Returning from the Wilderness at Santa Clarita Comic Con

Well, I’ve been away from the blog much longer that I had intended or even estimated, so I’ll work on correcting that. It’s been a difficult summer for my family health-wise and I let a few things slip, this blog included, but we are past it and I’ll continue making regular postings here.

First things first, and I’ll be appearing at my local Santa Clarita Valley Comic Con in Castaic (just north of Santa Clarita Valley on the I5) this weekend, Sept 30-Oct 2. Its the first year for the SCVCC, so if you are in the neighborhood, please come by and support a lot of local performers and artists. I have two panels on Friday (Victorian Themes in Steampunk and The Hero’s Journey in Game of Thrones) and I’ll be peddling my books in the Vendors Hall Saturday and Sunday. Hope to see you there.

ee0365_2180850b03184df58fd650f8399cb5d2~mv2Big Thanks to Gabriel Mondo Vega, who found a place for me to fit into the program at the very last second.

king quote

Knee-Jerk Reaction to Game of Thrones S6/Episode1: “The Red Woman”

What follows is my immediate reaction called THE BEST AND WORST MOMENTS OF GAME OF THRONES, EPISODE 601, “THE RED WOMAN.” (I wrote it on Monday morning, but I’m a bit slow getting it up here). It looks like this will become a regular Monday-morning column on, a Fansided site I contribute to regularly, beginning next week.

Melisandre 2Okay, gang, here are some of my highly subjective, highly personal thoughts and feels after viewing last night’s premiere episode and getting a chance to sleep on it. I enjoyed the episode and it did a good job returning to everyone (except Bran) and setting up the new season: it had some superb moments, primarily character moments rather than any plot driving narratives, but I also felt it lacked just a little bit of the bang I was expecting. Overall I give the episode a solid Game of Thrones B+.

The impressions I list below are just my own musings, and over time I may even rethink how I feel about them. I think I can defend some of these points on an intellectual/logical level while others are just emotional/internal feelings which may be less defensible in the cold light of day . . .  but they’re as immediate and honest as I can make them. I actually surprised myself with how many scenes/sequences made both lists, actually. Here they are:

Game_Of_Thrones_The_Red_Woman_16BEST MOMENT NUMBER FIVE—TYRION AND VARYS GET BACK TOGETHER: I love the back-and-forth between these two damaged and calculating political animals who still have some decency in their hearts, and their relationship is one of my favorite ones on the show. They’re continuing their reunion in Meereen to assist Daenerys, which is great, but see my Worst Moments list on how this return to the imp/eunuch bro-ship also fell flat for me in this episode.

BEST MOMENT NUMBER FOUR—SEEING SER DAVOS AND JON’S BLACK BROTHERS TEAM UP: It’s always nice to see the good guys getting it together on this show, and I have to say it thrilled me to see Ser Davos and the boys gather around Jon Snow’s body instinctively, even though their outrage at his assassination pits them against terrible odds. They act, as good men do, by saving Ghost from a certain death in his pen by crossbow once the bad guys got around to it and send Dolorous Ed off to get Tormund and the Wildlings while they bolt the door against Alliser Thorne. That conversation through the door between Ser Davos and Alliser is well done, and Ser Davos knows that the Red Woman is near, and what she is capable of, should they be able to ally her to them. No matter what happens to Jon Snow’s corpse, the snuffing of this storyline’s excitement with Jon’s passing/temporary incapacitation/whatever I had feared did not happen, and that was awesome. And that is Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun the giant we see smashing through the Castle Black gate in the trailer, right? Winter may be coming and the dead are coming with it, but the pissed-off Wildlings Jon Snow saved at Hardhome are coming first. I hope they make it in time.

