Tune into The Confessionals podcast and get a new perspective on the world

I have to take the opportunity to give a shameless plug to a dear family member, because, well… He’s family, and you always support family. My nephew, Tony Merkel, produces his own podcast, The Confessionals. Like me, he took what started out as a dream and turned it into an enterprise. I’ll let Tony explain how his podcast came about…

“From a very young age, Tony Merkel was fascinated by all things strange and mysterious.  Growing up in rural Pennsylvania afforded him a childhood spent playing in the woods, where mysteries only tend to deepen.  From Bigfoot to extraterrestrials to the Loch Ness monster, Tony always wondered at the unexplained. 

“As an adult with the Internet at his fingertips, Tony was able to further explore his lifelong fascination with the unexplained.  With an initial focus on Bigfoot, he sought out the Bigfoot community with podcasts like the Sasquatch Chronicles and local Facebook groups to learn more about the elusive creature.  Throughout his search for truths, one thing became certain— he was not alone in his pursuit.

“In 2016, Tony originally created The Confessionals on YouTube as a video platform where people could give voice to the strange, extraordinary things they experienced. His YouTube channel attracted worldwide attention, which was followed by a phone call from a leading member of the cryptid community.  Seeing value in Tony’s endeavors, they encouraged him to take his work to the next level.  After revamping his creation with eyewitness accounts, narrated stories, and expert guests, The Confessionals was officially reborn as a podcast.”

From The Confessionals story

Tony was always a great supporter of me during my military career and in my career as an author. I was honored when he invited me on his podcast to talk about some of my own personal paranormal experiences from the Navy, both on ships and in a house I once rented in Massachusetts. We also talked about the books in the Forever Avalon fantasy books series and other personal experiences. It was a thrill to relive these moments with Tony. I can’t believe we talked as long as we did. You can listen to the entire podcast at The Confessionals or listen below!

The Confessionals “333: Ghost of the USS Forrestal” podcast

If you are into the paranormal, supernatural, and the unexplained, I encourage you to sign up and become a member of The Confessionals to get all the inside information. Believe me, you’ll learn about things you neve dreamed possible. I know I did!

# # #

Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His next two fantasy novels, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart and The Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series are being released in 2021.

They don’t make Christmas specials like they use to anymore

I really miss the innocent, timeless classics associated with Christmas. We use to watch these specials every year on TV, when I was a kid and even with my own children. We would all sit in front of the television as a family, almost like a tradition. These are the shows, and the stories, that made Christmas such a magical time.

Rankin/Bass was, and always will be, the best ones made. They had clever characters, great songs, and memorable stories that drew you in. From legends like Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph to religious stories like the Little Drummer Boy and Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey, these specials brightened the eyes of kids everywhere.

You can’t help but dance when you hear the Heat Miser/Snow Miser songs from “Year Without a Santa Claus” or find yourself in the Christmas Spirit when you hear Burl Ives sing “Holly Jolly Christmas” from “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” My favorite song, and to me the ultimate Christ song, is “I Believe in Santa Claus” from “Year Without a Santa Claus”… If you haven’t seen the special or heard the song, Google it and you’ll understand why. Everyone knows the songs and when you hear the tune, or even the voices, you begin to quote lines from them religiously.

“I want to be… A dentist!” — Hermey, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

“Driving a Vixen on the wrong side of the street, and wearing funny clothes on Sunday!” — Policeman, Year Without a Santa Claus

“A yoyo? I love yo-yo’s!” — Burgermeister Meisterburger, Santa Claus is Coming to Town

“Ears, Nestor!” — Nestor’s Mother, Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey

There are so many more that stick in your mind and you can recollect every Christmas, even before the specials begin to air. That’s what makes them timeless classics, even though the old stop motion animation is nothing compared to today’s CGI. My kids use to laugh at these specials, never understanding why I loved them so much. I have to admit, they are a little cheesy and somewhat corny, but I love them. And, as my kids grew older, they began to appreciate the uniqueness of them too.

The 5 Craziest Rankin/Bass Holiday TV Specials | The Saturday Evening Post

The other memorable thing about these specials were the stories they told. Before I ever watched “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” I never realized the L. Frank Baum (of “The Wizard of Oz” fame) wrote a book about a more mythological origin of Santa Claus. A council of immortals debates whether or not to grant Santa immortality as they examine his life story, which is quite unique. Santa was raised by a lioness, befriends magical creatures, and staves off what are essentially goblins and demons responsible for making good children do bad things. Crazy, right? It is a wonderful story and to watch it and the many unique characters within it. That’s what made it so memorable, even though its barely shown anymore.

