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The 20/20 Vision

Last week I talked about making New Year’s Resolutions, and I offered four resolutions that I will try to complete in the year 2017. In case you forgot, those resolutions are:

Resolution 1: I will successfully pay off all of my credit card debt by putting at least half of my paycheck aside each month.

Resolution 2: I will finish writing the first draft of my third novel (title still undecided) by the end of the academic school year (July 2017).

Resolution 3: Assuming I complete the first two resolutions, my third resolution will be to publish my second novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa, by the end of 2017 in both e-book and paperback forms.

Resolution 4: I will begin work on my 3-year Professional Development Plan (PDP), in order to move from a probationary to a professional teaching license by the year 2020.

I would categorize all of these things as short-term goals. Hopefully, everyone reading knows that there are two types of goals, though, short-term and long-term (short-term again being the ones listed above).

This week I want to expand on that and help you to create resolutions that are long-term resolutions or goals. Sometimes it’s necessary to think about the bigger picture, too. For example, if you’ve ever been asked this question in an interview “Where do you see yourself in five years?” They want to know your long-term goals, and it’s a point of seeing how well you can organize your life because, essentially, completing long-term goals comes down to organization and persistence if I had to choose only two qualities (although I’m sure there are more).

So, this all came about when my friend and I decided to make our goals for 2020. We vacationed together while in South America and have been in contact lots since we have both gone our separate paths but we always talk about our return to South America in 2020, we call it, our 20/20 Vision. Catchy, right?

This return to South America (specifically Chile, Columbia, and perhaps Brazil) would be seen as the incentive, right? Because you have to earn it. So, what are the long term goals I plan on accomplishing before this time? Well, let’s take a look.

20/20 Goal #1: I will have written the first draft of all four books in my series, Guardian of the Core, by the summer of 2020.

20/20 Goal #2: I will have completed my PDP and successfully achieved professional licensure in Secondary English Education.

20/20 Goal #3: I will have set aside a sufficient amount of money in order to take the vacation in question by putting money into a separate account every month.


Okay, so I want you, the readers, to look at these goals carefully. What do you notice? What isn’t on my goal list? Things such as “I will have settled down and have a family by 2020,” “I will have settled down at a permanent job,” “I will have published all of my books,” or even, “I will have published three of my books by 2020.” All of these things do not belong on long-term lists.

So, why don’t I include goals like those? All of them are great goals, and I wouldn’t be opposed by having any of them happen, but why shouldn’t goals like that be included? Perhaps you can already think of the reason. It’s because of this word: indeterminable. All of those goals that I mentioned in quotations depend on outside factors that are beyond my control and that I shouldn’t worry about. Would I like to have a family? Absolutely. But, will I meet the right person by 2020? Who knows. . . By having that as a goal, I am putting myself in a position to search for anyone instead of searching for the right one. Would I like to have a permanent job by 2020? Yes, of course! But, this requires that I like the school district that I end up at in that time, and that the environment is good, the pay is good, and the opportunity for advancement is there. All of those things I cannot control.

Okay, so how about the last couple, the ones about my book. You can control those, why aren’t they up there, you say. Well, you’re right, I can definitely control how fast I work and could potentially get them all published or even three of them published by 2020, but even they have indeterminable factors. For example, any good book needs multiple edits, and it needs people to read it, and these proofreaders have lives as well, I cannot demand that they read something in a month and then send it back to me so that I can stay on schedule. The market has a volatility that I have to be cognizant of and perhaps one year may be better for releasing than another year.

But, what else do you notice? Anything? If you noticed that all of my goals for 2020 are related to my resolutions for 2017, then congratulations, you’re correct. I firmly believe that in order to have good long-term goals, you need to make them relevant to what you are doing now. This has two factors: (1) when you complete your short-term goal, you are completing part of your long-term goal (2) and because of this, you become excited and motivated to continue your resolution instead of fizzling out. This is huge because as I mentioned before two qualities of successfully completing your long-term goals is organization and persistence. If you are currently dating someone you really like and you want to get engaged to them, and you know you want to get engaged to them, well, you don’t wake up with 1000+ dollars one day, you have to set money aside and start planning for the investment of that ring. I’m not going to wake up and have money for this trip to South America unless if I first clear my debt and then continue to put aside money for the trip. This is where organization and persistence comes into play.

So, I ask you this question, what is your 20/20 vision? How would you define your perfect life by the year 2020? I highly recommend you create some sort of long-term goal for your plan because just as completing short-term goals helps with long-term goals, the same goes for short-term goals. By having long-term goals, and having them be relevant to your short-term resolutions, it will hold you more accountable to achieving those resolutions.

