Looking back at 2021 and ahead to 2022 with weary yet open-eyed optimism for the new year

I can honestly say I have mixed feelings about 2021. I think its one of those years I can’t wait to put behind me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no 2020. My God, that year will forever burn on the ash heap of life. I have a lot of memories of 2021, some good and some not so good.

First, the good . . .

I published my fourth book in 2021, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart, beginning a new fantasy/steampunk series under my pen (or rhetorical keyboard). Not only did I spend most of 2021 finishing this book, it was also the first work of mine where I hired and editor and a cover artist. This book means a lot to me, and winning first place in the 2021 Firebird Book Award for Steampunk was a big deal. Being recognized by your peers cemented my career as a writer.

Speaking of awards, The Outlander War: Book 3 of the Forever Avalon Series, won second place for fantasy in the 2021 Firebird Book Awards. Again, it was wonderful to be recognized by your peers and I really want to thank my publisher, Austin Macauley, for all their support in 2021. This book was released just as the COVID pandemic hit, so promoting it was next to impossible beyond social media. I’m just so happy they continue to work with me.

Williamsburg Arts and Music Festival, November 2021

The great thing about 2021 was that I was finally able to go out and meet people in public. I attended book fairs, book signings, comic-cons, and arts festivals, talking about my books to those interested and even selling a few along the way. Thanks to the Moravian Book Shop, Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival, Southern Maryland Comic-Con, and 2nd Sundays Williamsburg for their support. It was great that, after nearly two years in hibernation, I could tell my stories to anyone interested. I sold more books in 2021 at all these combined events than I did since my first book was published in 2009. That shows how much effort independent authors have to put in beyond social media! I am looking forward to doing even more events in 2022.

The last good event of 2021 was having my short stories published through The Publishing Room and being signed by two great independent publishers, Revolutionary Press and Curious Corvid Publishing. The Publishing Room published two of my short stories for their fantasy and horror anthologies, Of Distant Worlds and From Dark Corners. Revolutionary Press will be publishing my steampunk/historical fiction novel, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, in 2022. Curious Corvid will be publishing my fantasy novella, The River of Souls, which I wrote with poet Ashley Valitutto. I am looking forward to working with these publishers in the coming year and beyond!

Now for the bad . . .

I experienced some loss in 2021, especially here at the end. I’ve had friends and distant relatives die, but this year it hit close to home. My dog, Sully, died in July. He was only 13 and our family pet for all 13 years. If you want a great family pet, I highly recommend a West Highland Terrier. They are the best. And just a few days ago, my older sister, Trina, suddenly passed away. It was totally unexpected. She has been fighting illness of one type of another this past year, but she was fighting it so she could retire to Florida in 2022. It’s a terrible way to end the year, especially just days after Christmas. I never saw eye-to-eye with my sister on many things, but she was still my sister and I loved her no matter what. Her death has given me some perspective on my own mortality, to hopefully take better care of myself so I’m there for my family. No more snacking on Twinkies and Pop Tarts for me.

I guess a bad thing professionally would be my email inbox full of rejection letters from publishers and literary agents. I mean, I got two good ones in Curious Corvid and Revolutionary Press this year, but the constant flow of rejection is a little disheartening. It’s like that one bad review your book gets. It just gnaws at you even though its just one in a hundred. I’ve always done what’s best for me and file it away and just move on.

Looking ahead to 2022, there’s so much to look forward to. I’ll be publishing two new books and submitting two more for consideration (fingers crossed). You can find me at multiple conventions and festivals next year, starting off with Katsucon 2022 anime convention at the Gaylord Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland, February 18-20. It’s right in my area so this will be a blast. The only other confirmed event for me so far is the Imaginarium Fantasy Book Festival on Saturday, May 21, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. I’ve waited two years to be at this event so I can’t wait! You can keep up-to-date of my other appearances through my Events calendar.

So let’s end 2021 with this . . .

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of 365-page book. Write a good one.”

Brad Paisley

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. 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 latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, coming soon from Revolutionary Press; and The River of Souls novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid PublishingThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of my current fantasy book series, coming soon.

This is a great winter season for geeking out on live-action anime, new fantasy series and movies

I love the holiday season! Not just for the joy of family, friends, and the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, but also for the new tv series and moves that premiere this time of the year. We have movie releases (Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home) and tv series streaming (Cowboy Bebop, Hawkeye, The Wheel of Time) it is a great time to be a fantasy/sci-fi nerd.

