Book Spotlight: Wild Cards I, Expanded Edition by George R. R. Martin (et al)

***Reviewed by Court Ellyn and originally posted on The Bearded Scribe on July 31, 2012.***

Book Spotlight: Wild Cards I, Expanded Edition by George R. R. Martin (et al)

WELCOME back, Beardies!

After being out of print for a decade, the first volume of George RR Martin’s Wild Cards series is back—expanded with new, original material.



THERE is a secret history of the world—a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces—those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers—cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story. {Source: Goodreads}



THIRTEEN writers, including George R.R. Martin, Roger Zelazny, Melinda M. Snodgrass, and Carrie Vaughn, contribute thirteen tales and five interludes that tell the story of two generations of humanity who suffer the effects of the xenovirus, spanning forty years of cultural history. Choreographing and writing this book must have been an enormous undertaking. Each author had his or her era on the timeline to illustrate through the eyes of those changed forever by the virus. The characters they created for one story might later crop up later in someone else’s. The most colorful of these is Dr. Tachyon, the alien who tried to stop the virus’s release and failed. In “Degradation Rites,” Snodgrass writes of his initial attempts to treat the virus’s victims and his persecution under McCarthy’s trials in the 50s. Martin later explores his deep depression after years of believing himself a failure in “Shell Games.” The doctor’s recovery is seen intertwined in later stories, from his founding a hospital for the virus’s victims to his reputation as a dashing celebrity during the glittering “glam” era of the 70s.


WHEN the xenovirus is released over Manhattan in September 1946, everything changes. The course of events we read about in our history books has been altered, subtly or enormously. In “The Witness,” aces, with their stunning abilities, are initially viewed as superheroes who employ their abilities to remedy crises and shape revolutions around the world, but their efforts backfire. While slums for deformed jokers crop up, McCarthy hunts down aces as well as suspected Communists. The resulting scare echoes throughout the glamorous Hollywood of the 1950s in “Captain Cathode and the Secret Ace.” But a changing generation protests the government’s way of drafting jokers for the front lines in Vietnam and finds heroes again in aces as the Lizard King rocks the psychedelic scene of the 60s in “Transfiguations.” Then, by the 1980s club scene, explored in “Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan,” the new thrill is to sneak into Jokertown where glitter and danger walk hand in hand.



A thought-provoking and entertaining read, Wild Cards I may be most accessible to readers who are familiar with events and culture during the last half of the 20th Century. Even so, the bizarre elements in this book should be enough to intrigue a good many sci-fi readers and capture another generation of Wild Cards fans.

Thanks for stopping by, Beardies! Until next time, read, write, live, love!

***Wild Cards I: Expanded Edition (2010) edited by George R. R. Martin, published by and copyright Tor Books (Tom Doherty Associates, LLC).

Editors Note: Please check out an alternate version of this review on Court’s Blog!

Book Spotlight: Eyes to See (Jeremiah Hunt Chronicles, Book One) by Joseph Nassise

***Originally posted on The Bearded Scribe on July 22th, 2012.***

Book Spotlight: Eyes to See (Jeremiah Hunt Chronicles, Book One) by Joseph Nassise


Many of you may remember my first ever Author Spotlight on my writing coach, Joseph Nassise. As a prequel to a follow-up Spotlight—this time complete with an interview—I am doing my first ever Book Spotlight on Eyes to See, the first book in Nassise‘s Jeremiah Hunt Chronicles.



WHEN Jeremiah Hunt’s daughter, Elizabeth, is kidnapped without any tangible evidence, his world is shattered; the obsessive search for her whereabouts leaves everything else in his life—his marriage, his job, his friends—to come crashing down around him. In his search for tangible clues, his desperation leads him to the intangible—an arcane spell that is supposed to help him see what he has overlooked. Sacrificing his normal sight catapults him into a world of literal and figurative darkness—a world of spirits and entities that haunt him in his now-cursed life of endless night. When called upon by the police for his “paranormal” abilities, a string of gruesome murders uncovers clues about his daughter’s disappearance, a cast of unlikely friends, and unforeseen enemies.