Jack Frost Movie 1979 | Jack Frost on AllMovie | Christmas characters, Jack  frost, Christmas cartoons

“Jack Frost” is another special that’s both fascinating and not really about Christmas. It’s more of a winter special with Christmas thrown in for good measure, and this version of Jack Frost is nothing like the ones seen in other holiday specials and movies (i.e. “Santa Clause 3” or “Rise of the Guardians”). Jack falls in love with a human girl, Elisa, and petitions Father Winter for humanity. Father Winter suggests a rather long list of things for Jack to prove that he can cut it as a human: A horse, a house, a bag of gold, and his wife by spring. This is all complicated by an evil king with a clockwork army and the fact that Elisa already loves someone else. This has a slightly more complicated plot and action that other specials, and it’s definitely bittersweet in the love story department.

So, whether it’s on television, dvd, blueray, or steaming somewhere, these specials will touch your heart and maybe, just maybe, bring a little joy into your holidays in the midst of a pandemic. Trust me when I say, they are worth the trouble of tracking them down and watching. So, please, have a Merry Christmas and a blessed holiday season, for you and your families!

# # #

Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers.

As October rolls in, so do the screams of the dead, but not like the traditions of old

Halloween Past – snapshot jeannerene, circa 1988 – Flickr

It seems that every Halloween gets scarier and more outrageous as the years passed by. We are beyond the simple dressing up and “trick or treating” anymore. Now its either blood and gore or, to the other extreme with sexy maids, police officers, and vampires. Even Daphne and Velma of Scooby Doo fame are imitated by cosplayers down to their bras and panties (not that I mind) in a stunning retrospect making me question my childhood.

So, what do we make of Halloween? Is it a bastion of the evil and the dead or, like Mardi Gras and other celebrations, a day to dress up, drink, and be merry? I prefer the old traditions of Halloween, when masks were made of flimsy plastic and hugged your face, held in place by a rubber band and a couple of staples. Every house had a porch light on, carved jack o’ lantern on the front step, passing out candy to the kids, and EVERY KID dressed up (not this wearing a hoodie with a hockey mask).

Now, we have pumpkin and cake carving food shows where contestants try to out-gore the other. And movies have gone the way from classic monster movies like “Dracula” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” to scary dolls like “Chucky” and “Annabelle” instead. I guess I am a traditionalist when it comes to holidays. I miss the old traditions that are being shoved aside for gross, gore and fright instead.

Sure, everyone likes a good scare. I remember seeing the original “Friday the 13th” (with Kevin Bacon) and John Carpenter’s “The Fog” and being genuinely scared. My kids watch it and laugh at the poor special effects and giving Dad that look, questioning my manhood, with a sarcastic “This scared you?” But things change over time, and its never good or bad, it’s just different. 

It’s like the Grinch said in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the live action Jim Carrey movie) when he said, “Kids today, so desensitized by movies and television…” and its true. The gore and scare factor at Halloween has increased tenfold because kids today have been desensitized by the violence and fear of the world today. Why would they be scared of ghosts and goblins when terrorists and mass murderers could be your next door neighbor? That changes the whole perspective.

10 fun facts you didn't know about HalloweenAs a writer, its nostalgic to think about Halloween past. It’s the myths and legends that inspire me as a fantasy writer. The story of the Celtic festival of Samhain that became our modern Halloween is a part of the mythos we embrace every year when the kids put on masks and go trick or treating. Consider that the lowly Jack O’ Lantern has a story behind it, warding off evil spirts and the like. Even the “Day of the Dead” — el Día de los Muertos — celebrations are steeped in tradition and mythology. It’s these legends, the superstitions, that bring holidays like Halloween to life, but in a good way. Not the blood curdling, gore fest seen in haunted houses across the country.

October brings the falling leaves, the change of the season, and everything pumpkin spice with a month of  frights and scares. Let’s bring back more tradition and legends associated with Halloween and less gore and “shock factor” that’s in it. I miss the old ways, the simpler ways, sometimes… Don’t you? 

# # #

SKU-000941753

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

# # #

SKU-000941753

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.