The big issue with the remakes and adaptations is how accurate is it to the comic or book series. Take the live action Cowboy Bebop on Netflix. First and foremost, the look is incredible. Great casting and set design that is so accurate to the anime. Now, is it perfect . . . No, it’s not. They are changing how the story is presented to make it fit into the shortened Netflix series. Spike’s backstory with the Syndicate is mixed in with each episode, which suits me fine. The fighting scenes are as animated as in the anime, so is the comedy banter. It’s not as good as the original anime, but it’s still fun to watch.

On a more serious note, Robert Jordan’s epic The Wheel of Time was finally made into a tv series. It’s hard to imagine this series laid out logically as a TV series, and watching has proven that. Instead of teenagers, the five dragon candidates are young adults, and they changed how they get from their village to the White Tower. When you’re taking 14 books and putting them into a shortened series, it makes sense. It still flows good and is watchable to me. I can’t help but enjoy it because I love these books and seeing them come to life is a dream come true. It’s a lot like when Game of Thrones was brought to television. You can’t follow the exact dimensions of such a rich story, but if it remains true to the essence of the novels, then it’s worth watching.

Rosamund Pike is great as Moiraine in the series. She is commanding, fierce and dedicated to her cause. Her magic is so powerful, flowing from the one source in such a beautiful visual effect. The first battle scene against the Trolloc’s was intense. It’s great that Amazon is taking a chance on this series, and they’ve already confirmed season 2.

And now, Disney Plus is coming out with Hawkeye as part of its ongoing MCU television series. I can’t say I’m overly excited for this series. It just doesn’t excite me like Loki, Wandavision, What If, or Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I will watch it, though, because it helps set up the next set of series coming out in 2022.

Speaking of the MCU, we’ve gotten three films in less than four months. Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings was a great introduction to a new hero, and the Eternals reset the cosmic powers of the Marvel Universe. Both of these movies set up new powers and heroes in the MCU coming in the next phase. I mean, the Black Knight, Blade, and others are coming our way. Then we have Spider-Man: No Way Home which brings us into the multiverse by setting up Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. I think just bringing all the villains from the other Spider-Man movies completes the transition from the “Sony-verse” to the MCU. Plus, it brings together the Sinister Six for the first time and that is just freakin’ awesome to see!

The Spider-Man movie not only completes Tom Holland’s trilogy, but it sets up so much more. Will he finish his run as the webhead or just prepare for the New Avengers in the next phase? Maybe we’ll get to see Miles Morales for the first time in a live movie! The possibilities are there, but we’ll have to wait and see!

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. 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 latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, coming soon from Revolutionary Press; and The River of Souls novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid PublishingThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of my current fantasy book series, coming soon.

Star Wars and anime is something we’ve all been waiting for and “Visions” does it flawlessly

I just binge watched all ten episodes of Star Wars: Visions on Disney+. Couldn’t help it because they were just that good! Not only was I impressed with the visuals and the stories, but I even recognized some of the voice actors from my favorite anime shows. This was a match made in heaven with new content that brought me the Star Wars universe in a completely new light. The anime style differed from each episode, and the stories were completely different too. In fact, I even think they changed some canon with this anime series (I’ll explain later). In any case, I was completely enthralled by this series and I hope they do more of them in the future.

Similar to the Animatrix short stories that came out around the same time as The Matrix: Revolutions movie, Star War: Visions brought anime storytelling to the popular universe of the Jedi and the Sith, which makes sense since the look of these force users have a Japanese-vibe to them. According to Kathleen Kennedy, “Star Wars: Visions will be a series of animated short films celebrating the Star Wars galaxy through the lens of the world’s best anime creators. This anthology collection will bring ten fantastic visions from several of the leading Japanese anime studios, offering a fresh and diverse cultural perspective to Star Wars.”

For the most part, these shorts focused on the constant war between the Jedi and the Sith, with one exception, and that’s what many Star Wars fans look for in storylines. I mean, even The Mandalorian TV series focused on “The Child” and the Jedi. There’s nothing wrong with that but honestly, I thought there would be more diverse content. The one episode that didn’t go that route was Tatooine Rhapsody. Gotta love a Padawan escaping Order 66 by becoming a rock star with a droid guitarist, tri-bodied drummer and a Jabba family outcast on bass (nose ring and all). That was awesome!

