The majesty of fantasy and scifi that is Sword Art Online

I know I’m going to get some hate mail from anime fans out there for this post. But, I am determined to write this anyway. I LOVE SAO! I’ve watched anime since the 60s, and nothing has struck home to me like Sword Art Online. It’s fantasy, sci-fi, and video games… All wrapped into one. Like I said, it’s everything packaged neatly together for any anime geek or nerd. I fell in love with this anime the first time I watched it … The settings, the characters, the storyline. 

I can’t explain what it is, but I think its like having a great ensemble cast in a movie. When a group of characters mesh so well together, it’s like magic. That’s the way I feel about these characters. By themselves, they are interesting on their own but not something to wrap a story around. That’s why together, I just can’t get enough.

For anyone reading this who never watch Sword Art Online, don’t wait, do it now. It’s great for binge watching. But just in case, here’s the basic plot. In 2022, a virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game called Sword Art Online (SAO) is released. With the NerveGear, a helmet that stimulates the user’s five senses via their brain, players can experience and control their in-game characters with their minds. 10,000 players log into SAO’s mainframe cyberspace for the first time, only to discover that they are unable to log out. Akihiko Kayaba, the game’s inventor, appears and tells the players that they must beat the game if they wish to be free. He also states that those who suffer in-game deaths or forcibly remove the NerveGear out-of-game will suffer real-life deaths.

It’s from that single storyline that this world was created… The years spent in SAO, trapped through the NerveGear; beating the game and escaping; Alfheim Online and freeing Asuna; investigating Gun Gale Online (GGO) and mysterious deaths; and more. This anime has every storyline imaginable built into this world. The power and draw of SAO, to me, is the believably of these stories. Their villains are quite real, and downright scary. The love is true and honest, even if every girl in this anime are in love with one man. It’s a complete story, from start to finish. 

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There are storylines within the SAO universe that makes even a grown man like me cry. In the SAO II arc “Mother’s Rosario” it was discovered that a terminally ill girl was using the “full dive” VR system to keep her from feeling the pain brought on by her illness. She died in the VR world surrounded by her friends. It was one of the saddest moments in the series. I never thought I would cry watching an anime, but that did it.

The other thing that is rather intoxicating about SAO is the music. Anime theme music is some of the best out there. I have an entire playlist on Amazon of just anime theme music. Eir Aoi and Lisa are two of the best in Japan and their SAO theme songs are just incredible. I mean, Eir Aoi’s “Ignite” from SAO II is like a James Bond theme in anime form. Just watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. Even the music from the SAO movie, Ordinal Scale, was just amazing, especially the final song. Again, tears…

The latest arc, “Alicization” and “War of Underworld” has been phenomenal with a whole new VR world, new technology, new (and old) villains, and what appears to be a wonderful conclusion to this series. Like I said, if you haven’t watched it, do so. From the series to the movie, it’s a great ride for any fantasy/scifi fan!

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available from Austin Macauley Publishing.

The nightmare that is research all writers must face

Researching elements for your next novel can be as time consuming as writing it. Depending on the subject matter–whether its fantasy, science fiction, supernatural, or historical–any author worth their pen and paper want their stories to make sense. Accuracy is the key to all this research. But even then, you sometimes have to make concessions for the sake of storytelling.

You can take one subject and find hundreds of different interpretations of the same mythology or history. Take the Arthurian legend of which the Forever Avalon series is based. Did you know that more than 70 authors have used King Arthur as the basis for a novel? There are six adaptations in musical theater of the King Arthur mythos, and more than 20 plays of classic verse. (Yes, I am including Spamalot! in my numbers!) Additionally, there have been 11 operas, 42 feature films on the characters (plus 22 more considered parodies) and five television series. This is not even counting the numerous episodes from Doctor Who to Japanese anime that feature characters from the Arthurian legend. Safe to say, there is plenty of material to research this one topic.

So, for the sake of argument, lets talk about research in general. In today’s day-and-age, Google is your best friend. I have used that search engine for everything from names (first and surnames), language translation, cities and countries names, historical references, etc. It is a one stop shop for everything a writer needs. I even found a reference sheet of “Other words for said” depending on the emotion of the moment. You can’t beat it from spending countless hours in a library, fighting over reference materials. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with spending hours in a library. Those are some of my fondest memories. But this allows you to do the research in your pajamas, something most libraries frown upon.

Happy Birthday, Jules Verne: 70 years of fantastic comic-book classicsThere is a broad basis for research, but to me, some of the best research is in the stories I read. Other writers give me inspiration, tips on writing styles, and ideas behind the story itself. For example, I love alternate history novels. Harry Turtledove is one of my favorite writers of alternative history. That gave me pause when I started working on my own alternate history, a world where Nikola Tesla and Jules Verne met and created a “steampunk” future with Tesla’s inventions and Verne’s inspiration. To do that, I had to research their life story to see if they were every in proximity to meet. Fun fact:  They were! Tesla worked for the Edison Company in France while Verne lived there. That gave me the track to create my story.

