“justice league” vs. “thor”–who wins?

This past weekend, I saw Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok back-to-back.  So how did they compare?  Let’s take a look at several elements and see which movie did them better.  

***Some spoilers ahead***

JL

StoryJL is the DC Extended Universe’s version of 2012’s The Avengers: Super-powered bad guy from another dimension arrives on Earth with army of creepy aliens, forcing squabbling heroes to band together.  Thor takes almost everything you’ve known about the son of Odin and breaks it, with the God of Thunder losing his hammer, his hair, and his home when the evil Hela comes to claim her birthright.  Advantage: THOR

thor

Characters/Acting.  JL has the aforementioned Wonder Woman (ably portrayed by Gal Gadot), who continues to be as awesome as she was in her stand-alone film.  I’ve never understood the fanboy hatred for Ben Affleck as either Batman or Bruce Wayne: he’s not Christian Bale, but he’s not George Clooney, either.  Henry Cavill finally gets to play Superman as less angsty, more like Christopher Reeve’s charming version from the 1978 film.  Ezra Miller makes The Flash interesting by doing him as a pre-skeevy Woody Allen: a nervous, neurotic newbie in waaaay over his head.  Jason Momoa does the impossible and makes Aquaman cool: a taciturn, tattooed loner badass who, if he wasn’t the protector of the oceans, would be found riding a Harley somewhere on an empty road.  The others (including Ray Fisher as Cyborg, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane) are just…there.

In Thor, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston return as the Avenger and his shady stepbrother Loki.  They have such rapport, I’d watch a whole movie of them doing nothing more than talking while sharing pizza and beer.  Cate Blanchett’s Hela is more interesting than Ciarán Hinds’ motion-captured villain Steppenwolf from JL, but her character is seemingly evil for evil’s sake, and doesn’t give a clue as to what she would actually do with Asgard (or its people) after conquering them (in contrast to Loki, who would throw parties).  As the more loquacious Hulk, champion of the gladiator pits of Sakarr, Mark Ruffalo is not so much a mountain of rage as he is a childlike simpleton.  Jeff Goldblum doesn’t disappoint as the flaky Grandmaster, but Tessa Thompson (as Valkyrie) and Karl Urban (as Skurge) don’t do much for me.  Advantage: TIE.

Dialogue.  Both films have stuck most of their memorable lines in the trailers, which you may have seen more times than you cared to.  Superman mentions believing in “truth” and “justice,” but doesn’t get around to adding “the American way” (a bummer, because we all could probably use a bit of old-fashioned patriotism these days).

The elevator scene is the most poignant in T:R, and not long after, Thor tells Loki that he could become more than just the God of Mischief.  Though the comedy’s a bit overdone for my taste, Thor: Ragnarok throws so many quips against the wall that it wins on sheer volume.  Advantage: THOR.       

ToneJL takes itself seriously (about as serious as you take a superhero movie), with some moments of levity here and there.  It’s not as grim (thankfully) as Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, but not as engaging as Wonder Woman.

One would think that with “Ragnarok” in the title, Thor would be doom-and-gloom, but it’s riddled with humor–too much so, actually.  Like the guy at a party who keeps interrupting conversations to toss out one-liners, it’s funny the first few times, but after an hour or so, you’d wish he’d knock it off so the person you’re listening to can finish their story.  It’s especially irritating in the middle of high-stakes action scenes.  Advantage:  JUSTICE LEAGUE

Pace.  Both films move fairly quickly, though JL‘s exposition scene on who Steppenwolf is, what he wants, and why we should care feels longer than it actually is.  T:R rarely slows down.  Advantage: THOR       

Settings.  It’s hard to get excited about any place you’re looking at when you know that about 90% of it is CGI.  Both films have scenes where it seemed very obvious that the actors were staring at a blank wall while their characters were supposedly looking into the distance.  Props to JL for a sequence shot on location in Iceland (probably my favorite place on Earth), but the planet of Sakaar is very cool (and reminds me in a few ways of “Lonelylands,” from my upcoming novel This Wasted Land).  Advantage: TIE. 

Effects.  Best effects in Justice League: The Flash tries to sprint to aid his fellows fighting a newly-resurrected and momentarily confused Superman, only to discover that the Man of Steel can not only clearly see him, but can attack him, albeit just slowly enough that the Flash can narrowly elude his punches.  Worst effects: Steppenwolf looks like he stepped out a video game, and his Parademons don’t scare or impress.

Best effects in Thor: the God of Thunder becomes a whirlwind of ass-kicking as he lays the smack down on scores of fire demons in the depths of Muspelheim.  A similar scene occurs later against hordes of zombies.  Worst effects: A major character dissolves into golden glitter and scatters in the wind.  Seriously.  Advantage: THOR.       

Costumes.  The suits worn by the Justice League members look cool and functional.  The Internet’s been griping about the “bikini armor” worn by the Amazons, but hasn’t said squat about Aquaman, Thor, and the Hulk parading around half-dressed in some scenes.  I’m giving the nod to the movie that updated Aquaman’s look.  Advantage: JUSTICE LEAGUE.

MusicJL plays snippets of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme from the 1989 film, and from John William’s Superman theme from the 1978 movie.  A modern rendition of The Beatles’ “Come Together” plays in the credits.