Ser Davos GoTBEST MOMENT NUMBER THREE—SANSA AND THEON HUG: another great moment for me. Theon finally comes through, and when he hugs the brutalized Sansa to provide her warmth he has redeemed himself a bit after all the times he has failed her. This man was the Stark family Theon again, the ward who readily offered his sword alongside Robb after the death of Ned. The poor, violently-screwed up Theon gave it everything he had (readily attempting to sacrifice himself to the hunters to save her), and by getting Sansa out of Winterfell he gave her a chance to be rescued and survive to become the Stark woman we all know she is capable of becoming. Sansa can handle the mantle of the hero and finally, as a loyal company forms around her, I fully expect her to take the brutal world by the horns this season.

sansa-and-theon-on-the-run-1613x1075BEST MOMENT NUMBER TWO—MELISANDRE REVEALS THE CRONE: A brilliant moment. We have all seen the hints that Melisandre is something very old, and in the two seconds it took me to get over the pretty lady (see Worst Moment Number 4) turning into The Shining lady (as I see bloggers calling her now) I sensed the wonderful plunge into the character’s depths and I enjoyed the awesomeness of it. Melisandre became much more of the unknown ‘other’ in that scene, the ancient witch-creature without her artifact of illusion, looking at her own reflection, looking at what she really is. With Stannis and Jon Snow both apparently dead, she has failed to find the savior she has searched for apparently all of her life. Her competence with her own magics and prophesizing have been spotty at best, but I’m liking the idea of her presence at Castle Black even more, as she curls up in her bed with her old heart still beating (I presume it still functions), only a few yards away from Jon Snow’s heart, which has only recently stopped beating, and Ser Davos aware of what she can do.

BEST MOMENT NUMBER ONE—BRIENNE KNEELS BEFORE SANSA: oh, that look on Brienne of Tarth’s face when Sansa accepts her oath of fealty. The tall girl, finally, after losing and failing and losing, finally achieves a quest (she is all sacrifice, all Hero’s Journey). And Brienne did it with style, riding in with shiny armor and flashing Valyrian steel and saving the day in brutal battle when all was lost for Sansa and Theon, and wow, that look on her face when she was rewarded. Huge kudos to Gwendoline Christie’s acting talent for that moment: raw, angelic, pure, tears-in-the-eyes-simmering. A good girl gets a win. A rare moment in Game of Thrones. I loved, loved, loved it.

brienne podrick game of thronesAnd now my Worst moments, some oddly embedded in the same sequence my Best Moments:

WORST MOMENT NUMBER FIVE—BRIENNE AND POD COME OUT OF NOWHERE: I understand that all storytelling requires coincidences, I do. But Brienne and Pod stumbling across Sansa and Theon at the exact right moment does chafe my collar a bit. I mean, Brienne hasn’t been watching Sansa since she abandoned her Broken Tower vigil, right? Brienne was Stannis-chopping when Sansa and Theon jumped off of Winterfell so did she come back and see the candle still burning or hear the hounds or what? I LOVED the sword fighting, the rescue of Sansa and Theon and Brianne’s immensely satisfying success (see Best Moment Number One), but couldn’t we have had even a three second shot of Brianne and Pod tracking them? Maybe I’m nitpicking too much here. I probably am.

Brienne-kills-Stannis-Official-HBOWORST MOMENT NUMBER FOUR—MELISANDRE REVEALS THE CRONE: First of all, let me remind you that I am male, and, along with her superb acting talents, Clarice Van Houten does possess, as Seinfeld put it best, “other qualities prized by the superficial man.” (The Switch) Though I suspected, as we all did, that Melisandre is extremely old, I was still somewhat put off by her reveal as the ancient crone. Yeah, it was an embarrassingly shallow male reaction, but one of her most powerful weapons has been her illusion of intense sexual attractiveness, so at least give me points for admitting it. But this dropping  of the sexy trick was of course was a great storytelling device and the depth it brings to both the character and the story also lands it on my Best Moments list as well.

6x01-The-Red-Woman-game-of-thrones-39537366-1536-864WORST MOMENT NUMBER THREE—WHY HASN’T JAIME BUTCHERED A SPARROW YET: A bit silly here, and I hope this point shifts into my Best Moments in the next episode. The producers gave some time for Jaime’s return with Myrcella’s body and Cersei’s reaction, which was a great choice and resulted in a great scene between two awfully bereaved people who have much brutality in their natures but who are also parents as well. But I want so want to see Jaime’s sword-swinging revenge on the Faith Militant. I know it’s coming, but I’m making this a Worst point because I don’t want to wait.

