Villains should be feared, not misunderstood

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“All things truly wicked start from an innocence.”─ ERNEST HEMINGWAY, A Moveable Feast

I don’t get it … Villains are becoming more popular than heroes nowadays. People cheer and rave over characters like Venom, Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader and Dracula. What happened to the days of good guys who wore white and bad guys wore black. You could clearly identify who the bad guys were and you never felt an ounce of sympathy for them.

Today, there writing books, TV series and movies centered around villains. For example, Fox’s TV series Lucifer. I mean, its a show about the devil on Earth. Here’s the guy, whom I was taught in endless Sunday School lessons, was the epitome of evil and he’s portrayed as if he cares about humanity. How can a guy be the ultimate evil if he’s a softy for solving crimes? It doesn’t make any sense.

Comic book characters like Venom, Deadpool and Harley Quinn are being pursued as quasi-heroes, characterized as bad, yet somewhere, deep down inside, therein lies a hero. Even Disney villains are not what they’re cracked up to be. Maleficent was, by all counts, and evil sorceress. That’s how she was portrayed in the Sleeping Beauty movie I saw as a kid. And yet, with the help of Angelina Jolie, she’s became a complicated villain and Aurora’s father is the true villain of this movie. Wait, what?

“Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay.” ─ J. R. R. TOLKIEN, The Fellowship of the Ring

You see how confusing it has become. There are more movies, books and TV shows out there with villains who are loved, not scorned. I mean, vampires and demons used to be some of the scariest monsters out there. I remember the Exorcist, The Omen, and all the old Hammer horror films featuring Christopher Lee’s Dracula. Even the original Salem’s Lot TV movie (starring David Soul of Starsky & Hutch fame) was as terrifying as the Stephen King novel. Every time I heard something at my window, I wondered if there was a child vampire floating outside, asking to invite me in.

I believe there is good and evil, no in between. To me, you can’t justify the immorality and wanton disrespect for life. A killer is a killer, plain and simple. Can you really justify someone like Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacey? The monsters are not redeemable nor should they be.

In the article “So bad it’s good: Why do we find evil so alluring?”, writer Terry Eagleton had a simple answer. “One answer might be: when goodness began to look boring. We can blame this on the puritanical middle classes. It is they who redefined virtue as thrift, prudence, meekness, abstinence, chastity and industriousness. It’s not hard to see why some people should prefer zombies and vampires. Goodness came to seem negative and restrictive.”

As a writer, I take evil quite seriously. To me, evil is just that, evil. Writers have the responsibility to show people what evil looks like. I we can help them recognize what true evil is, you can avoid it, and even destroy it.

Here is an excerpt from my upcoming third novel in the Forever Avalon series, The Outlander War, where the two villains of my story–Abdel Ben Faust and a “yet to be named” master–meet and discuss their plot to destroy the Gil-Gamesh and take the throne of Avalon.

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On Avalon, South Essex was known as a city of artisans. The finest craftsman could be found in South Essex of all mediums—wood, metalwork or canvas—as well as exceptional tailors, tinkers, and tradesmen. It was a town full of the finest shops you could ever find outside of New Camelot.

The Black Swan was one of the most reputable taverns in South Essex, with the finest wine and spirits in all of New Camelot. The food at the Black Swan also had a reputation for being the best served in all Avalon. But even the best places can attract some unsavory characters.

Inside, the tavern was brightly lit with the glow of candlelight and roaring fires. The rooms were decorated in the finest silk drapes and tapestries of red and black. The décor epitomized the name of the tavern as swans could be seen represented in various shapes and sizes from statues to wall sconces.

While the rest of the tavern was crowded, as usual, the back of the room was empty, except for one guest. The owner did this at the request of the guest but also so his other patrons wouldn’t be subjected to his company.

He sat alone with his back to the wall, gorging himself on rare roasted beef and bottles of 500-year-old Aldinian Whiskey. He appreciated spirits, especially rare ones, and he always came to the Black Swan whenever he was in town because they always carried the best.

His name was Abdel Ben Faust, a mercenary by trade and considered by many as the finest swordsman on Avalon. His long black hair was pulled back tightly in a ponytail, exposing his pointed ears and long face. A scar ran from his left temple, across his nose, and down his right cheek … A reminder of being cut from his mother’s womb. His mustache was long and thin, hanging down below his chin, but that was where his true heritage showed through.

His skin was reddish-brown and, from his chin, grew horns that resembled a goatee, twisted like braided hair. Abdel Ben Faust was a half-demon, the son of a witch and an Incubus, conceived during a blood moon in a magical ritual. His mother died while giving birth to him. He had to be cut from her womb by the same clerics that killed his demon father.

Faust was raised a slave, tormented regularly for his demonic form, but in his torment grew strength and resolve. He molded himself from slave to warrior, becoming a master swordsman, available to the highest bidder.