My favorite had to be The Duel because it felt like an old Japanese samurai film but with aliens and lightsabers. The rogue Sith hunting down other Sith was a shocker, which made it even more enjoyable. Plus, the R2 unit wearing a straw hat was totally in character for this anime. The changes I mentioned to canon (which every Star Wars nerd swears by) was in the episode The Ninth Jedi. The “saber smith” (love that name) said that the kyber crystal projects the color of the lightsaber depending on the force users will and abilities. Hence, in this episode, when the Sith wielded the lightsabers, they were all red. However, previously we were told that each crystal has its own color and when a Sith kills for the first time and the kyber crystal is soaked in blood, it becomes a red lightsaber. So, in essence, Star Wars: Visions has changed canon to the Star Wars universe.

Speaking of lightsabers, all ten episodes had different versions of the legendary weapon. Some looked like they do in the movies while others looked like a katana or bladed-version of a lightsaber. There was even an spinning umbrella lightsaber . . . Talk about deadly! The style of animation differed in each episode, but you tell the anime influence from the stylized drawing of the characters to the way they animated it all together. I mean, The Twins reminded me of Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill while TO-B1 had the style of Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo. It made each episode unique as they told their story.

I hope that this is the first in anime storytelling from the Star Wars universe. I want to see more! These are definitely ones to watch.

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. 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 latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers. Get ready for The Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series, coming soon, and the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky Pirates.

Author interview with InSpiris Audio Magazine with my friend and shipmate, Spencer Webster

I had the great opportunity to be interviewed by my shipmate and friend, Spencer Webster, for his new prodcast, InSpiris Audio Magazine. Spencer and I met during my active duty days in the U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). We stayed in touch, even after we retired from the Navy. Spencer is working on a new initiative, a podcast called InSpiris Audio Magazine, and I was honored to be the subject of one of his first interviews.

We talked about my progression as a writer, everything that inspired me from anime to comic books and fantasy authors, and how I develop my stories in the Forever Avalon series and my other WIPs. Click on the link below to listen to the interview on YouTube or you can find him on Spotify.

Spencer Webster is a novelist, a storyteller and a retired U.S. Navy Sailor. He also has a million zillion creative ideas and never enough time to make them all a reality. So he’s diving down on a few prioritized goals and InSpiris Audio Magazine is one of them. He wants to learn what is creativity to other people and wants to share stories about what he finds. Spencer Webster is the author of Island of the Lost Soul, a book for sale on Kindle. He believes in the magic of inspiration and imagination and is confident there are a lot of people who might share their magic with him, and in turn with you. Spencer lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife.

Spencer is always looking for creative and inspiring people to interview for his podcast. You can contact him at InSpiris-Podcast.com. Also, make sure you subscribe to his podcast and on YouTube to listen to all his content!

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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.

Why are cutesy, adorable, totally not my thing but I can’t stop watching it, anime so much fun to watch?

Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Maxed Out My Defense, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level anime

I love anime! It is an art form unto itself. There are some lines that anime crosses (Redo of Healer, for example… and I will never understand the brother/sister love thing) but overall, I can’t stop watching it. My wife doesn’t understand my obsession either (what spouse does) but I feel the same way about her obsession with “90-day Fiancé” so, we’re even.

I usually watch the more intense anime (Attack on Titan, Space Battleship Yamato, DemonSlayer) and love Isekai (transported to another world for those uninitiated) anime (Overlord, Reincarnated as a Slime, Jobless Reincarnation) but lately, I found myself drawn to cute anime. It’s weird, but I like watching it, mostly because they make me laugh… And yet, watching it feels so wrong.

I mean, here are cute, adorable characters put in hilarious situations that just makes me laugh. Their cuteness is almost sickening, and yet, I can’t take my eyes off of it. Take the tale of Maple in Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Maxed Out My Defense… The main character, Maple, is so OP (over-powered for any non-anime watchers) that its hilarious as to what trouble she gets into and how much more powerful she gets to get out of said situation. I mean, in a fantasy VRMMO (Virtual Reality Massively Multi-Player Online), she can transform into a giant monster or super-mech. Its so ridiculous its laughable, and I can’t help but enjoy it.

Another favorite of mine is Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and its just as adorable as it is catchy. I mean, the opening theme song alone is one of those mind-numbing tunes you can’t get out of your head. All of the dragons are so OP that even a simple game of four-square becomes competitive and dangerous (for the humans that is). I love it! In this one, I think its the heart-warming relationship between Miss Kobayashi, Tohru and the others. The dragons (in human form) don’t understand humans but they are learning about them through Kobayashi and her friends. And, for goodness sakes, who wouldn’t want a little dragon like Kanna for a daughter. She is so freakin’ adorable it isn’t funny!

