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.

It’s hard to pick a favorite Doctor Who episode, but I’ll give it my best shot

This week marks the premiere of the new season of Doctor Who. It also marks the last season for the 13th Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Now, for you purists out there, I realize he’s technically the 12th Doctor, but I like to count Sir John Hurt’s “War Doctor” in that number because “he was the Doctor on the day when he couldn’t be.” In any case, I will concede to the correct numbering for the remainder of this post. To that end, the new season will mean a whole new regeneration and that means its time for a Top 5.

Before I hit my Top 5 Doctor Who episodes, I’d like to make a prediction about the new Doctor. I think, in this age of diversity, we will get either our first female Doctor or our first black actor as the Doctor. My money’s on Haley Atwell. I think she’d be a great choice as her gig as Agent Carter has ended. There’s been other names bounced around, like Idris Alba, but I think he’s too mainstream with large scale production commitments to be the Doctor.

So as we approach the Saturday premiere, I would like to give you my Top 5 Doctor Who episodes. These are my Top 5, as many Whovians have their own, so please don’t take it personally if I leave one of your favorites out.

doctor-who-silence-in-the-library#5. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (May 2008) – These episodes made my list because it introduced us to River Song, played by the wonderful Alex Kingston. Here’s a character that knows the Doctor and his many faces. I was hanging on her every word trying to find some clue as to who the Doctor really is, but “spoilers!” She has been one of my favorite characters/companions of the series. This episode makes you sad at how many people died needlessly, but it also gave me a sigh of relief as they were all “saved” by CAL (you have to watch the episode to understand that reference). Let’s not forget that this was a great story, in itself, especially for an author like me. An entire planet is the world’s biggest library. I love to think that my books are sitting on a shelf there, stored for all eternity. The best part, though, is the end when David Tenant figured out the reason why, his future self, gave River a sonic screwdriver and then to watch him run “one last time” together. Plus, to see that come full circle and played out in last year’s Christmas episode with Peter Capaldi just brought the entire story to a wonderful finish.

doctor-who-photos-50th-03#4. The Day of the Doctor (November 2013) – This special commemorated the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. It not only introduced us to John Hurt as the War Doctor, but it also gave us the best online video tie-in (“Night of the Doctor” with Paul McGann, who finally got his regeneration) and the best on-screen surprise guest. First off, I loved the late John Hurt as the War Doctor. He gave us the solemn attitude and vulnerability of the Doctor on the day when “he couldn’t be the Doctor.” In that one episode, John Hurt endeared himself to me, and to all of us Whovians I think. We all knew David Tenant and Matt Smith were going to be in the special, and they brilliantly shot one-liners back and forth off each other, as expected. The surprise was in the final battle, where they were assisted by all 13 Doctors, including our first look at the “angry eyebrows” in Peter Capaldi. Lastly, the end of the episode where Matt Smith met up with the curator, aka Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor (MY DOCTOR). It was a shock and surprise that I still enjoy watching, over-and-over again. His brilliant performance showed that once you play the Doctor, you never stop being the Doctor.

imagesZO8CV01D#3. The Girl Who Waited (September 2011) – This is one of my favorite episodes because it gave us to the woman who is Amy Pond. We got to see all her vulnerabilities, all the pain and tragedy she has experienced as a companion. Amy gets trapped on a planet that has been quarantined due to a deadly disease that affects people with two hearts (like the Doctor). On top of that, those infected by the plague are placed in one of several thousand accelerated time streams, allowing them to live out their lives. This means the Doctor and Rory are out of sync with Amy and they try to rescue her after she spends more than 36 years there, alone. All this time alone made her rethink her relationship with the Doctor and not to trust him. The entire episode is an emotional roller coaster and, as a fan, it touched on the deep and meaningful relationship the Doctor has with each of his companions and how it both hurts and helps them. It reminded me of a quote from another great episode, Love & Monsters, where Elton goes on about “salvation and damnation” and if you touch or are touched, by the Doctor, it could destroy you. It was heartbreaking at the end when older Amy had to be left behind, in a sense justifying her concerns and fears about the Doctor; but then again, it’s these hard decisions that he must make, as a Timelord, that weighs heavy on his hearts.

Genesis of the Daleks … the Doctor and Davros.#2. The Genesis of the Daleks (March/April 1975) – Although the Daleks were introduced in the first season of Doctor Who, this episode gave us an in depth look at their creation and introduced us to their creator, the villainous Davros. First and foremost, Tom Baker is “my Doctor” and this where we saw the Doctor at his best. He is sent to Skarro by the Timelords to interfere in the creation of the Daleks and hopefully prevent the future death and destruction they wreak across the universe. In this episode, we learn why the Daleks were created without compassion or pity, turning them into ruthless war machines. In one of his best scenes as the Doctor, Tom Baker holds two wires in his hands, connecting them would detonate explosives and wipe out the Dalek’s incubation room. He holds those wires and asks “Have I the right?” to commit genocide of an entire race. That scene makes the entire six episode run one of the best in the history of Doctor Who. The impact these episodes had on the series reverberates in the future, from Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor (Remembrance of the Daleks, October 1988), Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor (The Parting of Ways, June 2005), David Tenant’s 10th Doctor (Stolen Earth/A Journey’s End, June/July 2008), Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor (Asylum of the Daleks, September 2012), and finally, with Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor (The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, September 2015). That’s what makes this episode one of the most important episodes in the history of Doctor Who.