King Arthur is the legend that lives in all of us

“Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place. And men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the the Holy Cross.”~Sir Thomas Mallory, Le Morte d’Arthur

The legend of King Arthur, Camelot, the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin, Morganna le Fay, the Lady of the Lake and Excalibur… These stories are at the heart of the fantasy genre, the myths and legends we cling to in our stories. It can be found in books, movies, television, comic books, and anime from the United Kingdom, to the U.S., and Japan. The story of honor, courage, magic, and mystery is deep within the psyche of every human being. 

We love the tale of the boy king pulling the sword from the stone; the romantic triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot; the magic of Merlin and Excalibur; and the evil of Morganna le Fay and Mordred. These are legends ingrained in us that, in one way or or another, we can all relate to.

Image result for the sword in the stoneI first learned about the legend of King Arthur as a boy. Like any child of the 60’s and 70’s, it was taught to me through the magic of Disney. The Sword in the Stone (1967) is an animated classic, telling the story of Arthur and Merlin with a witch named Mim thrown in for good measure. It is a fun movie that taught this classic tale to kids like me. 

I think my exposure to the legend of Camelot was first done through movies, classics like Prince Valiant (1954) and Camelot (1967) to Excalibur (1981) and First Knight (1994), even Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). There has been so many re-imagining takes on this timeless story in so many forms. That’s what makes it such an integral part of the fantasy genre.

Image result for saber arthur and mordred fateMost recently, you can find the enigmatic King Arthur, Mordred, Lancelot, and Merlin as “heroic spirits” in the Fate anime series. Arthur and Mordred are gender-swapped as powerful women, both of the “Saber-class” of heroic spirits. Although it was weird at first, they actually kept the legend intact through this twist. The conflict between these two is better explained in this anime than in any other story I’ve read or watched. It’s an amazing conflict that brings out the vulnerabilities in these characters.

I used the legend of King Arthur and Camelot as the basis for the Forever Avalon series. I took the approach of “what happened next” in the story, looking at it from the perspective of our world today. The idea started with a simple question… What happened? What happened to all the magic, the mythical creatures and monsters? Where did it go? Why did it disappear from our world? The answer, in my mind, was Avalon.

Avalon has always been a place of eternal magic that will never die. Sir Thomas Malory, in his fifteenth century epic Le Morte d’Arthur, tells of King Arthur’s final moments. Bedivere took the King upon his back and carried him to the water’s edge, and there was a little barge floating there with many beautiful ladies in it. “Comfort yourself,” said the king, “and do the best you can. I can no longer help you, for I must go into the vale of Avalon to be healed.” Collins English Dictionary defines Avalon as “an island paradise in the western seas” and derives it from the Old Welsh word “Aballon” for Apple.

There are other accounts of Avalon in literature. According to Geoffrey in the Historia, and much subsequent literature which he inspired, Avalon is the place where King Arthur is taken after fighting Mordred at the Battle of Camlann to recover from his wounds. Welsh, Cornish and Breton tradition claimed that Arthur had never really died, but would return to lead his people against their enemies. Historia also states that Avalon is where his sword Excalibur was forged. This is the part of the legend I tapped into to begin my story.

tow ad7But what happens when Avalon is forced back into the modern world of today? You’ll have to read The Outlander War: Book 3 of the Forever Avalon Series to find out!

In the end, it all started with the legend of King Arthur. His story, whether based on fact or fiction, myth or legend, rings true in the mind of a writer like me. It is the stepping stone that brings you into my world. Take the journey and believe in magic again!

# # #

SKU-000941753

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.

L. Frank Baum reimagines Santa Claus as only he can

Image result for the life and adventures of santa claus l frank baum

“Yet Burzee has its inhabitants—for all this. Nature peopled it in the beginning with Fairies, Knooks, Ryls and Nymphs. As long as the Forest stands it will be a home, a refuge and a playground to these sweet immortals, who revel undisturbed in its depths.”~L. Frank Baum, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

For all his literary works, L. Frank Baum is best known as the man behind all things Oz. And yet, one of his little k own works is the re-imagining of a classic… The life of Santa Claus! While the story of “old St. Nick” has been told, and retold, many different ways, none are as compelling or imaginative as Baum’s amazing storytelling.

I first came across this story as a young adult, but not the book, the classic Christmas special. In 1985, Rankin/Bass Productions (the makers of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other Christmas classics) created a new stop-motion animated special… The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. It had colorful, whimsical characters I never saw before. It was magical. Like any modern, young adult, it was the television adaptation that led me to the original material.