1. World Building...

YOU should have guessed I’d say it, but Joseph Nassise does a spectacular job of creating the obscure reality in which Jeremiah Hunt is doomed to walk. The colorless world—because of Hunt’s quasi-Faustian sacrifice—is populated with spirits, demons, and other entities of myth and legend that walk the streets of the novel’s Boston setting, all undetected by the city’s corporeal denizens, but all of whom can detect Hunt’s ability and are drawn to it like a beacon. Just as Stephen King creates written replicas of his (and my) native Maine with perfect prose and imagery, Nassise, too, does the same for his native Boston and its surroundings—all while adding an eerily believable layer of fantasy.

2. Historical Elements...

ONE of the things I loved about this book was its incorporation of historical elements (and in this case, specific to its region). This, in itself, ties in with World Building—in fact, I’ve mentioned it before in the World Building Series. Using the element of history as a writing device in urban fantasy is pure genius; it makes the world all the more believable, no matter how made-up the fantastical element is. It even makes you question history. The motives behind the witch trials that occurred in Salem may not have been what was originally believed, something this novel proposes. Curious? Read this book.

3. Point of View...

THIS element of writing is far-too-often overlooked. Although there are some passages that are in some other POV (perhaps even slightly weaker in comparison), Nassise does a stellar job with Hunt’s first-person narrative. Even the flashbacks are easy to maneuver through because of the tightly-written prose.



I don’t want to sound cheesy—or sycophantic—when I tell you that I had difficulty putting this book down. I had started and completed this book within a span of 30 hours—including sleep and meals—excitedly turning each page… a total, perhaps, of 10-12 hours actual reading time. If you are looking for an urban fantasy with a paranormal flavor that redefines the genre, look no further.

***Eyes to See (2011), by Joseph Nassise, is published by and copyright Tor Books (Tom Doherty Associates, LLC).

Book Spotlight: The Curse Workers Trilogy by Holly Black

***Originally posted on The Bearded Scribe on July 21, 2012.

Book Spotlight: The Curse Workers Trilogy by Holly Black

HELLO Beardies,

Welcome back to Book Spotlight! It’s been far too long since I wrote one of these posts, but I’m glad to be back at it.

Tonight’s Book Spotlight is a trilogy that had me captivated from its first installment in 2010. Part fantasy, part crime thriller, with a strong shot of humor and a tie to a French fairy tale, this trilogy made me a believer in urban fantasy. Shortly after reading the first book, I spent an inordinate amount of time in a signing line to meet Holly Black at the ALA conference, and my autographed copy of White Cat is still among my treasured possessions. When the final book came out this spring, I couldn’t wait to tell you about this trilogy.






CASSEL SHARPE is just a normal guy…and in his world, that’s not a good thing. Curse work—the ability to control another person’s memories, emotions, dreams, luck, or even life through the simple touch of a finger—runs in his family. Curse work is also illegal, but it’s highly available on the black market, and the black market is controlled by a magical Mafia of sorts, made up of powerful families of “workers” like Cassel’s. Since he’s not a worker, Cassel is an outsider in his own family. He tries his best to stay away from the family business, but a series of bizarre events prove that Cassel’s life is not what he thought, and far from being an outsider, he’s right in the middle and is perhaps the most powerful player of all.



IN a well-established fantasy world, magic will have boundaries. (If you haven’t already, please go check out Joshua’s fantastic World Building post on this topic!) Holly Black’s rules of magic are well established and thought-provoking. In the world of the Curse Workers, magic is not only illegal, but to wield it means personal consequences known as “blowback”—a sort of instant magical karma—for the worker. Each worker can perform only one type of curse, and the blowback is directly related to the curses they perform. For example, Cassel’s mother, an emotion worker, is emotionally unstable from years of working her targets. His grandfather, a death worker, loses a finger each time he performs a curse, and knows that one too many curses will stop his own heart. To perform curse work, a worker must be aware of and willing to accept the consequences.