Happy goal-setting and as it’s officially 2017 now, I welcome the new you, and the new visions you plan on accomplishing this year and the years to come.

Sincerely,

Michael E. Thies

Goal-Setting for 2017

New Years. It is a time to spend with family and friends. It is a time for partying and staying up late (at least until midnight.) And, finally, it is a time for New Year’s Resolutions. It is a time for change, to break the monotony of your current life. But, many people make the resolutions and then they fall flat and fail within months of trying to do them. The best example of this is the ever popular “I’m going to get in shape this year” resolution. If you are a gym-goer you know how crowded your local gym gets in January and even February but by March it has returned to the same status quo. So, what then makes a good goal? What are good goals?

Let’s examine that first. Here are a few things that I recommend that have worked well for me in the past. If you have ever heard of “S.M.A.R.T Goals” you will find similarities here, as that is how I have always achieved my goals.

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal setting concept presented on blackboard with colorful crumpled sticky notes and white chalk handwriting

Tip #1: Only create one or two goals, definitely no more than three.

Reason: When you clearly have only one or two things to achieve, you can focus on them that much more. It is the same as multi-tasking essentially. You can get one thing done faster and more completely if you only focus on that one thing versus trying to handle multiple things at once. So, with only one or two or three goals, you shouldn’t be so overwhelmed that you quit.

Tip #2: It is not enough to have a goal, but a plan of action.

Reason: Many people can create a goal like, “This year I will get in shape.” You may ask, what is the problem with this? Well, it’s vague. There is no plan of action. Create one. Let’s use the above example. “This year I will get in shape by eating more fruit and exercising more at my gym.”

Tip #3: Be as specific as possible.

Reason: It is one thing to say that you will get into shape this year, but what does that actually mean? Does that mean you will get the six-pack you’ve always dreamed of having? Does that mean dropping two pants’ sizes? Or does that simply mean losing one pound or one kilogram per month? What is it? Define it. And then, come up with a plan of attack for doing it. So, taking the example above, we could say something like: “This year I will lose two pounds per month by exercising more at my gym and eating healthier foods like fruit in order to get into shape.” We have a goal, a plan of attack, and we are specific. This is how you should make your resolutions, and write them down. I always feel as though writing down your resolutions commits you to it more than just saying it to yourself.

– While all of this may be good now and you feel as though you are ready to go, you aren’t. –

Tip #4: Have an incentive.

Some may ask, “Isn’t the incentive the feeling you get by losing two pounds per month? Isn’t the incentive getting into shape or looking better?” My response is, NO. Those are results, not incentives.

To have a good example, let’s put it into the context of bodybuilders. A bodybuilder may say that they want to gain 5 lbs of muscle this year, albeit it will actually probably be a lot more. So, they will eat more meat, increase their protein intake, and get jacked for lack of a better phrase. But, there has to be some sort of incentive pulling them along. That incentive is a cheat day. Every bodybuilder or athlete I know has one. Maybe it’s one day per week, one day per month, but it’s a day where they abandon their rules in order to give into their carnal desires of maybe that bag of potato chips, or a scoop of that ice cream they have been salivating about. By creating some sort of incentive throughout your resolution, or at the end of your resolution, that you ONLY do if you complete it will make you work that much harder for it. The key here is that you have to be true to yourself and ONLY give it to yourself if you earn it. That will make it be that much better.

In the example above of getting into shape. Maybe one plan of attack is eating healthier so you cut out your love of buffets. Well, perhaps an incentive then is you treat yourself to a buffet at the end of each month or every two months.


Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at some of my resolutions for 2017.

Resolution 1: I will successfully pay off all of my credit card debt by putting at least half of my paycheck aside each month.

Resolution 2: I will finish writing the first draft of my third novel (title still undecided) by the end of the academic school year (July 2017).

Resolution 3: Assuming I complete the first two resolutions, my third resolution will be to publish my second novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa, by the end of 2017 in both e-book and paperback forms.

Resolution 4: I will begin work on my 3-year Professional Development Plan (PDP), in order to move from a probationary to a professional teaching license by the year 2020.

 

Okay, many of you are probably wondering, what gives, I have already disavowed my rules of no more than three resolutions. To that point I say, I haven’t. Although there are four, resolution three can truly only happen if the first two are complete and then resolution four is an ongoing one, to be started this year but not completed. Also, I know that my first resolution will be complete as of February or March this year, so my only huge resolution that I’m focused on is number two.