Thor rocks out to Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song” during the opening and ending battles.  No contest.  Advantage: THOR

Post-credit scenes (Mondo spoilers!)Justice League calls back to the comics with a mid-credit scene where The Flash and Superman have a race to the Pacific Ocean to see who actually is The Fastest Man Alive.  A post-credit scene has Lex Luthor, recently escaped from confinement, recruits Deathstroke to form “a league of our own.”  

In the mid-credit scene from Ragnarok, Thor is on a spaceship bound for Earth, when it is intercepted by a large spaceship (maybe the flagship of the arch-villain Thanos?).  In the post-credit scene, the Grandmaster is seemingly oblivious to the unfriendly demeanor of some of his former citizens.  Advantage: JUSTICE LEAGUE    


Thor: Ragnarok takes 5 of 10 categories, to 3 for Justice League (with 2 ties).  I’d put T:R in my top 5 Marvel movies, behind Avengers 1, and Civil War, with Deadpool and Guardians 1 tied for third, but ahead of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Justice League is my second-favorite DC film, but that’s damning with faint praise, as Wonder Woman is the only excellent one.  Here’s hoping that other entries in the series (WW2, JL2, and stand-alone films for Batman, Aquaman, and Flash) are better.     

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.

Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time. 

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“have you heard how she talks? she’s a real character”

One of the challenges in creating characters for stories is developing a “voice” (or way of speaking) for each of them.  In real life, people don’t all sound the same, and neither should well-crafted characters: they ought to be distinctive, so that a reader can usually be able to tell who’s saying what, even if the author doesn’t identify them.

As an example, if you’re familiar with the first Star Wars movie, you don’t need to see onscreen who’s speaking—or even need to actually hear them speak—to recognize which of these characters would most likely say:

“I want to come with you to with you to Alderaan.  There’s nothing for me here now.  I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi, like my father.”

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

“Somebody has to save our skins.  Into the garbage chute, flyboy!”

“We’re doomed.”

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
     

(Then there’s this)

Developing those voices is, of course, easier said, than done. 

I’ve been writing fiction since I was in the 4th grade, creating lots of characters along the way.  I started running games and campaigns of Dungeons & Dragons (and other role-playing games) when I was in high school, which gave me the opportunity to make hundreds of characters, most of them non-player characters (NPCs) that interacted with the players.  In either situation—written stories or interactive gaming—getting the “voices” right—not just what they sounded like, but what they said, and how they said it— was crucial.  I used two methods to come up with character “voices.” 

The quicker, easier one is what I call the “casting” method, and I used it all the time for gaming.  When creating the character, I imagined what actor/actress (or rarely, a person I knew in real life) I would cast to play that part, and then I would act out him/her accordingly. 

For example, one NPC I came up with was a laconic innkeeper with a violent past that he had moved on from.  His inn was located in a rough part of the city, and he carried himself with a reserve that made it clear—to player characters and other NPCs—that he was not to be trifled with.  When portraying him live during games, I took my inspiration from Javier Bardem’s assassin Anton Chigurh from this scene in No Country for Old Men:

My innkeeper did not flip any coins to decide if he would kill someone, nor did he badger player- characters with antagonistic questions, but he had the same standoffish manner.  Like Chigurh, my innkeeper didn’t care for unnecessary conversation, and responded brusquely—if at all—to any personal questions (such as why he had seven tally marks tattooed onto his arm).  

The other way for creating characters, which I use for novels and other long pieces of writing, I call the “discovery” method, and it requires more patience.  To start, I come up with and write down some facts (usually two or three paragraphs) about who the character is, including the following:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Nationality/ethnicity
  • Appearance
  • Education level
  • Occupation

I write down what has happened to them in the past, and what is their most important goal that they want to accomplish as the story unfolds.  Sometimes, I know one before the other.  Sometimes, what I think they want doesn’t make sense given what’s happened to them before, or vice versa.  Hopefully, I can nail those down before I’ve written too much and have to undertake lengthy revisions.  

As I’m writing, I put myself inside their head and “speak” as I imagine they might, sort of like method acting.  I don’t decide ahead of time what diction they’ll use: instead, as I progress through the novel, I “discover” who this character is, almost as if I’m getting to know a real person. 

Invariably, their “voice” becomes more and more distinct, and often, it changes quite a bit from when I first started writing them.  In that case, I have to go back and tweak their earlier dialogue to make it sound like it’s the same person.

This is not to say that I let the characters evolve any old way: like a gardener that winds a vine up a trellis, I’ll point them in certain directions, or establish what they *wouldn’t* say. 

For example, Juanita, the mother to the titular girls of my novel Dragontamer’s Daughters, is educated and of noble birth: she has an extensive vocabulary, and rarely, if ever, uses contractions in her speech. 

dtdfinalfront

The Rottweiler Jake in Lost Dogs has had his tail docked, which limits his ability to “speak” (the dogs in my novel mostly communicate non-verbally), so when he does “talk” (which isn’t often), it’s in simple words and short sentences.

jake

Also, these two methods I use are not mutually exclusive.  Sometimes I’ll start off with an idea of what actor I would cast to play a character, and over time, that character’s voice changes.  Sometimes, I’ll “cast” a voice that’s already evolving to give it some guidance.  

For my latest book, This Wasted Land (to be published in 2018), my feisty teenage heroine Alyx is prone to using lots of slang, foul language, and starting sentences and questions with “So” (as in, “So, what’s the deal with that douchebag?”).

