Thursday, December 26, 2019

"The Witcher" Review: Fantasy Worth Watching

The Witcher Review

I must confess I have been disappointed with the high tech fantasies and science fiction adaptations for a long time. Game of Thrones became such a disappointment (this is my opinion) and left such a bitter taste in my mouth, I will not even list my grievances here. I loved the film, John Carter (should have been  John Carter of Mars), but the world claimed it a flop. I think people will rethink this in the future, as it is a magnificent adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs. But in this era of expensive comic book films with super heroes in tights, I long for  good fantasy or science fiction film. Do not get me wrong, comic book films have a place, but there is a rich library of wonderful fantasy and science fiction literature going back decades that could be adapted today with the  current technology and  some great casting and writing.

Enter, The Witcher.  I was happily surprised. I checked this out on Netflix with little hope. I knew it was based on a series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski and was also adapted to the video game world. I did not care if there was only one big name I recognized (Henry Cavill) in the show, as a good production does not need big  names, just actors cast in the right role. I have never read the books, but I plan to now. I loved it, because it gave us a real hero, one who is not shiny and pure, but an abused warrior who tries to do the right thing. Henry Cavill, though a studly god physically, never really impressed me until  now. He has found his signature  role. His Geralt of Rivia was a seasoned warrior with a painful past. He has issues of abandonment. The transformation to change him into a Witcher made him an outcast, even though his main goal was killing monsters for the people who will not even thank  him.

Geralt of Rivia thinks  before  he slays. He even tries to save some monster others say should die. Sometimes he is successful. He does not like to inflict pain, because he has endured so much himself. He is a hero, though a grey one. He has honor, yet is not a wimp. Geralt of Rivia has a code he lives by. He is alone in the world. what he has suffered would have turned most men insane, but he endures. He has a heart, but keeps it hidden. He is the perfect dark hero you want to cheer. Characters are so crucial to good storytelling, and this world has many. His love, Yennefer,(played by the wonderful Anya Chalotra) is an amazing sorceress and also has suffered in life and paid dearly for her  powers. Geralt's friend the Bard, is one of the only light characters, but is needed to soothe  the darkness of the character's tale. The system of magic the author created for this world is rich and amazing.  The world is gritty and textured.  It is a secondary world where all is possible.  

The story of The Witcher in this first series (it has been renewed-yeah) is jam-packed with intro to characters, the world, and wars. Lots of war. It is a lot to take in at first. I will not go into detail here, as in the mere 8 episodes it served up quite a banquet to explain in my humble blog. 

The bottom line is I enjoyed it and look forward to season 2. I plan to read the novels. And maybe drool a little bit over the image they created for  Geralt of Rivia, the white-haired Witcher. Enjoy something that doesn't have tights. Henry Cavill's performance was restrained but not boring, with rare glimpses of dry humor and layers of emotional pain. His performance goes beyond the physical image, though many actors would stop there. Henry Cavill makes him real and layered. I am now officially impressed by Henry Cavill. I credit the other actors in the series too (too many to mention). These brilliant actors who made these fantastical seem real.

So watch The Witcher and judge for yourself. I loved it. 

More to come later. Until then, read more fantasy!

Verna McKinnon

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Trouble With Tropes

I have been a Geek Girl since I can remember. Science fiction, fantasy, horror (though not the gross stuff),  paranormal-it's all good. However, I have noticed patterns over time that irritate the hell out of me. They are also the same annoyances that plague even regular dramas and comedies, both literary and screen versions. Let me just say-this  must stop! Here is my list of grievances.

1. The Girlfriend Death. She must die in the story, but it will be okay because our hero will have a sidekick. This got old decades ago, but they still force it down our throats. Most tragic science fiction or fantasy tales have the family/girl friend/wife/kids die in some tragic way. let's not forget slaughter of family or tribe. In the end, the hero manages to trudge on with his sidekick. Ugh. They used this a lot in Conan's TV and Film versions (hint: in the book series Conan's parents and tribe did not die. so he did not he need to seek revenge for it). 
Why are the girls/women so expandable? I do not know. I never liked it. The female hero and male hero together could be so much fun. An example of this tired trope is something from the 90's, BeastMaster TV series. Starts out with his love, Kyra, being abducted, and the hunt for her. Finally reunited at end of season 1, she dies tragically (of course, why let her live?) but he bucks up and continues his adventures with his male sidekick. Why couldn't she live? Because of the trope disease infecting stories. I personally think a scifi or fantasy couple fighting evil would be great. Exciting. Thank god for Xena, Warrior Princess. Please note, the wonderful Andre Norton book series would be better to examine. I have no idea why a fantasy couple is an issue. It's like the boy's club saying girls can't have fun too. Well, we can and I will damn well prove it with my books. 

2. Prophesy/Chosen Ones: This has been used to death, but even when it serves it's purpose, it gets old. The last time this worked for me was the David Eddings series, The Belgariad and the Mallorean book series. It was a foundation, but not the whole tale.