To an extent, I know that all of these are within my grasp if I choose to really go after them. I am confident I can get these done. Also, I have an incentive. Something I want to do if I accomplish all of them (especially number 2) is to take a grand vacation in the summer of 2017. I will want to take a break from writing for a little while, hence the reason I want to finish it before I go. And then if I do manage to publish my second book by the end of 2017, then I can take a nice winter vacation in 2018.

And while all of these are great, this is only just the beginning. In my next post, next week, I will tell you how to plan for your long-term goals as well. But, first, focus on what you are going to do this upcoming year, then come back and see how you can build upon it for later in your life.

Have a happy New Year’s everyone. Stay safe and have fun.

Sincerely,

  • Michael E. Thies

Education In China

 

It has been officially two months here in China, and I finally decided to write a blog post on education over here in China. Why? Well, first and foremost, I’m an educator and these kinds of things interest me quite a bit. Secondly, I haven’t written a blog post for a while, so I figure I should write one haha.

china_education_of_children

Okay, so let’s do it.

Shocked. I think that is the one word that accurately describes my feelings for the education here in China. Shocked. But, I cannot say if this is in a bad way or a good way, it’s just, shocked. In many ways, it’s astounding what these students can do here, but at the same time, it’s horrifying and horrible.

First, let’s set the context for my school and surrounding schools. I am working through a company that has an agreement with a school to come in and teach classes only in English for students who want to go to the United States. So, my school, significantly smaller than the Site School, has its own goals to try and achieve. In a relatively small town in China, Yixing,  a population  of one million, the whole school consists of 2,000 students. My program consists of about 50 of those students. Here is what a schedule looks like for one of my students, Monday – Saturday. Yes, Saturday (although Saturday is only a half day.)

6:45 am – 7:20 am: Morning Reading = students are given a passage of text to read and memorize during the thirty-five minutes. My job is during the last five to ten minutes to quiz them to make sure they have memorized the material.

7:30 am – 9:00 am: Periods 1 + 2 = Each class is 40 minutes long, making it very difficult to achieve things in the course of the class.

9:00 am – 9:30 am: Running Period = Students are taken to the school track and they run, military style, around the track for two to four laps.

9:30 am – 11:10 am = Periods 3 + 4

11:10 am – 11:50 am = Lunch time.

11:50 am – 1:05 pm: Rest period = This is different for my school. The students get to rest so many of them sleep at their desks for the hour. Students at the Site School, however, are assigned another period of class and aren’t allowed to sleep.

1:05 pm – 2:35 pm = Periods 5+6

2:35 pm – 3:00 pm: Running period. Again, students report to the school track and made to run two to four laps.

3:00 pm – 5:20 pm = Periods 7 + 8 +9

5:20 pm – 6:00 pm = Dinnertime

6:10 pm – 9:00 pm = Regulated study time. Students remain in their classroom for three hours under the supervision of teachers and work on homework.

Then, they get to go home. They repeat this Monday through Friday. So, these students have a 14 hour day at school which involves nine class periods, two running periods that total at least one mile, and only one hour for rest. Again, that is for my school, the Site School doesn’t get that rest period.

On Saturday they have a half day starting at 7 am and ending by 11 am. In that regards, the Site School is the same. However, unlike the Site School, our students do not need to come back after noon on Sunday for a half day of schooling there. Yes, that’s right, they only get half a day Saturday and half a day Sunday to rest. It’s awful to see and no longer makes me complain about anything I’ve had in the States.

Because they are so test oriented in China, everything they do is memorization. Yes, this may sound like a generalization, but it’s not. They literally try and memorize everything, from the passages during morning reading to the passages on international tests such as the TOEFL. They memorize the latter just in case they experience the same TOEFL prompt on their actual test. It’s such a flawed system, it’s ridiculous, and it leads to Chinese students not really being able to think creatively or have any of their own thoughts. For a lack of better words or stronger comparison, they are simply machines. Many of the parents of these machines want their students to continue studying even after they are finished with school so teachers get chastised if we give too few homework. All of these things together leads some of the children here having more gray hairs than my grandma.

Also, in terms of schooling, there is even more interesting matters in how teachers are looked upon. So, in Asian culture teachers are actually very valued members of society, they rank right up there as equals to the parents for their children. Knowing that is essential if you are to command a classroom of Chinese students. But, also, I find the society very superficial. What do I mean by this? Well, they like to judge things aesthetically, meaning, if you are handsome you can do no wrong in their eyes. This is actually one of the first things people say to me all the time, “You’re so handsome.” I went to a parent teacher conference with students of a more disruptive class, Senior II, here one of my first weeks in Yixing. I introduced myself, my plan for the students, and asked for questions from any of the parents. None of the parents had any. But, for the Chinese teachers, there was a plethora of questions. Interesting, right?