L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus was first published in 1902, two years after his Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Drawing on the attributes of Santa Claus from Clement Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (aka “Twas The Night Before Christmas”), Baum chronicles Santa’s life from his childhood in an enchanted forest—the same forest that is the source of all magic in the land of Oz—to his destiny of sharing gifts and spreading love to his fellow man. Along the way we witness him making his first toys, learn the origins of the Christmas tree and Christmas stockings, and discover the stories behind many Christmas secrets, like why Santa slides down chimneys, how he picks his reindeer, how he delivers all his toys in one night, and Santa Claus’ immortality.

This is a beautiful Christmas story, as well written and magical as the legend of Santa Claus. It has everything in it to spark a child’s imagination and scare a child into being a good boy or girl. If you love the Baum stories of Oz, you will love his take on Santa Claus. It’s amazing how a story that is over 100 years old is still relevant to children today. That’s what makes a great fantasy story, one that can be told over and over again and still resonate with people. It’s what I aspire to as a writer.

The best way to sum up this book is the most meaningful quote from the author.

“Every man has his mission, which is to leave the world better, in some way, than he found it.”~L. Frank Baum, Life and Adventures of Santa

# # #

SKU-000941753

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 coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.

Stop trying to justify “political correctness” by bashing fantasy classics

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write this week, then I heard about an American science fiction author bashing J.R.R. Tolkien as racist. When I read the article, it became even more laughable because he claimed that he was racist because of the way he portrayed Orcs as an “inferior” race.

Yes, you read that right. The greatest fantasy author of all times is a racist and a bigot because he made a make-believe race that were considered inferior by most people, i.e. those who read Tolkien and the author himself. Never in my life have I heard anything so ridiculous and self-serving. These comments seem to be coming from a man trying to sell his own books, because he sure doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Now, before I go any further, I want to inform you that I hate political correctness. I am “old school” for lack of a better word. I don’t agree with changing words just because you don’t like them. To me, free speech is everything. If you don’t like it, then don’t read it, watch it, or listen to it. However, I hate stupidity and he’s just downright stupid.

The author (who will remain unnamed as I will not promote him in any way, shape or form) said Tolkien “depicted evil creatures such as Orcs as ‘worse than others’ and said this had ‘dire consequences for society.'” Sorry, what? Is President Trump planning to turn away immigrants because he’s afraid they’ll join the dark lord Sauron to destroy America? Gimme a break!

Okay, first you have to understand what Orcs are… They’re mostly evil. Some like Warcraft depict Orcs as neutral or evil–like some do in D&D–but most portray them as evil. It’s part of what Orcs were meant to be.

Remember, Tolkien created Orcs, so all of us fantasy authors go by his writings for reference. Beyond that, it is well known that Tolkien was one of the most staunch critics of racism, fascism, and Nazism. It is well documented in his writings.

Now, here is where he gets really, really wierd. The author says, “I can easily imagine that a lot of these people that were doing the dark lord’s bidding were doing so out of simple self preservation and so forth.” Really? I guess they killed all the humans because they were afraid of Sauron, not because humans tasted good. This quote shows me that this man never read Tolkien, and if he did, he’s trying to use today’s “PC bullshit” to justify his opinion.

Why? Why do we have to do that? Why do we need to take one of the Top 5 novels in America (as per The Great American Read) and trash it because you want to be politically correct. If you want to do that, write your own damn book about Orcs being the downtrodden of society, but to me, it’s pretty insulting comparing Orcs to South American migrants (yes, this idiot did that too!)

There is a place for criticism. I have negative reviews on my own novels, and I take them to improve myself as an author. It just seems that for this author to go after a literary legend like Tolkien is more about bringing attention to himself.

You can read the article about this author and his comments here and decide for yourself. I, for one, don’t plan on reading any of his books anytime soon.

###

SKU-000941753

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 coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.

Monsters, myths, and legends are on my pages and in my dreams

fantasy-art-wizards-dungeons-warriors-jesper-ejsing-1920x1080-52957

You know how your dreams can seem real, even though you know it’s just a dream? For a fantasy writer, it’s like living with an entire world inside your head. When I played Dungeons & Dragons, it was even more vivid when you played. It was like living in that world, even though you know its not real.