He has avoided conflict with the Gil-Gamesh since his return to Avalon thanks to an innate ability from his demonic lineage. Faust can conjure “demon holes” to move from place-to-place, unseen. Demon holes were doorways of black smoke, fire, and brimstone. Only binding him in iron chains prevented him from using his power.

Faust came to South Essex to indulge his tastes while the Gil-Gamesh and the rest of the Knights of the Round Table moved to the coast to protect Avalon from the Outlanders. He knew there would be no trouble coming to the Black Swan and drinking his fill before moving on to his next job.

The curtain to the back room was pulled aside as young Finnick Devereaux, son of the Earl of South Essex, Sir Robert Devereaux, stepped in. The young man was nearly 50, young for a noble of Avalon. His dirty blonde hair, dashing good looks and fine clothes endeared his upright lineage. He pulled a handkerchief from his inside pocket and waved it in front of his face as he tried to dispel the stench coming from Faust.

“He is here milord, just as I said,” Finnick said to someone behind the curtain. A robed, hooded figure stepped through, walking right past the young noble.

“Good … Leave us Finnick, and make sure we are not disturbed,” the hooded figure said.

“Are you sure you want to do this milord?” Finnick asked. “The last man who interrupted Abdel Ben Faust while he was eating had his head chopped off and tossed into a stew pot.”

“Not worry, I’ve come bearing gifts,” he said as pulled a bottle from out of robe pocket. Finnick just bowed and left the room, closing the drapes behind him.

The stranger walked up to Abdel’s table but stopped when he drew his sword as he chugged down the last of the whiskey, resting his blade across the table. It was a broad sword, nearly four feet long, with a jagged edge etched along the top edge of the blade. Wisps of smoke rose up from the sword, as if it was burning, as the runes etched on the blade glowed softly. This was Deathsong, a cursed blade that only Abdel Ben Faust could wield and he did so very well.

“I’d think twice before sitting down,” Faust warned as he finished his drink. The stranger just placed the bottle down in front of him. Faust dropped his own bottle to examine the gift.

“Can it be?” he exclaimed. “Panaque, distilled from the vines of the dryads of Meliai, over 4,000 years old!” He popped the cork and smelled the delicate bouquet of the fine spirit. He looked up at the stranger and nodded his head to the chair in front of him. The hooded figure sat down as Faust sheathed his sword and poured himself a drink.

“So to what do I owe this honor and who do I have to kill to keep this bottle?” he asked as he took a sip of the delicious liquid.

“The bottle is yours, Abdel Ben Faust, a gift for listening to what I have to say,” he began. “But first, I have a question for you. Last year, when Morgana le Fay was resurrected, why were you not part of her forces at the Battle of Idlehorn Mountain? Surely a swordsman of your caliber could have turned the tide in her favor.”

Faust seemed to be insulted by the stranger’s accusation but took it in stride for the moment. “Her cause was lost from the moment she began,” he scoffed as he took another sip.

The hooded man seemed irritated by his answer but just sat back and listened. “Why do you say that?”

“Because she let the Gil-Gamesh live,” he answered. “You don’t give someone like the Gil-Gamesh any glimmer of hope. She should have killed him when she had the chance. That’s always been the problem with despots like Kraven Darkholm and Morgana le Fay. They want that power but they want to gloat about it in the process. That’s what got them killed.

“I don’t side with losing causes,” he concluded as he downed the last of his drink. “I’ve answered your question, now you answer mine … What do you want?”

“I want you to lead an army to take Avalon out of the grips of the Pendragon’s and the Gil-Gamesh,” the stranger said without skipping a beat.

Faust just laughed under his breath. “Well if you wait long enough, the damn Outlanders with all their technological weapons will do it for you.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” the stranger impugned. “If the Gil-Gamesh is as resourceful as you say, then all I have to do is wait until he restores Avalon as it was before, hidden from the outside world. Then, we tear Avalon apart, taking the throne and killing him in the process.”

Faust was not convinced by the hooded stranger’s plan. He laughed again as he poured himself another drink. “Well in the first place, you’d need an army at least 10,000 strong,” Faust calculated. “Hell, the goblins don’t even have half that number anymore, and the trolls are all whipped lackeys for that Shield Maiden now. So where is this army you speak of?”

The stranger reached into his robe and pulled out the ruby amulet, still glowing from the strong magic’s imbued within. Faust just looked at the amulet, unfazed and uncaring. “What’s that supposed to be?” he asked.

“The key to controlling the most powerful army in creation, the Wraith Legion of Purgatory!” Abdel Ben Faust was stunned, aghast at the stranger’s claim. The Wraith Legion was an army of fallen knights, trapped in purgatory because of some dishonor or shame that fell upon them in life. They served a penance, keeping the demons of the underworld in check until, one day, they’ve earned their place in Heaven.

“No one can control the Wraith Legion. It’s impossible,” he exclaimed.