Finally, another point about schooling: many of the students are arrogant. Really arrogant. This is rather harsh, I know, but let me explain. Students in our program specifically come from wealthier families who can afford to put their students in English-immersion high schools. Next, until just recently (maybe one or two years ago), China had a strict one-child-only policy, so many of these students don’t have only siblings. This, combined with the fact that they come from more prominent families, means they are spoiled beyond belief. Harsh, but true. Because of this, I found it rather difficult to command their attention at times earlier in the year, but now I am getting the hang of it, although it can be a constant power struggle all the time. And, for an English teacher, our subject is viewed as non-important in the eyes of the typical Chinese who usually complete math and science first. This is ironic as they are going to an English-immersion school and all of the tests that they have are based around knowing English, but it is what it is.

This is lengthy, but everything here is what I have experienced personally. No, it may not be similar to other schools, but my guess is that it is. The competition in China is so high for a job that this is the reason that schools go so late and are 6 days a week. If they aren’t, the Chinese fear that their child will get left behind. This predicament, sadly, leaves many of these students with no place to vent their struggles. There are no extra-curricular activities to build comradery and team-building functions with classmates. There is no time for a social life even as 14 hours of their day are in school. There is only time for Sleep. Memorize. School. Study. Repeat.

Teachers at the Site School have it bad as well as they are required to come 6 days a week to teach the students. They are responsible for class sizes of 40 – 50 students (my class sizes are 16-18). Many of them are paid 5,000 – 7,000 yuan per month, this equates to 750 dollars – 1000 dollars every month for the teachers there. My salary is significantly higher as are the salaries of the Chinese teachers in my department.

As a former educator in the States, this is disheartening to see, but it’s definitely given me a new perspective on our education there. If you want to come to China, I suggest to do it. I even suggest teaching in China, the benefits are fantastic, but just be prepared for a culture shock when you get here. It is unlike you have ever seen.

Michael E. Thies

P.S. One quick thing I forgot to mention is that Chinese don’t really believe in holidays. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s say that a Holiday is scheduled for Thursday and Friday during a week. Well, they will schedule the holiday in question for Thursday and Friday and then make students come to school on Saturday and Sunday to make up the classes that they missed on Thursday and Friday. It’s rather annoying as that means sometimes I need to teach on Saturdays and Sundays. It is what it is, like I said before. Shocked. Shocked. That is what I am constantly in whenever I think about the education system here.

Inspiration – What Makes It Happen?

So, this is my first post on this blog for a year or more now. It’s interesting, then, that I should write something about inspiration as I have not seemed to have it for the past year or more. And while that’s not entirely true, I did want to sit back and comment on a few things that I think writers have some trouble with and some easy remedies as I have found that these things have helped me more than I know. Hence, the reason I am writing now.

#1 Problem = Coming up with Ideas

Whenever I tell people that I have written a novel they always ask me two questions to begin. (A) “What is your book about?” … And after I tell them typically the second question is (B) “How did you think of it?”

The second question is the one I want to answer here. To be honest, one of my best friends in high school had a collection of drawings of people and figures. I was fascinated with it and in middle school we went through the process of creating a card game from these figures based off of something like Yu-Gi-Oh. It was an interesting concept with it’s own twist. Anyways, these cards became the characters for a short story that I wrote in school. And then three years later as I was cleaning out my room in high school I found that short story again and I thought to myself, “Well, what would happen if I continued writing it.” So, after many many revisions and character additions and reductions, I arrived at The Trials of the Core by Michael E. Thies. My first novel.

And, although this may be self-explanatory, I wrote because I saw things. It seems elementary but if you take a look at any writer one of their greatest tools is the power of observation — to see something that is beyond the page or beyond the person in question. In Californication, for example, during the first season we see the author protagonist, Hank Moody (David Duchovny), tell a woman who she is based off merely the power of observation. She gets mad (because Moody is not very tactful) and storms off, but under that an analysis is that perhaps she was embarrassed that he was right about her. In the second season we see him shadow the life of a rockstar in order to write a book about him.

And that’s what we do as author, we observe. So, when I saw those drawings in my friends book of sketches, I saw more than just figures I saw people that were dying to come off of the page and hop into a story. And, now, I have actually gotten many inspirational ideas through sleep. I have crazy dreams, and I mean crazy dreams, that I wake up and wonder, “Well, what if that turned into a novel…” So, I jot down what I remember quickly into one of my notepads for writing and at a future date maybe I’ll get back to it and actually write a story or short story about it. Right now, I can’t, because I’m focused on Guardian of the Core but when I finish that series I will need something new to write about and who knows by then!