EVEN if you choose to set your speculative fiction story in a real city, a fantasy world still needs to be built within it. The Curse Workers Trilogy takes place in New York City and the surrounding area; the world is similar to ours, but Holly Black does a stellar job of building new norms into a realistic setting. Since curse work can only be performed through skin-to-skin contact, everyone wears gloves at all times. The government wants to mandate testing so that they know the whereabouts of all curse workers (ostensibly to protect them), and that is as divisive an issue as any political debate in our world.


FOR me, the most unforgettable stories are the ones that leave me with something to think about. Holly Black packs a lot of food for thought and social commentary into this trilogy. The political climate in the world of the curse workers is unstable, hinging on the issue of mandatory testing so the government will know who and where all the workers are. Cassel and his friends attend rallies for worker rights that echo of the civil rights movement, the labor movement, and other great protests we can read about in our history books. Cassel is also in a unique position that places him directly in the middle of his family and the government, and many times he finds himself thinking about what makes a family and to whom he owes his allegiance—the family that treats him as an outsider or the government that would jail every last one of his family members. All of this food for thought has left these books embedded deep in my memory. And hungry for more.



WELL, Beardies, we’ve reached the end of another edition of Book Spotlight. I hope you’ll take the time to check out at least one—if not all—of these fantastic books!

***White Cat (2010), Red Glove (2011), and Black Heart (2012) by Holly Black, are published by and copyright Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Exciting Announcement

***Originally posted on The Bearded Scribe on July 18th, 2012.***

Exciting Announcement

HELLO Beardies,

From The Bearded Scribe‘s inception in February, I’ve had a handful of devout followers, all of whom kept me typing and posting away when at times I wondered if my audience would ever be big enough for all the work I was putting into the foundation and constant research for exciting posts on the blog.

One such follower—whom you all have met and whose posts you all have had the opportunity and pleasure in reading—is Ms. Elizabeth Norton.

SINCE joining the blog as a Fellow Scribe—and even before then—Elizabeth has shown a passion for the topics that appear on the blog, going well beyond the call of duty that any Fellow Scribe should. She has offered critiques, edits, and her ideas and opinions on most posts, not to mention her constant encouragement.

It is because of this reason that I am pleased to announce Elizabeth as The Bearded Scribe‘s Assistant Editor! The position is unpaid, except in gratitude and friendship, but I wanted to give her the acknowledgement she deserves. Because she deserves to be paid for all that she does, I will be indebted to her even more than I am already.

I hope you all take the time to comment and commend Elizabeth on this title! Congratulations, Elizabeth! And thank you again for all that you’ve done and all that you continue to do! I am so lucky to have you as a friend, and I am so happy to have your passionate insight on The Bearded Scribe Team! 🙂

Movie Spotlight: Brave

***Originally posted on The Bearded Scribe on July 16th, 2012.***

Movie Spotlight: Brave

HELLO Beardies,

Hang around The Bearded Scribe long enough, and you will inevitably catch a glimpse of Scottish pride amidst its contributors. Elizabeth is a direct descendant of Clan Ross, the first named clan, designated by King Malcolm IV of Scotland in the twelfth century; and Joshua has a bit of all the British Isles in him from his mother’s side… If genealogical reasons of pride weren’t enough, Joshua and Elizabeth met when they were all students at Alma College, home of the Scots. (The city of Alma is nicknamed Scotland USA.)

ALMA College has its own registered tartan, which both the marching band and the pipe and drum corps wear for every performance; every convocation starts with the bagpipes; the Choir can often be heard in the Chapel (or, on occasion, in secluded churches in Scotland!) singing tunes such as “Loch Lomond” and “Highland Mary;” and at the end of Spring Term, the students must vacate the dorms to make way for the Highland Festival, a huge gathering including traditional Highland music and dance, a nearly-frightening number of men in kilts, and Highland games.

