Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Welcome to Axis

I'm always happy when I feel like I've lived up to one of my own pieces of writing advice. I encourage my students to tell the story that they can't wait to tell, a story with characters you would want to know in real life, set in a place you would want to visit.

Today I "finished" the first draft of "Rise of the Paramancers", and I'm at that stage where I'm totally fucking in love with the little world I made. I'm even looking forward to the thousand re-reads and re-writes to come over the next few months before I try to sell this bitch. I can't wait to write all three sequels.

To celebrate, I thought I'd introduce the world of Axis and the characters in it.

The places:

Axis - The realm of Axis consists of four elemental kingdoms: Gorge (earth), Kragh (fire), Galehall (wind), and Fluvia (water), plus the city of Apex, in the very center. The people of Axis believe it is the master work of Dioro, the Artist and Blessed Brother, a God they worship by creating songs, art, poems, and sculptures. They believe he is dormant, following a war with his sister Zura, the Vandal and Devil Goddess. But before he slumbered, Dioro created...

The Veil - a shield of magical energy protecting Axis from the land of...

Beyond - a barren wasteland where the abominable creations of Zura dwell. No one in this age of Axis has wandered so far into the outskirts of Axis that they've seen the Veil, or Beyond, so many in Axis think of both as mythological. What they don't know is there is a land past Beyond called...

Zaradel - This is the home of the Paramancers. In Axis, each kingdom trains a certain type of sorcerer. In Gorge they practice Geomancy, the art of using the earth in battle. Imagine being able to crush a foe in a great fist of stone, send him flying with a wave in the ground he stands on, or pin him to the ground with an impaling earth hook. A Paramancer, on the other hand, is a sorcerer who can master all four elements. No one in Axis believes they exist, and they won't until one finds a way through the Veil.

The characters:

Karth - 16yo white-haired runt, a struggling apprentice Geomancer, his only friends are other misfits. (I just saw "Perks of Being a Wallflower" last night and people will swear I stole that trio's social dynamic, but I've been writing this for a year.) He is encouraged by his friend and crush Juna, his friend Oro, a mysterious guest student named Argio, and his teacher, Master Damon.

Master Damon - Gorge's greatest Geomancer and best teacher. He has traveled all four kingdoms, a fact that makes him suspicious in the eyes of many Gorgians. (Travel is encouraged in the kingdoms of water and wind but the fire and earth kingdoms are suspicious of wanderlust.) He can also use foreign magic, though he is only a master of Geomancy. He has faith in Karth's "latent abilities", though even Karth doubts Damon's assesment of his skills.

Juna - The only female training to be an earthknight, a form of Geomancy that involves using magic and weapons together. She is often treated with hostility for her refusal to conform to strict Gorgian gender roles. She shares this trait with another friend...

Oro - The only male healer in Gorge. Healers transfer life force from plants, animals, and even newly-dead bodies to save the living. Oro makes many Gorgian knights uncomfortable, because healing someone is known to cause amorous feelings for them. The macho earthknights are terrified of this. Oro is also a "man-lover", something his macho miner father is not likely to handle well.

Argio - Very little is known about this "guest student" except that he is from Galehall. Master Damon brought him back from one of his foreign trips. Argio favors a "thunderstick", a weapon that can fire all four types of magical energy. Argio is quiet, and knows many strains of arcane weapons magic.

Hune - Another student in Karth's Geomancy class. He is loud and arrogant, though that may be hiding something. His father, Heon, is the Standard Keeper of Gorge, a position of power second only to the king. His father is also the second-best Geomancer in Gorge, though he has lived in Master Damon's shadow most of his life. Hune struggles to live up to his father's expectations, and one time this led to a confrontation with Karth they would both like to forget for different reasons.

King Feor - The King of Gorge commands its army in times of war as its most powerful earthknight. In times of peace he struggles to maintain a good trading relationship with the other three kingdoms and the city of Apex. He is also the highest judge in the land, meaning he must temper justice with mercy. And he must balance the egos of Master Damon and his Standard Keeper, Heon.

Heon - The Standard Keeper of Gorge is trusted with enforcing the Book of Earth, which says Earth is the mightiest of elements. Heon is puritantical in his duties, bringing blasphemers and practitioners of foreign magic to the King for justice.

Zagor - Zaradel was attacked by a swarm of Zura's abominations, and Zagor broke through with a party of a hundred Paramancers, hoping to reach Axis. Though Axis knows nothing of Zaradel, the Paramancers know of Axis. They believe the people there are primitive, but their land is the secret storage place of mighty artifacts of Dioro, from his war with his sister. Zagor's party is wiped out and he is fatally wounded. And that is when he meets...