That’s what I love about being a writer, especially a fantasy writer. No matter how bad things are in the real world, all I have to do is sit at my computer and step into my fantasy world. You have to wonder if this is how it was in centuries past. When people sat around and listened to the storytellers spinning their yarns about giants, dragons, and Gods, did they feel the same as me?

I’ve been talking with other writers via social media and we all have the same ideas behind our stories. It’s like there’s a genetic quirk for fantasy writers, or if you like, geeks in general. We all have that same built-in mechanism that lets us close our eyes and open them into a whole new world (no, do not start singing the song from Aladdin!)

It’s crazy, but lately my mind has been totally focused on a new story I’m writing, The Last Magus. Don’t worry, I’m not stopping the Forever Avalon series. I’ve already written Book 4 and I just sent Book 3 to the publisher to begin editing and layout. It’s just an idea that came to me and I’ve been running with it for the past few months. It’s been dominating my mind when I’m walking my dog, sleeping, and writing. The story plays out over and over again in my head, from wherever I’m at in writing it to the end. It’s like it’s on a frickn’ loop.

As its playing out, I’m writing dialogue, creating background imagry, character development, the works. It’s like I’m a movie director and the set is inside my head. I don’t know whether to love it or hate, mainly because it can be all consuming. When you’re at your job, and you’re trying to get work done, and all you can do is think about the next chapter in your story, it can be frustrating. It’s times like this that I wish I could be a fantasy writer full time.

It’s hard being a part-time writer, which I’m sure many others can relate too. You want to spend every waking moment writing, but there’s just not enough time in the day. I think that’s why I spend my nights dreaming about my story. Even when I’m asleep, I’m writing my novel.

I think for some people, this can lead to sheer and utter madness. But for a writer, it’s just another day at the office. We’re already a little mad anyway.

###

51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

SKU-000941753
Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon.

Courage is a key quality found in the true hero, whether real or fantasy

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
― Nelson Mandela

13Courage… I think the first time we’re exposed to it is watching The Wizard of Oz as a child. The Cowardly Lion showed us both sides of having courage and conquering your fears. While meant to be funny (especially as played by Bert Lahar) it was also quite educational, especially for a child. As we get older, courage takes a different form, like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird or watching and To Hell and Back and learning about Audie Murphy. Even today, the heroics of people like Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, or the heroes of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting inspire writers like me to exemplify what it means to have the courage to stand up to evil.

Courage has been demonstrated throughout history in stories, myths and legends:  The 300 Spartans who held back the Persian Army, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the march to Selma, or Perseus killing Medusa. These stories inspire all of us to have the courage within ourselves.

However, there are trends to write about heroes that confuse courage with “having the balls” to fight, and that doesn’t work for me. There is a difference between them. A person high on PCP would “have the balls” to confront the police, head-on. Some would call that courage, others might consider it insanity (hand raised high). To some, climbing a mountain in the face of insurmountable odds would call that courageous, while others might consider it stupid. There are so many sides of what to consider as courage.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
― Mark Twain

Who can say what truly lies inside someone, whether its courage or cowardice. Some people put on the face of a hero, but when confronted, that courage disappears. Others seem timid to most people, yet they are the ones to step up in times of crisis. With the 24 hour news cycle in today’s society, we can see both sides of this on a daily basis. From the heroes who rush into the fire to save lives, to the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who charge into battle without question, these are the examples I want to emulate in my stories.

That’s why the main protagonist in the Forever Avalon series, Lord Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh of Avalon, was a U.S. Navy Sailor. You see, I come from a military family and served in the Navy myself. I not only met and worked with many brave men and women, but I also learned the personal history of many of them.

The best example I can give is Chief Gerald Farrier. On July 29, 1967, the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal was off the coast of Vietnam, readying to launch airstrikes against targets in North Vietnam. Before the first airplane catapulted off the flight deck, an electronic circuit misfired, launching a Zuni rocket off the wing of an F-4B Phantom into other aircraft. Full of fuel and loaded with ordnance, this caused a chain reaction that ruptured fuel tanks and detonated ordnance.

In all the confusion, Chief Farrier ran out on the flight deck with a PkP bottle (a fire suppressant similar to a fire extinguisher but used for fuel fires). Ignoring his own safety, he rushed in to push back the flames so the trapped pilots could escape. He rescued as many as he could before another bomb exploded, killing him and most of the flight deck firefighting team. His courage had an impact on me, as a young Sailor, that I used him as a model for the protagonist in my own novel. Here is an excerpt from The Dark Tides that shows how the courage of one man can save many.