She’ll arbitrarily drop verbs, nouns, or articles.  Sometimes, she speaks in very short sentences, sometimes in run-ons, especially when she’s under extreme stress.  I didn’t set out having Alyx speak in a particular way: her “voice” just flows out of me like that.  Here’s a scene early in the book, when she’s riding her motorcycle with her boyfriend Sam, and they come upon a traffic jam.

A semi lying on its side across both lanes.  Blue and red lights: cops, fire trucks, EMT ambulance.  Cars backed up in front of us.  I go through the gears, slow down, drift onto the shoulder.  Maryland state trooper up there by the wreck sees me, shakes his head, waves for me to get back onto the road.  I brake, stop, shrug, point past the truck.  He shakes his head again, mouths No, waves me back, more insistent this time.  Another asshole, just like all the Maryland state troopers.  I give him the finger, then pull back in behind a black Dodge Avenger.

Soon after, Sam is snatched by a witch, who carries him off to another world, a cold, gray wasteland.  Alyx follows, and meets Mike Fernandez.  With his sarcastic tone and “me-first” attitude, he starts off a lot like Sawyer from the TV show Lost.  Underneath Mike’s gruff, abrasive exterior was a cold, prickly interior:

As he comes to know Alyx, he takes on more a protective, parental tone, similar to Logan as portrayed by Hugh Jackman.  His exterior hasn’t changed, but his interior isn’t so cold in later chapters.  He’s still a jerk, though.

In the scene below, Alyx has recently met Mike, and is asking him about the strange world she’s found herself in.

The wind comes by, softer this time, a low huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrhhhh that only swirls the dust.  But it’s cold and makes me shiver.  “Does where we are—this world, whatever it is—have a name?”

“Not that I know of.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Has your boyfriend ever told you that you run your mouth a lot?”

“No.  Usually he talks more than me.”

“Christ on a stick.  You two must be quite the couple.”

“He’s nice.”

“That’s nice.”

“And he’s smart.”

“I can’t possibly care any less.”

“Then why are you helping me find him?”

“I’m not.  I’m letting you tag along so that when the next monster tries to eat me, I can push you in front of it and run like hell the other way.”

“Ha ha.”

“What makes you think I’m joking?”

“You wouldn’t really do that.”

“Yeah, I would.”

“Then why did you tell me?  Now I know what your plan is.”

“I told you so that you’d think I wouldn’t do it, because I told you I would.”

“You are the most obnoxious person I have ever met in my life.”

“You need to get out more.  Meet some people.”  He stops, stares ahead.  “Hmmm.”  I try to see what he’s looking at.

“What?”  I keep walking.

He looks around—left, right, behind us, left again, right again.  Points to something ahead.  “Hurry.”  Starts running that way.

Later on, they meet Paddoch, who has multiple deformities and doesn’t speak English well (it’s not even his second, third, or fourth language), so he struggles with vocabulary and grammar.  As his “voice” evolved, I decided that he always puts nouns at the beginning of sentences, direct objects right after them, and verbs at the end.  He can’t conjugate verbs in English, so he uses them in the infinitive (“Alyx food to want?”). 

His dialogue can be difficult to write so that the reader understands him, and I try very hard not to make him sound like Yoda:     

 

“Paddoch,” I say.  It sounds kinda like pad and dock, but at the end, it rhymes with loch, like that lake in Scotland that supposedly has a monster.

He looks up.

“The scary woman….” I say.

“Freydis,” he answers.

“You said she’s with Ōth.”  He nods.  “She’s…what?  His girlfriend or something?”

“His bitch,” Mike says.

“She Ōth to belong.”

“What do you mean?”

“She Ōth’s threll.”

“‘Threll?’”

“‘Thrall’ is the word I think he’s going for,” Mike says.  “A slave.”  He holds his hands up, tries to pull his wrists apart but can’t, like there’s chains on them.

Paddoch nods.  “Freydis Ōth’s slave to be.”

“And who is Ōth?” I ask.

Ōth (pronounced like the word for a vow or promise) is a major antagonist who appears toward the end of This Wasted Land, and I’m still developing him.  One inspiration for his voice is the character of Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem again—can you tell I’m a fan?) from this scene in Skyfall.  Like Silva, Ōth has a patrician bearing, and when he speaks, it’s as if he’s a cat toying with a mouse in his paws. 

While I’m writing dialogue for characters, sometimes I’ll throw in expressions and verbal mannerisms I’ve picked up from people I know.  Like my late father-in-law, the dragontamer in my first novel has the habit of muttering, “I’ll tell the world”—another way of saying, “Can you believe this?” when something incredible happens. 

Cynthia, Sam’s sister in TWL, will sometimes reply with, “Fact,” which I got from my brother-in-law Drew:  

It was just like a Kent Island football game, only bigger.  All the guys took off their hats. Lots of people put their hands over their hearts.  I just stood there.  The girl started singing, and her voice was like a princess from those Disney movies.

Everyone but me sang along with her, and when it got to the O, say does that star-spangled banner still wave part, everyone shouted “O!” real loud, just like they did at the Kent Island games.  Sam and Cynthia and his mom did, too.

After that Christina chick was done and everyone clapped and we sat down, I asked Sam, “What the hell is that ‘O’ thing you all do?”

“It’s for the Orioles.”

“Who?”

“The baseball team,” Cynthia said.  “Tell me that you can’t be more stupid than my brother.  Even he knows that.” 