So, in essence, we get inspiration because we use our eyes and not just physical ones, but a mental eye (your brain as it dreams) and it’s imagination, as well.

Problem #2 = Coming up with sentences

Alright, another problem. Maybe you have a vivid imagination. Maybe you have an idea for a story. But, you don’t have the words. Where can you draw your inspiration from then? Well, I have had this problem, too, with inspiration. Honestly, this is how I solve it.

I read.

I remember that my writing improved so greatly after I started reading The Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. After reading such a great book like that, it makes you want to write. It makes you want to see if you can craft a sentence as perfectly constructed as he does. At least, this was the side effect I had.

Even if a book isn’t necessarily good, like the book I am reading now, I still find it an inspiration, but an inspiration in a different sense. I want to write to write better. i see the flaws of that work and I write and make sure I don’t see any of the same flaws happen in my own book.

But, regardless of if it’s a good book or a bad book there are still ways that it can enhance your writing. Vocabulary, for instance, is something that is built through reading.

Problem #3 = Time for writing

This is probably the hardest issue to deal with. It’s true, there is just not enough time in the day. It gets more complicated when you have a family and a job. I am extremely fortunate that I have a profession, an English teacher, that allows me time for writing. In the States it would be during the summer when I don’t have the hustle and bustle of the school year to contend with. Now, while I’m over in Chile, it’s when I go on vacation to renew my passport. My mother came down to take me on a cruise from Valparaíso down around Cape Horn up to Buenos Aires. It was the best 14 days of my life. And, while on that cruise, I managed to write five to six chapters. I had never been more into my writing (besides when I’ve had to write for a deadline). It was fantastic and I wish I could live on a permanent vacation, but, alas, my books aren’t popular enough for that yet haha. But, maybe one day.

Anyways, like I was saying before, as a teacher not only do I get vacation time, but I get the luxury of being able to teach anywhere. I am currently taking a position to teach English overseas in China for a year, or more, and I’ll have lots of time to explore and write about the places I see. I am positive that Chile and my experiences here will turn up in my writing eventually. In fact, unknowingly, it already has, but it wasn’t as intentional as I would have liked.

So, what happens if you don’t have a profession like mine?

Then you have to go above and beyond in order to tackle this boundary to inspiration. Like the Corona commercials you have to “Find your beach.” Meaning, find a place that relaxes you and where you can write. Ideally, this is a beach, but not everyone has a beach in their backyard. So, without a beach, maybe you can have a beach be your writing den, or living room before the kids wake up, or the kitchen area. The idea is, though, that you need to create a routine that works for you in a setting that works for you.

Analysis 

For me, inspiration comes and goes like the wind, although I definitely do have more inspiration in any of the three situations I outlined above. Unless if I have to, I never force myself to write, because when I do it doesn’t come out as well as I want it to. That is why I stopped writing this blog a year ago when I was cranking out a post per week. Now, I want to continue but at my own pace, maybe at once every two weeks or once a month. I don’t know the exact time table but I had the itch to write a blog post today and that is what I did.

So, the next time you have any type of writer’s block, don’t feel that you have to write. It may be more painful for you to do so. Instead, perhaps try one of the methods outlined above, and then see how you feel. Welcome writing, don’t worship it or feel inclined to do it.

-Michael E. Thies

John Carter Review

john-carter-movie-poster-6

This week’s blog post, like I mentioned last week, is going to be a review. And, because I am doing “Sword and Planet Fantasy” this month, I decided to pick a movie that would go well into that genre. That movie is John Carter produced in 2012 by Andrew Stanton. This is based off the book by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Something I learned within the movie is that one of the initials characters we meet at the beginning is the “nephew” to John Carter, Edgar Rice Burroughs (guess he wanted to put himself into his novels quite literally).

Anyways, before we go further, let’s review what the characteristics of a Sword and Planet Fantasy novel are. They are:

1) There is a hero, usually an Earthman, and he typically uses a sword to fight off an alien race while trying to rescue a damsel in distress.

2) Adventure. Lots of adventure. There needs to be in order to make up for the generally stock-type characters that develop in these types of novels.

3) Anachronistic situations. For example, aliens possessing the technology to use space crafts, but domesticated animals are used for ground transportation.

Firstly, yes, there is a hero and his name is John Carter and he is from Earth. He is a rebel fighter from the southern state of Virginia (as this story takes place during the Civil War, 1881 to be exact). He is rude-mannered but seems to know his way around a fight. He is a loner and no longer is married and with child as they died some years before this story takes place. With that being said, he definitely seems to be a stock-type character as there are not many unique qualities about him, and, in truth, this is fine there are many characters in today’s literature that are not that impressively unique but as long as they grow by the end of the novel then who cares?