“You can with this,” the stranger said, dangling the amulet. “With this amulet, they will follow your every command. You will be their General, Abdel Ben Faust, and you will conquer Avalon for me.

“In return, I will give you the Twin Swords of the Dragon Moon as payment, for your collection.”

It is known that Abdel Ben Faust has, over time, collected the sword or weapon of every knight, every warrior and every monster he ever bested in battle. He kept his collection hidden from prying eyes. He liked to savor each and every victory by looking at the weapons of his fallen enemies hanging on the walls of his vault. Adding the swords of the Gil-Gamesh would be the centerpiece of his collection.

The stranger had intrigued Faust with his offerings but wasn’t convinced completely just yet. He needed to know something more. “Who are you?” he asked.

The hooded figure stood up and peeled back his hood, revealing his face to Faust. The half-demon was stunned as he recognized the face almost immediately. “You? But that’s impossible, you’ve been dead for centuries, millennia even! It can’t be you!”

The stranger pulled the hood back over his head and sat back down. “I assure you, it is me, Abdel Ben Faust. I have many machinations at work, but I need a general to lead my army. You are the one man I can entrust with this task because I know that you will only accept my offer if you believe it can succeed.

“So will you, will you join me?” he asked. Faust sat there, stroking his chin, contemplating all the stranger has offered him. After a few moments, he raised his glass to him.

“When do we get started?”

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt.

The 13th Doctor SHOULD BE …

“I’ve got pictures of all your faces. You never show up in the right order though. I need the Spotter’s Guide.” — River Song, The Time of Angels

Besides the legion of fans worldwide, regeneration is what has kept the award winning TV series Doctor Who going  for more than 50 years. We have all witnessed our favorite Timelord change from one face to the next. It’s through these changes that the Doctor has aged more than 2,000 years in the span of the BBC series; but that time has come again. Time for another actor to take up the mantle and breathe new life into Doctor Who.

This time is especially significant because series front runner, Stephen Moffat, is leaving the show in the very capable hands of Chris Chibnall. As Peter Capaldi finishes his run as the 12th Doctor (okay, I know he’s actually the 13th but we don’t count the War Doctor in that line), the task of all Whovians around world is to nominate and root for the next Doctor.

Male or Female? Black, White, Asian or Hispanic? Tall or Short? Fat or Thin? Young or Old? The Doctor could regenerate into anyone, so here are my top choices for the next Doctor!

The majority of people across the internet wants the Doctor to be a woman. Since the Master has become Missy, why not the Doctor. I have two favorites if the Doctor is to regenerate that way … Dame Helen Mirren or Haley Atwell. These two are fan favorites, to the point that there’s already fan art portraying them that way. These women are accomplished actors with the intelligence, sex appeal and swagger to step into these shoes. They would bring a level of sophistication not seen since William Hartnell, Peter Troughton, and Jon Pertwee.

I mean, can you imagine the banter and innuendos between Helen Mirren and John Barrowman in the TARDIS? That alone is worth the price of admission. It would bring a level of charm and sex appeal that the Doctor hasn’t seen since 10 & 11. In any case, those detractors who think the Doctor shouldn’t be a woman really misunderstand the role. That’s the beauty of regeneration. The Doctor can be anyone he/she wants to be. I think if the Doctor regenerates into a woman, it wouldn’t be any different from other regenerations. It would bring a different perspective in how the Doctor interacts with others on his/her adventures.

Another big twist for the 13th Doctor is as a black man. Again, it’s more about the person rather than what sex or skin color they have. If I had to chose someone, I would pick Idris Elba or Chiwetel Ejiofor. Both are brilliant actors who have action movie credentials as well as that same level of charm and sophistication associated with the Doctor. However, I don’t think they would take the part being that they both have big franchise movie roles (Thor, The Dark Tower and Doctor Strange respectfully) so their schedule is pretty full to add a full-time TV production.

Lastly, there are the big name Hollywood stars, some of which are actually campaigning for the part. Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Rupert Grint (Harry Potter franchise) and Alexander Vlahos (Versailles) have all expressed interest in the role, more so when asked about it. I think they would all be excellent choices for the role, taking us back to the days of David Tenant and Matt Smith with their smoldering good looks, wit and charm. Bonus points for Rupert Grint, as the Doctor always wanted to be a “ginger” for some reason.

In any case, they will be making the announcement soon as we get closer and closer to the end of Season 10 and the upcoming Christmas episode, where the regeneration will take place. A great addition to that episode already is that David Bradley will reprise his role as the 1st Doctor (William Hartnell) in this episode. Adding in the 13th Doctor will be a bonus that all of us Whovians are desperately waiting for.

It doesn’t matter who plays the Doctor, as long as the role continues on to inspire the next generation. Just remember these words when he/she appears:

“When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!” — River Song, The Husbands of River Song

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt.

