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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Just Finished Reading… A-List For Death by Pamela Hart. Sydney: HarperCollins, 2022.


If you haven’t read the first book in this series, Digging Up Dirt, reviewed here, it probably won’t matter too much, though you will probably go back and read the first one after reading this. 

Poppy McGowan works for the ABC doing a children’s TV program on various different themes which she then has to research before writing them. As a result, she knows quite a bit about a lot of subjects, such as “People Who Help Us: Police.”. 

She also seems to have a knack for finding dead bodies and solving the crime. In the first book, the body was an unpleasant archaeologist found in Poppy’s own home that was being renovated. In this one, the body is found in the corridor of a retirement village. 

That, however, happens about halfway through the book, after Poppy’s aunt Mary’s best friend Daisy is found bleeding to death in her bathroom. Fortunately she is taken to hospital in time, but Poppy has to deal with Daisy’s family, including her rock star son Jonathan and her stepdaughter and her son Oscar. There are some issues about a family mansion in England, but it’s not the obvious one about a will…

Despite the murder this is very much a cheerful cosy. My favourite scene is when Jonathan has disappeared in the streets of Sydney and his fans are alerted via social media. Suddenly the streets are overflowing with searchers and people taking advantage of the crowds to sell them stuff, including sausages.

Reading the line “Where five or more Australians gather, there shall be a Sausage Sizzle. It may even be a law” I couldn’t stop laughing. It means more to Aussies, of course, because of the famous “democracy sausage” sold at election polling booths as a fundraiser, but if this doesn’t mean anything to you, you might think about Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork, where people do exactly this when a crowd gathers, for whatever reason.

Poppy’s own issue is raising money herself to go on a dig in Jordan with her gorgeous archaeologist boyfriend, Tol - and try solving the mystery, because Tol is a suspect.

If you enjoy Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman novels, this is the series for you.

Both books are now available in all the usual places, including Book Depository. 

They are also available in ebook, both in Apple Books and Kindle. I’m giving you the Australian link, but it’s available on the US Amazon site as well, and certainly other Amazon sites. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Celebrating A Biblical Heroine - Ruth!


A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the Jewish festival of Shavuot. It is traditional to eat dairy products during this time, so I made cheese blintzes for Mum and me, as I was at her place at the time. I made crepes filled with cottage cheese and sultanas, then baked them in the oven. They turned out well, given I hadn’t made them in years.

This festival is about receiving the Torah, but the Biblical book connected with it is the Book Of Ruth, which mostly takes place during the barley harvest in Bethlehem. 

The story is one I’m fond of, and it has been made into a novel and a film. 

The Biblical tale is very short, and goes as follows. Mum and Dad, Elimelech and Naomi, and their two boys, Mahlon and Chilion, migrate from Bethlehem in Judea to the pagan kingdom of Moab, to escape a famine. The boys grow up and marry two lovely local girls, Orpah and Ruth. Unfortunately, Dad and both boys die and Naomi decides to go back to her home town.

“Girls,” she says, “you have been amazing wives who made my sons happy. Go back to your parents and find other husbands and I hope you are happy again, you deserve it.” 

Orpah gives her a kiss and leaves. Ruth refuses. Naomi protests that this is plain silly, she can’t supply Ruth with another husband. But Ruth insists on staying with her ma-in-law and the two women go back to Judea, where they settle in Bethlehem and gossip soon spreads that Naomi is back, with a daughter-in-law. 

The barley harvest is on and, as widows, they are entitled to glean the fields. Ruth gets to work. The land owner Boaz, a relative of Elimelech, comes out to check his fields and is told about Ruth. He has heard about what happened and is only too pleased to look after the young widow during the working day. He leaves orders that she is to be looked after and supplied with lunch and tells Ruth that she absolutely must stay only in his fields.

The harvest is over and the community gets together for the  threshing and a party. Everyone sleeps on the threshing floor afterwards. On Naomi’s instructions Ruth lays herself down at Boaz’s feet when he is asleep. And then, the Bible tells us, he wakes up during the night and sees this woman lying at his feet!

I’m assuming this is a marriage proposal from her. There is a law under which the closest male relative of a dead man must marry the widow if there are no children, and hopefully father an heir to the deceased.

Boaz says he would love to marry her, but there is a closer relative of Elimelech - he will see what he can do.

Next day, he meets the man, who is okay with giving up any claim on her, and hands him a symbolic shoe - no, I have no idea why a shoe! 