* * *

Inside Flight Deck Control, Bryan rushed into a flurry of activity. McGregory was on the phone with the “Air Boss”—the officer in charge of air operations on Enterprise—while others peered out of the small windows to get a peek at what’s happening on deck.

“Clear away from the window,” Bryan shouted to the sailors. “If you don’t have any business in control, get out now!”

The sailor’s groaned and filed out as the Handler hung up the phone. His mustache twitched—a sign Bryan came to learn as trouble. “Chief, the Boss doesn’t want that aircraft damaging any others,” he said to Bryan. “It’s already clipped another helo and a Hawkeye. Think you can secure it?”

Bryan looked at the Handler, tense and nervous. He’s always relied on Bryan for the tough jobs, and he knew it had to be done. “Yes sir. Just give me Georgie, Bartman and a couple blue shirts and we’ll lock it down.”

The Handler picked up the sound-powered phone while Bryan grabbed a flight deck vest and helmet off a hook on the wall. He’d need the safety gear out on the flight deck, especially in this weather. George, Petty Officer Mike Bartman and two blue shirts—sailors who chain the aircraft down to the deck—arrived in Flight Deck Control. Bryan finished buckling his helmet as he relayed orders to his crew.

“Georgie, you drive the tractor. I want that bird hooked up and holding steady. Bartman, you guide him into the helo. Once that’s done, you two lock it down tight. Ready?”

They all chimed in at the same time. “Yes Chief!” Bryan opened the hatch to the flight deck, the wind and rain blowing them down almost immediately. Once everyone is outside, Bryan moved his crew toward the swinging helicopter.

Its rear wheel remained chained to the flight deck but its front wheels broke free, causing the aircraft to swing like a pendulum. Georgie and Bartman go around the island and start up a tractor while the two blue shirts stayed close to Bryan. The ship was listing heavily to right as huge waves crashed over the flight deck. The wind and rain added to the problem, making it hard for them to get good footing.

Complicating things even more was the multiple aircraft around them, strained against their chains by the storm. Georgie backed the tractor on the helo’s rear wheel and, with Bartman’s help, locked the helo down. Once steady, Bartman signaled a thumbs’ up to Bryan to send the two blue shirts in. Heavy chains hung on their shoulders, chocks in their hands, Bryan ordered the two sailors to get to work. He watched as the chocks were placed under the wheels and the chains are hooked on to tie the aircraft down.

Bryan was pleased with his team. He had a great group of sailors working for him. The blue shirts gave the thumbs up and they all started to celebrate, fists pumping and cheering, until without warning, things went from bad to worse.

The ship hit a big swell that caused the carrier to drop fast and list heavy to starboard. Bryan can only watch as Bartman slipped and started to tumble backwards toward the edge of the flight deck.

He acted quickly to save his shipmate; without regard for his own life or safety, he dove after Bartman. The momentum of the listing deck flung him through the air. He reached Batman and knocked him into the catwalk, saving his life, but his life saving gesture propelled him over the side of the ship into the water.

He hit the water hard and momentarily blacked out. His safety gear kicked in, though, and his vest auto-inflated. He rose to the surface and regained consciousness. The waves, wind and rain battered him around. He saw the ship in the distance. The sound of “Man Overboard” can be heard, even with the storm.

The ship started to turn around, but to Bryan it seemed to be getting further and further away from him, as if he was being pulled away from the carrier. The waves continued to beat him about, practically drowning him in its fury.

Bryan became disoriented and fear started to grip him … The fear of dying. He thought about Stephanie and the kids. He remembered birthdays, anniversaries and holidays as images flooded his mind.

Suddenly, he saw a glow in the sky. Bryan thought it was the light from a rescue helicopter, but the ship couldn’t have launched one in this weather. “Is this it? Is this the end?” he thought as the light grew brighter and brighter until it enveloped him. Bryan closed his eyes and accepted his fate.

# # #

51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a book/ebook at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon.

Dragons, ogres, and trolls, oh my!

dragonThe creatures of fantasy, myth, and legend are as versatile as they are mysterious to a fantasy/sci-fi writer. They can be good or evil, strong or weak. intelligent or half-witted, magical or mutation. The possibilities are endless, and that’s so exciting.