Like I said, I know this is weird and I would probably be labeled a freak (or something worse) in most cultural norms, but it’s a fun addition to have. These anime are even more of an escape than the regular ones. In Attack on Titan or even My Hero Academia, there is a hint of surrealism within the fantasy element that puts you into these life or death situations. Even Sword Art Online, in all its fantasy video game world, make life and death real for the viewer. I dare you watch the death of the Moonlit Cats in Episode 3 (Red-Nosed Reindeer) and not cry even a little. Sachi just breaks your heart.

These cutesy anime are the breath of life, a little fun to escape the harsh reality of the world we live in. The violence, political sniping, racial tensions, and pandemic are swept aside when I watch anime like these. I laugh, and we all need to laugh to make our bad days brighter. Watching anime like these do that for me. The characters are relatable (at times) and yet human. For example, Fafnir in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is this all powerful dragon of darkness, willing to exterminate all human life. And yet, he is content to sit and eat curry (mild) and play video games all day and night with his roommate (Kobayashi’s otaku co-worker). The relationship between the two is a breath of fresh air and fun to watch.

They’re not cutesy, kid anime like Pokemon or Digimon. Even when my own children were small and watched these shows, I never got into them. They don’t have the same appeal to me as the anime today. I think, as my wife likes to remind me, I’m still a “big kid inside” and these anime bring that spirit out in me. She doesn’t like the fact that her husband still watches “cartoons” but this is different. Anime is on a whole other level and I believe I associate with it more, as many people today do. Like I said, to me, anime is an art form and should be appreciated and enjoyed.

So now, I’m waiting patiently for Season 2 of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and in the meantime, I found a new one to watch… an Isekai anime called I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level. I don’t know what it is, maybe the big, floppy witch’s hat, but this anime makes me laugh. I mean, she’s reborn in a new world as an immortal witch and just takes it easy by killing slime monsters for 300 years. Now, she’s so OP that her easy life is now fraught with danger. I love it, it’s freakin’ hilarious!

There are others like Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun, KonoSuba, and How Not to Summon a Demon Lord that are just as idiotic yet hypnotic to watch. Like I said, I don’t know what it is specifically about these anime but I just can’t get enough of them. You should watch them too! They’re good fun, and we all need that once in a while!

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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.

Attack on Titan is a “binge-worthy” anime, so catch up before it ends

Attack on Titan Season 4: Release Date, Trailer, Episodes, and News | Den  of Geek

If you haven’t watched the anime Attack on Titan, you better start now! The final season of AOT just started (check out Crunchyroll or Funimation) and it is binge-worthy for any weekend watch party. I mean it, you need to watch it NOW!

For those not familiar with the anime, Attack on Titan is based on a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama. It is set in a world where humanity lives inside cities surrounded by enormous walls that protect them from gigantic man-eating humanoids referred to as Titans. The story follows Eren Yeager, who vows to exterminate all the Titans after a Titan brings about the destruction of his hometown and the death of his mother. He joins the Scout Regiment to patrol the areas outside the walls to take his fight to the Titans, but instead discovers so much more about himself, the Titans, and the people behind the walls.

The anime is horrific and brilliant. The battles are animated with such precision and realism it puts you right there (Levi vs. Beast Titan… AWESOME!). The characters are memorable and draw you into the story, although many complain that Eren was a whiner in the beginning of the series (including me). However, after the five year time skip between Season 3 and 4, Eren has really come out of his shell and is the leader he intended to be. I’m not going to give SPOILERS here, for obvious reasons, but there is a lot to take in.

The first thing that grabs you about Attack on Titan is the whole mythology. You don’t know whether its science fiction or fantasy, or a bit of both. The idea that a single race, the Eldians, were born as the “Subjects of Ymir” and gave them the power to transform into Titans. It is their spinal fluid that allows other Eldians to be transformed into Titans. Another race, the Marleyans, were once slaves to the Eldians but revolted and took control of them. It was Marley who put the Eldians on Paradis Island (where Seasons 1-3 take place) behind the walls, trapping them there to better control the “Devils” as they call them. It’s confusing to try and explain everything here, safe to say, watching the series explains things so much better. It’s also easy to understand why the two races hate each other and are at the core of the conflict.