So Boaz and Ruth live happily ever after and give Naomi a little cutie called Obed to make her happy. Obed becomes the father of Jesse, the father of King David.

It’s a sweet story, but I don’t think of it so much as a romance as the story of two women of different generations who love and look after each other. Ruth didn’t have to leave her country and family, but she did it - for her mother-in-law! Not mother, mother-in-law. And she makes that famous speech: “Where you go, I will go, where you live, I will live, where you die, I will die and there will I be buried. Your people shall be my people and your God my God.”

The romance is an extra. Boaz has heard what Ruth had done and admires her for it. 

The novel The Song Of Ruth, by Frank G. Slaughter, probably out of print, but worth finding (on ABEBooks, perhaps), focuses on the romance element. In it, Ruth is a Moabite priestess of the god Chemosh, to whom children are sacrificed. She falls in love with young Judean Mahlon and it goes on from there. But Tob, the closer relative, isn’t keen to give her up, so Ruth and Boaz have to think of a way to get him to give up the claim.

Film poster. Fair use.

Slaughter wrote a screenplay for the film version, which came out in 1960 as The Story Of Ruth, but someone else rewrote it. However, it is very recognisable if you have read the book, which I have.

It has an impressive cast. The title role was played by Elana Eden, a young Israeli actress whose first film it was. She didn’t become famous, but was a successful jobbing actress afterwards.

The others are perhaps better known. Stuart Whitman, who played Boaz, did a lot of acting work; apparently he did well enough that he didn’t have to continue acting. He did, anyway. Look him up on IMDB for details of his many other films.

Tom Tryon, who played Mahlon, the first husband, did give up acting for a very successful career as a horror novelist on the lines of Stephen King, except his novel Harvest Home came out when King was just getting started. His first novel, The Other, came out in 1971, after he had been inspired to write horror fiction by the film Rosemary’s Baby. I do recommend Harvest Home, by the way. I’ve read the book and seen the mini series and it is scary

You will probably know Peggy Wood, who played Naomi, better as the Mother Abbess in The Sound Of Music.

The King of Moab was played by John Banner, whom you will definitely know best as Sergeant “I know nothing! Nothing!” Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes

The film has aged a bit, but the score - by famous film composer Franz Waxman - is lovely, and it’s worth finding a copy if you can, as an example of 1960s Biblical movies(I suspect the budget was a lot smaller than those for the Charlton Heston films of the period!). I found a DVD very cheaply, along with another Bible epic, Esther And The King, starring Joan Collins in one of her few non-bitch roles.

Or you might consider going back to where it started - the Bible!

Monday, May 30, 2022

On Returning To Reading Fan Fiction

 I have done a few posts on fan fiction here, though not recently. I wrote about 150 fan stories in my time, based on series such as Star Trek, Blake’s 7 and Robin Of Sherwood, then stopped when I, a. ran out of ideas, in the middle of a story and b. started getting paid to write. 

What is fan fiction, in case you aren’t familiar with it? It’s using existing films, TV shows, books and even games to write fiction of your own. Some fan stories are very good, others appallingly badly written, but even those have their fans, something I know from comments made on them. 

Not everyone stopped when they started being paid. Jenny Pausacker, an Aussie YA novelist who moved to England, was a big fan of Kerr Avon, one of the protagonists of Blake’s 7, and wrote online fanfic under a pen name(may still be doing it, I never found out what the pen name was). She even wrote an Avon-like character into a novel. Kerry Greenwood(best known for her Phryne Fisher books) said she composes Dr Who fanfic in her head. Not long ago, I told Diane Duane, author of the Young Wizards series, on Twitter, that I had read some of her fan fiction way back when, and her reply was, “What makes you think I have stopped?”

I have several shelves of fanzines, bought in the days when people were publishing them in print. I even edited a few myself! 

But nobody is doing that now. There are fan fiction web sites; the best known one is Fan Fiction Net, which publishes stories from a huge number of universes. I used to read stories on that site, mostly based on books. 

Some were based on the Harry Potter series. Draco Malfoy was a popular hero in those, because everybody loves a bad boy, right? Even Professor Severus Snape had his own Mary Sue tales. In one of them, written before the final book explained why Snape had no love interest in his life, he marries the niece of Auror  Madeye Moody and they move to Sherlock Holmes’ cottage. 