This is the importance of research. Even for a fantasy or science fiction story, you need to base what you do in fact. There are times that the story can actually inspire the real thing. Did you know that Steve Jobs got the idea for digital music and the iPod after watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Gene Roddenberry inspired one of the greatest inventions of our time, not to mention cell phones, iPads, etc. That’s the power of the writer.

The moral to the story is to do your research with all the vigor and vitality you put into writing your story. Even with otherworldly elements within most fantasy/sci-fi stories, they are based on our own history. For Forever Avalon, I researched every know mythology known to mankind. Did you know that Dwarves are featured in the mythologies from Norse to Germanic, Anglo-Saxon to Russian. There are more myths on creation than you can shake a stick at. You have to read through all of this information and cut it down to fit what you’re writing about.

The biggest thing you can do is have a plan. I started my own writing “on the fly” based on my the story that was rattling around in my head, but that doesn’t always work. My subsequent novels have been more planned out, outline oriented. I still start writing the ideas down “on the fly” but I found that I needed to write things down more as I go along, outline it, make a list of everything from character names, city and country names, even languages used as a basis for magic spells. All of this makes it easier to build the world I am creating within my story.

I hope I’ve given you some good tools and examples of what to do and what not to do when researching subjects for your novel. I think astronaut Neil Armstrong said it best … “Research is creating new knowledge.” However, I like this quote even beter:

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” — Wernher von Braun

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available from Austin Macauley Publishing.

A broken heart is the worst kind of writer’s block

Science proves how you can actually die of a broken heart ...

Writer’s Block is something I talk about a lot, probably because in recent weeks (or months) I’ve had a serious bad case of it. The question is, how do you write when your heart is broken? The heart, to me, is the soul of the writer. It’s where the inspiration emanates and flows into the pen (or keyboard) for any writer.

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” — Virginia Woolf

I don’t mean to get personal here, but I think that this might help me get over my own writer’s block. You see, about a year ago, my oldest daughter stopped talking to me and my wife. In fact, she has pretty much disassociated herself from us, her brother and her sister. And the sad part is, it was over something as stupid as politics and a cultural/social disagreement.

You hear a lot about that nowadays in today’s harsh political climate. Families torn apart because some are on the left and some are on the right when it comes to political and social views. My case is just one of many to see the light of day in this so-called new age of enlightenment. It has made my oldest daughter distance herself from her family because our political views are different.

I’ve had differences of opinion on politics my whole life in my family. I never really saw eye-to-eye with my parents or my sister, but I never totally dismissed them because of it. We simply agree to disagree and not talk politics whenever I visit. And yet, my daughter seems to think that because I don’t agree with her views, I don’t support who she is or her way of life, and therefore she wants nothing to do with me. This happened over a year ago, and to this day, I haven’t been able to write like before. Little bits, here and there, but the inspiration is faltering because my heart is broken.

Here is a little girl who I watched grow up into a beautiful woman. I was there when she graduated high school, college, moved into her first apartment, and got married. But now, she’s turned away from us and I don’t know what to do. Things like this weigh heavy on a parent. What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? These questions rage within me, night and day, and its affects me more and more as the days wear on.

When my wife breaks down and cries, wishing things could go back to the way they were, it just breaks my heart. As holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays pass us by, it gets even harder. I try to understand her feelings, and even though I don’t agree with her train of thought, she’s a grown woman. She’s free to think and do as she wants. That’s what freedom of choice, freedom of expression, and freedom of speech mean in America.

I served my country in the U.S. Navy for more than 23 years, fighting to defend those freedoms. It’s the same old adage… I disagree with what you’re saying, but I will defend your right to say it with every fiber of my being. I wish it was as simple as that, but its not.

There is more to it than that, I’m sure, but in the end, it has definitely hampered my ability as a writer. I can’t focus on my stories, partly because she is a part of them. You see, in the Forever Avalon series, I channeled my children and their personalities into the children of the protagonist, Lord Bryan MoodDrake. Although this iteration is more of a homage than my actual children, it still represents how I saw them when I wrote my first book over 20 years ago. Unfortunately, there is a difference between then and now, and that is giving me a pause in my writing. It’s hard to put the words down when the person you imagine speaking them isn’t talking to you.

I hope and pray that we can come together again in the near future. The problem is that, the longer this stretches out, the more the heart goes numb to the whole situation. Numb is not a good feeling, even worse being a writer. That feeling stretches across me, body and soul, and I don’t like it one bit. Sylvia Plath said, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” I can honestly attest to that.

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available from Austin Macauley Publishing.