WORST MOMENT NUMBER TWO—TYRION AND VARYS BACK TOGETHER: another Best Moment with a built-in Worst Moment. I am a HUGE fan of the Tyrion-Varys buddy duo and their repartee, but their little scene in this first episode felt dialogue-flat and frankly disappointed me. Yes, Dany’s fleet burned, but give the boys their witty dialogue, please.

Game_Of_Thrones_The_Red_Woman DorneWORST MOMENT NUMBER ONE—THE ASSASSINATION OF DORAN MARTELL/AREO HOTAH: I’m sorry, but the Sand Snake story line is thick and lumpy cough syrup and it just got thicker and lumpier for me. I’ve had few good moments in Dorne—the entire show plows down to a crawl for me every time I see those gorgeous gardens, and I was really hoping S6 would change that. I won’t mention now the Dorne thing is becoming different from the books, but despite the new gobs of hurtling blood I still don’t get excited to be there. Doran Martell, despite how much he brags about being a political animal, was an idiot for trusting Ellaria and her Sand Snakes so implicitly after everything Ellaria has said and done (she is angry because she feels he hasn’t avenged the murder of their family members, so she’s correcting that by murdering more family members?) And now she was able to turn Doran’s personal guards against both the Prince and their commander, Areo Hotah? And what’s with the coincidence with the raven message—how could Ellaria be sure that she and Tyene would be in the presence of Doran when he got the note so they could kill him before he could act? Do raven messages come on a regularly scheduled timetable? Or did the Sand Snakes stand beside Doran all day long until the message arrived? I guess they expected the message to come quickly, but did it come from the boat or King’s Landing? Maybe I missed something.

So, there they are. Some quick personal thoughts and reactions.

Meet fantastic Italian artist Daniela Giubellini

Today we get to chat with artist Daniela Giubellini, a great lady and friend of mine who hails from the land of Michelangelo and Da Vinci and creates fantastic, beautiful images of her own. She has designed the three gorgeous characters portraits of Romulus, Sabrina and Max for my Romulus Buckle novel series and we are planning on putting together a children’s book she will illustrate.

Romulus Buckle Back Rif 2It won’t surprise you to learn that she has a number of other professional projects under way as well, and I feel extremely lucky that she takes the time to work with me. Let’s get to know Daniela Giubellini!

Quest 2 1Q: Hi Daniela! Thank you so much for taking the time to guest post on my blog. Please introduce us to your art and what you do:

A: Hey there! I’m Daniela and… how do other people do interviews? I have to talk about me, right? Well, that scares me to hell! I’m one of those creatures that during the day hides in dark places and loves to draw. We are called illustrators. I guess we are very shy and fascinating creatures You surely have met some of them, though they show themselves mostly when the sun goes down.

l.phpWhat am I up to? Right now I’m making concept art for Studio Croma, a stop motion studio in Bologna and I’m teaching Photoshop and digital painting in a high school to other little creatures called “illustrators’ cubs”.

Q: I love the idea of ‘illustrators’ cubs!’ You designed and created the character portraits of the three main characters from my Romulus Buckle novels: they have a fabulous look—could you tell us a little about your technique and process involved? Is there a specific name for this style of art?

Quest 2 _2A: I don’t use a technique in particular; I like to experiment a lot! It also depends on what inspired me and on what I’m working on. Right now I like to work with forms and silhouettes, with a sort of gummy taste on the images. But I usually use the gray scale technique (the one where you paint everything in gray scale and slowly add colors later, it works fine for me!)

Romu Max the martian RifA piece of advice? Never think that finding perfection in the technique is more important that the passion you can put in your work.The truth is that what you need most are love and passion. I’ve seen professional artists who mastered the technique giving life to soulless perfection, and guys who had barely touched a pencil before showing me images that I’ll never forget.

Wow, sorry, that sounded cheap! But yeah, then again: if you want to work, of course you need the technique, but heart is what makes you different from the others (says a young woman that sounds like someone who wants to be a Disney princess!)

Quest 3 _1Q: I agree–heart is everything, combined with the discipline to learn the technique. What unique artistic challenges did you face when creating the character portraits?