No “WONDER” it took them this long, they had to find the right “WOMAN” for the role

gal-Gadot-Wonder-Woman-movie-June-2017I think Wonder Woman is one of the most inspiring characters in comics today. Since her creation in World War II, she has fought for the same values as Superman (Truth, Justice, and the American Way) while at the same time confronting the unreal stereotypes of women outside the home. Though she has been portrayed on TV by many great actresses, it took her more than 75 years to finally end up on the silver screen. In my opinion, they had to wait until Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins came along.

Of all the more recent comic book movies, Wonder Woman is one of the best I’ve seen. It ranks right up there with Captain America: Civil War. The fight scenes are incredible, the cinematography beautiful and the story flows from beginning to end. It was a pleasure to sit and watch this movie. All it did was make me more and more anxious for the Justice League movie.

The story is a basic origin story, but with a bit of a twist. Instead of World War II, we find Diana Prince (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) and U.S. soldier/spy Steve Trevor fighting the Kaiser and the German forces in the trenches of World War I. If you never read about the horrors of “trench warfare” this movie demonstrates how bad it really was during that time. The “War to End All Wars” was a perfect setting for the return of Ares, the God of War. Diana is convinced that if she kills Ares, she will end the war.

It’s funny watching her wade through a society that sees women as a lower class, not smart enough to even be in the war room with senior military officers and politicians. Her naivety is her strength in standing up to these outdated attitudes, but its her actions that prove them all wrong.

The one scene that has played over and over again in the trailers is where Diana drops her outer garments and steps out of the trench, in full armor, to save a village caught in “No Man’s Land” between the trenches. The entire fight scene is not only flawless, but the set up really showed the audience how much she cared about protecting the innocent and fighting for justice.

I said it was a brilliant script and the final scene was riveting when you learn the true identity of Ares and see a true heroic sacrifice. I’m not going to spoil the movie but it was surprising, even to me.

I want to go back to my original thought that started it all, about Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins. Gal was a delight to watch and absolutely perfect for this role. She portrayed Diana’s naivety, her raw emotion and the power of Wonder Woman as if she stepped out of a comic book. Though highly criticized, Gal was who we (comic book fans) were waiting for.

As for Patty Jenkins, she brought a level of attention-to-detail rarely seen in comic book movies. She made a movie that we fans can enjoy and watch over and over again. I can’t wait for the next installment.

Wonder Woman has brought DC out of its “creative funk” (as it were) to where they finally have a movie on par with some of Marvel’s best. This will definitely rank in the Top 5 of superhero movie lists for years to come. It reminded me a lot of Captain America: The First Avenger and that’s saying a lot. Many of these great heroes started out fighting in World War II, so it’s nice to see WWI get a hero it deserves.

And her name is Wonder Woman!

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt.

The trolls need to go back under their bridges and off the internet

I think I can safely say we all love the internet. It has given us instant access to news, sports, videos and a social media cavalcade so we can meet and greet friends and family around the world. But at the same time, it has given a forum for the worst of us … Trolls.

The one thing I hate about the internet, and social media for that matter, is the “trolls” that live on the web. You have a bunch of sissy boys (and girls) hiding behind their posed, self-propagating “selfies” to write trashy comments on every social media channel, news feeds, and chat room. All of this, in an effort, to put someone else down so they can feel good about how tough, how cool, they are.

1455912121933This is the movie “Mean Girls” in everyday life on the internet. “Trolls” is a good name for them, and being a fantasy writer, I am an expert on trolls. They are bottom dwellers with no ethics, morals or an ounce of compassion in them. They feed on the sorrow and suffering of people trying to have civilized discussions about a variety of topics and interests. Their only goal in life is to make people feel miserable. It doesn’t matter if they live under a bridge or in their mother’s basement, trolls enjoy making people feel like crap.

I realize there is a difference between some trolls and full-on cyber-bulling. Someone dissing a comment about whether “Batman v Superman” was a good movie or not is not hurtful, but it can lead people down the wrong path. The trolls of today can become the cyber-bullies of tomorrow.

“There are two kinds of evil people in this world. Those who do evil stuff and those who see evil stuff being done and don’t try to stop it.” – Mean Girls (2004)

Cyber-bulling has become a national pastime for today’s generation. We are raising a bunch of trolls who live to make others feel miserable by just shooting that “zing” across the bow because it makes them feel powerful. We all know how some of these stories have ended … in tragedy, and sometimes, death.

Remember these names… Ryan Halligan, Megan Meier, Jessica Logan, Hope Sitwell, Tyler Clementi, and Amanda Todd. These are just some of the names of victims of this downward internet trend. According to the Megan Meier Foundation, approximately 43% of the students report experiencing cyber-bullying during their lifetime and 15% of students admitted to cyber-bullying others during their lifetime.