“I know we’re at a football game,” I told her.  “Apparently, none of the rest of you do.”

“It’s a Baltimore thing,” Sam said.

“It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Fact,” Cynthia said.

More about TWL some other time….

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.

Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time.  

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getting “wasted” to led zeppelin

The latest in a series about influences from my earlier days

Many–probably most–writers listen to music as they work, but for me, it’s more than background noise. Some musicians, some songs inspire me when I’m writing, and that’s especially true for my latest project, This Wasted Land, a young adult dark fantasy novel that will be published in early 2018.

My favorite band is Led Zeppelin, the premier group of the 1970’s. With guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham, Zeppelin was a perfect example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts, so much so that when Bonham died in 1980, the group disbanded rather than attempt to replace him.

zeplogo

Even if you’re not a fan of classic hard rock, you have surely heard–perhaps more times than you’ve cared to–their magnum opus “Stairway to Heaven,” which Rolling Stone magazine listed as #31 on its list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” (not bad for a band that RS hated during Zep’s heyday).

But while people may automatically think of the over-played “Stairway” when they hear the name of the band, it doesn’t epitomize what Zeppelin was. Led Zep’s music evolved from their early years of blues-rock (the albums LZ I and II), to quasi-folk music (LZ III and the untitled fourth album); to what I call their “epic” sound of the albums Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti, the challenging but underappreciated Presence, and In Through The Out Door.

It’s those “epic” albums that I most favor. To be sure, not every song has inspired me–“The Crunge” and “Hot Dog” are just goofy fun–but many of the others have. There’s a grandeur to them, a vastness of scale, a dizzying intricacy, and a permeating “light and shade,” as Jimmy Page referred to it.

There’s also a tremendous intensity of emotions–love, joy, hope, pain, anger, remorse–that the music and vocals convey and evoke, that reach deeply into me even as I listen to these songs for what seems to be the thousandth time. I flip past “Whole Lotta Love” when its comes on my car radio; I am riveted by “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

I hope to harness and bring that emotional firepower to This Wasted Land. Almost 30 years ago, when I first conceived of the story, Zeppelin’s music was the soundtrack in my head:

All I see turns to brown

As the sun burns the ground

And my eyes fill with sand

As I scan this wasted land

“Kashmir” provides the title for my next novel, but it’s not the first time I’ve gone to that well.  “Traveller of both time and space” is part of another line from the song, and it’s the title of a piece of fan fiction I wrote for my Warhammer 40K gaming website, the Jungle.

Listening to “Kashmir,” I imagine Alyx, my feisty teenage heroine of TWL, crossing endless gray wastes, evading or battling monsters, as she pursues the shapeshifting witch Freydis, who has abducted her boyfriend, Sam, and brought him to the nightmare realm of Lonelylands, ruled by Oth, Freydis’ merciless master.

And it’s another Zeppelin song that makes me think of Freydis in all her cruelty, and pain, and want:

In the evening

When the day is done

I’m looking for my woman

Oh, but the girl won’t come

So don’t let her

Play you for no fool

She don’t show no pity, baby

She don’t make no rules

“In the Evening,” with its unearthly intro, phantasmal guitar solo, and Plant’s wrenching wails, is my favorite Zeppelin song. It’s especially relevant to This Wasted Land (I can say no more lest I give too much away), but I like it so much that a chapter in each of my other novels–Dragontamer’s Daughters, and Lost Dogs,–is named after it.

Oh, I need your love

Oh, I need your love

Ooh, yeah, I need your love

I’ve got to have

I’ve got to have

After the band broke up, Robert Plant embarked on a distinguished solo career that continues to this day (his latest album, Carry Fire, will debut on October 13, 2017). I became a huge fan, and like with Zeppelin, his solo work inspired me as well. More on that–and on TWL–some other time.

 


 

Lest I am misconstrued, I do think highly of Zep’s earlier work, particularly:

…and, of course, “Immigrant Song,” most recently–and appropriately–used for the teaser trailer to the upcoming film Thor: Ragnarok.  As a huge fan of Zep and Thor, you can bet your last dollar that I’ll be there on opening night.

 

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.

Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time.  

 

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A new “spider-man” for a new generation

Spider-Man Homecoming is not your dad’s Spider-ManIt’s not even your big brother’s Spider-Man.  But it is the one you’ve been waiting for.  It is the quintessential Spider-Man movie.

I’m a lifelong Spidey fan: when I was a kid, I read the books, watched the cartoon reruns and the cheesy live-action TV series, and sat through The Electric Company just for the Spider-Man segmentsBut you don’t have to be a hardcore Wall-Crawler follower to like S-M:H.  There’s so much to love about it, that I hardly know where to begin telling you. 

(Some minor spoilers ahead)

spidey2

Almost everything from the comics is in it, but it’s all completely new.  So, about Aunt May.  If you saw Captain America: Civil War (and, of course you did), you know that May is an attractive forty-something woman (“Aunt Hottie,” as Tony Stark called her in Civil War) instead of being the fragile old lady she was in the books and previous films. 

No longer a bullying athlete, Flash Thompson is now a smug rich-kid who would like to think he’s as smart as Peter Parker, but is often proven wrong.  Liz Allen, Betty Brant, Ned Leeds, “MJ,”: they’re all there, but they’re different in looks and personalities.  So, too, are the villains—but we’ll get to them in a bit.  True, J. Jonah Jameson is not there to bedevil our hero, but perhaps he will show up in the future (though I doubt anyone can top J.K. Simmons’ performance).