3. Vampires & Zombies: Done to death. Sorry, had to say, but this is a dead trope to me. And the sexy vampire thing is annoying too. And zombies? Really? I am so sick of the genre, I could scream. How many years can a bunch of people run from zombies? It gets old. And depressing. It only goes into misery without hope. There are few vampire threads that make them sympathetic. And zombies are so old and overused, even the offshoot comedy or spoof movies are lame now. Stop! Unless you can put a clean and fresh spin, just stop. I am not saying I have not enjoyed the genre. Buffy put a great spin on vampires. The short-lived Moonlight TV show had some interesting points and great characters. Vampire legends goes back centuries. They are not the clean stake through heart, sunlight issues with SPF needs, bloodsuckers in cinema. Think about what would make them interesting. 

4. Orphans: A Dickensian trope often used in science fiction and fantasy genres.These need to be carefully handled. 

5. Overlords/Dark Rulers: These need to handled with care-from Darth Vader to Lord Voldemort (is there a theme with V names here?). Use them with care. 

6. Gandalf Syndrome: A wise old wizard who speaks in riddles. Whatever.

7. Men are the heroes, women are watchers: No. Just stop. Stereotypes are nasty and not very inclusive or diverse. The maiden/wife (or whorish witch) and the heroic knight is the past. Live in the now.

8.  The single race/religion/society: A world has many religions and races and cultures. So many books so not expand on that. And do not make a race all evil/good or a society all evil/good. It is more complex than that. Same with religion-expand on it. Create a foundation in your world building to have richness and diversity. Think about faith and religion and it's complexities.   

9. Ice Worlds/Desert Planets:  This has been done. Move on.

10. Darkness/Light: Be imaginative. It is too easy to just say light is good and darkness evil. Life, nature, myths, and gods are not so simple. A good guy can be deformed or a maiden ugly but beautiful inside. A dark night may offer protection to the hero/heroine. Use your imagination.

Okay, I am done venting. Have a lovely holiday season.


Verna McKinnon   


Monday, October 28, 2019

Tanith Lee Tribute: Wonder and Imagination


The Wonder of Tanith lee

 The wonder of writing. The reason most of us stubborn authors stick to it is because we love the craft. It is an under appreciated craft.  Fantasy and science fiction, despite immense popularity, is also under appreciated. Without wonder and imagination, our lives would be bleak indeed.

One of the great treats for an author or reader alike is finding an author to cling to and reread over and over. One of those authors for me (among many I worship at the alter of literature) was Tanith Lee.

A long time ago, in a bookstore far away, I discovered Tanith Lee when I was browsing in a used bookstore in Omaha. It was the 90's and used bookstores were all the rage. Now they are hard to find. The comfort of bookstores has vanished in our culture. It is sad, though I know some are thriving, not enough. I love hard copies of books. The texture and feel of the book in my hand. The E book is fine, but it will never give me the joy of a worn beat up paperback with a great cover.

I came across all five of her Tales of the Flat Earth Series and the Birthgrave novel. I picked them up, curious, but not expecting much. Her writing changed that. I was hooked and could not get enough. What I loved about Tanith Lee was her vast imagination and strong use of female characters. Since then I've gathered up almost all of her novels and short stories, enjoying her rich variety of dark fantasy, epic fantasy, horror, science fiction, young adult, fairy tales, and more. Tanith Lee had no constrictions about being confined to in a certain genre. Her voice was vivid. I loved her books. As I was working and learning to become an author myself, it was wonderful to find an author who was a woman, who featured female heroines, and was respected by her peers. She won many awards, including the World Fantasy Award.

Sadly, Tanith Lee passed away in 2015. To be she is a foundation for which both fantasy authors and female writers of the future should aspire. I wish I had met her.  My hope is others continue to discover her works for their own enjoyment.

More later. Until then, read Tanith Lee!


Verna McKinnon

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Vision Quests

Dreams, Visions, & Wishes

A writer needs to dream. Stories spring from the imagination. It is the internal innocence which creates the tale and forms the author. When you strip away our dreams, you hurt the artists. One thing you must hold onto is your dreams, visions & wishes. Reject anyone who tries to take that away. Block the mean ones who try to put you down and belittle you. There is a huge difference between critiques and nasty jealousy.

Fortunately, most writers are supportive of each other. The ones who hold you back are not your friends. So create and live. It is a myth that artists must suffer. A well-fed and supported artist creates. That is my truth.

More the meantime, read more fantasy and imagine.


Verna McKinnon

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Novel Quest: Writing Goals & Lost Time

Writing is a process that's different for everyone. Objectives, goals, plans, outlines, and chapter revisions all take up time and most of my mental strength. I just realized I had not done a blog post in months. Am sorry, fellow fantasy fans. I will try to be better. I am writing a novel and planning two more. My brain is crowded with ideas so I must focus. Hence my absence from blogging.

I love creating novels and fresh new characters. So I become absorbed in the process. I am nerdy about it as I compile and organize the character sheets and fantasy world plans. It is my geek girl life. It is a solitary act, as all writing is. But I like it that way. when I come up for air, I realize I have neglected things like blogging. I become lost in writing goals and time speeds on.