This is the leading cause of what’s wrong with society today. We can’t have a meaningful discussion about anything without someone stepping up to put someone down. If you look at the current political climate we are in, you can see the results of the onset of trolls. If you like President Trump, you’re a racist, misogynist, Nazi. Name any topic and there is a hateful name being called at someone who disagrees with you.

Beware Troll Under Bridge SignIt has even crossed over into the world of fantasy and science fiction. When Finn Jones was cast as Danny Rand in Netflix “Iron Fist” series, some people were outraged at a “white boy” being cast in what should be a role for an Asian actor. This clearly demonstrated that these trolls never read a single Iron Fist comic book about the rich, white boy being raised in a hidden monastery to be its protector, the Immortal Iron Fist. The same can be said for the trolls on the other side of the aisle, who complained that Idris Alba was cast as Heimdall , or Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin, in Marvel’s movies. The trolls were out in full force then too. Get back under the bridge troll!

My point is this … Let’s try to be civil in our discussions on the internet. Thumper the rabbit (yes, I’m quoting Bambi here) said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone stuck to this as their mantra? Whether you’re talking politics, sports, the WWE or the Justice League movie, we can give our opinions without throwing in that left turn down the road toward the bridge where the trolls live.

Bryan Cranston, who’s played some of the worst people in TV and movies, said it best. “We’ve been trained since kindergarten: Be nice, be kind, share, put on a smile. So we’re conditioned to squash our natural selfish instincts, and that’s the right thing for society.” Amen, brother … Testify!

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt

 

The “Yellow Journalism” of yesterday is the “fake news” of today, only prettier

32185195164_d8a28b36a6_oHave you ever heard of The Yellow Kid? The Yellow Kid was the name of one of the first American comic strip characters that ran from 1895 to 1898 in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, and later William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. Created and drawn by Richard F. Outcault, this comic strip was ripe with social commentary in newspapers known for sensationalism and extreme editorial reporting. It’s where the term “Yellow Journalism” came from.

In today’s day and age, we are coming back to a new form of “Yellow Journalism” though it’s seen by a lot more people through social media and the internet and packaged in high-definition video and “talking heads” that need plenty of censorship for bad language. I can’t help but see the reflection of the Yellow Kid in today’s media.

For those of you who don’t know, I began my writing career more than 30 years ago as a U.S. Navy Journalist. I attended THE school for military journalism, The Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind. (now, the school resides at fort Meade, Md.). I have written hundreds of news articles, press releases and feature stories on the wonderful men and women of our armed forces. These articles, stories and photographs have been published in small town newspapers, major metropolitan newspapers and military publications.

I told you this because I wanted to talk today about the state of journalism, or actual lack thereof, in the world today. In my opinion, journalism today is not what it’s supposed to be. Journalism is defined as “the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information.” It is also the product of such activities. That being said, the way it is done by the news media today does not even come close to that definition.

We seem to have crossed that fine line between actual journalism and opinion news, and a lot of it revolves around politics. Now, I’m not trying to get political here, but it’s being abused by both sides. People are comparing what is being reported in the news to Watergate in the 70’s. I can tell you right now, we are nowhere near that.

If you’ve ever read “All the President’s Men” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, or seen the movie with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, you know how much they went through to get multiple sources to confirm their story about the going’s on in the Nixon Administration. Until they got those sources to confirm, their editor wouldn’t run the story.

Today, it seems like one anonymous source is good enough. The facts are being skewed to fit the agenda, and journalists are not supposed to have agendas. The public relies on these news sources to be the independent watchdogs of government, and yet, they are injecting themselves to be part of the story. Journalists are supposed to report on the story, not be the story.

Journalists today are selfie-taking, opinion making, propaganda artists that don’t care whether or not the story is true, as long as it puts them in the spotlight and meets their agenda. One of the great movies on what journalism is supposed to be is the Academy Award winning “Spotlight” about the child abuse cover-up within the Catholic Church. Just like in “All the President’s Men,” the journalists here went out of their way to get the facts before they printed the story. Without writers like this, the truth remains buried and silent.

Writer/photographer/film critic Seno Gumira Ajidarma said, “When journalism is silenced, literature must speak. Because while journalism speaks with facts, literature speaks with truth.” Though I agree with his sentiment wholeheartedly, we must also agree that writers have a certain responsibility above journalists.

Our stories must reflect the good, the bad and the indifferent in society in an attempt to bring about the improvement of the human condition. It was books like “The Jungle” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” that brought about change in society when journalism failed. I’m not trying to say that all writers need write profound soliloquies and novels professing the highs and lows of society, but rather talk about it in a way that reflects the good and the bad.

In the Forever Avalon series, I touch on racism, women’s rights, faith and family through the adventures of a modern family in a medieval fantasy world. I reacted to the good and the bad of these “hot button” issues and showed the reader how best to resolve such issues. I’m not professing to be an expert in this, but I give an honest opinion and open approach to dealing with these subjects.