My favourite was a humorous Lord Of The Rings story, “Fellowship Of The Thousands” in which the Fellowship leave Rivendell accompanied by an entire army of Mary Sues - humans, elf maidens, Dwarf girls, etc., more than enough for each of the Fellowship members. The story is told from the viewpoint of Boromir, who is resurrected when his own Mary Sue cries over his dead body. A very funny tale that has great fun sending up the tropes.

By the way, I used to know the fan writer who coined the term Mary Sue to describe the sweet young thing who has a PhD at 16, is related to Spock by adoption and is adored by the entire bridge crew. The author’s name is Paula Smith and she wrote a tongue in cheek piece only a few hundred words long using every trope she could think of in that type of story, with a heroine called Mary Sue; I have lost track of Paula(my pen pal), but I’m betting she never dreamed how far her little story would go.

Another friend, Diane Marchant, unwittingly started slash fiction, ie erotic m/m stories, called slash because it started with Kirk/Spock. She wrote something erotic on the end of a letter to someone big in Trek fandom, as a joke, and next thing she knew it had been published and everyone was doing their own stories about what Kirk and Spock get up to behind the scenes; while people take it very seriously these days, Diane’s preferred pairing was Spock and Nurse Chapel. She has passed away, so no chance to ask her now how she feels. It has moved on to many fandoms, but in those days all we had was Star Trek, and only the original series.

As I said, I used to read the stories on Fan Fiction Net, but I’ve now discovered Archive Of Our Own, which I prefer because you can download stories as e-books and delete them when finished - or when they turn out to be too dreadful to finish. Furthermore, some inspire or commission fan art, taking me right back to the days when I was reading and publishing printed fanzines.

 Many authors write entire sagas, some well over 100,000 words long, publishing a chapter a week. It has got me thinking; if fan writers can do a chapter a week, why can’t I, in my own universes? Something to think about.

Meanwhile, I’m back to reading fan fiction, something I haven’t done for quite a while. I will never write it again, but it’s fun to pick a universe and a genre on the web site and read stories set in that world. Some of them are so good that I want to tell the author it’s time to move on to create their own universes. Of course, I may very well be reading something by Diane Duane or Jenny Pausacker, for all I know…

Others will never sell anything, but they are having fun and even they have their fans. 

So why write stories set in someone else’s world? When I started writing it, it was mostly because our show had been cancelled and we wanted more. Sometimes it was because there was something that didn’t make sense and we wanted to fill in the hole. Other times, we wondered what happened after the episode, or “what if”? 

And then there are those fan writers who create their own characters in someone else’s universe. In a way, Star Trek: Lower Decks, a very funny animated series set on one of Starfleet’s less important ships, about a bunch of Ensigns, reminds me of a series of fan stories written in a fanzine published by my friend Paula Smith. It feels like fan fiction. 

These days, there are even fan videos on YouTube. There is a film about the three Black sisters from Harry Potter, Narcissa, Andromeda and Bellatrix, written, filmed and performed by fans. I found another film set in the Blake’s 7 universe, with original characters. 

Who knew, way back when we were just wanting more Star Trek that it would come so far? 

Anyone willing to admit here to writing fan fiction, or even just reading it?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Happy World Dracula Day!


Vlad the Impaler. Public Domain.

So, I am told it’s World Dracula Day! Isn’t it amazing how many things have their own day? 

I remember researching the real Dracula for my very first book, Monsters And Creatures Of The Night. He was called Vlad the Impaler for a charming habit he had of impaling his enemies, but it was not his only fun thing. There is the story of how he treated some diplomats who didn’t remove their hats in his presence. Anyone else would have had his minions snatch the hats off them, but not Vlad - he got those hats nailed to their heads! Another time, when out riding, he spotted a peasant whose wife had clearly not been doing her job at keeping his clothes tidy. The wife was executed and Vlad, in his “kindness”, gave the man a new wife.  

Despite all this and more, he became a national hero in Romania for defending the country in the 15th century. I think the family was still around in the present day, though they had to adopt someone to keep going. 

In the 19th century, an Irish theatre man called Bram Stoker wrote a novel we all know. Dracula was not the only vampire novel around, but it’s the one we all think about when we think vampires, isn’t it? 

The novel is surprisingly easy reading. It’s written in the form of letters and diary entries. I do recommend it if you haven’t read it yet. You should be able to find it on Project Gutenberg. 