During the movie, although there are guns and laser beams a plenty, much of the battling is done using spears and swords. Although, I do admit, some of these swords can materialize with this blue light called “the ninth ray” that is supposedly the source of life and infinite energy. It has a variety of ways that it can be utilized in the movie and freezes people who come in contact with it, also it controls people who are in contact with a source-holder (one of the people who hold a special medallion that utilizes its power). These powers don’t seem to be very consistent as, for example, the main villain throughout much of the story “Sab Than” can utilize this laser beam weapon on his arm given to him by these deity-like beings, but he chooses to use this weapon as a sword most of the time.

These instances speak of the anachronistic situations that are prevalent throughout the movie. Now, did these situations really detract from the story, no, I don’t think so, because the movie did such a good job at drawing us in right away with a lot of action which, what do you know, is the last trait we have to talk about.

Right from the very beginning we get introduced to the two separate warring factions on Mars, or Basoon as it’s called in the movie. A fight scene occurs and Sab Than gets bestowed with a weapon of ultimate power with the claim that he will rule over all of Basoon if he obeys the deity-like beings that stop the warring. There are many more fight sequences throughout the movie but one of the final scenes is a great coliseum type battle with two giant, but blind, white apes with four arms. John Carter does what he does best and destroys them and then goes after Sab Than and tries to reclaim Helium (the name of the city) for the damsel in distress who is meant to marry him.

Although a lot of this is just summarization of the movie, I do it to show that this movie is a definite archetype of the Sword and Planet Fantasy genre. It’s 100% Sword and Planet Fantasy and I can see why it is considered the pedigree for this type of genre. I give the move, in general, a 7/10 because it didn’t mention a few critical things early enough and relied too much on the action instead of character building. This lack of character building also led to lack of a defined intention for some of the characters including the antagonist (we never really know what he’s going to do if he gets his way).

Anyways, do you know any other movies that may fit this genre? Have you seen this movie? What did you think of it? Do you believe, as well, that it fits this genre type? I would love to know, leave your comments below.

– Michael E. Thies

P.S. If you have an idea of the type of fantasy you’d like to discuss next month let me know as well.

What is Sword and Planet Fantasy?

Well, when we define things, just as we defined Epic Fantasy last month, we break down the etymology of the (in this case) phrase. And, maybe not so much the etymology (the linguistic changes the word has gone through) so much as the history of the word itself and what it is in our language today. So, in order to define Sword and Planet we must look at both of those terms individually and continue onward from there.

For most readers this should be review but swords are simply weapons. When I think of swords, I think of medieval and King Arthur and battles and war, although I know that swords have been around much longer than those times. The idea, though, is that it is connotative of this sense of historical renaissance.

Secondly, the word planet is, well, a large mass in space that is comprised of many different substances and some being able to hold life and others not. It moves around a sun and is in some sort of solar system. But, more importantly, when we think of planet, at least when I think of planet, I think of space exploration. I think of traveling and what the future is going to be like. I think of things like Star Wars or Star Trek. In essence, this word is very connotative of a futuristic world.

So, when bringing these two words together, we know that we are going to get a type of fantasy that is archaic, yet futuristic. Interesting, yes? I think so. That is why I wrote my own novel use those ideals. (However, to be fair, once I started researching this type of fantasy much more, I would say mine doesn’t necessarily fit in with it for a couple of reasons).

Alright, so now we have the definition out of the way, let’s take a look at what these characteristics are that translate from what we just broke down.

1) There is a hero, usually an Earthman, and he typically uses a sword to fight off an alien race while trying to rescue a damsel in distress.

2) Adventure. Lots of adventure. There needs to be in order to make up for the generally stock-type characters that develop in these types of novels.

3) Anachronistic situations. For example, aliens possessing the technology to use space crafts, but domesticated animals are used for ground transportation.

In fact, bestsciencefictionbooks.com sums up the major happenings of the plot rather concisely when it says in an article, “a chivalrous man is transported from Earth to an alien planet, the Earthman discovers he is the lone human, the Earthman becomes involved in a conflict between two parties (two factions, nations, or species), he picks the side with the most beautiful woman, the woman is kidnapped, the man takes his sword and goes to rescue her and along the way fights off monsters and alien animals.”