A: I believe that there’s always a boundary between the character and the creator.
I try to understand what it is, and then I show that with my image . . . well, I try. And usually there’s always so little time to know all about the character you’re about to work on. It’s important to me that the character’s owner sees his own character and not a generic book-cover-shot. Every character has a soul and a story, I just want to make the viewer to feel it.

Quest 3 _2Q: For readers who don’t know you, can we see some other examples of your art and some of the many other projects you’ve done? Can you tell us a bit about the atmosphere or effect you wanted to create with each image? (Pick a few of your favorites here)

A: Argh! My most recent work is covered by contract, so I can’t show you!

Quest 4 _1Well, I really like these two from The Circus of Namtas (one of my projects that is waiting for me to finish it). Those are kinda old images, despite the fact that I’ve never published one of those. There are plenty of images I’ve never found the right moment to show . . . I should do it one time.

Quest 4 _2I’ve done this one (below) for Laura Fornasari, a dear friend of mine, for the cover of her book Tears of Ishtar. I chose it because it’s one of the few pieces which I actually have something more I want to say about it. Laura has always been incredible in writing good action and characters you care about, so I wanted to show that on the cover of her book.

Quest 4 _3I wanted to show two of the main characters in a tense situation, so the viewer is led to wonder what is happening to them, or who they are, what have they done. Why is there a fire behind their back? Why one of them is green? Is it in the book or . . . well, you get the point. In general, I want to give the viewer something to fantasize about.

And this is my favorite. I will leave you to wonder about this one.

Quest 4 _4Q: I absolutely love that picture! Who are your favorite artists? Which artists tend to influence your work?

A: I really like Boris Pelcer, Wesley Burt, Joao Ruas and James Jean. Also Zdzislaw Beksinski and HR Giger inspired me a lot.

Quest 5 _1But actually i’d say movies and Directors influence me the most. I love Tarkowsky’s locations and atmosphere, and Hitchcock for lights and shots. Also David Lynch for mind-fuck moments (and furniture!) and Lars Von Triers for aesthetic.

Quest 5 _2Also music is a big inspiration for me. When I feel out of ideas, I have a list of songs that put me in the mood. And one thing that never fails to cheer me up is Weapon of Choice by Fatboy Slim, with a dancing Christopher Walken–it is the most epic thing I can imagine.

l.php 2Q: Movies and music are such a great inspiration! I love this haunting, beautiful GiF from a Tarkowsky film you posted on Facebook a while back:

giphy Russia DGOkay!  What’s coming up next?

A: Don’t know right now, but I have a couple of ideas, and also something that I hope that turns out really well for me and the people I’m working with.

Q: Ah the secret project! Good luck with it! You recently traveled to the United States. What was your favorite location you visited?

A: Argh, that’s also a tough question! I had a road trip with two dear friends. We took a car and we traveled across New England and Vermont. We also visited Chicago and I found the view of the skyscrapers mesmerizing. The food is crazy in every sense.
Chicago is awesome, wonderful experience.

Romu Sabrina RifOne day in Vermont we decided to reach our destination without the car, just to breathe fresh air and see some wildlife. After 4 hours of walking under the sun on a congested road we… we started to think that that wasn’t a great idea after all. We looked at the map we took at the souvenir shop just to find out that the distances were wrong and that we still had three more hours of walking to reach . . . the History of Maple Syrup Museum? We went back to town and spent the rest of the day eating waffles.
We saw a cow giving birth on the side of the road–doh!

Q: Lol! Well, I have to tell you, the long distances, congested roads, getting lost, cows and stuffing one’s self with waffles are all important parts of the American experience! And now, a few offbeat questions to showcase your wonderful Italian personality. First, what is your favorite restaurant and your favorite dish there?

A: Ah ah, all my favorite dishes are exotic, like sushi and chicken with curry. That’s not so Italian from me! Anyway if you want to check two typical dishes from where I’m from, you can try “Cappelletti parmigiani” (stuffed pasta) and “Torta d’erbi” (herbal cake).

Quest 11 2Q: Second, if you were reincarnated as an animal, what would you be?

A: Ah ah, it’s The Visit question! (Yeah, I watch Shyamalan, shame on me, but I’ve become a big horror fan thanks to him). Anyway I love this question! Let me think…
I usually think that bees and ants are the best, and that cockroaches will conquer the earth… but I never wanted to be one of a million, and nobody wants to be a cockroach obviously… Pokemon is not a valid answer I guess . . . an owl. I’d be an owl.

l.php 3Q: Owl is good! Lastly, if you had to select one of your pieces of artwork to serve as your tombstone epitaph, what would it be?

A: I’m always torn between being poetic or silly as fuck. But life is ironic so, I’m gonna go with this completely out of contest one:

Quest 10Thanks so much for sharing, Daniela Giubellini!

Dani: Thanks to you Richard!


oh_my_god__by_rivan145th-d594wzuDaniela Giubellini lives in Bologna, Italy.


Meet a rising star: author Berit Ellingsen

I’m honored and excited to have author Berit Ellingsen to the blog today! She lives and works in Norway, and if you check out her Facebook page you’ll see she roams around a lot and her photos have a lot of snow, ice, water and cats in them. I read her brilliant, impressively reviewed novel, Not Dark Yet, as a part of a Jeff VanderMeer Holiday storybundle a few months ago, I still think about it often, and I highly recommend it.

NotDarkYetFor starters, I’d like to put my reaction to Not Dark Yet here, written right after I read it:

“Just finished “Not Dark Yet” by Berit Ellingsen. Her novel was recommended by Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer as a part of their Winter Mix Tape Storybundle. “Not Dark Yet” is a brilliant story about human love and frailty in a time of earth-catastrophe, written with a crystal clear sense of the moment but also haunted by a dreamlike undercurrent of something akin to synchronicity. One of those books you don’t soon forget.”

(Berit was kind enough to have a further discussion with me about her book, and I’ve included the full transcript of that conversation at the end of the Q&A section). I have no doubt that Berit will be a fun, informative interview, so let’s get to it.

Q) Hi, Berit! Thank you so much for guesting on my blog! I guess the first question should be, is Not Dark Yet your first novel?

A) Thank you so much for inviting me to guest blog! I’m very happy to be here.
My first novel is The Empty City, which was translated to French by writer, translator, and publisher Francois Bon. The Empty City is a novel about silence and emptiness in the urban environment and is a sort of prequel to Not Dark Yet in that it shares a protagonist and some of the setting.

The Empty Cityune_ville_vide







Q) Yes, I immediately did sense the thematic connection between the books as you described The Empty City. Could you provide us with a brief introduction to the story of Not Dark Yet?

A) In Not Dark Yet a man leaves his boyfriend and apartment in the city for a cabin in the mountains. His relationship has come to a head and he’s had an affair that for reasons revealed in the novel went really wrong as well. At the same time he has applied for the newly announced astronaut selection and starts training for it. He also joins his farmer neighbors on their project of clearing the moor around the cabin to grow cereals, because the climate has become warm enough to make this possible, and the neighbors want to take advantage of the new opportunities that are opening up.

berit_iceQ) Is Not Dark Yet an entirely fictional world or do you employ actual locations, institutions and even real people, or at least have elements inspired by the real life versions?

A) I didn’t include any real life people or place names, but the climate change science and data about what’s happening with various plant and animals species as the environment changes are taken from various articles about climate change. The science in the novel is as close to correct as I could get it, to emphasize the climate change that is happening and what it might lead to, so that those effects aren’t just dismissed as “fantasy”, but that the reader realizes it is something that could happen in our world too.

I’m a science writer and follow climate science news, and used much of that in the novel.

Parts of some of the buildings mentioned in the novel, especially the laboratory in the start, the foyer at the space organization, and the restaurant in the hotel towards the end are from buildings that exist in our world. For example, the restaurant in the hotel is inspired by the restaurant in the Grand Hotel Des Bains in Venice where the film version of Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice was made. But other parts of the same hotel, such as the bar, are entirely fictional. I like architecture and interior design, so rooms and spaces are fun to create and think up.

humanity-of-monstersQ) It is fun to invent physical spaces, isn’t it? I would say that Not Dark Yet is a warning. It’s a warning that our planet is inexorably sliding into disaster if we don’t deal with what we’re doing to our ecology and climate. It’s not the only thing the book is about by a long shot but would you say that’s a fair overall assessment?

A) Very much so! In the world of Not Dark Yet, climate change has gone a little farther than it has in our world, and progressed to what is called exponential climate change, where the climate and environmental variables change with exponential speed, due to self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in the climate systems. These mechanisms are in effect today, and many climate scientists fear that some of them, such as the melting of the Arctic sea ice, will start to change exponentially. At any rate, the world in Not Dark Yet is one where climate change has really begun to make itself known, to everyone all over the planet, even in the temperate zone and rich countries.

tibetan-monkQ) When we discussed Not Dark Yet before, you mentioned worrying that some westerners might be put off by the strong eastern-oriented cultural currents in the book, such as the Tao and the experience of the Buddhist monk. Was that worry justified in the reactions from readers? Personally, I loved those elements of the story.

A) I’m so glad you did, and I have heard from other readers who enjoyed it too, which I’m glad they did.

I think especially the chapter about the self-mummification hits a nerve with some people, and it is meant to do that. The way we view death in our modern societies is very impersonal and almost like death is the ultimate illness that we can’t wait to get rid of some day. So why would anyone who isn’t deeply depressed or politically brainwashed or terminally ill go towards death voluntarily? I found it difficult to understand myself when I read about it, but to approach an understanding one must know a bit about Buddhism and zen and how they view death, the mind, and the body. That said, the self-mummification process was rare even during those times when it was practiced, and understandably, only a very few did it. Today, Buddhist mummies are found in Japan, Tibet, Vietnam, China, and I assume Korea as well.

Some readers said they thought of the mummy and self-mummification process almost as an astronaut, someone leaving the Earth, and saw parallels between the protagonist’s training for the astronaut selection and the training that the self-mummifying monk does. That was something I hadn’t intended, so it was very cool readers “discovered” it.

writing penQ) That is extremely cool. I love first and last lines in novels. I spend a lot of time on my opening and closing paragraphs, and often I already have both figured out before I even start writing the rest of the novel. I don’t know why I do that, exactly, other than wanting to start and end on a hook or a bang, but knowing how I open and close the story is a kind of anchor for both ends of the yet-to-be-created book, and reassuring, I guess. The opening line of Not Dark Yet is fantastic:

“Sometimes, in Brandon Minamoto’s dreams, he found a globe or a map of the world with a continent he hadn’t seen before.”

That got me. I need a good first sentence. When I browse in bookstores I often choose books to read based solely on what their first sentence does for me. Do you agonize over first sentences and last? First paragraphs and last?

A) I’m so glad you enjoyed that first line. That actually comes from a recurring dream I had when I would find a new continent on a map and think “How on Earth did I not see that before?” and I would be so happy over the discovery, and disappointed when it turned out only to be a dream.

I don’t agonize over first sentences and last, I tend to go with the first things that come to mind. But I do edit the first and the last chapters very carefully and reflect over whether they are the best start and the best ending for the story. I usually know what the ending will be, and work towards it during the first draft. Since I only plan the plot sketchily, a lot changes during writing and editing, and chapters tend to change places too. I regard it as experiments, and try different configurations to find the chapter sequence and plot structure that suits the story the best.

nordaustlandetQ) As a Scandinavian, do you find that your harsh and beautiful environment influences your writing? If it does, do you involve it intentionally or does it just force its way into your writing? I ask this because I spent much of my life in Canada, and I have a great love/hate relationship with freezing weather and snow, but there’s no avoiding how wonderfully dramatic that kind of weather and landscape is.

A) The more I keep writing, the more I see how much the Scandinavian landscapes and environments influence my writing. I thought maybe it didn’t, but with Not Dark Yet I really see it clearly. That said, Not Dark Yet is not necessarily set in Scandinavia, since the climate and landscape of southern Scandinavia is shared with much of the rest of Europe, and the landscape of northern Scandinavia is similar to that of Alaska and Northern Russia.

All of the natural world influences my writing a lot, from climate and landscape, to animals and plants, and the living conditions for the people in it. These themes will probably continue to recur in my stories, whether they are set in the past or present or future.

beneaththeliquidskin_coverQ) Let’s move on to your writing method. I like to heavily outline my story with 3×5 cards and then manipulate them as I go along. Do you outline a lot or just proceed with a general idea of where you’re heading with the story?

A) I only make a very loose outline and go from there. That does tend to make for a lot of changes in editing and sometimes I have to print everything out to be able to move chapters around like a puzzle to try out various sequences. Cards might be a better way to do that. But every time I plan a story in detail, by the time I’ve arrived there, a lot has changed. I usually have an image I start with, and an ending, and try to reach that no matter how far removed it seems to be from the start. Sometimes I begin with the ending. For novels I see that planning a general structure is a good idea, but not go into details. Often it feels like I’m reading a story as I write. I’m writing it, but I’m also the story’s first reader.

Q) Do you have a strict writing schedule or get your work done in whatever windows the day offers? Do you write every day?

A) I would like to write or edit every day, but that’s not always possible. I don’t believe in a very strict schedule, because as a writer, I also need the time between projects to grow new ideas and inspiration and information and get new impulses and learn new things useful for writing. And some days the writing is just not there, while other times editing must take the front seat. I do like to edit as well, so that’s almost as fun as writing new things. I blame the liking for editing on my days as a computer gamer, where doing things over and over, while improving a little bit every day, was part of the game. Without that I wouldn’t have had the patience for round after round of editing.

Flash Fiction Intl_FINAL.inddQ) I think I saw that you have a new novel in the final stages of editing/polish. Can you give us a little teaser on what that one is about? And what are you plotting next, writing-wise?

A) I have a fantasy novella in the works I wrote a long time ago and didn’t know how to edit into shape. With more writing and editing experience, the novella has finally found its form. It’s about a scientist who has discovered that the Earth orbits the sun and not the other way around, as people believed for centuries, and is trying to convince her colleagues about this, despite many difficulties. The story is a twisted fairytale set in a city built on an enormous spiraling conch. I even think there’s a mummy in there too.
I’m also editing a novel set in the same world as Not Dark Yet, but introducing new characters. I can’t say much about it yet, since it will hopefully go into slush soon.

Q) Those ideas sound great! This has been awesome! I like to finish up with my guests by asking the same three questions so here we go: If you had to place a line from one of your books on your headstone, what would it be?

A) I think I would prefer this famous haiku by Basho:

summer grasses
all that remains
of warriors dreams

Q) I love haiku! What is your favorite restaurant and what is your favorite meal there?

A) (see answer below)

Ice aerial

Photograph courtesy of Karen Leigre.

Q) If you could be an animal, what would it be and why?

A) Since I don’t have a favorite restaurant, I’ll give you three animals instead. I would have loved to be a snow leopard roaming the Himalayas, although in a world that was not getting warmer and warmer and having less and less space for far-roaming animals such as the snow leopard.

I have seen images of the beaches of South Georgia in the southern sea, not far from Antarctica. The King Penguins there seem to be living in a primal paradise, with the ocean, the snow-covered mountain, and grassy meadows. One Norwegian wildlife photographer has called the conditions there “paradisiacal”, and I would agree. Being a King Penguin there looks like the perfect life. But sadly, also this population is shrinking.

polar bearThird, the life of a polar bear in an Arctic that was not vanishing, but stable and still containing sea ice and food, looks like a hard, but beautiful animal life. Like the snow leopard, the polar bear roams vast distances, and it is perfectly suited to its habitat.
Yet with the world being what it is today, I think I prefer being a human.

Thank you so much for interviewing me for your blog.

You are welcome! I’d like to thank Berit Ellingsen for dropping by the blog and participating in this wonderful chat about her books and writing process. If you didn’t already pick up on this, Not Dark Yet is fabulous and I highly recommend it.

Also, I’ve included my entire FACEBOOK conversation with Berit below, from the day she was kind enough to respond to my note on her book, and we talked about some of the fascinating elements of her story:

“Richard Ellis Preston Jr: For starters, I’d like to put my reaction to “Not Dark Yet” here, right after I read it: “Just finished “Not Dark Yet” by Berit Ellingsen. Her novel was recommended by Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer as a part of their Winter Mix Tape Storybundle. “Not Dark Yet” is a brilliant story about human love and frailty in a time of earth-catastrophe, written with a crystal clear sense of the moment but also haunted by a dreamlike undercurrent of something akin to synchronicity. One of those books you don’t soon forget.”

Berit Ellingsen: Thank you so much, Richard! Very happy to hear you enjoyed it! What examples of synchronicity did you find?

Tao_Te_ChingRichard Ellis Preston Jr.: Yay I get to discuss with the author! It was a really cool sense, Berit, and I’m not sure if “synchronicity” is the right word, which is why I added “akin to,” but I’ll elaborate. I had to look up the term to make sure I’m applying it the way I want to, and Jung’s description of “(synchronistic) events are ‘meaningful coincidences’ if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related” seems right. 1) The intense, (apparently epileptic?) bright light which rises nightly inside the narrator and takes him away from the physical world seemed to me to be strongly but inexplicably linked to the powerfully described interior experience of death (brightness) for the monk in the shrine when he performed what I assume is Sokushinbutsu. Both experiences, though causally unrelated beyond the narrator passing the mummy in the shrine on a tourist visit, seem to be related and important because they both seem to signal a return to nothingness, or a Tao-like absorption back into the whole, as the narrator senses so strongly at the end of the book. 2) Also, the attack of the owl and the out-of-whack storms and balances of the natural world are superficially separate but more easily related, as natural elements mankind alters and seeks to control turn on him in a chaotic result proving potentially deadly for both parties involved.

Richard Ellis Preston Jr.: Now that I’m thinking about it, I also would like to add that perhaps the narrator is the monk reincarnated/reborn in the Buddhist tradition, which would be interesting in the sense that through his meditations and purely natural self-mummification he has earned glimpses of the brightness (enlightenment) of Nirvana but the collapse of the natural world has screwed both his and the world’s evolving consciousness up as well. The narrator and the world are sitting in a heap of bad karma, literally.

VanderMeer Story BundleBerit Ellingsen: That’s an impressively thorough reading and understanding, Richard Ellis Preston Jr.! You are right on all accounts. Are you familiar with the Buddhist and Taoist traditions? They certainly inspired the book.

Richard Ellis Preston Jr.: Thanks, Berit – that’s quite a compliment coming from you. I’m big into the Tao and meditation, so I’m familiar with some elements of the Buddhist tradition. I was aware of the monk self-mummification, but I had to look up the actual word for it. That chapter was one of my favorites in the book.

Berit Ellingsen: Wow, Richard, I’m so glad and surprised to hear that. I actually thought most people would dislike that chapter because it looks so extreme from the view of a modern western life. I submitted the chapter a few places but I don’t think they liked it much. Some readers have said they enjoyed it. I’m impressed by your knowledge of the Taoist and Buddhist traditions. I find contemplative taoism and zen Buddhism say some very important things about life. When I researched the mummification, the articles emphasized that it was relatively rare, although mummies are found in Japan, Korea, China and Tibet. Probably other East-Asian countries too.

Richard Ellis Preston Jr.: The Tao is the best tool I personally have to understand life. I thought the monk chapter was a vivid, non-judgmental look into a real ritual I had never seen before. You did a fantastic job on the book. You certainly won me over as a fan. Bravo.”


berit_bearBerit Ellingsen is the author of two novels, Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio), and Une ville vide (PublieMonde), as well as a collection of short stories, Beneath the Liquid Skin(Queen’s Ferry Press). Berit’s work has been published in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, SmokeLong Quarterly, Unstuck, Litro, and other places, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the British Science Fiction Association Award. Berit travels between Norway and Svalbard in the Arctic, and is a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union.

Other works
Not Dark Yet
Une ville vide
The Humanity of Monsters
Flash Fiction International
Beneath the Liquid Skin

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