Alma College Tartan

Alma College Choir in Scotland performing "Loch Lomond."

IT is because of this Scottish pride that The Bearded Scribe excitedly brings you its first ever Movie Spotlight on Disney/Pixar’s latest film, Brave. And to top it all off, it is the first ever post to appear on the blog with two contributors! (We’re sure it won’t be the last!)



A born tomboy and expert archer, Merida is not your average girl, but, as her mother often reminds her, she’s a princess, and with that comes expectations. The clans are about to gather, bringing their suitors to compete for Merida’s hand, and of course, Merida wants nothing to do with it—especially after she sees just who these potential suitors are. She devises a way to compete herself so as not to have to get married, but it causes her worst fight yet with her mother and Merida runs away. Deep in the woods, she follows will-o’-the-wisps to a witch’s cottage. The witch gives her a spell to change her fate, but when the spell backfires, trapping her mother in the form of a bear, Merida must use all her wits and skills—princess-like and otherwise—to save both her independence and her family.


1. The Land...

ONE of the greatest aspects of Brave is the film’s unforgettable landscape, beautifully portrayed through superb animation. The entire “world” built by the film is complete, and the landscape alone is merely one of its facets. In addition to the lush, green rolling hills, the crags and high cliffs, and the architecture of monuments and buildings, the film includes key elements to the traditional, Celtic culture. Intricate knotwork is carved on wood and stone throughout—including Merida’s bow. Nary a scene exists without a man in a kilt or some display of tartan (ever wonder what the Scotsmen wear under those kilts… watch this film and you will no longer), a few of its characters adorned in woad paint (a tip of the hat to Braveheart, perhaps?), and fanciful tapestries line many a wall.

Many of the Scottish traditions outlined in our intro are beautifully and respectfully reflected in Brave, one of them specifically is that of the Highland Games. According to tradition, each clan presents its most desirable suitor for the hand of the Princess, and the winner is determined through a test of her choosing. Brave’s focus is not mainly on romance; rather, in a stroke of unconventional plotting, the games serve as an impetus for the main conflict between Merida and her mother, and between Merida and the conventions of her society.

Another aspect we loved about Brave is the wonderful music contained in its soundtrack. As we are both vocalists and lovers of music, this was one aspect, in our humble opinion, the film had no room to get wrong. They didn’t. The composer of the film’s musical score, Patrick Doyle—also the composer of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—used traditional Scottish instruments such as the bagpipes, a solo fiddle, Celtic harps, and the bodhrán, just to name a few. Doyle was quoted as saying, “I employed many classic Scottish dance rhythms such as reels, jigs, and strathspeys, which not only serve the action but keep it authentic.”

The only issues we found with the world-building of the film were anachronisms. Given the film was fictionally set in 10th Century Scotland, the use of plaid (15th-16th Century), kilts (18th century); forks (16th century); Shire horse (breed developed in the mid-17th century) and fighting the Romans (1st-5th century) all fit the bill. Because we love all things Scottish, we happily forgive them.

2. The Legend...

IF there is something that must be mentioned, it is the way elements of folklore and mythology are interwoven throughout the entire film. While there is no precedence for the actual legend of the plot, other elements from Celtic lore are used ingeniously to drive home the “fairytale” aspect. From its very start, we are introduced to will-o’-the-wisps—colloquially referred to as “wisps”—which Merida is told (by her mother) are said to lead a person to their fate. The “wisps” vanish when approached, just as the actual lore states; ironically, however, in most Celtic lore a “wisp” (or ignis fatuus) is said to lead travelers away from the safety of the path (into bogs and other treacherous destinations). Continuing with the “fairytale” notes is the sacred henge in which the final showdown takes place. It represents not only the sacred rock formations that speckle the British Isles, such as Stonehenge—which are placed on sacred sites filled with the natural energies from the Earth—but also the smaller-scale formations referred to as “faerie rings.” These sites were said to be portals to the land of the Sidhe, and were to never be entered. Merida’s horse, Angus, obeys this superstition by stopping suddenly at its edge, meanwhile throwing Merida into its center. The fact that the wisps appear from this site to lead Merida to witch’s cottage is another allusion to the Faefolk they are meant to represent.