So as a writer, you need to figure out what works for you. Organizing your time is essential. I enjoy blogging about my writing and my favorite genres of fantasy and science fiction, but my writing comes first. If you are a writer, or want to be, you will understand that and embrace that.

So, until next time, read more fantasy! I also am posting my previously published short stories in Curious Fictions. It's a great site where authors can list their published novels and also post their previously published short stories. Here is the link to my section:


Verna McKinnon

Monday, April 29, 2019

Novel Quest 7: Character deaths?

Okay, this is my own take. This will also be a short blog. We all have an opinion about character deaths. Sometimes a character death is needed. Sometimes they are a trope overused and tiresome.
I see it now in films and TV-let's kill this character and upset folks. Sometimes this is done in huge numbers. Isn't this great? Wow, look at all that violence and death. Sadly for me, it has become tiresome.

If death is the only way to drive your story or you are only interested in shock value, you are missing something. Stop and think. Death can have meaning for a story, but be careful how you do it and why. Give it meaning if you must, but do not rely on character death. It has become a cheap and easy tactic that has turned me off some shows and literature. Why should I invest in a story if everyone dies? 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Novel Quest 6: To Outline or Not to Outline?

The Truth about Outlining Novels and the Pansters Revenge

Outlining a novel can be great, but if it is not your thing, don't sweat it. Some must outline each and every aspect of a novel. I am a little more fluid, though I am organized. A solid compendium and knowing where my characters are stories are going is my solid base.

I do a couple pages on what the story is and main characters. I work from there. There is no set rule. I generally have a firm grasp on word count and chapters. I tend to keep my novels between 95,000 and 100,000 words. I learned to hone the skill of writing 10 page chapters. This is just math, but it is crucial. You need a chapter to begin and end with interest. In the past, I used scene breaks, which works too. Often those scene changes can be set up in their own chapter, but it depends on length. A 10 page chapter framework helps you to figure out your characters challenges and threats to your hero/heroine. I have my character and world charts, with rich details on world and characters so fully developed, they write themselves. I have my tale...but I do not do a typical outline.

Keep in mind my process does not give me grief. My story is fully worked out on paper and in my head keeps it flowing. Some minor changes may occur, a shift in direction or character focus, but they always turn out to be for the better. Nothing is set in stone during the process.

I do know how each book I write will end. I know who survives, who doesn't. As an author, if you write regularly and work at it, will develop a process right for you. Go with that. And no, I do not write my the seat of my pants....I am not a panster (I read that in a blog on outlining).  It is a quaint term for authors who do not outline, but write by the seat of their pants. I know where I am going and what will happen. My process and creative flow are my own.

If you feel you need to officially outline your novel, do it! There are tons of guides online on how to do that. If not, develop a system for you that works.

Until then, write more fantasy!

Verna McKinnon

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Novel Quest #5: A Loss of Sanity & Cookie Madness

A Loss of Sanity & Cookie Madness

We need to review what it costs to write a book. Hence, my title for this entry to my novel quest series is A Loss of Sanity & Cookie Madness.

It has been a while since my last post, but as you must know, I'm often busy writing. Currently it is my new novel in progress, The Bastard Sorceress. I have also been promoting my new novel, The Bardess of Rhulon, on social media. Plus I have a day job, a patient husband, and two petulant cats. Needless to say, my time is spread thin. This is the life of a writer. Our current culture does not allow us to fall off the grid like Hemingway, live in a dump, drink coffee in a cafe, and type out a manuscript on an old typewriter. Life is not so simple. We are all poor of course, unless we are lucky enough to have an income from other sources which allows us a luxury to write whenever, wherever.
In reality, most of us do not.

So we must contend with the slings and arrows of everyday life as we work very hard in this complicated publishing industry, not only complete our novels, (which for me, is the easy part), but deal with the reality of submissions, rejections, agent hunting, tracking social media and promoting, and other frustrating aspects of this job.

So to appease my madness, I eat cookies and drink coffee. I push on and keep going. You must, because no one is going to do it for you. It is maddening. Being good, or even a great writer, is not enough in this business. There are so many other factors blockading success I cannot even list them. But you suck it up and deal. You keep going, because writing is what matters. My novels matter. And screw anyone who says anything different.

So be brave and write, and remember when you lose your mind, there are always chocolate chip cookies and lattes to ease the pain.

More to come. In the meantime, read more fantasy!


Verna McKinnon

Friday, January 18, 2019

Novel Quest #4 Plots! Oh, those nasty plots!

The Trouble With Plots

Hello fellow friends & writers. I have finally recovered from the holidays, so now back to work! My first post in 2019 is about plots.

Plots are a baseboard. A basic foundation to your story. The trouble with plots is there is a finite number of the plots in the universe. Maybe nine. Or less. Anyway, people twists themselves into a frenzy trying to come up with an original plot no one has heard of before.  I have one word of advice: RELAX.

Plots are simply a way to organize your story. It is the springboard from which your character's journey jumps off. It is how you can structure your novel. So relax. worry about creating exciting characters and dialogue. More to come in novel quest. So, keep writing and reading!


Verna McKinnon