Norman Mailer said, “If a person is not talented enough to be a novelist, not smart enough to be a lawyer, and his hands are too shaky to perform operations, he becomes a journalist.” Sad as that may be to hear the truth, we (journalists, writers, poets, novelists, etc.) help shape the mindset of society through reporting the facts, giving opinions and reflecting on society today. I just think we need to make sure we separate fact from fiction so that the people, our readers, can make an informed judgment.

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt

 

We need a little more “steampunk” in our sci-fi/fantasy reading

11110004269Steampunk is defined as “a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.” To me, it’s more than modern technology with a Victorian twist. This genre has been on the rise with its push in video games with the award winning Bioshock franchise, TV series like Steampunkd, and in books, starting with the Godfather of Steampunk, Jules Verne, to authors like Cherie Priest and Michael Moorcock.

Some people view it more as a fashion style, combining Victorian-era sensibilities with brass fittings, gauges and gears. Weird optics, mechanical arms and powerful weapons are the backbone of steampunk style, but again, it’s the story behind the style that makes it appealing.

I always imagined a meeting in France between Nikola Tesla and Jules Verne in the spring of 1882, discussing the possibilities of Verne’s creations using Tesla’s technology. This would be the ideal setting of where it all began. The birth of Steampunk as we know it today.

One of the best representations of Steampunk in film is the Japanese animated film, Steamboy. Though most of the Steampunk technology in the film was represented by weapons, it is still a wonderful tribute to the genre. Steamboy tells the story of Ray Steam, a British boy in 1863 England, and how the invention of a “steamball” pitted Robert Stephenson, the first master of the steam engine, against Ray’s father, Edward, and his “Steam Castle” at the London Exposition. It’s style, look and feel could make any Steampunk aficionado jump for joy. Another great example of Steampunk is the Japanese TV series, Fullmetal Alchemist. It combines the style and look of Steampunk with alchemy and magic.

Steampunk inventor/author/mechanic Jake von Slatt said, “To some, ‘steampunk’ is a catch all term. To me, it is essentially the intersection of technology and romance.” That’s quite an opinion. I think Steampunk does have a bit of a romantic flair, especially in the wardrobe. Men’s attire is very masculine in Steampunk while the women are sexy and feminine. In both cases, the trend is very fashion forward, evoking strength and power while being strangely attractive.

I’ve started to bring some Steampunk into my own writing. Though my Forever Avalon novels are more medieval fantasy, in contrast, through my stories, they are moving forward in look and technology. Like Fullmetal Alchemist, I am trying to weave those elements together with things slowly coming of age. In my next novel, The Outlander War, I am leaning more towards the Renaissance while keeping some of the medieval fantasy elements there.

I created weapons I call GunStars, named after the ships in The Last Starfighter movie (one of my favorite sci-fi movies of the 80’s). They look like oversized flintlock pistols, using cartridges containing alchemical mixtures that, when combined with the magic within the GunStar, fires explosive rounds. From fireballs and ‘magic missiles’ to acid rain and hail, these weapons make even the more novice warriors more formidable.

I realize that these creations of mine are not 100% Steampunk, but they were inspired by it. Steampunk is as Jake von Slatt said, “an intersection” of technology and whatever your imagination brings to the table. Don’t think of it as outdated, but rather a futuristic twist on history. That’s some that can spark the curiosity of any reader.

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a rock n’ roll extravaganza, even if you don’t read comic books

Guardians_Of_The_Galaxy_Vol_2_Official_Poster_Landscape“I am Groot!” says it all, but for those of you who don’t speak Groot, let me give you my review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, in theaters now! I want to start out with a slight confession … I’m not a big fan of Marvel Comics’ Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series. I grew up with the original 30th Century Guardians (some of who actually make an appearance in GotG Vol. 2) of Vance Astro, Martinex, Charlie-27, Starhawk, Nikki  and Yondu). The new Guardians are a mish-mash of space-spawned superheroes that have had their origins altered and/or updated for both the new continuity and the films.

That being said … I will admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with all its “Easter Eggs” and subtle hints to the comics, and a “nod and a wink” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) future. It is action-packed, fast-paced, and quite funny. It also had a few emotional, tear-jerker moments that tie the first two movies together. Overall, it is a great start to the summer movie season with more on the way (Spiderman: Homecoming and Wonder Woman, ‘nuff said!).

Set to the backdrop of another amazing soundtrack, “Awesome Mixtape #2,” Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures, a few months after the events of the first movie, as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they fight off a race of genetically-superior beings, and the Ravagers, all while they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the MCU continues to expand.

First and foremost, the cast is top-notch. They have cast awesome actors to fill these roles. From Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel to Kurt Russell as Ego (Peter’s father) and even cameos by Sylvester Stallone and others. They have these characters laid out perfectly and make them 100% real, like they just stepped out of the comic book.