A thing you may not know if you haven’t read it is that Dracula doesn’t have to hide out in the dark. In fact, he turns up in daylight in one scene. But being out in daylight weakens his powers, so not his preferred time to be out! 

There is a play based on the novel - I was involved with a production when I was at university - and films were being made from the silent era onwards. The most famous, of course, was the 1931 version with Bela Lugosi, who was buried in his Dracula cloak. There have been so many versions since then that it’s too much to discuss here, but you have probably seen at least one.

But the novel has inspired so many books as well, and influenced the view of vampires in general.

My favourite is Dan Simmons’ novel Children Of The Night. In it, Dracula actually is Vlad the Impaler and he is not undead. The vampirism thing is hereditary; using blood makes the cells of the lucky ones regenerate, keeping them alive and well for centuries. Vlad is still around and he thinks the Stoker novel is dumb. He has replaced a love of conquest with a love of business and done very well. And he is fed up with his family…

Another favourite was Anno Dracula, first of a series by Kim Newman. Dracula has succeeded in wiping out his enemies and married Queen Victoria. Suddenly it’s fashionable to be a vampire! The upper crust all over England are doing it. The other stories are set later, in a world where there is a vampire section on planes. 

Of course, the view of vampires has changed from the time of  Dracula. Twilight anybody? There was a YA novel I read, I wish I could remember the title and author, in which a nerdy teenage boy claims to be a vampire to get girls.

In fact, our students - the girls, anyway - went wild over Twilight. I don’t think I could get any of them interested in a villain vampire like Dracula. 

What do you think? Do you like your vampires villainous or prefer them sexy? 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

On Re-Viewing The Day The Earth Stood Still

Movie Poster. Fair Use.

 I have just finished re-viewing the Robert Wise film, The Day The Earth Stood Still, with Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.  It’s an old favourite of mine, comfort viewing from many years ago. I do have the ebook of Farewell To The Master, on which it’s based, but haven’t got around to reading yet. 

It came out in the early 1950s, a time when most SF movies were about alien invasions, with scary beings from other worlds. This one showed sympathy to the alien and made a good point about the people of our world not necessarily being the good guys. 

In case you aren’t familiar with it, Klaatu, the hero, has been sent to Earth with a message. Basically, it’s like neighbours complaining about the noise from next door. He comes from a group of planets which live in complete peace because they have to. Their police force is made up of robots which can wipe out entire worlds that misbehave! He brings one with him, Gort.

 Klaatu finally addresses  a meeting of scientists called because the UN members won’t get together except under their conditions and the Americans want him to talk to their President. He lets them know that the neighbours are worried because space flight is in its way and they really can’t be having with that violence coming their way, so fix it or risk being wiped out.

This is after he has been shot at twice, the second time actually killed, but resurrected by Gort.  

It has religious themes - Klaatu escapes from the hospital where he is being kept, and gets a room under the name of Carpenter. He performs a miracle, stopping all electricity world-wide except for hospitals and planes to show his power. He dies and is resurrected. He even refers to “the almighty being”, the only one who knows when he will die again.

There were things other than the story which I appreciated this time around. There is, of course, the amazing music of Bernard Herrmann - especially that theremin in the main theme. 

I also loved what the director did with it. Apart from the main characters, such as Klaatu, young widow Helen Benson and her son Bobby, there were characters who never spoke at all, but who had their own stories to tell. 

There were individual soldiers, gathered behind officers who did have lines. There was a group of French peasants gathered at an outdoor cafe in their village, listening to the radio announcement of the visiting flying saucer. A woman in a taxi smoked as she listened to the cab’s radio. 

These people all had stories of their own - where was that woman going? What did she and the driver discuss afterwards?

  What about the French group? What did they talk about after the radio announcement? Was it just a relaxed cafe visit that turned into more? 

How about that soldier who shot at Klaatu after he foolishly got out a gift for the US President while surrounded by tanks and guns?  He seemed nervous. Maybe he wondered if he should have waited for orders? Or shot to kill?

Even people in the streets seemed to know where they were going and have emotions about what was happening. 

It says something that we do wonder about people who, in any other film, would have just been extras.

Strange, really, isn’t it? I guess it’s something I have noticed and appreciated more after many viewings.

Do you have a favourite classic movie? 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

A Guest Post by David Pauly

 Recently, I received an inquiry from David Pauly, author, lawyer, qualified French chef, who has also written quite a few books in his Nostraterra fantasy series. I’ll let him tell you about it below. Among other things, David’s writing helped him get a wife! 

