Happy Birthday to Stephen King!

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Happy birthday to Stephen King, one of the great writers of our time. His work encompasses horror to literary fiction, and I am convinced he will be remembered in the future as one of the very best writers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

I always look forward to reading his next work, and he has given me many years of reading pleasure. Mr. King, happy birthday to you!

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The Courtesan’s Avenger by Kate M. Colby: Themes in a Series

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I would like to welcome author Kate M. Colby to my blog.  In this post, she discusses the issue of themes in a series of novels. Kate is an excellent writer, one I am proud to know. I respect her abilities and writing, and I have used her previous novel The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) in two of my college English literature classes.  So, welcome Kate please as she discusses Themes in a Series:

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 What makes a good book series? Most readers would say a captivating world, strong characters, and an overarching mission or journey. I absolutely agree … but I think there’s something missing there. Theme.

While books can (and should) offer escape and entertainment, they have the ability to do so much more than that. Fiction allows authors the opportunity to explore topics that matter to them on neutral ground, to expose and evaluate unsavory aspects of society, to celebrate all that makes up this wonderful and crazy human experience. As someone who blended sociology and English in university, this is exactly what I try to do in my fiction.

The world of my Desertera series is a steampunk wasteland. It’s about as far from reality as I could run. But the themes within the world really hit home with me, and have with several of my readers, too. My first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter, is a revenge tale. When Aya, my protagonist, was a young girl, the king had her father executed for treason. Therefore, at first opportunity, Aya joins a plot to avenge her father’s death and trap the king into a crime, thus bringing about his execution.

If I’ve done my job as a writer, the readers should be on Aya’s side. They should seethe with anger and root for her to succeed in orchestrating the king’s execution. They should identify with Aya’s quest for self-redemption, love, and the reclaiming of her sexuality. They should be appalled at the social injustices in the world, the stratification of class and wealth, and the hypocritical palace politics – all things that can be found in reality.

When I set out to write the sequel, The Courtesan’s Avenger, I wanted to tackle a lot of these same themes. Class struggle remains a central issue, along with love and sexuality, friendship, and self-discovery. However, I knew I had a responsibility to address the other side of revenge: justice.

I had to face the ugly truth of the morality I had exalted. As much as I respect Aya and her mission, revenge isn’t healthy. Even if it is “justified,” it can turn a good person evil, blind them to their own wrongdoings, and pose troubling moral questions for a society. After all, if Aya can (essentially) murder and (definitely) commit crimes to avenge her father, what’s to stop the other citizens from doing the same to address their own grievances?

Enter Dellwyn and The Courtesan’s Avenger. When one of Dellwyn’s fellow courtesans is murdered, she doesn’t desire revenge or any sort of payback. She wants justice. Her whole goal in finding the killer is to submit them to the authorities and the judgment of law. She doesn’t take justice into her own hands, doesn’t commit any crimes, and even condemns Aya’s actions from the first novel. Dellwyn has seen how Aya’s quest for revenge created rifts in their world, and she refuses to do the same.

This is all a longwinded way of saying that theme, just as much as characters and setting and plot, is a central part of writing a book series. As an author, you have the opportunity to highlight the wrongs and praise the good you see in society. You can help readers gain empathy for the corrupt, question their sense of right and wrong, or just consider an issue they’d never thought about before.

Readers, you have the greatest blessing of all. You get to pick and choose what to take with you. Every book, no matter how thematically driven, leaves a piece of itself with us. Pride and Prejudice encourages us not to judge others too harshly and be open to love, The Girl on the Train reminds us to take responsibility for our actions, and The Picture of Dorian Gray condemns vanity, self-indulgence, and moral duplicity. At least, that’s what I get from those three – your interpretations could be entirely different! You can take the author’s message at face value, mine for deeper meaning, discover something the author didn’t know was there, or ignore it all completely. That’s the beauty of theme.

So, fellow writers, have the courage to experiment and make theme a central part of your series. It’s not just for stand-alone literary fiction novels. And, fellow readers, examine everything the author presents and take whatever it is you need. Every possible meaning lurks between those pages, and you can have whichever one you like.

Happy reading!