Before I reach number 1, you have to realize that there are so many different opinions on favorite episodes. There are so many I want to pick that whittling them down to these five are difficult. I want to make these “honorary selections” for favorite episodes, including The End of the World from the 9th Doctor, School Reunion, Doomsday and Blink from the 10th Doctor, The Doctor’s Wife, The Angels Take Manhattan and A Good Man Goes to War from the 11th Doctor, and Time Heist and Face the Raven from the 12th Doctor. Plus, Matt Smith’s Christmas Specials were the best of all the Christmas Specials to date.

So, onto my number one episode …

fireplace-8#1. The Girl in the Fireplace (May 2006) – I know that my number one pick resonates with many Whovians. It was one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of Doctor Who, nominated for a Nebula Award and winning a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. This episode made you laugh, made you cry, and sometimes, scared you to death. A ship in the far distant future opens a hole in time and space to France in the 1700s to keep an eye on a little girl and wait until she grows up into a woman. Why? To cannibalize her for parts for the ship. Weird as it sounds, it’s fun to watch the Doctor go through time with Madam de Pompadour. Like “The Girl Who Waited” this episode jumps through time as the Doctor tries to protect her from the clockwork soldiers who are after her. It has one of the most touching scenes as the two look at the stars in completely different light. It also has some of the funniest scenes with a horse, a banana daiquiri, and “snogging” Madam de Pompadour. There are also some of the best lines ever in Doctor Who like, “One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel;” “There is a vessel in your world where the days of my life are pressed together like the chapters of a book so that he may step from one to the other without increase of age, while I, weary traveler, must always take the slower path;” and “This is my lover, the King of France … Yeah, well I’m the Lord of Time.” It’s such a beautiful episode that will go down as one of, if not the best, in the history of Doctor Who.

So, there’s my list of the best of the best. Please feel free to comment on your top episodes and include ones I may have left off. In any case, the new season Doctor Who premieres this Saturday, so get ready!

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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.

Has Hollywood already run out of ideas when it comes to superhero movies?

277c35a6e0ec68aec7ef8b8224f975b52c3121c6_hq.jpgIt’s hard to believe that we are on our third Spider-man movie franchise, third Superman movie franchise and sixth movie-version of Batman. Technically, if you want to count television in these ongoing franchises, that’s six Superman, four Spiderman, four Wonder Woman (I have to count the failed Adrianne Palicki TV show because they shot a pilot), three Captain America, four Hulks, three Fantastic Four, three Flash and two Daredevil’s and Doctor Strange. The X-Men did it right by inter-mingling all of its movies together in one universe.

Granted, a lot of these earlier products were downright awful. Then again, so were some of the new ones were bad too. It begs to ask the question, why do movie and TV studios keep going back to the well for another franchise reboot?

The obvious reason is money, of course. They know we geeks will gladly pay out the bucks to see the latest and greatest version of our favorite characters on the big screen. There’s also new, young geeks that have never seen these characters before and their parents (much older geeks) want to introduce these characters to them.

For example, when I showed my kids the original Incredible Hulk TV series, they laughed and joked about the bad special effects and make-up. It’s from the 70’s, what do they want? When I was growing up, this was what special effects on TV looked like, along with the cheesy sound effects when they would “super jump” like the Six Million Dollar Man.

We are getting more and more of a variety of some of the lesser known characters thanks to television and pay TV channels, like CW, Netflix, FX and Freeform, with more shows coming to a channel near you:  Legion, Cloak and Dagger, Black Lightning, The Punisher, X-Men: Gifted and more. These are great characters and great stories, with a few surprise “Easter Eggs” thrown in.

I guess my point is that, yes, there are some great characters in these comic book universes, especially the top ones (The “Trinity” in DC of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman for example) but we don’t want to see a rehash of these characters every ten years. The comics got it right when they reinvented and reinvigorated their mainstream characters (Ironheart for Iron Man, Jane Foster as Thor, for example) and this can be done on the big, and little, screen too.

A constant rehash and rewrite of character’s origins (like the failed 2015 Fantastic Four movie) is not the way to go. All you do is piss off fan boys and girls for ruining their favorite characters and they let you know at the box office. It’s the same for video game movie franchises, and some book franchises (Tolkien fans go on and on about Peter Jackson’s treatment of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit).

There are more ideas out there just waiting for an up-and-coming producer or a hot, new studio to tackle. I mean, think about it, technology today makes it easy for anyone to create a short film that looks like a big budget production. If you’ve ever watched any of the short films available on YouTube you know what I’m talking about.

Look, the studios are going to continue to do what they see as moneymakers for them, and I honestly think that it’s all they really care about. Sure, there are many who are “fanboys” and are doing it out of love of the characters, but the power behind them only looks at dollar signs. It’s going to takes geeks like us to keep them in check.