You don’t have to endure the origin story AGAIN.  I remember watching The Amazing Spider-Man, and shaking my head in disbelief that it was re-telling how Peter Parker became the Webhead, from the bite, to Uncle Ben getting shot, to making the costume, and learning that, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  

The smartest move that this movie’s writers did was acknowledge that you’ve most likely seen or read all this before.  But just in case you recently awoke from a 55-year nap, there are a few lines of dialogue between Peter and Ned about how a spider gave him its abilities (followed by many more lines where Ned asks specifics: “Do you lay eggs? Do you have a poison bite? Can you summon an army of spiders?”).  Peter also makes a reference to “all that” May’s “been through,” implying Ben’s death.

ned&pete

The cast is superb. Give them high marks for trying, but Tobey Maguire never seemed like a kid, and Andrew Garfield came off as too self-confident, but Tom Holland is, well…amazing…as the conflicted Peter Parker and the new-at-this Spider-Man. Peter’s high-school pals are solid, there’s plenty of RDJ’s always-entertaining Tony Stark, Marisa Tomei does more than just bring Peter milk and cookies, and Michael Keaton…whoa.  He needs his own entry.      

The Vulture is a surprising badass—and is surprisingly sympathetic.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been criticized for its lack of memorable bad guys.  There are Tom Hiddleston’s scene-stealing Loki, and Josh Brolin’s sitting-on-the-sidelines Thanos, and then there’s been everyone else (the most disappointing of which was Ben Kingsley’s faux-Mandarin).

Thus, my hopes were not high, especially given that the main villain would be The Vulture, an old dude in a lame bird costume.  Just as they’ve done with other characters, Marvel updated Vulture’s gear (metal wings and talons reverse-engineered from alien tech recovered after The Battle of New York) so that he’s more than a match against Spider-Man. 

toomes

But it’s Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Adrian Toomes, the man in the flight suit, that makes this bad guy special.  At the start of the film, Toomes is the owner of a small salvage company whose contract with the city to clean up The Avengers’ mess is canceled by the Feds, acting with Stark’s Damage Control to take over operations.  At the end of their financial rope, Toomes and his employees turn to crime, stealing more gear brought in after Avenger missions, using it to make weapons, and selling them to crooks.

Without giving away too much, the audience discovers that Toomes’ motivations are noble, even if his methods are unsavory.  He’s not out to rule the world or cause mayhem, and though he knows what he does is wrong, he believes it’s necessary.  Though he can be cruel and menacing, he does have a sense of honor and decency.      

stark&peter

It ties into the MCU, but is its own thingIn the comics, Spider-Man has crossed paths with just about every other superhero, but his stories always worked best with him solo.  That’s reflected in the movie as well: though Iron Man appears, and there are many references to The Avengers, Peter is mostly on his own, pretty much by his own choice.    

It’s funny. C’mon: it’s a Marvel movie, so it’s much lighter in tone than, say, Batman v Superman or Logan.  There are lots of comedic bits, though surprisingly, Spidey—despite his history of slinging out one-liners as he fights bad guys—is not the funniest character (that honor would fall to his sidekick, Ned, followed closely by Captain America.  Yes, Cap.  Really).

It does throwbacks to famous bits from the comics and previous movies.  Long-time Spider-Man readers may notice the Shocker’s outfit, the trim of Toome’s jacket, even the shape of some of the weapons made by The Tinkerer.  There are callouts to specific scenes from the books (Spidey trapped under the rubble) and movies (Liz Allen asks for a kiss as her hero hangs upside down in front of her).  You don’t have to be a total Webhead-geek to appreciate the movie, but the more you know, the more you’ll enjoy it (look for Mac Gargan, because he’s sure to be in the next film).

tinkerer

The “Parker luck” is still a thing.  Spider-Man is the closest that Marvel has to Charlie Brown: every time he thinks things are finally going his way, it never lasts.  His camera runs out of film while he’s taking pictures of himself fighting crime; his landlord harasses him to pay the rent; he gets caught in the rain and catches a cold; he bombs a school test because he was too busy battling a supervillain to study.  I can’t give examples from the movie without spoiling them, but they’re there, and the last one (involving Liz) is a doozy. 


Spider-Man: Homecoming is the movie I’ve wanted since before I was Peter’s age.  It truly does feel like the adventures of a fledgling superhero, with all the awkwardness and drama that adolescence brings.  My teenage daughter got a kick out of the Washington, DC scenes (she’s spent a lot of time there, lately).  I was surprised to find that the homecoming dance in the movie has the same theme as the one I mention in my WIP young adult novel This Wasted Land.  More about TWL some other time.

 

spidey

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, to be published in 2017.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

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“wonder woman” and rescuing the prince

(spoilers ahead—duh!)

A month (as of this writing) after its release in the U.S., the film Wonder Woman is a box-office hit and a cultural phenomenon.  To people who were not comic-book fans, WW, like Captain America: The First Avenger, took a character not as popular or “cool” as other heroes (Marvel’s Spider-Man or Wolverine in the case of Cap; DC’s Superman or Batman for Wonder Woman) and made them awesome overnight

Much has already been written about the movie (including this great review from fantasy author John C. Wright), but one aspect I haven’t read yet is how WW deals with its male characters.

wwteam

In tales and novels, comic books, and films of action and adventure and derring-do, it used to be a given that the strong, capable, brave, manly hero would fight evil, save the world, and rescue the princess (too often, most of those princesses—Star Wars’ Leia notwithstanding—were exasperatingly depicted as weak and helpless).  If a woman was present, she was usually the male hero’s sidekick and/or romantic interest.

WW, of course, subverts this trope, with the Amazonian princess Diana (expertly performed by Gal Gadot) taking on almost all the challenges, accompanied by Steve Trevor (solidly played by Chris Pine, whose Captain James T. Kirk from the new Star Trek movies knows a thing or two about being the manly hero).  And therein lies a potential problem.

ww and steve

That being that while audiences may have been conditioned, over too many years and by too many stories, to expect and put up with damsels in distress, they have very little patience or sympathy for useless male characters (like those here and here).  It would have been easy for WW to portray Trevor (and his mercenary companions Sameer, Charlie, and “Chief”) as ineffectual and wimpy compared to the superhuman warrior Diana.

wwsteve

The movie wisely avoids this problem by giving Trevor (and chums) plenty to contribute.  While only Wonder Woman can cross no-man’s land by herself (one of the film’s best—if not the best—vignette), and go toe-to-toe with the Ares, Steve is the only one who can help Diana save humankind.  In addition to introducing and explaining the world outside Themyscira to her, he guides her to where she needs to go, assembles a team to aid her, infiltrates the enemy stronghold, and sacrifices himself to destroy the plane carrying poisonous gas, while she struggles against the god of war.

Steve is as heroic and capable as a man can be, but he cannot do what Diana does.  Diana is as heroic and capable as a superwoman can be, but she cannot know what Steve does.  Their characters and abilities complement each other, but as the movie progresses, she grows, learning more and more about the world and its people.

By the end of the film, Diana has come into her own, fulfilling her destiny, and assuming her born role as Earth’s sworn protector.  She no longer needs Steve, but still cares deeply for him, as evidenced by her cherishing the photograph of them.

wwphoto

Despite all he does, Steve does not rescue a princess.  Nor is he a “prince” who needs rescuing, unlike Sam from This Wasted Land, my young adult dark fantasy novel that I’ll publish this fall.  TWL is your typical teenage love story: Boy meets Girl; Boy is Abducted by Evil Witch; Girl goes to get Boy back.

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Like WW, my novel is subverting the damsel-in-distress trope, but I’ve put a lot into making sure that Sam doesn’t come across as a “gamma male.”  Like Diana and Steve, Alyx and Sam complement each other: she’s feisty, withdrawn, artistic, and a newcomer to Kent Island High School; he’s level-headed, outgoing, scholarly, and has lived on Kent Island all his life.  I’ll have more about them soon.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in 2017.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

 

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harry potter, katniss, and frodo: what makes a hero?

(h/t Patrick Eibel)

Check out this cool animated video from TED-ed on the “Hero’s Journey.”  Based on Professor Joseph Campbell’s research of the “monomyth,” the video describes how many heroes in literature–including Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and Frodo Baggins–go through a pattern of events through their stories:

  1. Call to Adventure
  2. Assistance from a Mentor
  3. Departure from the Ordinary World into a World of Adventure, or Special World
  4. Trials and Struggles in the World of Adventure
  5. Approaching the Greatest Challenge
  6. Crisis: the Hero’s Lowest Point
  7. The Hero Obtains a Great Treasure
  8. The Result of What the Hero Has Accomplished in the World of Adventure
  9. Return to the Ordinary World
  10. The Hero Begins a New Life in the Ordinary World
  11. Resolution of Loose Ends of the Story
  12. A New Ordinary World Arising From the Hero’s Actions

A shorter way of thinking about “The Hero’s Journey,” or “The Path of the Hero” (you’ll find it addressed either way) is:

  1. Separation
  2. Initiation
  3. Return

Looking at Harry, Katniss, Frodo, or just about any other “hero” from stories or movies, you’ll find that they more-or-less follow the “Journey.”  This is not to say, however, that they have to come to each step along the way, or that the steps can’t be ordered differently.

In fact, there might be additional steps, such as “Refusal of the Call,” when the hero resists leaving the Ordinary World. Think of this scene from Episode IV of Star Wars, where the Hero (Luke Skywalker), having received Assistance from the Mentor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), explains why he can’t leave home to undertake Trials in the World of Adventure:

I’ve applied “The Hero’s Journey” in each of my published novels–Buddy in Lost Dogsand Isabella in Dragontamer’s Daughters–and in This Wasted Land, my work-in-progress (which I’ll publish this fall).

You can read more about “The Hero’s Journey” in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. I also recommend The Power of Myth.

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in 2017.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

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what’s been the best day of your life (so far)?

Think about that for a minute.  Could you tell me or anyone else what single day has been the best of your life–at least so far?  (One can hope that an even better day awaits you in the future)

I have an excellent (though not infallible) long-term memory, and yet it took me quite a while to answer this question.  Not because I have had so many absolutely perfect days that picking “the best” was difficult–quite the opposite, actually.  I could easily tell you what the worst day of my life was, not only exactly what happened, and who else was involved, and what was said, and how I felt, but also the date and day of the week, even to roughly about the hour that everything fell to pieces.

I could also easily tell you about the second-worst day of my life, exactly what happened, who else was involved, etc.  And the third.  And several other.  I could, but I won’t.  The stories are too personal, and they would either bring you down or bore you.  Everyone has their troubles, and though mine affected me greatly (and a few still cause me some pain), they’re nothing too far out of the ordinary.  And other people I know have suffered far, far worse.

But the best day of my life?  And by “the best,” I mean nothing more than the most pleasurable, the most enjoyable day, not the most significant, or anything else.  The sort of day that you would want to relive, if you could.  The sort of day that would be the prototype for what each day in Heaven would be.

So, the best.  For me, it’s tough to decide.

You might think it would be graduating high school or college, but by the time I got there, I was sick of it and just wanted to get out.  You might think it would scoring the winning touchdown, or hitting the decisive home run, or sinking a three-point buzzer beater in a big game, but I’ve never been much of an athlete (and really, football’s the only sport I’m passionate about).

You might think it would be getting married, but our wedding was, in all honesty, a bit of a mess that nevertheless turned out all right.  You might think it would be either of the days when my children were born, but there were complications (the first time, I thought I was going to lose my wife and/or my daughter on the operating table).  It wasn’t getting a particular job or visiting a certain place: I’ve had good jobs and crappy jobs, been to beautiful places and horrible places.

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It’s not that I’m unhappy now, because now is the best time of my life.  I have a wonderful, loving wife who treats me exceedingly well; two girls who have matured into smart, capable young women of whom I am very proud; a nice home in an excellent part of the country (I refer to where I live as The Shire); lots friends and relatives whom I cherish; a challenging but not too-demanding job that pays me more money than I ever thought I would make; and the opportunity to blog, run a popular wargaming website, and publish books, the last of which is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child.

And it’s not that I don’t have a lot of happy memories, because I do.  I’ve had thousands and thousands of great moments with family and friends.  Within the last few years, I visited London, Iceland, Italy, and France, and those were wonderful trips, especially Paris (driving in Italy wasn’t fun at all, but once we got to where we were going, it was well worth it).  My daughters have been in fantastic musical productions at their high school (I liked Hairspray and Beauty and the Beast best).

beauty

When they were little, I loved taking our girls to Dutch Wonderland and to Disney World. I’ve owned a lot of pets who gave me lots of joy.  I’ve had the pleasure of watching my Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins win several Super Bowls (we won’t discuss Neil O’Donnell or that one against the Raiders).  And so on.

Watching the tantalizing last drive by the Steelers as they try to defeat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII

But to choose the single best day of the 18,000+ I’ve already lived?

If we’re talking about a day when everything was fun, when everything went right, when there was no drama or problems, and I was just having a great time with family and friends, I’d have to say that the best day was my 40th birthday party.

It started with my favorite breakfast of bacon and eggs, then I set up downstairs for a huge game of Warhammer 40,000 using every unit and model of my overly large Space Marine army.  For quite some time, I had always wanted to play the whole army at once, but ordinarily, it wasn’t feasible.  A little while later, a few of my gamer friends showed up with their Eldar armies, and we had a massive and very enjoyable game for several hours, all the while consuming adult beverages.

bbk1

The game ended in a draw as we left for my mother’s house, where she was kind enough to host a huge party for me.  The food and drink were fantastic (my mother is an excellent cook), plenty of people came, the weather was gorgeous (no sure thing, in November), we had rented lawn games (like mini-golf), and everyone had a wonderful time.

The night culminated with my brother-in-law Drew, my friend Mike, and I jumping off my folks’ pier into the Chesapeake Bay on a lark, but even though the water was VERY cold (and immediately sobering), it was great fun, and something I’d do again in a heartbeat.

So, no, it wasn’t a day as important as graduating from college, or getting married, or seeing my children being born.  But for sheer joy, I don’t know if I can beat that day, when I was doing what I love with people I love, when everyone was happy and had a great time.

How about you?  What’s been your best day so far?

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in 2017.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

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vikings with guns attack a 7-11 in africa, or why you shouldn’t look at a writer’s browser history

Many of the authors I know like to joke that if the FBI,  CIA, NSA, or any other 3-letter federal agency looked at the search results in Internet browser history, they (the writers, that is) would swiftly be hauled away to either a black site for intensive interrogation, or to a mental institution for lengthy observation.  That’s because we sci-fi/fantasy writers research the oddest stuff for our work.

Case in point, here’s a partial list of what I pulled up the other night while writing two scenes of the latest chapter I’m working on for This Wasted Land, a young adult dark fantasy I’ll publish later this year:

  • “Big Empty,” by Stone Temple Pilots
  • Shopping malls and stores of western Africa
  • Currency of Ghana

ghana

  • Symptoms of jaundice
  • Popular candy bars from outside the U.S.
  • “Go tell Aunt Rhody”
  • The correct spelling of SpaghettiOs, Cheetos, and Powerade

cheetos

  • Mossberg shotgun with pistol grip
  • Bushmaster AR-15

shotgun

DSCF1296

From that list, you might be forgiven if you suppose that TWL is about Vikings, armed with military weapons, who raid a convenience store in Africa.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but I must admit that would make a kick-ass story–maybe some other time.  I describe TWL as:

  • Boy meets girl
  • Boy is abducted by witch
  • Girl goes to get him back.

Come back soon, and I’ll have more about This Wasted Land, including some sneak peeks.  Next time out, I’ll talk about the music I’m listening to–and is inspiring–TWL.

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in 2017.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

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feelings aren’t always your friends

Growing up, people tell you to

Get in touch with your feelings

and

You’ll feel it if it’s right

and

Don’t fight your feelings

and

Go with what your gut tells you.

They say things like:

I feel your pain

or

I’m not feeling it

and they ask

How do you feel about that?

and they say

Trust your feelings.

And they might be right sometimes.

But:

feeling1

People want you to

Share your feelings

and they say

If it feels good, do it

and at the movies, it’s

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this”

and every song you hear anywhere is all about feelings.

And that’s okay, I guess.

But I’ve learned that

feelings2a

*except when they’re telling you that you’re in danger–always listen to them then!  
Better to be safe than…well, you know

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve felt really strongly about something…

…and it turned out to be wrong.

You see,

feeling3Your feelings might tell you

He loves you

or

She hates you

or 

You can’t trust this one

or

You can believe that one.

Your feelings might say

I love her

or

I hate him

but

feeling4

If you’ve ever had your heart broken, you know what I mean.

Feelings don’t mean to lie. It’s just that they don’t think. They can’t think.  So,

feelings5

And that’s not always a bad thing, but you have to be careful.

feelings6

Don’t quit school or your job because of one bad day.

Or two.

Or even a whole week.

Or a month.

Don’t give up on people who love you even if they make mistakes

or aren’t as strong as you

or don’t know what you know,

so long as they’re trying, really trying to get better

to do better

to be better

and not just trying to hurt you.

You see,

feelings7

 Decisions that there was no coming back from.

Decisions that changed my life forever.

Decisions that I’ll always regret.

That’s because

feelings9

 and

feelings10

and

feelings11

Sometimes, you have to stop listening to your feelings for a while.

Just put them on MUTE and think.

Think about might happen if you do what they’re telling you to do.

It can be fun every once in a while to lose some control and let your feelings take over.

But when you need to, you have to be in charge of them,

not them in charge of you.

Otherwise, they’re like dogs with a new plaything.

They’ll drag you around the yard

and use you to play tug-of-war against each other

and gnaw on you

and finally drop you off somewhere, all slobbery and gross

or just bury you somewhere and forget about you.

feelings12It’s happened to me way too many times

and it’s never much fun.

I’m not saying

Be a robot.

I’m not saying

Be cold.

I’m not saying

Don’t feel.

 I’m just saying

feelings13

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in 2017.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

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why hand-sell books?

Last Saturday, I participated in the 20th annual “Heck With The Malls” artisans’ fair in Centreville, MD, peddling my books alongside jewelry-makers, painters, woodcarvers, knitters, etc.  If you’re an author, you might wonder why I would try to sell books at a craft fair (step this way, and I’ll explain).  More likely, you might wonder why, in the Age of Amazon, I’d bother hand-selling books at all.

heck2016

I’ll tell you, but first, let me define the term for the newbies and the non-authors.  “Hand-selling” is the act of selling physical copies of books, as opposed to electronic ones (such as Kindle versions) done face-to-face, usually at events like signings, or public readings.

It can be very rewarding, but it’s not for every author.  Why not?  Because:

  • It’s very time-intensive (you can easily spend a whole day doing it);
  • There are up-front costs (copies of books, promotional materials, travel, possible entry fees, etc.); and,
  • There’s a large amount of risk (bad weather or poor attendance, among other things, can scuttle your sales).

In addition, there’s the fact that, most likely, you’ll get more of your sales online, or through bookstores (if you’re fortunate enough to have them carry you), than you will by hand-selling.  In the time it takes to introduce yourself and pitch your book to a prospective customer standing in front of you, you could potentially sell hundreds or even thousands of copies online (provided, of course, that you’re a big-name author with a hot new release—in which case, I should be getting sales advice from you).

So why bother?  Because hand-selling books isn’t so much about moving paper copies as it is about making connections with readers.

With millions of books on Amazon, and thousands more appearing every day, the greatest challenge any author faces is discoverability.  How are people going to find out about you and your work?  Hand-selling is one way.

What hand-selling has going for it over all other methods of promoting one’s books is that it can’t help but be very personal.  You, the author, are right there, live and in the flesh, interacting with potential readers.  People can and do ignore online ads and e-mails, but it’s more difficult to blow off someone holding out their hand and introducing themselves.

heck2016c

Experts will tell you that talking with someone face-to-face is the most effective form of communication, and not just for conveying information.  In addition to hopefully making sales, hand-selling books allows you to:

  • Forge bonds with people, so that you’re not just a name on a cover, you’re a person they know;
  • Distribute business cards and other promotional items that people can take with them;
  • Tell about upcoming books and appearances in media;
  • Collect e-mail addresses for your mailing list;
  • Gain followers on social media; and,
  • Build a fanbase.

In short, hand-selling sells YOU, the author.  Though I had many sales at “Heck With The Malls,” those were merely gravy.  More important was that I met a lot of people; handed out lots of promo cards, most of them for This Wasted Land, my upcoming novel; got some e-mail addresses; and made (and reconnected with) fans.

twlcard1

Are you going to make a killing hand-selling books?  Most likely not.  Are you going to get yourself and your work out there and make meaningful impressions on potential readers?  Definitely.  Try it out, and good luck!

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in early 2017.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

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