ANOTHER mythological element which is prevalent—if not pervasive—is that of the bear. While researching for this post, we discovered a possible connection between Queen Elinor and the Celtic Bear Goddess, Artio, often referred to as “Mother Bear.” We even uncovered an ancient statue of said goddess that appears strikingly similar to one that may or may not have made an appearance in the witch’s wood-carving shop. The legends and myths that appear throughout the film and its landscape are like the tapestry in the film; they are tightly woven, never to be torn from one another. The mistakes and stories of the past—however far-fetched and magical they might seem—are there to educate generations of the future. We must take heed and not dismiss them so quickly, which echoes Queen Elinor’s line in the movie: “Legends are lessons, and they ring with truths!”

3. The Lessons Learned...

AS firm believers that no woman should need a man to make her complete, we really enjoyed seeing a Disney/Pixar film wherein romance is present without being the main focus of the plot. We’re not anti-love by any means, and both agreed that the romance between the Queen Elinor and King Fergus is sweet. Love, after all, makes life sweeter, but love comes in more forms than just romance. Merida is a tenth-century girl with a twenty-first century mindset, and her independence and determination is refreshing. She knows she can do better than any of the suitors she is offered, and she’s not willing to compromise or settle—a position we totally support.

Unless you’ve been living under a menhir somewhere—or trapped under one—you’ve most likely heard the expression: “Be careful what you wish for.” The main theme of Brave is exactly this, and it is an expression Princess Merida already knows all too well. Despite this, she wishes for her mom to change, and when the Queen is transformed into a bear, Merida must deal with the consequences. Afraid for her mother’s life—due to her father’s understandable hatred of bears—Merida and the Queen flee the family’s castle in search of the witch or the wisps that led her to her fate. While helping Merida with trying to find a way to reverse the spell, Queen Elinor gains respect for her daughter’s strength and wilder side; Merida, too, finds a deeper respect for her mother when faced with the prospect of losing her forever. Also, they discover that Merida is not the first to wish for a change of fate, and by repairing the mistakes she made, she has the opportunity to correct the wrongdoings of the past.



GIVEN our love affair with all things Scottish, we had high hopes for Brave, and we weren’t disappointed. Add in a strong female lead, stirring soundtrack, and beautiful scenery and animation, and our separate trips to see this film were time well spent. As a bonus, it gave us a chance to truly collaborate for the first time, a practice we hope to keep up in the future!

Gus an coinnich sinn a’rithist,

World Building Series: Settings—Part I (Introduction)

***Originally posted on The Bearded Scribe on July 9, 2012.

World Building Series: Settings—Part I (Introduction)

AFTERNOON, Beardies!

When I started my blog back in February, I knew right away that I wanted to include a World Building Series to help other writers. The series is designed as a reference point, to seek help if you have questions, and sort of a guide of “tips” and “techniques” in various areas of the World Building process.

(Of course, I am always open to direct questions from my followers; if you have a question you can always ask it through our CONTACT FORM.)

I’ve been putting this area of World Building off for obvious reasons. It’s massive, and it is going to take several posts to cover such an extensive topic. Other than on my languages, I’ve spent the most amount of time on this area when the original story idea for The Chronicles of Aesiranyn kept—for the lack of a better word—haunting me.

Lets start with the starting point you should start with as a writer… Maps.

An Aerial View of Elizabeth's Dream Circulatory Desk 🙂

EVEN if you are writing an urban fantasy story set in a major city on Earth, your world should have a map. Of course, if that is the case, your map is already available, and you merely have to pull up Google Maps. By saving those maps (screen shots) as a quick reference guide, you will save yourself many headaches of wondering what is located on the cross-streets of say… 42nd and 5th in New York City, wherein lies a bibliophile’s own fantasy.

