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The Science Fiction Series That Helped Quench My Thirst for More Tolkien

We’ve all been there. You read “Well, I’m back,” and you cry that The Lord of the Rings is over. You slog through the Silmarillian, only to discover the same feeling on its last page.

Somewhere around the lost tales and Letters from J.R.R. Tolkien, you realize that you’re just getting desperate. You curse the ineffable philologist of Oxford for not writing more.

After years of psychotherapy, I’ve finally moved beyond my Post Tolkien Stress Disorder. But I’ve always wondered if there were other books written in similar style, something that might be close enough to Tolkien to scratch the same itch. A few months ago, I found such in a surprising place.

In various writing workshops and books and podcasts, I kept hearing about and old series called Dune. I’d heard of it. I knew it had a dessert and giant sandworms. But I didn’t realize until recently that it’s the LoTR of science fiction.

What have Arrakis and Mordor to do with one another?

dune-coverDune? Really? Dune scratches the same itch as LoTR?

First, if you know nothing about Dune, here’s Wikipedia’s summary of it:

Set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which noble houses, in control of individual planets, owe allegiance to the Padishah Emperor, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose noble family accepts the stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis. As this planet is the only source of the “spice” melange, the most important and valuable substance in the universe, control of Arrakis is a coveted — and dangerous — undertaking.

Dune was published in 1965 (about 10 years after LoTR). It’s written in that similar old style: lengthy descriptions of scenery, omniscient point of view, and rambling passages of dubious relevancy. Basically, everything that all the writing coaches in the world tell you absolutely not to do in your own stories.

Some characters are a bit cliché—the destined kwisatz haderech (don’t ask me what that means, and I’m on the second book of the series), the purely evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the emotional mother figure. You get the idea.

But there’s good stuff, too!

Those are some of the negative similarities, but I loved Dune because it gave me that same sense of wonder and mystery as LoTR. Not much is clearly explained. The power of the melange spice (the currency the whole world of Dune runs on) is left somewhat a mystery through most of this book. As is the magic system, religious taboos, space travel, and half a dozen other details.

The villain is absolutely evil and purely hateable. I mean, he uses anti-gravity suspenders to hold up his obesity. Seriously, what a touch. And unlike Sauron, we actually get some scenes from his perspective.

The core of the similarity: milieu

Dune is most famous for its brilliant worldbuilding. And that is where it comes closest to satisfying my urge for lost Middle Earth. The world of Arrakis is beautifully built. You get physically thirsty reading this book. It has the same detail yet the same mystery as Middle Earth. And that’s one of the key components of LoTR that you can’t find in modern fiction.

See, modern fiction dives into the perspective of a character and keeps you there through a roller coaster of action and events. Think Hunger Games: we become Katniss and kill a bunch of people. Most modern stories are character-based. No major publisher would pick up something like Dune nowadays. It’s just too painful for the short attention spans of modern readers.

I saw these similarities between the series and questioned whether I was the only person who felt this way. But just recently, I read the book Elements of Fiction Writing – Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. And low and behold, he agrees! Orson Scott Card, legendary author of Ender’s Game, pointed these exact two stories out as examples of a “milieu story.”

A milieu story is about setting, not characters. LoTR isn’t about the fall of Sauron, it’s about Middle Earth passing from the third to the fourth age. Thus, the book doesn’t end until the elves pass beyond Middle Earth. Dune isn’t about Paul Atreides beating the Harkonnens; it’s about the planet Arrakis and the changes Paul will soon bring to the galactic order.

And that’s why these books are brothers.

Read it.

Anyways, if you’re looking for a rip-roaring good time surfing through the galaxy, you shouldn’t read Dune.

But if you’re looking for a book filled with mystery, beauty, longing, awesome revenge, and a despicable bad guy—not to mention the most interesting, terrifying world you’ve ever imagined—grab a huge glass of water and read Dune.

By | 2015-12-06T14:57:55+00:00 December 6th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on The Science Fiction Series That Helped Quench My Thirst for More Tolkien

The Prince!

The second book of The Rift series is available on Amazon!

The Prince: book two of The Rift series.Here’s the scoop on the plot:

Pieter has an unwanted magic sword in his life.

