time?
One thing about being an indie writer is you are elbow-deep in the sausage making from the beginning to the end, so it was more of a “oh good, that step is finished” rather than a shock of revelation. It wasn’t “real” to me until I got my first non-family reviews…

What is your favorite piece of advice for new writers?
There is no royal road, no matter how talented you are (or aren’t) and areas of talent vary. Every successful person had to work hard at *something.* Don’t envy the “overnight successes;” they often have twenty years of hard work before that success that aren’t mentioned in the press release.

One thing about being an indie writer is you are elbow-deep in the sausage making.

If you were queen, what would you change about the publishing world?
I would really like to have translation exchanges so I could get my books out in different languages. (Indie already has changed the publishing world!)

What is your next project? Timeline?
I am currently writing Soul Code, the third and final book in the Argonauts of Space series. I hope to have it published by the end of 2017.

Bonus question: If you could reincarnate as another writer, living or dead, who would it be?
Terry Pratchett, a wonderful, funny writer who left us too soon. The beard would take a little getting used to, though.

I’m welcoming more authors to my Five Questions series. To learn more, check out my Promote Your Book page.

Author Mem Fox and Donald Trump’s chilling of America

Mem Fox reads to kids

Author Mem Fox reads to her audience. Image courtesy Adelaide Advertiser.

The recent mistreatment of Australian author Mem Fox by US Customs and Border Patrol heralds a little-discussed effect of President Trump’s plan to shut the door on immigration. Her detention by CBP could have a chilling effect on the cross-fertilization of ideas that makes open societies so powerful. As Trump attacks illegal immigration, he is sending a message that any visitor is suspect, and Fox’s experience underlines the argument.

In February, Fox was en route to Milwaukee to attend a conference on literacy, tolerance, and inclusion. Fox is the author of numerous children’s books, including Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes, and Possum Magic. At the airport, she was detained for two hours by CBP on a visa problem, which turned out to be the CBP’s error. She has visited the US 117 times.

“In that moment I loathed America,” she says. “This is not the way to win friends.”

America is proud of its history of openness to new ideas from the outside. That’s part of our heritage of welcoming immigrants, because they bring new energy and approaches that enrich us, figuratively and literally. The country also welcomes visiting artists and writers for the same reason, in hopes that cross-cultural fertilization raises everyone up. During the Cold War, despite the hostility, the Soviet Union and the U.S. each sent ambassadors in the form of writers, symphonies, dance companies, and visual artists in the interests of peace. It took the edge off the mutual suspicion.

If I were stopped at the border, how I would prove I was a writer? Compose a sequel to War and Peace?

Which artists and writers will now think twice about visiting, given Fox’s experience, and the Trump Administration’s tone? Engineers may already be thinking about staying away. A Nigerian engineer was stopped at the border and told to prove his expertise by taking a test. If I were stopped, how I would prove I was a writer? Compose a sequel to War and Peace?

In effect, every visitor is an ambassador, and there are signs they are going elsewhere. According to travel industry figures, searches for on flights to major US tourist attractions are down by nearly half. Not only does the country suffer intellectually, these drops have a major economic impact on tourism-dependent communities. The industry says the “Trump slump” has cost $185 million in business.

America is in danger of losing its reputation as a welcoming light to all peoples, whether to stay or to visit. Some want us to close our doors to the stranger. If they win, we’ll all be the poorer.

What do you think? How will we maintain our reputation for openness?