Power of Nine Titans in Attack on Titan - OtakusNotes

There are common Titans, i.e. Eldians transformed into Titans through spinal fluid injection, and there are the “Nine Titans.” The Nine are the most powerful Titans whose power can only be passed by (a) being born with the power of one of the Nine or (b) another Titan eats one of the Nine (in human form) and gains its power. The Nine are the Attack Titan, the Beast Titan, the Colossal Titan, the Armored Titan, the Cart Titan, the Jaw Titan, the War Hammer Titan, the Female Titan, and the Founding Titan. Eren Yeager possesses both the Founding and Attack Titan powers, which is why the AOT story centers around him. The Nine are the power behind the Marleyan military forces and what has been driving the story from the very beginning. We’re just getting to see that now in Season 4, but those who read the manga have known this all along. In any case, the Nine and the flawed, vulnerable, and quite human characters behind them make this story so incredible.

Speaking of characters, this entire series is character-driven with such diverse characters that you love to hate and hate to love. Eren, Armin, and Mikasa are the lifelong friends centered on throughout the anime. You see a love interest potential between Eren and Mikasa, but he is so focused on his revenge that he doesn’t see it. Then there’s the others in the Scout Regiment–Hange, Levi, Connie, Sasha, Historia, Jean, Commander Erwin–plus many more that died too soon throughout the series. And of coarse, the other Titan wielders–Annie, Reiner, Bertholdt, Zeke, Pieck, Galliard (and Ymir)–and those in the wings (i.e. Gabi and Falco). They all had such unique personalities, ideology, expressions, and back stories that make you look at each one and think, “I know someone like that” every time. We laugh, cry, scream, and cheer them on at every moment in every episode.

Lastly, there’s the technology used in AOT. It’s steampunk in a weird, modern way. I don’t know a geek out there that doesn’t want their own ODM (Omni-Directional Mobility) gear to fly around on. And in the anime, the flow is so brilliantly animated that you are actually flying through the trees or across city skylines with the scouts (Levi vs. Kenny fight scene… Another AWESOME!). It’s going even more into a relegated steampunk world in Season 4 with airships, “Thundersticks” and the new ODM gear. It’s going to be an exciting season to watch.

This is the final season of Attack on Titan is in full swing, so if I need to remind you again, binge it if you haven’t watched AOT already. Get through the first three seasons, wrap yourself in a Mikasa red scarf, give the scout salute (look it up if you don’t know how to do it) and dive into the final season. It’ll take a long weekend, plenty of beer and pizza, but you can do it. Trust me, it’s better than a weekend D&D session.

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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.

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. 

Wallpaper art, Sword art online, Sword Art Online, CAO, Kirito, Sinon  images for desktop, section сёнэн - download

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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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.

Steampunk is the future of science fiction, from the past

Steampunk Paris | Steampunk artwork, Steampunk art, Steampunk airshipSteampunk is defined as “a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.” To me, it’s modern technology with a Victorian twist. This genre has been on the rise with its push in video games with the award winning Bioshock or The Order franchise, TV series like Steampunkd, and in books, starting with the Godfather of Steampunk, Jules Verne, to authors like Cherie Priest and Michael Moorcock.

Some people view it more as a fashion style, combining Victorian-era sensibilities with brass fittings, gauges and gears. Weird optics, mechanical arms, airships and powerful weapons of steam, chemicals, and electricity are the backbone of steampunk style, but again, it’s the story behind the style that makes it appealing.

Jules Verne is the undisputed father of the Steampunk movement. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea will always be the epitome of steampunk. I always imagined a meeting in France between Nikola Tesla and Jules Verne in the spring of 1882, discussing the possibilities of Verne’s creations using Tesla’s technology. Wouldn’t that be something? It’s actually the basis for a steampunk novel I’ve been working on, Corsair and the Sky Pirates, but that’s another story for another time. To me, this would be the ideal setting of where it all began. The birth of Steampunk as we know it today.