He and his friends were given superpower-granting soul armors and charged with defending the world from a pending evil legion invasion. Only the invasion doesn’t seem terribly pending, and the defending seems pretty hopeless. And time consuming. He’s ready to return to his normal life, but his girlfriend’s gung-ho attitude toward the fight is creating unpleasant ripples in their relationship.

Meanwhile, visitors from the other world interrupt Gloria’s life and call into question everything James said about the war and their mission.

Gloria and the others now need to decide which side they want to take and if taking a side is even worth it.

Pieter is our main character for The Prince, but we’ll also dive into Gloria’s life. The team will wrestle with which side they’ll take in the war, we’ll learn more about what makes Gloria tick, and Neil will continue on his quest for a team name. It also turns out that the government may have done some research on the rift in the early 2000s…

Check out The Prince. It’s $2.99. I’m excited to present it to you. You will enjoy it.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B015YZTJEI/

-JT

By | 2015-11-25T11:51:50+00:00 October 18th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on The Prince!

Young Adult Scavenger Hunt 2015

yash_pinkI’m part of the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt!

This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize—one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

TeamPinkThere are eight contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the PINK team—but there are also a bunch of other teams from whom you can win a whole different set of signed books.
If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

Scavenger Hunt Puzzle

Below, I’ve listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the pink team, then add them up. It’s really that simple. Really.

Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by Oct. 5, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

Chase Night

Today I’m hosting Chase Night. That is like…the coolest name ever. And if his website is to be believed, it’s even his real name. Other facts about him:

Chase Night was born and raised in Arkansas, which he claims is both far better and worse than everything that has been said. He graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a B.A. in Creative Writing, a mere thirteen years after first enrolling. He lives in Arkansas with his wife, three dogs, one cat, and an immortal garden snail. Chicken is his debut novel.

Feel free to find out more about him at his author website. You can check out his book Chicken on Amazon.

Chicken

Aaaaaaaaaaahhhh, falling to my... wait, gravity doesn't seem to be working. Hello? Anyone?

Casper Quinn has a secret.
Brant Mitchell has two.

Hickory Ditch, Arkansas – July 2012

Popular fried chicken chain Wings of Glory is under attack from homosexual activists, and Harvest Mission Pentecostal Church is ready to fight back.

Caught in the crossfire of a culture war in which they never enlisted, Casper and Brant will each have to find his own answer to the age-old question: Am I really what I eat? Because if they could find the courage to tell each other their truths, they might discover there really is life after the Ditch.

Chicken is a Southern Gothic YA novel with an infusion of magical realism. It’s a raw, honest, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant look at falling in love in a place where angels and demons are believed in without question, but the human heart is always subject to suspicion.

Deleted Scene

Chase wanted to share a deleted opening scene from Chicken. And here it is:

Caleb Courts is dead and has been that way for a while, and even before that when he wasn’t dead, we didn’t know each other any, only crossed paths that one time he couldn’t possibly remember, but none of this stops him from visiting my tiny room at the back end of my family’s trailer late at night when my parents and sister are sleeping on the other side of walls as thin as Bible pages. They can’t cough, snore, sneeze, or fart without me knowing, but they’ve never once heard me scream. Caleb Courts makes sure of it.

I wake up sweaty and frozen. Not frozen like ice, but frozen like stone. Like I put on a thousand invisible pounds in the hour or so I managed to sleep. My limbs, my lips, my eyelids—all too heavy. I’m on my back, right cheek stuck to my hot pillow, left arm pinned across my damp, bare chest. My right hand rests in the crook of my groin, pinkie and ring fingers tucked inside the leg opening. Caleb Courts knows all my sins.

He hovers around the edges of my wooden, twin-size bed. I ain’t ever seen him—he won’t let me—but if there’s one thing this town has taught me it’s that you don’t have to see something to believe in it. Sometimes you just know what’s there. And I know Caleb Courts is here now, and I know he was here last night, and all the nights before, every night since junior prom. What I can’t figure is why. Some nights feel like a warning, like he’s just here to keep me from following his own path. Other nights feel like a reaping, like I’ve already gone too far down that road and he’s here to collect.

Tyler Mathis calls him the Unholy Ghost.

Brant Mitchell calls that bullshit and borderline blasphemy.

Neither of them knows Caleb visits me.