Although there are books that would fit this genre that prelude this, the prototype for this type of book was first introduced to us by Edgar Rice Burroughs through his series, A Princess of Mars. Many of you may not be familiarized with that name, but it is the recently repopularized movie about John Carter who is a Confederate officer and soldier, has taken up prospecting in Arizona after the war to regain his fortune. Under mysterious circumstances, he is transported to Mars.

And that is actually where I am going to segue into next week’s blog post. As you know I try to review a new book or movie that fits the genre each month and as my kindle is still broken I haven’t been able to review anything in terms of reading yet, but I will take a look at this newly put out movie, John Carter, and see if it truly does fit these characteristics that we have detailed here.

So, stay tuned for that. Also, I already have a general idea of the fantasy that I’ll be detailing for next month, but if you have thoughts or comments I’d be willing to take a look at them and try to come up with some alternative!

Thanks!

– Michael E. Thies

Month of March – Sword and Planet Fantasy

I’ve been thinking about what kind of fantasy to try and review, and at the very least blog about, this month and so I’ve decided to do “Sword and Planet” fantasy. I’ve chosen to do this kind because, well, it fits my own genre of fantasy that I write and I just released the cover photo of the second book in the Guardian of the Core series, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa. I figured I’d let my blog followers in on the treat as well and get a glimpse of the new cover reveal.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.56.50 PM

Hope you enjoy the cover. We will have plenty of discussion on this topic of Sword and Planet Fantasy within the coming month so stay tuned!!! Also, if you have a particular book you’d like me to read while diving into this genre a little more, please feel free to share it in the comments and I’ll see if I’m able to take a look at it!

– Michael E. Thies

What I’m Giving Up For Lent

Okay, this doesn’t have to deal with science-fiction fantasy at all, but I figure since Lent just started this past Wednesday, that I’d do a blog post about it to let all of you know a little bit more about me and what I’m doing as an author.

I’m not Catholic and I’m not giving up anything for religious reasons, I just like to participate in it because it’s nice to change things up every once and a while.

With that being said, here is what I’m giving up for Lent: Writer’s Block

I am making it my personal goal to write for 40 days continuously while my second novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa, is copy edited and gets ready for publication. By doing this it will allow me to get further on in the series and make any last minute changes to book 2 if I need to.

Also, here’s another thing that I’m giving up: Laziness

I’ve been contemplating recently about teaching English overseas in Chile for a year after I am done doing my student teaching at Milton High School here in Wisconsin and I am going to thoroughly look more into that option now because I think it would be a great experience for me.

And, finally, the last thing is: Red meat and chicken

I am going Pescatarian for Lent, which pretty much means I’m a vegetarian but I can have seafood and fish. There is more to this part, though, than that. It’s a lifestyle change to hopefully get me back into great shape again so I’ll be going to the gym more routinely, holding myself to higher standards for working out, and just living an overall better and healthier lifestyle.

Is anybody else deciding to give up something for Lent? Let me know. Also, if you would like to pick the genre of fantasy for next month let me know that as well and I can get something put together. Now, I was going to have a review for you by the end of the month and I really was going to read something, but my Kindle broke and I have not managed to get a new one yet. So, I will resume with that review next month if I manage to replace my kindle by then.

Thanks for reading, looking forward to the comments.

– Michael E. Thies

 

The Origins of Epic Fantasy

This month’s fantasy genre is “Epic Fantasy” but where did it begin? We’ll talk about that today!

To start, I think it’s a good idea to break down the term Epic Fantasy into its two separate definitions. These definitions were taken from Dictionary.com

Epic [ep-ik] = heroic; majestic; impressively great

Fantasy [fan-tuh-see] = imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.

Put them together and what do you get??? An impressively great imagination. This is a great short definition for what we would consider Epic Fantasy today. Just naming a few epic fantasy books off the top of my head: George R. R. Martin’s, A Song of Ice and Fire; J.R.R. Tolkein’s, Lord of the Rings; Robert Jordan (pen name), Wheel of Time; Steven Erikson, Malazan, Book of the Fallen etc.

All of these books are MASSIVE. They’re tomes. Literally. Every single one of these authors has, what I would consider, an impressively great imagination. I’m not saying that no other authors do, because every author needs to have a great imagination to write, I should know I am one 😉 But, the scale of these books is just phenomenal. There is so much depth and richness and history behind all of these series. I want to go into detail about how each of them have a lot of depth but chances are if you are reading this then some of those books are already on your bookshelf (and if not put them there) and you know firsthand how much depth there is to them. Just a few quick examples, Tolkein’s series Lord of the Rings is made up of elves and dwarves but he took the time to create an Elvish language for them to speak in his books, he plotted out their history, etc. In Martin’s ASOIAF the story itself rotates around 7+ character perspectives. Each of them is needed in order to tell the essential parts of the story that is Westeros and Easteros.