“Steampunk is an eclectic world of cogs and rivets. It is airships and goggles and steam. It is romance. It is travelling on clouds and diving beneath rugged waves. It is adventure.” ― Aether Emporium

I felt the Steampunk desire today, So I watched "Steamboy" and ...One of the best representations of Steampunk in film is the Japanese animated film, Steamboy. Though most of the Steampunk technology in the film was represented by weapons, it is still a wonderful tribute to the genre. Steamboy tells the story of Ray Steam, a British boy in 1863 England, and how the invention of a “steamball” pitted Robert Stephenson, the first master of the steam engine, against Ray’s father, Edward, and his “Steam Castle” at the London Exposition. It’s style, look and feel could make any Steampunk aficionado jump for joy. Another great example of Steampunk is the Japanese TV series, Fullmetal Alchemist. It combines the style and look of Steampunk with alchemy and magic.

Steampunk inventor/author/mechanic Jake von Slatt said, “To some, ‘steampunk’ is a catch all term. To me, it is essentially the intersection of technology and romance.” That’s quite an opinion. I think Steampunk does have a bit of a romantic flair, especially in the wardrobe. Men’s attire is very masculine in Steampunk while the women are sexy and feminine. In both cases, the trend is very fashion forward, evoking strength and power while being strangely attractive.

“Steampunk is…a joyous fantasy of the past, allowing us to revel in a nostalgia for what never was. It is a literary playground for adventure, spectacle, drama, escapism and exploration. But most of all it is fun!” ― George Mann

I’ve started to bring some Steampunk into my own writing. Though the Forever Avalon novels are more medieval fantasy, in contrast, through my stories, they are moving forward in look and technology. Like Fullmetal Alchemist, I am trying to weave those elements together with things slowly coming of age. In my new novel, The Outlander War, I am leaning more towards the Renaissance while keeping some of the medieval fantasy elements there.

I created weapons I call GunStars, named after the ships in The Last Starfighter movie (one of my favorite sci-fi movies of the 80’s). They look like oversized flintlock pistols, using cartridges containing alchemical mixtures that, when combined with the magic within the GunStar, fires explosive rounds. From fireballs and ‘magic missiles’ to acid rain and hail, these weapons make even the more novice warriors more formidable.

I realize that these creations of mine are not 100% Steampunk, but they were inspired by it. Steampunk is as Jake von Slatt said, “an intersection” of technology and whatever your imagination brings to the table.” Don’t think of it as outdated, but rather a futuristic twist on history. That’s some that can spark the curiosity of any reader.

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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!

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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.

I have a long way to go as a storyteller and a writer

Sorry I’ve been absent from the blog for a while. I’ve had some personal issues to deal with, which I’m sure we’ve all had. So now, I’m ready to jump back into it.

In recent months, I’ve read over 15 books and binge watched several hours of anime. In that time, I’ve written maybe 20 pages in my current novel. I don’t know if it’s simple writer’s block or a lack of inspiration. I mean, I have my story outlined, I know what I want to say, but I just can’t put it down on paper (or the computer screen in my case). So what do I do, I read and I watch anime to motivate me; but instead, I find myself lacking… Lacking as a storyteller, as a writer, just lacking in general.

I find that my stories are, sometimes, less than. I find missing pieces, repeated words or sentences, and blatant plot holes. It’s a mess, and quite ddemoralizing.

I know it sounds kind of like a defeatist attitude, but it’s really just a reality check. I thought I was pretty good, very proud of my imagination and the stories I’ve been able to weave together. But, as I read other people’s work and watch the sometimes in depth story arcs you find in anime, I got a sense of humility, a longing that what I was doing just wasn’t enough. I still have a long way to go.

We all have our own shortcomings, and I aspire to be better, but at 56, it’s hard to find myself ever getting there. I know there are those authors who didnt get published til they were older, but I could never begin to compare myself to them.

I have to find my own voice, and to be honest, I thought I did. When I first wrote Forever Avalon, I thought I did a great job. The story was, to me, a perfect story. Then my mom read it, and gave me two pages worth of spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and othere corrections. That was a humbling experience to say the least.

It took that experience to help me develop my writing, the storytelling process, and even how I edit to further my style and capabilities. However, I still find myself staring at that computer screen from time to time. I know the story, I know how its supposed to go, but it’s just sitting there.
I think it’s a form of self doubt. My books are self published, I’ve put in more money into them than I’ve made, and with my latest book (The Outlander War) looming, I worry how it will do.

That comes with the territory for any artist, whether you be a writer, a musician, a filmmaker, etc. Frustration in your work spurs lack of inspiration, self doubt, and stress like you cannot believe. I’m trying to find the motivation for me to write these stories and not to doubt myself as a storyteller. It’s just a matter of time, and patience.

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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 iUniversepublishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.