For the purposes of this introduction, however, let’s assume you are building your own world.


HAVING a map is crucial to World Building because it helps you, the writer, view your world so that you may keep facts and settings consistent. It also provides you with a somewhat haphazard but helpful scale of your world so that you may know the distance between two places (how long does it take to travel from Point A to Point B). However, if you decide to include a map in your final product, having a realistic and thought-out map—with a humble regard to how geology forms things such as coastlines, mountains, rivers, et cetera—will greatly benefit you. There have been a few occasions in which I have opened a book and found a map that didn’t seem realistic or thoroughly researched, and so, without even a look at the text, I closed the book and placed it back on the shelf. On that note, however, there have been a couple of books in which I have ONLY glanced at the included map and decided to buy it.

Let’s touch on a few of those geological formations for this blog post.


COASTLINES are irregular. If your coastline looks like a circular or rectangular blob, your doing it wrong. Coastlines are created by the shifting of tectonic plates–plates pulling away from one another resulting in oceanic trenches, which are never clean lines. Nothing in nature is ever a clean line. Coastlines are then continually changed by the constant erosion of landmass by the waves, which is completely dependent upon the geological make-up along the coast. (Softer materials erode quicker, leaving the harder, more resolute material behind). On the other hand, if your fantasy world is made up of man-made landmasses, then by all means, draw in straight, clean lines.

An excellent place to look at how coastlines appear is an atlas. Or, in this day’s technology, Google Maps. You can take any island, any coastline of any continent (or, for that matter, just a section of it), or any ocean (or sea, gulf, or bay) as inspiration. Or, if that doesn’t inspire you, maybe its inverse will be appealing to your creative spirit.

Another great place of inspiration for the coastlines of your world can be found in nature–or even those elementally frustrating situations around the house. Have a water stain on a wall or ceiling? Trace its outline as a start and then embellish.


LIKE coastlines, mountains are also caused by the shifting of tectonic plates–but their convergence and deformation. Orogenesis–or the creation of mountains–happens along the lines of tectonic plates, which is the reason for extensive mountain ranges as opposed to singular peaks. Sometimes the subduction of one plate under the other occurs, but more often the convergence of the tectonic plates pushes both plates upward, causing crumpling on either side.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but taller, rigidly-peaked mountains are usually the youngest, while smooth, rolling peaks signify an older range. Take the Appalachian Mountains, for example; they are the oldest on Earth–and are one of the most visually appealing mountains because of their gently rolling peaks and valleys.

Take heed when drawing your own mountains. Get to know your land. What did it look like in its most primitive stages? Or is it still in said stage? Have its plates shifted and moved away from one another creating a drastically different landscape? Mountains should occur along where the plates collide.


RIVERS flow down from higher elevations toward lower elevations. So, in simple terms, from mountains toward coastlines. They take the most direct route, so long as there is nothing impeding that route. In other words, rivers will not often change directions, unless there is, say, another mountain range blocking its route to the coast. I am in no way saying they travel in a clean, straight line (remember that nothing in nature is ever a clean line), just that they their routes are downhill.

Rivers converge; smaller tributaries flow into larger rivers. Rivers do not split, unless there are sound geological reasons for its divergence, and in this instance, the divergence happens for short distances, eventually re-converging.

If a river flows into another body of water, such as a lake, it will continue. A lake will empty at the lowest side of the lake, wherever that may be, so pay attention to the altitude in the different areas of your world.


I am sure you all have heard the saying “If you want to be a great writer, then read, read, read,” but the same is true for world building. If you want to create great maps for your world, pick up an atlas. Look at the intricacies of the coastlines of several different bodies of land. Study the layouts, paying close attention to the three areas mentioned above.

Another great place to visit for help and questions related to World Building, specifically map creation is The Cartographers’ Guild, a forum on which you read and even participate in related threads.