Zura - A lowly parasite taking the form of a large insect claims to be Zura, the Devil Goddess herself, in the flesh. She claims she can save Zagor's life and, in turn, grant him the power to save Zaradel from the swarm. All she asks in return is that he help her find a tear in the Veil leftover from the war with her brother. Then he must help her destroy Axis. Desperate and dying, he agrees, and they pass through the Veil, into Axis.

And that's where the story begins.

I love this world and the people in it. It isn't shelf-ready yet, but today it's 80,000 words of a complete draft. Members of my writing group have described it as an adult "Last Airbender", which I guess is good, since every traditional publisher seems to want to link a new story to something that already happened. If I had to credit something as being my source material, though, it would have to be "Final Fantasy", where the enemies were the fiends of earth, fire, water, and wind, and each element was weak against one of the others.

One day, I'm going to be at a movie premier, and the words "based on the novel by James Russell" will appear. Might not be until 2035 but it's going to happen. And the world of Axis is dying for a video game adaptation as well, I'm thinking a free-roaming world where the missions follow the plot but the gamer can also wander. Online trios where one gamer is Juna, one is Karth, and one is Oro.

One step at a time. Next up, the hunt for a new literary agent. I'm a teacher. I can't sell a book full time.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Music Video Storytelling/My Fifth Publishing Credit

Happy news this week! My story "Mountainview" is a top ten finalist in the 2013 Saints and Sinners fiction competition. It still has a chance to be top three also, which would mark my first time making money as a writer. The story is about a bullied middle school student who finds common ground with his tormentor on what turns out to be a historic day. It's all about how disaster forces us to have perspective.

I'm still waiting on a number of potential publishers for "Jesse Rules" and "Men in Strange Arrangements". Also waiting on word regarding my Best of the Net 2012 nomination for "The Camp Seminole Wiener Wall".

This month's topic is music videos that tell a story. I use some of these when I'm teaching. Most of the stories are nonverbal, having more to do with the mood of the song than the lyrics. They all have impeccable imagery and plot structure.

Imagine Dragons, "Radioactive"
Dog fighting is atrocious. Muppet fighting is genius. In this video, Lou Diamond Phillips (of all people) plays a sleazy, smoke-ring blowing proprietor of an underground muppet fighting circuit. All goes well until the protagonist girl comes in with a pink teddy bear that annihilates Phillip's horned purple people eater with a pink disco donkey punch. Then the muppets tear Phillips to shreds. Come-uppance works in every form of storytelling.

Foster the People, "Houdini"
They're better known for "Pumped up Kicks", but this is a better video. The band is killed in a light-fixture collapse about seven seconds in. Then the band's sleazy manager calls in a large Asian FX whiz who proceeds to give the band's corpses the anamatronic treatment. The show goes on. My guess is the band was feeling a wee bit exploited by the Hollywood machine. For extra laughs, find the part where the puppeteer has Matt Foster bent over a table, looking VERY exploited.

AWOLNATION, "Not Your Fault"
They're best known for "Sail", either the alien-abduction video or that one where the two hipster chicks spray each other with a hose. (30 million views, I loathemire those bitches.) This video is better because claymation. Plus...no, just 'cause claymation. It references the creepy classic Rudolph Yeti. Also, there's dancing aliens and a machine-gun wielding merman. It works perfectly with the apologetic, yet kind of controlling tone of the song.

Disturbed, "Land of Confusion"
The Genesis original is a classic (muppets again!), but this Todd McFarlane cartoon dwarfs it in scope. He summarizes the entire class struggle of the globalization years in less than five minutes. When the hooded hero Falcon-punches the monopoly man at the end, you'll want to cheer with righteous indignation. That, or you're a corporate douche no soul.

Don Henly, "The Boys of Summer"
I read somewhere that this video is in a museum. It deserves that kind of reverence. Despite being filmed in 1984, the story holds up. There has never been a song that better captured regret, and the video works as a perfect companion piece. When Henley sings "Don't look back, you can never look back," and the characters do exactly that, you know you've seen perfect cooperation between song, sentiment, and video. It's like the old Gatsby line about how we're "boats borne back against the current" distilled into a two second shot.

The first three videos are also very recent, so the art form isn't dead just yet. MTV may be Snookified but Youtube is keeping music videos alive and well.