Nobody knows, and nobody can.

If they knew about this, then they’d know about everything.

Continue the Hunt

Don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, Chase Night (such a cool name), and more! You could easily win more than 42 books!

To continue on your quest for the secret numbers, go and visit my new friend, Deidre Mapstone.

By | 2015-10-01T16:17:43+00:00 September 28th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Young Adult Scavenger Hunt 2015

How seeing the Smithsonian gem collection impacted The Rift

On a vacation to see your brother’s family in Virginia, who wouldn’t stop in D.C. for a bit? And if you stop in D.C., the thing you absolutely must see is the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Way more interesting than seeing the White House from behind the fence and waaay across the lawn.

The Smithsonian jewels

I loved the gem collection best of all. I got to see the Hope Diamond:

Geee, I HOPE that this diamond... err... I can't think of a good end to that pun.

And yes, as you can see, it’s basically a little glass box surrounded by people taking pictures. A bit of a letdown.

But the other gems, now those were spectacular:

20150614_14275820150614_143002

Soul Armor gems

Over a year ago, I was outlining characters and their soul armors for The Rift. Each soul armor has an embedded gemstone, something like the heart of the artifact. The color or feeling of the stone in some way matches the artifact. Vero, for example, has a ruby for her fire armor.

When I ran out of gemstones, I realized very quickly how little I knew about them. I could name some of the classics: diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, amethyst, opal… and… uh… pearls, maybe?

 

I googled some rare gem lists, but nothing could compare with seeing some freakin’ huge rocks up close:

20150614_142433I lost myself in a crowded room of similarly-awed tourists. Beauty of any sort has that sort of mesmerizing effect. I never knew jewelry could be so interesting. Like this tiara, given by Napoleon to his second wife:

20150614_143122

Gem names

One takeaway is that there’s a lot of types of gems out there. And SLO teenagers don’t know what they’re all called. In the future, I may have some passages describing soul armor jewels which read something like, “It looked like a light blue gem of some sort.”

Because honestly, that’s what most of us would think. Somebody in Ruach knows what kind of gem it is. A chemist could maybe figure it out. But to SLO teenagers? It’s just a light blue gem.

And really, some soul armor gems don’t even have names, because they don’t exist on earth, just in Ruach. Don’t be surprised if I end up making up gem names by the end of the series. Any suggestions?

  • A bluish-green crystalphony
  • A pink superquartz
  • A vibranium diamond (A little Neil coming out, there).

Gem-making process

The gem-making process also surprised me. I mean, I knew that a diamond didn’t come out of the ground ready to embed in a necklace, but I didn’t realize how it worked. Here’s what I discovered.

A crystal comes out of the ground in a rough form:

20150614_144113After that, a gemcutter will cut, grind, polish, and sand the material to get it into a more gemmy shape. That’s how a diamond gets its cliché “diamond” shape. A gemcutter forms it that way. The gemcutter gives it the facets (or faces). And then you have a gemstone:

crystals2I suspect that some of the more famous gems out there are famous not just because of size and history but because the gemcutter did an excellent job cutting them.

Related to The Rift

Soul armor forging is an important thing happening in the background of The Rift. As hinted at early in the story, the side with the best/most soul armors will likely win the war. It’s something of an arms race between Terian’s and Rolland’s sides.

Duncan the royal smith, invented the original soul armor. More recently, he forged the main characters’ armors. The purity of the metals and gemstones used to make a soul armor affect its power. The main characters have some of the best out there.

The gemcutting process (as of last week) is also an important factor. Cutting the gems is part of the process of enchanting a soul armor—one of the more time-consuming parts. Power is imbued by the smith as they cut the gems. Some of the shaping can be taken care of ahead of time by an assistant gem cutter who doesn’t really enchant it (just shapes it), but the final smith must take a period of intimate work with his gemstones.

As I’ve only released the first book of the series, I won’t spoil much more about the magic system. But the Smithsonian definitely helped me to flush out some details of the soul armor creation process. Indeed, it was fascinating getting a glimpse into the jeweling world.

Google only gets you so far. There is no substitute for seeing something with your own two eyes.

By | 2015-06-29T20:50:09+00:00 June 29th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on How seeing the Smithsonian gem collection impacted The Rift