Author bio:

Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. Her first series, Desertera, consists of steampunk fantasy novels with themes of socio-economic disparity, self-empowerment, romance, and revenge. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

 

Book links:

The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) – http://books2read.com/the-cogsmiths-daughter

The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2) – http://books2read.com/the-courtesans-avenger

Social links:

Website – http://www.katemcolby.com

Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/katemcolby

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/authorkatemcolby

Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/katemcolby    

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International Reading Year!

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There is nothing official about this, but at this blog, I am declaring that this whole year from September 6, 2016 to September 6, 2017 is International Reading Year! Care to join me and spread the word?

If you like this idea, please tell as many people as you can.

And thank you to various people in the blogging world for suggesting continuing National Read A Book day!

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Writing Quotations

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“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

                                                                     Ernest Hemingway

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“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

                                                                    Stephen King

 

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And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

                                                                   William Shakespeare

                                   A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act 5. Scene 1)

A New Semester!

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Summer is close to ending, and autumn will soon be here, a wondrous season of change.  Among those movements are the leaving behind of summer activities and the return of the academic school year.  The first day of the semester at both schools where I teach, Lehigh University and Muhlenberg College, has arrived. I had a busy summer and taught summer classes, so this is not following on a long break, but I always am excited at the start of a new collegiate year.

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I often write, in this blog, about writing, and that is my other passion, but teaching is still my main field, my main vocation, and my driving force in life. I love to teach, and this semester I have a wide variety of courses; among them are the following: First Year Composition, Renaissance Imagination, Gothic and Horror, and Modern American Fiction. These courses reflect some, but certainly not all, of my areas of study and interest.

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I always feel blessed that I am able to incorporate my love of reading into a field in which I lead discussions about this material. In fact, I am extraordinarily lucky, because I love my work, and I know there are far too many people who do not have this good fortune.

I also love that I have a wide range of students in my classes.  I teach both traditional-age students and non-traditional adult students.  As someone who was an adult student myself, a story for another post, I embrace having adults in my classes.

So, onward with the semester!

Dining With Authors

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It has been a while since I have written a post in this series, so I thought it was time to revisit it. And because I am in the process of preparing to release my horror novel Maledicus: Investigative Paranormal Society Book I in early October, I was thinking about previous horror writers and their works.

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I would invite three important authors of works of horror fiction to join me in a discussion about their writings, and we would meet at a pub for food and pints of beer or ale–always Guinness for me! I hope that this meeting would create a lively discussion of what they consider the most important aspects of their work.

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For this gathering, I would invite Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, who wrote Carmilla (1872), the first novel to feature a female vampire. Le Fanu, from Dublin, Ireland, and who was recognized as a first rate writer of ghost stories introduced a new element into the Gothic Fiction: of both a female vampire and the inclusion of a lesbian element to the story.  This novella is a compelling tale, one that is often overlooked today.

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My second invitee would be Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897), also from Dublin, and the creator of a book, that while not successful during Stoker’s life, became one of the most well-known and best selling books of the 20th and 21st centuries. Stoker’s portrayal of Dracula set the standard for many years for the portrayal of the vampire as a Eastern European nobleman with great power and wealth.  I know that Stoker was not the first to feature a vampire of noble birth, but Stoker’s work is the preeminent and superior book to the second-rate, and I am being kind, novel by Rhymer and Prest: Varney The Vampire. I would go so far as to say that unless you have an academic interest in the literature of vampires, don’t bother reading Varney the Vampire–it is terrible.

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The third author I would invite is the Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, typically not known for Gothic or horror novels, but famous, nevertheless, for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).  In this short novel, Stevenson explores the idea of various elements, such as good and evil, existing simultaneously in the human mind, and his good doctor Jekyll attempts to isolate and remove the evil side, but with terrible consequences.

There are many questions I would like to ask these authors. I would like to know what their concept of evil is–does it exist as part of the universe or part of humanity or both? Where do they think Gothic or horror fiction fits in the world of literature? Did they have other novels they considered writing but never did? And what contemporary themes about society exist in their works?

Are there any questions you would have liked to pose to  these writers?

 

 

Quotations on Teaching

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“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

                                                                              Malala Yousafzai

 

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“There is an old saying that the course of civilization is a race between catastrophe and education. In a democracy such as ours, we must make sure that education wins the race.”

                                                                                John F. Kennedy

 

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“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

                                                                               John Dewey