Take it away, David! 

I have always been interested in fantasy books, beginning with the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.  I always wondered after finishing these series and others what would happen after the story ends. So I set out to create my fantasy world, which tells the story of what happens after the war against darkness is over. 

At the time, I was recently divorced, living in the east mountains of Albuquerque, and besides karate class three times per week, I had a lot of time on my hands.  So one night, I started writing and in a few days, I had some pages, and then the first finished chapter.  I sent this to my brother, another fantasy fan, and he was impressed with my rough draft and encouraged me to continue.  

I had very little self-confidence in creative writing, as I had been told all through school, including university, that my ideas were far-fetched, I had no sense of writing structure and that my grammar was atrocious.  So, I had to conquer a lot of self-doubts to even begin writing.

I had the luxury/curse of being a self-employed lawyer and unless I had morning court, I could stay up the night before and write.  I soon developed a comfortable routine: open a bottle of red wine, light scented candles, and put on the headphones to listen to creative inspiring music, which in my case means progressive rock like Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Tangerine Dream.

 After finishing the book two years later, I began re-writing it again to make it flow properly.  Once done, despite sending out dozens of query letters, the only publisher that would accept my book was a vanity press.  I was determined to see if this would work and ordered 200 trade paperback copies.  Despite my best efforts at trying to sell them myself, it did not work and I got down on myself for a while.  

I only received a couple of reviews and those pointed out that the book still seemed to be a work in progress, with too many plot holes and grammatical mistakes.  I bit the proverbial bullet and hired an editor to review my work.  He provided many examples of where and how I needed to fix my book, and after another two years of back and forth, the book was finished.

At this time, I finally thought about dating again and went on Eharmony to see how it would go.  I met a brilliant woman from Vietnam with whom I had a lot in common, but she was wary of giving me her contact details in Vietnam as I might be a serial killer or some other weirdo!  I sent her the book, which she read, and seeing that I was creative without being too crazy, she initiated contact and we were married 6 months later, and remain happy with our 10-year-old daughter to this day.  

I split the book into three separate novels, to make it easier to market.  The first novel, Assassins, introduces the reader to my world, where I blend the politics of the 1990s and 2000s into a medieval fantasy world.  Despite my editor’s insistence, I could not make an individual antagonist and protagonist; it just didn’t flow with my story.  Instead, the book has several important characters, all flawed in some way, who believe that not only are their motivations self-interested, but they are acting in a way that they believe is best for their race and the world at large.  

Each race has a moderate faction that wants to get along with the other races but also has a radical smaller faction that distrusts the other races and wants to take as much of the world as they can from others.

Finally, one of my hopes in writing this series, and I continue to write the second series, is to inspire others to write their own story.  I would urge you to look at the ideas in which you are interested, the genre is irrelevant, and just start writing to express your ideas and get them written down  You just might surprise yourself that you are cable of writing something that expresses your talent and interests well.

 I know that I did.

David’s books are available from the usual web sites, such as Amazon and Book Depository. If you live in Australia, you can find them at Dymock’s bookshops. He tells me there is about to be an audiobook! 

Monday, May 02, 2022

A To Z Challenge 2022: Shakespeare - Concluding Thoughts


It has been a very enjoyable month, challenging myself with my memories of the Bard. And it’s been a lot of fun hearing from you all, sharing your own thoughts on the works of Shakespeare. Thank you for that.

There were a lot of plays and characters I missed out on because there are so very many. I suppose I could have talked about a few of the sonnets. Just so you know, my favourite is not the one absolutely everyone knows, number 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” but 130, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”, with its gentle humour.

Did you know there is a play he co-wrote, The Two Noble Kinsmen? I have the Riverside Shakespeare which includes it, but not many Complete Works have it. Maybe another year I can find a way to squeeze it in.

But I did cover my favourite plays. 

Every year I wonder if I should take part in the Challenge, and every year I come up with a subject that works for me and brings me fellow bloggers to join in and share the fun. And I like the fact that it makes me write something every day, even if it’s just a blog post.

I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of visitors than I got this year. I’m sorry if it took me a while to return your visits, but I have had some family commitments that interrupted me, making me give priority to posing over anything else. But I will be returning your visits in the next few days. 

I hope you will continue to visit me too, when The Great Raven gets back to normal. I’m planning a guest post and a review in the next couple of days. 

Thanks for your support, guys!