Secondly, the script had a great mix of humor and action with the over-arching theme of family. You learn a lot of evil truths about Peter’s father (which I won’t spoil here) and how it shaped him into the Star-Lord of today. The Ravagers go from “a space gang of thugs” to a more meanable, yet honorable, group that covers the entire quadrant of space in the MCU. The Sovereign, especially their uppity, genetically superior Ayesha, are more of a nuisance than a threat, but the idea of “Adam” awaiting his birth (true believers will know who I’m talking about) is one of the best “Easter Eggs” in the movie.

Speaking of which, James Gunn goes all out to out to give us every hint, clue and subtle reference to the MCU in his movies. Cameos from some of the original Guardians by Hollywood stars, MCU characters from Howard the Duck (even with a reference to the God-awful Howard the Duck movie), the Watchers (with the legend, Stan “The Man” Lee) and even some of the most obscure characters from the MCU filling the ranks of the Ravagers.

Even if you’ve never read a comic book before, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a great roller coaster ride you will enjoy. You may not get some of the quirky, comic book references, but you will enjoy it. It’s funny, sometimes irreverent humor, will make you laugh, the death of one MCU character (again, no spoilers here) will touch you, and Baby Groot is so damn adorable, you will want one for yourself.

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt

So many adorable cat videos, not enough time to write

kitten-playing-with-keyboard-156531001-57d9bb7d5f9b5865168d661fPeople have said the internet is one of the greatest accomplishments in human history. It gives everyone access to news, information and social acceptance, right at their fingertips. At the same time, it is also the source of decreased productivity in the workplace.

We’re all guilty of it; taking a few seconds to check our email, look at our friends Facebook status, see who won last night’s game, or watch one of many cat videos. According to a 2014 survey conducted by Salary.com, 89% of respondents say they waste some part of their workday talking on their cellphones or texting (50%), on the internet (38%) or just distracted by co-workers, taking long snack or smoke breaks, etc.

It’s frustrating, even more so for writers. People like to think that writers have a great job, just sitting in front of their computer, writing all day. While that may be true, I think writers have a greater problem when it comes to distractions. As much as some of these distractions aid the creativity, and to some extent, the sanity in writers, it is Hell when you have a deadline to meet.

Some of the best ways to avoid distractions is by writing when your friends are offline (usually late at night), setting goals for how many words you want to write each day, or if you’re desperate, try going into seclusion somewhere that there is no internet connectivity. These are some basic pieces of advice, but each writer should manage their own writing spaces for what works best.

Author and “Brain Scientist” Jeffrey Stibel calls it “attention dopiness,” stating that the problem is associated with dopamine levels. The higher the dopamine in our bodies, the better we feel, and these distractions (cat videos, rock n’ roll music, etc.) are what helps us maintain that high. One has to wonder, what started all this? Did we always have these distractions, even before the internet?

If you’re as old as I am, you remember your mother telling you not to do your homework in front of the TV, play your brother in PONG before dinner, reading comic books instead of finishing your book report on Huckleberry Finn or having an epic battle between GI-Joe and the evil Empress Barbie and her clone army before bedtime. These distractions have been with us our whole life; they’ve just taken a new form.

I think deep down we want these distractions, to help us get through the often-monotonous work day and breathe a sense of fun and adventure. So, maybe we shouldn’t mind the distractions, but manage them better instead. Set goals, parameters and guidelines about how and where these little side trips take us and when to focus on the job at hand. A little distraction never hurt anyone, unless you let it consume you completely.

So put down your cell phone, you can text your BFF later or finish that game of Candy Crush another time; and don’t worry, that totally adorable video of the cat playing piano will still be there tonight. Now, get back to work!

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt

Where have all the good wizards gone?

785276646085089940It’s good to be bad, am I right? There seems to be a trend where anyone touched by or practicing magic is always seduced to darkness. The same goes for those who gain incredible powers or become something more than human. It begs the age-old question, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Throughout fantasy storytelling, you get a glimpse of both sides of the coin. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf and Galadriel both resisted temptation from the One Ring but Saruman is seduced by Sauron and turned against the light. There are tons of names on both sides of the argument, from Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort to Merlin and Morgana le Fay. Lately though, the trend is leaning more towards evil, but to a point.

In fantasy, across multiple genres, there are a lot of examples that exude the philosophy that its good to be bad. The anti-hero is the “new Coke” as it were. From Deadpool, Venom, and Lobo in comics to characters like Anakin Skywalker, Willow Rosenburg and Walter White in movies and television. Writers love that little twist to make the story more interesting, and to many, being bad is good.

There is a vein of goodness in many of these anti-heroes, but its been twisted like a pretzel at Oktoberfest. The same can’t be said for wizards going dark. It’s like a touch of dark magic and there’s no turning back. I mean, think about it. Name one dark wizard who came back to the light. It’s hard, when you think about it … You really can’t do it.