Okay, so where did this all begin then? Well, although I find it common knowledge because I’m an English Major, many people do not know that the word epic actually has another connotation. Here is another definition of the word:

“noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style”

Classics of literature such as Beowulf, The Odyssey, or The Iliad are examples of “Epics” usually referred to as Epic Poetry. These epics were preserved orally despite that they were long and complex. They had heroes and battles and wars and, most importantly, a world different than our own. They told of stories that made the people listening imagine they were there, fighting the war with the hero. They talked about the mysterious, the mythic, and the magnificent and, like most stories do, they helped explain the nature of the world.

The three examples I showcased also have another great commonality, and this, I think, is where the difference should be noted from epic fantasy to other genres of fantasy. The time period. No, I don’t mean when they were written, I mean the span of time the story takes to be told. These events take place on a world historical scale. Things just don’t happen in one year, they take several years to progress and the heroes find that parts of the world they know are gone or changed at some point in the book. For example, when Odysseus returns home, Troy has been destroyed and the mythic age of heroes is over. In Beowulf he needs to kill Grendel and he does so in one night and then battles the mother soon thereafter. However, Grendel had been a problem to the town for years and years beforehand. Also, it doesn’t stop there, the final battle (with a dragon) takes place 50 years after Grendel is slain when Beowulf is now king of the Geats.

So, when we talk about defining Epic Fantasy, it should be noted that these stories do take place on massive scales not only with the people involved, but with the time involved as well. Also, we should look at a few questions: How significant is the change it marks on its world? How big is the scope of its conflict, and how significant the power of its eventual resolution?

In the next blog post we’ll be looking at answering some of those questions but using some of the more modern epic fantasies that I have acquainted myself with and others that I’ll research online. If you want a particular Epic Fantasy novel researched a little more or you have a book that you think may fit into this category, comment below I’d be happy to take a look into it and see what I can discover.

Hope you enjoyed the blog post. Until next time!!!

February – Epic Fantasy Month

So, in light of the recent trailer for the newest season of Game of Thrones (season 5) which is featured above, I have decided to make February “Epic Fantasy” month. Now, again, this is no world official month for “epic” fantasy, but in terms of breaking up the fantasy genre a little bit more, I wanted to go more indepth with them all so each type of fantasy will have its own month.

What does this mean for you as readers?

It means that I will be discussing the ins and outs of the “Epic Fantasy” genre throughout the month. I’ll be describing it’s origins, it’s traits, and at the end, I’ll have reviewed either a movie or book for you that is in this particular genre.

In terms of Game of Thrones (written by George R. R. Martin), many people consider this an epic fantasy for its depth. If you haven’t read Game of Thrones, I will be the first to tell you that it is a GREAT series. Great actually may even be too diluted of a word for it. I remember my first time reading Game of Thrones, I was completely lost for the first 200 or 300 pages. This style, as an author, is not one you want to live by because many readers wouldn’t stick with you for that long. But, on a friend’s advice, I stuck it out through the end and I’m glad I did because as soon as I was able to decipher and place the massive list of characters George R. R. Martin includes, I was able to enjoy the book.

Not only was this book a tome, yes a tome in the literal sense (the first book was around 900 pages long), but it was huge in terms of characters and places and imagination. The depth and detail given to Game of Thrones and its subsequent books is quite spectacular and the series on HBO does an epic, pun intended, job at capturing it. Although, I do admit to pondering what they are going to do after this season because Martin hasn’t released book 6 yet and this is Season 5 which is going to cover books 4 + 5. I assume they will have enough material for at least another season after 5, but I am not sure at what point they are going to surpass the books because Martin, dreadfully and painstakingly, takes FOREVER to come out with his books. Which, I guess, is fine because its a high quality product, but as readers we just want to devour these and see how it all ends.

Also, in terms of Game of Thrones, there are multi-faceted plots that are interwoven throughout the series that also gives it a touch of its epicness. Not only that but the series span over several years. In fact, in an author’s note in the third or fourth book I believe he mentions the chronology of the book and how this series is spread out over several years of in-book time, not real time. So, that is something else we will need to look at when we decide to discuss the origins and characteristics of epic fantasy, which will be in the next two blog posts.

With all of that said, I hope you enjoyed the trailer, and if you haven’t begun reading the storyline yet, I highly highly highly recommend you start reading Game of Thrones. Like I said, you won’t fully enjoy the first book until like 200 or so pages in, but stick with it, the ending is fabulous and probably one of the most poetic last lines I have ever read.