As a fantasy writer, I love to research the monsters I use in my stories. It makes you wonder how much is myth and how much is fact. There are so many stories about these creatures from different countries and cultures that there must be some semblance of truth behind them… And that’s freakin’ awesome.

“There was a nice brown egg, lightly boiled, for each of them, and then sardines on toast, and then buttered toast, and then toast with honey, and then a sugar-topped cake. And when Lucy was tired of eating, the Faun began to talk. He had wonderful tales to tell of life in the forest. He told about the midnight dances and how the Nymphs who lived in the wells and the Dryads who lived in the trees came out to dance with the Fauns; about long hunting parties after the milk-white stag who could give you wishes if you caught him; about feasting and treasure-seeking with the wild Red Dwarfs in deep mines and caverns far beneath the forest floor; and then about summer when the woods were green and old Silenus on his fat donkey would come to visit them, and sometimes Bacchus himself, and then the streams would run with wine instead of water and the whole forest would give itself up to jollification for weeks on end.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Look at the sea monsters that mariners have seen for thousands of years. No one believed that a giant squid could exist, and yet through modern technology, we’ve found them lurking in the depths of the ocean. This proves that there are some facts behind the ancient legends.

I know most people would be scared of a dragon, and it probably would be, but it would also be amazing to see. To me, dragons are creatures of pure magic, living to be guardians of humanity, not enemies. They are such majestic creatures that seeing one would send chills down my spine. It’s like that scene in the original Jurassic Park when they see the dinosaur for the first time. It would be that kind of feeling.

Writing about these monsters is even better, because as the writer, I can create their origins, abilities, and appearance. You always want to stay true to the characters, but adjusted to the world you create. For example, the goblins of Avalon from my novel series, Forever Avalon. Here is a deleted excerpt from my second novel, The Dark Tides, which describes the goblin hierarchy on the island of Avalon. I cut this from my edited novel, but I think it demonstrates how versatile creatures of fantasy can be.

* * *

The cavern seemed to encompass the entire center of Idlehorn Mountain… A huge pocket, like a magma dome, underneath the mountain, as lava flowed like water from the walls. It fell and circulated in streams and pools throughout the cave interior. Not only did the lava provide light and warmth for the goblins, it made it easier for them to forge a constant supply of weapons for their massive army. Goblins had nowhere to call home, except for the cave itself. They climbed along the walls like spiders in a web, able to move anywhere and everywhere throughout the cavern. They ate, slept and worked wherever they could find a rock to lean against or a piece of meat to gnaw on.

As Ragnar took them deeper into the voluminous cavern, Bryan got a sense of the social structure of the goblins. It was a society based on “survival of the fittest” mantra:  The stronger, more powerful goblins bullied the smaller, weaker ones, as an inbred form of slave labor. They were forced to carry heavy loads in the belief that it would make them stronger. The intense labor culled out the weaker goblins from the rest. Those that survived either continued their toll as slaves or they volunteered for experiments conducted by goblin warlocks and alchemists as they strive to make a goblin warrior that was unbeatable. They were a collective, striving for the betterment of the goblins and the defeat of their enemies.

At the heart of the cavern sat a throne of iron and stone. It was a monument to the machine that is the goblin empire. The twisted metal frame and jagged rock reminded all who stood before it of the pain and suffering that is the life of a goblin.

In the throne sat a brute of a beast… The Goblin King P’tah Mnenok. His skin was black and scarred, ripped and torn by battle. His face was long and twisted, with yellow eyes piercing out from dark slits. His fangs were so long that they pierced from beneath his lower lip, giving him a constant scowl, even with his mouth closed. On his head sat a crown of braided iron, a cold reminder of his black heart.

* * *

Author Gabrielle Massman said, “So deliberate writers should be careful of how they portray fantasy creatures (ahem– I am looking at all of you, dragon writers) and how they make new fantasy creatures. If there is already a mythological creature that embodies the idea that you want, then there may be no need to create something “new.” The centuries of the mythology of a creature can add depth to fantasy and are fun to explore in a more modern way.”

It’s simple… The best advice I can give you is to research your subjects carefully, but make them unique to your world. Mythology has given us all these wonderful, magical creatures to chose from. It’s how you use them that will make them your own, a part of your world, a part of your stories.

# # #

51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a book/ebook at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon.