Mead, Vikings and Television

Mead

So last Tuesday, Dan came over and we bottled up the mead pitch that finished fermenting. It had been sitting a month and it’ll be another six at least until it’s ready for tasting. The smell was so powerful… the sheer alcoholic content dizzying. And it isn’t anything special either, just six pounds of Safeway brand honey and water with Kolsch yeast. Nothing else. We’re not even carbonating it, as I want to drink it in the traditional manner. It should be ready just in time for birthday-packed November.

As I set to work, my interest in viking culture flared again, enough that I decided to later sit down and watch a single, mid-stream episode of the History Channel’s Vikings. I managed to get fifteen minutes into it before turning it off, with the intention of watching it from the beginning later. I just wanted to take a measure of the series first, and the taste I took suggested a slower historic drama piece that mixes Game of Thrones with the characterization and story telling pace of Breaking Bad.

What’s interesting to me is that this is another example of cable television jumping on the historical drama bandwagon. They won’t jump into the violence and sex that HBO or Showtime can pull off, so they instead invest in story telling in the past, just as with Downton Abbey. (Another fine show I’ve fallen behind on…) And it’s not hard to imagine the value of it. While no one should expect a hard history lesson, these shows do convey a sense of cultures of antiquity.

Television, as a medium for story telling, has grown again in the last couple of years. Our last TV renaissance brought us great shows like The Wire, The Sopranos and Battlestar Galactica. A lot of that era was brought to us by HBO. These days, we’re seeing great shows come from very unlikely sources. AMC alone brought a handful of great shows out. PBS and the History Channel, of all people, each have one great show worth watching. I don’t watch Scandal regularly but I do respect that it’s a good show. And now Netflix is changing the game, bringing back shows thought dead like Arrested Development and The Killing, whenever they’re not blowing our minds with original series like House of Cards.

It’s not hard to wonder why. In the past, television actors have tended to be less skilled than their movie counterparts, with a few talented individuals who managed to find work in the multimillion dollar roles later. These days, the stigma of being a television actor are gone, as Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright play the Underwoods and Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson shock us with True Detective.

I suppose one reason for this is simply because television, at least as of late, tends to allow for internal promotions as an actor becomes central to a show.

If you take a look at opening credits in later episodes, it’s very common to see one of the main actors being listed as an executive producer, likely working to develop their own characters and some of the scripts. There is likely creative growth there, as power slowly shifts from the director to the actor. Directors frequently shift and share their positions on television, but the actors are seldom replaceable, recasting being a caution inducing move even between movie sequels. This credit can be very valuable as a means to pave the way into becoming a regular producer of future projects.

The downside I feel is that television, unlike a movie, can be really be difficult to keep up with as a pop culture topic. All you need to do is sit down for two hours and you’re caught up on the latest movie. Television frequently takes six to thirteen hours per season. If you choose the wrong television series to invest in, your friends might go on talking about season 3 of some series you haven’t even tried. As more great television comes out, it gets more and more difficult to keep up with it all. It’s even worse when you have someone you want to share television with and they’re not interested, or they’re behind.

I don’t think the good TV train is going to stop for a while, making it all the more easy to lost in it.

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Thoughts on “The Banner Saga”

That is a +1 mustache of gaming approval.

That is a +1 mustache of gaming approval.

Full disclosure: I have been working with Stoic Studios to do some writing for them, mostly to polish my craft as possible tie-in author in the future. While I still freely voice my opinion, I cannot claim that I’m impartial. So take it with a grain of salt. And pepper. And some delicious smoked paprika…

Last night I finally found some time to really, really dive into The Banner Saga. I thought I would just nibble a bit before bed. And before I knew it, three chapters and the night were gone.

I find myself eager to play, even now. The Banner Saga is a tall glass of tactical RPG we’ve sorely needed after the decade long feast of gorgeous-but-mundane AAA titles.

Once I started, it was difficult to put down. The multi-player Banner Saga: Factions prepared me well for the combat, as I’ve yet to lose a battle. But there were plenty of surprises left in store for me. The enemy AI isn’t a slouch foe- not perfect but far from terrible. And I found myself perplexed and intrigued that every fight was effectively a tactical puzzle, complete with surprises and depth. I might be carving my way through weak thugs, then suddenly realize that there’s a wolf amongst the sheep. Or find myself surrounded, trying to manage foes to one side as swiftly as I can before dealing with the other half.

There were new unit types to figure out, both on my side and against me. I found particular use for the spearman, a class whose extra ranged weapon pairs well in the corners when surrounded by varl or raiders, and I was really glad I pre-ordered the game and got my hands on crazy Tryggvi, a simple but valuable bonus.

Stoic borrowed the shifting POV chapter approach of Game of Thrones or rather A Song of Ice and Fire. But unlike George R.R. Martin, the chapter only ever shifts just as it’s situation begins to heat up. We’re chugging along on chapter 1 and my attention is all over the place until a certain character has died (death, the ultimate attention getter). But before that is followed up, we shifted over to Rook and his daughter Alette, whose village was escaping a dredge attack. But just as they’re out of the frying pan and into the fire, we switch back to the varls of chapter 1, leaving me anxious to know what happens next to the father-daughter duo and their allies.

The game is a true “page turner” if such a phrase could be applied to a game.

"Oh come on, ref! He's totally LeBroning!"

“Oh come on, ref! He’s totally LeBroning!”

Stoic’s approach to the adventuring and travel aspects is an intriguing and wondrous mess. As I marched along the road to my next destination, we occasionally run into problems. Sometimes it’s combat, which can be avoided or engaged. A risk in that one can gain promotions, items and reputation, but also lose men and expend supplies to recover post-battle.

Other times its issues in the camp, such as dealing with the damage inflicted by a drunk, or people wanting to leave to warn passing farms of the coming dredge. These short but simple events are reminiscent of The Sims and I am curious of the underlying mechanics of if or how they effect the overall story. Rewards and losses vary from more reputation (the game’s currency), men or supplies or even items useful for your heroes.

I don’t know yet how much of this is scripted or just random events that occur. These days, I have actively turned off reading wikis in order to be surprised and enjoy the simple delights of discovery. It always keeps me on my toes.

Funny thing is, I can’t tell how I feel about the lack of voice acting during the game’s narration. Part of me almost prefers it, being able to read the story at my own leisure. But that’s the reader in me coming out. Voice acting would have given another layer of polish that most gamers would prefer.

I’m hungry for more. But I must temper this with a reminder that The Banner Saga is merely part one and there’s part 2 and 3 to come. For all the great work they’ve done, I hope the developers keep this old viking proverb to heart:

“Praise not the day until evening has come;
a woman until she is burnt*;
a sword until it is tried;
a maiden until she is married;
ice until it has been crossed;
beer until it has been drunk.”

(*-I’m pretty sure this is referencing burial. If not, then those poor viking women…)

The Next Big Thing

I received an invitation from Alec McQuay to answer a selection of questions about my current writing workload. Behold the horror…

What is your working title of your book?
There’s actually a couple of projects I’m working on. I’m just sticking to short stories because it’s easier to finish up. I may start my first novel next year.

But for the time being, I’m working on a short story for Narrativium’s Marching Time anthology, simply titled Ragnarok for now. I am also pitching two new stories to Cruentus Libri Press. I can’t tell you about the new one I’m hacking away at, but the latest submission is a horror piece set in World War I, between the French and Germans.

Where did the idea come from for these stories?
For the Marching Time piece, I really can’t remember. No one had called out vikings, so I decided to do that. But then somewhere, I got this idea about how to make it a hero epic piece. For some reason, I really relished the chance to do the olde tyme thick epic, so I got started.

As for the WWI piece, that took considerable evolution. It originally began as an alternate history horror piece set in WWII. America was invaded by a hodge podge army of zombies. I can’t tell you more, but there was more depth to the tale than endless and pointless fighting. This WWII was started for a different publisher, but I changed my mind towards the end and wrote a mad scientist piece set during the storms of Dustbowl. It was a slow, building story that wasn’t particularly pulpy.

After the mad scientist piece was rejected, I returned to the original idea. During this time, I was getting ready for a trip to England, and was brushing up on my French and German with a girl who knew both. Somehow, this inspired me to try a WWI story, with several twists on the original tale. The zombies were removed, but I added a different foe. It’s called On Ne Passé Pas! but that title is subject to change.

What genre does your book fall under?
For the Marching Time piece, there are elements of sci fi and medieval style war in it. I tie large, important themes of Norse mythology into it, but I must remind the reader that during the Viking age, this was a religion and a few concepts of faith. All of this is very central to the story.

My other stories are primarily horror. Horror has been a great starting niche because it generally gives a lot of freedom, and horror literature lovers by no means expect feel good endings. But horror by itself isn’t a great genre. The best horror tends to blend itself with another genre. Horror fantasy (Berserk), horror crime, so on. A really important thing to remember when writing horror is that the horror elements should be hinted at or introduced early. Readers do not like last minute genre-bending, like Steven Spielberg’s A.I. They hate it, and I’m no fan myself.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’ve given no thought whatsoever to who I’d want to play my character for the Marching Time story. I would be open to no name actors, particularly from Swedish cinema. A few Swedish movies and shows have started making their way to the states, either original or remade. And they’re pretty good!

As for the WWI piece, this is going to blow your mind. I’d be open to having Sacha Baron Cohen for the lead role. I know, I know. You probably know him for his low brow comedies, like Borat, The Dictator and Brüno. But he’s also done somewhat more serious roles, like Hugo. And he has a part in the upcoming Les Misérables that I’m looking forward too. Sometimes, certain comedians are actually outstanding actors underneath the comedy mask, like John Leguizamo.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Ragnarok: When the gods march to their doom, for whom will you fight?
On Ne Passé Pas!: They have surrendered in droves to escape their own country…

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Ragnarok: To be honest, neither really describes it. It is technically self-published, but it was a large, group effort by just under a dozen talented individuals. It’s our first effort together and I really hope we can do it again soon. Just like The Black Wind’s Whispers.

On Ne Passé Pas!: If Cruentus Libri Press accepts it, they will. If not, I may put it on the back burner and figure out what to do with it later.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
For the MT anth, it’s still being worked on. The writing is thick and requires considerable care. For the other story, that is debatable. Its first real draft took only a week, but the idea evolved over several previous iterations over the course of six months. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Beowulf comes to mind for Ragnarok. The plot, I’m trying to think if and where it has been borrowed before. Probably from elements of historical acts involving religion.

For On Ne Passé Pas!, I really wanted to draw inspiration from the movie All Quiet on the Western Front. But there was a lack of trench warfare to it. I’d say more came from The Dirty Dozen.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
For Ragnarok, it might have been Dan Abnett with the 40k book, Prospero Burns. The Space Wolves, a group in the 40k universe, have been stereotyped as barbarians, but there’s more to them than that. Real life vikings, on whom the Space Wolves are based upon, have many similar misconceptions and falsehoods about them. I don’t know how much of an eye opener Ragnarok is going to be, but if I can set the records straight on a few historic facts, I will.

On Ne Passé Pas! was inspired by a woman who has helped me with my French and German, and a dash from my high school history teacher. Who, according to other students, was certifiable.  

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Because I’m not in charge of these books overall, I’m really not sure yet. I’m helping as an editor for Marching Time, so when first drafts start pouring in, I’ll have a better answer.

Here are a few other author’s (and links to their blogs) you should watch carefully.

Alec McQuay

Sarah Cawkwell

James Swallow

Kim Krodel