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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.

Seeing red on an edited manuscript is not a bad thing

copyeditsIt’s the worst thing for a high school or college student, and worst for a journalist or author … The dreaded red pen marks. Those notes and edits—whether on a term paper, thesis or manuscript—can send a writer into a tizzy. You wonder if it means your ideas suck, your writing is terrible or prose just God awful. Sometimes that’s true, but most times, it’s far from the truth. As writers, we are far from perfect. We miss the occasional comma, overuse a word or phrase, and forget the “y” on “they” turning it into “the” so spellcheck doesn’t catch it. That’s why every writer needs a good editor to help catch the things we miss.

I’m currently editing my third novel in the Forever Avalon series, The Outlander War, and it’s the first time I’m working with an editor. I just glanced at Page 1 (he’s editing by hand to start) and it’s covered in red. I panicked, but soon realized that it’s a lot of structure issues, not the story itself, and my mind was put at ease.

Seeing red can bring back bad memories. For me, it was shortly after I published my first novel, Forever Avalon. I received free copies of my novel from my publisher and sent them out to family and friends. Within the first month, I received an email from my mother with two pages of spelling and grammatical errors she found in the book. Nothing is more humbling for a writer than to have your mother correct your work.

In the end, I pulled the book, made the edits and got it back out, but all of that could have been avoided with a little editing help. There are professional book editors out there for self-published authors with varying prices in relation to word count. If money’s an issue, then turn to a friend or colleague to take a read on your manuscript.

Seeing red is not a bad thing because, in the end, it provides your readers with a clean, crisp story that flows better without the occasional drop off due to a missing comma or misspelled word. Remember, spellcheck is not your friend. It can easily miss a lot of mistakes. Plus, a human eye can look for those little subtleties in continuity.

For example, as a fantasy writer, if your wizard casts a spell and it does one thing on page 25, and something completely different on page 79, that’s something you need to catch. It’s a lot for a writer to keep up with, which is why you need to pair up with a good editor to make your manuscript smooth as silk.

So don’t fear the red pen. If you establish a good working relationship with your editor, then their edits will help, not hurt, your manuscript. In the end, it’s still your story, but now it’s a well edited story that’s an easy read.

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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.

Avalon is a great place for fantasy writers (and readers) to explore

avalon_by_iribel[166]Why Avalon? Why indeed … I’ve been asked this question many times. Why did I choose Avalon, Camelot, Merlin, King Arthur and the whole Arthurian legend as the basis for my novels in the Forever Avalon series?

I am not the first, nor nowhere near the best, at interpreting the Arthurian legend for my prose. From myth to legend, reality to fantasy, Avalon will always be considered a place of magic. When you think of games like Dungeons & Dragons, you can’t help but think of Excalibur, wizards, dragons and other aspects from the many myths and legends we associate with Avalon.

Avalon, Ynys Avallach, the Island of Apples … These are all part of the legend of Avalon. It is an island where the pagan god Avalloc sired nine sisters with mystical powers, including Morgen (better known as Morgana le Fay). It is where Excalibur was forged, the home of the Lady of the Lake, a place where all things are provided.

I’m rather fond of the Celtic mythos, that Avalon is an island of magic that exists out of time and space. The Celts believed in the Otherworld, and for them, Avalon represented the land of the mythical and mystical. It existed outside of the normal world but was accessible from it. Time moved at a different pace and islands were specifically associated with being gateways into the Otherworld. Sound familiar? It should as that is what I based Avalon in the Forever Avalon series on.

In fact, most of the islands off the coasts of Britain were known as Isles of the Dead to the early Celts:  Lundy, the Isle of Man, the Scilly Isles, have all been associated with being the real life location for Avalon. So is Glastonbury, where at one time, the large earthen mound known as Glastonbury Tor was considered an island as it was once surrounded by marshland.

The association of Glastonbury with Avalon and the Arthurian legends came about in a curious way. In 1190, enterprising monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have discovered the grave and bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. The discovery of the burial occurred when the new abbot of Glastonbury, Henry de Sully, commissioned a search of the abbey grounds shortly after the reign of King Henry II. At a depth of five meters (about 16 feet) the monks discovered a massive tree trunk coffin and a leaden cross bearing the inscription, “Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia” (“Here lies renowned King Arthur in the island of Avalon”).

There was even a formal burial service held at Glastonbury Abbey, attended by King Edward I. Glastonbury was also heavily associated with early Christianity, adding to its ties to the Arthurian legends. Joseph of Arimathea was said to have brought not only the Holy Grail to Glastonbury, but is also responsible for a sacred tree that still grows there today. Legend has it that as he set foot on Wearyall Hill just below the Tor and, in his exhausted state, thrust his staff into the ground and then rested. By morning, his staff had taken root, and turned into a strange oriental thorn bush which is now known as the Glastonbury Thorn.

Even the tower atop Glastonbury Tor is steeped in mythology as it is said to be the entrance to the underworld. All of these have, in one way or another, tied Glastonbury with Avalon. Its moments like this that has truly ingrained the legend of Avalon in our world history.

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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.