Magic, like many things in the fantasy genre, has no clear line with good and evil powers. I mean, Necromancers have been portrayed as both good and evil (think the video game Diablo, for example, or Hellboy for that matter). Again, like everything in storytelling, its the character that counts.

Not to throw religion into the mix, but I like to believe that everyone is worth saving. I believe that we all have a chance to redeem ourselves in the eyes of God. You see that from a lot of writers, but at the same time, there is a trend of making evil as something seductive and enticing.

Look at vampires, and how over sexualized and charismatic they’ve become. They’ve gone from being the scary creatures in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and Christopher Lee’s Dracula in the Hammer horror films to glittering “boy toys” in the Twilight series. The only thing that is still scary, today and always, is clowns, am I right?

We need to get back to maintaining that line in the sand between good and evil. If we, as writers, continue to present stories with bad guys as the protagonist, what will our world become. Evil can be redeemed but it shouldn’t be glamorized.

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt.

 

Diversity is something we all must come to terms with as writers

nhnzry3jycv4bf2qxt63Recently, Marvel’s Vice President of Sales, David Gabriel, claimed that the company’s recent focus on creating diverse superheroes is a driving factor behind its declining comic book sales. He said, “Any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up.”

I don’t agree with this statement, but I can see where he gets his point of view. Recently, there has been a trend to make comic book characters more diverse, but I think that’s more of a natural trend. More diverse characters started out as villains (like The Mandarin and Diablo, for example) but that trend has been changing as time progressed. The 70’s brought us Falcon and Luke Cage, the 80s and 90s brought out War Machine, Black Lightning and Storm. Sometimes it’s more about age than anything else.

Think about it … Captain American, Iron Man and Thor have been leading the Avengers since the 60’s. These characters haven’t aged like the rest of us. I mean, the original X-Men were teenagers in the 60’s, meaning that they should be senior citizens by now. Some characters like Superman and Wonder Woman can look the same because they are alien and God-like, respectfully. However, Batman today is more represented by the elder Bruce Wayne in the Batman Beyond series, not as he is in the comics. I loved it when Dick Grayson took up the mantle because that’s how it should be, but of course they went back to Bruce.

I understand I’m talking more about age discrimination than diversity, but here’s my point. People age, they grow old and they die. So why not let a new generation take up the mantle of these heroes. I think Kamila Khan was a great choice as the new Ms. Marvel, not because she was Muslim, but because she was like many of us who like comics … She’s a fan! Here’s a total fan girl who gets superpowers and becomes her idol. I don’t think there’s a single person out there reading this blog who hasn’t had the same fantasy.

I think the first problem people may have is the youth of the characters. You have comic book fans who started reading comics in the 60s/70s, like me. You don’t need to make all these new characters to be kids. I mean, the new Iron Man (Iron Heart, Riri Williams) and Hulk (Amadeus Cho) are all super smart teenagers, for example. It’s a trend right now that’s pushing the envelope. for us older readers. 

I like it when a longtime sidekick/friend takes over the mantle. Sam Wilson (Falcon) as the new Captain America was a great choice because here was an established character taking the shield and responsibility. The same with Jane Foster as Thor. That was a brilliant move, even with the cancer angle, to give her even more reason to be worthy of the hammer.

Diversity is not the problem with comics. You have four different people wearing the mantle of Spiderman, from the original to a clone, a Latino African-American, a Hispanic from the future, and even a young girl (Spider-Gwen). This is where diversity was done right, bridging the gap across generations. That’s how it needs to be done.

In comics, it has never mattered about the color of their skin. It’s about the heart and soul of the character, as a hero, villain or everyday person. I don’t care if a character is gay or straight, black or white, Hispanic or Asian. We want all these characters to represent people of all ages, race, religion or sexual preference for that matter.

When Marvel brought out the mutant Northstar as being gay, I loved the way it was handled in the story. It wasn’t meant to shock us, or done for the sake of diversity, but rather as a way of giving us depth behind his character’s story. It made sense and broadened the idea of being both mutant and gay and how it affected him.

What I’ve been trying to say is that comics have been becoming more diverse since the 60s. Characters like Black Panther, Luke Cage and Falcon have evolved and grown over the years to give us more and more diverse characters today, like Ms. Marvel, Storm, and the new Hulk. Just remember, comics have always had characters of so many different colors (Nightcrawler, Gamora, Brainiac 5) and races (Dawnstar, Green Lantern (John Stewart), White Tiger) that make comics more and more representative of the world today.

Readers don’t want just diversity in comics for the sake of political correctness. They want good stories. That’s more reasonable for the downward trend of readers and sales rather than blame it all on diversity alone. Think about it, there are various crossover storylines annually, changing the continuity of the comics world multiple times in one year. We’ve changed DC comics multiverse three times in the last decade and Marvel once.

Writers know what the problem is … Consistency, consistency, consistency! Learn it, live it, love it and the readers will return!

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt.