My Interview on the Wealthy Wednesday Radio Show!

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Everything you wanted to know about me but were afraid to ask.

I hope you’ll take the time to listen to my interview on the Wealthy Wednesday Show and leave your comments and questions. I love interacting with you!

Thank you to Luci McMonagle for inviting me to be on her show. I had a blast.

Enjoy!

Pink Motorcycle & Bird Final (1)Kindly tweet:  Interview with Karla Akins with tips on starting your writing business!

Emissary by Thomas Locke — 4 out of 5 stars

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I know you’re not suppose to judge a book by its cover, but really, what’s not to like about this gorgeous work of art? It’s the perfect marquee for this new fantasy series by Thomas Locke. It depicts the flavor and mood of this story perfectly.

I don’t read fantasy as a rule, but because it’s such a popular genre for the younger set, including Millennials, I wanted to read it as a way get to know why they love this type of story. Walk into any bookstore these days and the shelves overflow with novels featuring wizardry and witchcraft. These books appeal to those who cut their teeth on Harry Potter and fantasy role-playing and video games.  They crave more stories that take them into the land of fairy tales and magic.

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I am one of the few who hasn’t read Harry Potter due to my own personal convictions. And I will admit being wary of this book. However, I do believe Locke has tapped into a market that desires a less dark fantasy experience. There is no overt Christian message, but there is definitely a main character to admire and a quest to be fought for. The thing to remember when reading fiction, Dear Reader, is that it is Fantasy.

Locke himself stated on his blog that he wants to take his readers on a story journey similar to what he loved reading while growing up:

“During our formative years – up until around age 30 – we are reinforcing our world view when we read for entertainment. But much of the fantasy that’s being published today doesn’t offer that sense of courage and inspiration that used to be prevalent in fantasy and science fiction novels.

Of course, not all of the “classic” authors wrote uplifting work. Ray Bradbury is one example. But even Bradbury’s writing gave me a sense of mind-bending escape and the opportunity to dream and envision more than what was available in world around me.

The books I loved most offered hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for growing into someone who could have these sorts of adventures. I want to infuse that hopefulness into my characters, and not give in to the temptation of creating characters who are only bitter and cynical.

In Emissary, key themes include courage in the face of fear, travel to unknown destinations, and new personal avenues of growth and development. I’ve tried to bring each of these into a story structure that’s applicable to today’s culture.”

I was quite surprised how quickly I was drawn into the story. Usually I read historical or political suspense, but I found myself smiling and turning page after page, eager to learn what Hyam, the main character, would face next.

Since I cut my  own teeth on Catherine Marshall and Janette Oke novels (as well as classics such as Little Women and The Yearling), it was a stretch for me to keep track of the visible and invisible in this story. It was also a stretch to “believe” the fantasy (which is a very strange oxymoronic thing to experience and explain). But Locke does a brilliant job of clarifying and describing his made-up world. His writing is seamless, and I found myself actually lost in the story instead of paying attention to his craft. Only good writing can do that. Occasionally there was a word or two I’d need to Google, but not often, and I only Googled them because I’m the curious sort, and I don’t mind learning new turns of phrase and words. Again, had I cut my teeth on such books, perhaps I’d have known what they meant.

This story is about a young man named Hyam who is able to speak several languages. He has the gift of magic which is forbidden in the realm. As a young child he was trained by wizards at a Long Hall, a place which he hated.

Due to a series of unexpected events, he is called to turn away from everything he has ever known in order to save those who may not even have his best interest at heart.

I kept looking for an allegorical message since it is classified as Christian Fiction, and I didn’t really find a consistent one. However, the protagonist is noble, and the values are clearly upright. Loyalty, courage and honesty are visible in the protagonist’s imperfect character.
Here’s the trailer for the book:

For other personal reasons, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It’s not because it’s not beautifully written because it is. And if you like fantasy, and you’d like to find something uplifting and heroic to read without all the gory darkness, this book is definitely for you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review.

BirdbooksTweet this: Thomas Locke’s new book, Emissary, gets 4 out of 5 stars!

Live Blogging Realm Makers Conference: Keynote Speaker Tosca Lee

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What an amazing day I’ve had at Realm Maker’s conference today!

This morning’s Keynote Speaker was best-selling author, Tosca Lee. If you’ve never read any of her books, I highly recommend you do. Her style and voice are unique and powerful. As I wrote before, she has a voice akin to liquid velvet. I can’t get enough of her.

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Did you know that she cut her eyeteeth in the writing realm with online gaming? Who’d have thunk it? But it makes sense to me now. She spent hours and hours creating a character and a world playing a role playing game. In fact, the character she developed and eventually “killed” has a fandom! People to this day write poems and tributes to this character.

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Now, I’m not into role playing games. I’ve never “got” that lifestyle. In fact, I’ve protected myself from that sort of fantasy life because I didn’t understand it, feared it, and was concerned that with my personality I’d become addicted to it.

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But as it turns out, lovely Tosca was once the Overlord of a gaming community that still holds tournaments in her character’s honor. Talk about creating a powerful character! This character was so real to those playing this game that they mourned her and continue to this day to honor her. Wow. Can I create characters like that? Can you?

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Following Tosca’s keynote address, I attended a workshop entitled “Touching Evil: Reflections on Writing Villains and their Villainy.” The take-away for me was when he said that the villain is the measuring stick for the hero. Excellent stuff!

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This afternoon Steve Laube spoke about the ins and outs of being represented by an agent.

SteveLaube2Jeff Gerke presented a workshop on “The So-Called Rules of So-Called Fiction and what to So-Called do with Them.” As always Jeff was engaging and funny.

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Lisa Walker England taught on Steampunk, which is the reason I’m here as I have several steampunk novels running through my head. Doesn’t she look great in her costume? (She’s pictured below with Ben Wolf.)

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 The last presenter before the evening awards banquet was Kat Heckenbach who spoke on writing YA.

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The banquet tonight was attended by various unique and special guests:

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The Clive Staples Award for the best in Christian Speculative Fiction this past year went to Patrick W. Carr for A Cast of Stones!

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The Parable Award for best-designed cover on a speculative fiction book directed to the Christian or family-friendly market went to Numb by John W. Otte.

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The food was delicious and my brain is just as full as my stomach. I’ve learned a lot today and can hardly wait until tomorrow morning to start all over again!

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Click to tweet: Best-selling author Tosca Lee!

Live blogging from Realm Makers Conference with BREAKING NEWS!

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I’m in Radnor, PA for the Realm Makers Conference! I am a slightly surprised to find myself here but there’s a nagging in my heart to learn how to write compelling YA, specifically in the Steampunk vein.

I’m not really sure what to expect, but so far things are good. On my drive to Pennsylvania there was a rainbow! That’s a good sign, right?

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It took me two days to drive here from Indiana. Today before I checked into the conference I stopped at a mall in King of Prussia, PA, and had lunch at Ruby’s Diner. The clam chowder was so scrumptious I was tempted to order another cup!

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I sat in the diner and worked on my work in progress. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I can write pretty well in a diner environment. I need to try it again. Although, there aren’t any diners in my neck of the woods. Certainly not ones that have such great decor.

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I was wishing my guys were with me to enjoy such pretty bikes!

The conference is on Villanova University’s campus. The college has beautiful old stone buildings and we’re staying in dorms. The dorm I’m in is actually an apartment. I have the entire thing to myself but there’s enough room for 4 people.

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Tonight as I type this I’m at the Splickety Magazine Critique Party. On the panel critiquing the first few pages of novels submitted and chosen before the conference are Tosca Lee, Jeff Gerke, Steve Laube and Avily Jerome.

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I’m so excited to hear Tosca Lee speak in the morning! I love her books. She has the sort of writing voice I love. Like liquid velvet.

I’ll post again tomorrow (hopefully I’ll have some time to sneak in here to share with you) and let you know all I’m learning. Tonight the panel seems to be in unison regarding that first hook in the first few pages of a book. Lovely writing might be beautiful, but will it keep a reader’s attention? If you want to be published, you need to learn to write what sells.

But if you want to write for your own pleasure, then write what you want!

Tonight Steve Laube announced the new name of his publishing company (formerly Marcher Lord Press): Enclave Publishing! You heard it here first!

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Steve Laube making the announcement:

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Tons of excitement tonight! I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

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Click to tweet: Steve Laube announces Marcher Lord Press now Enclave Publishing!

Introducing Steampunk author Michael Vetter and a giveaway!

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Michael Vetter, Author

I am very pleased to introduce you to Steampunk/Sci-fi author, Michael Vetter. I became intrigued with Michael’s work after meeting him on a Steampunk forum.

I’m fascinated with this genre and have been researching it for a book I’m formulating for the YA market. I’m also leaving next Tuesday to attend the Realm Makers conference in Pennsylvania! I’m looking forward to rubbing shoulders with fantasy genre authors as I have much to learn. I have a burden to write YA books that point young people to Christ. It’s much needed.

Print Which is what drew me to Michael’s work. Michael very graciously agreed to be interviewed for my blog. I think you’ll find him and his work fascinating!

(By the way, dear reader, if you leave a comment or question and tweet about this post (I’ve provided a handy dandy link below as well) you’ll be entered to win a free digital (.pdf) copy of one of his books — your choice!  If you use any of the other buttons, you’ll be entered each time you promote this post on social media. What a deal!)

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Thanks so much, Michael, for agreeing to this interview. Please tell us a little about yourself:

My father worked for Pan America Airways so I grew up around airplanes and airports in Latin America all my life.  When I went to college in the U.S. I studied engineering, met my wife, Mary, and joined the Air Force. While stationed in Florida, we heard the Gospel for the first time and, after months of questions and resistance, accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. We grew spiritually through the years, served in many capacities at Salem Bible Church (www.salembible.org) while I worked in the defense industry, and recently retired. My wife and I have a grown son, two grandsons, and are involved in several ministries. Besides teaching adult Bible Sunday School and writing novels, I edit a newsletter for Grace Dental and Medical Missions (www.gdmmissions.org) and am a translator on medical missions trips to Spanish-speaking countries. We live in Salem,  NH, where the one month of brilliant fall foliage makes up for long winters of snow and cold. We enjoy long road and rail trips together and kayaking in the summer.

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Click to order

What a fascinating journey to this point in your life you’ve had! I long to take a rail trip sometime, too. How can we find you online?

Web page:  http://www.michaelvetter.net

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/ChristianAdventuresBibleThemes?ref=hl

Where do you write? (What’s your office like?)

My best creative writing is done where I’m free from distractions so that means not in my cluttered office! My home office is where I have access to my reference books for research and Bible studies. Libraries with quiet rooms or cubbyholes hidden in remote stacks are where I can get lost for hours in a complicated plot. While my most imaginative writing is best done in quiet isolation, draft editing seems to be fueled in coffee shops where I draw energy from the hum of background conversations. I don’t know if this is an odd way to write/edit or not, but it works for me!

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I’m the same way about my home office. How funny. What is your process? (Spreadsheets, Snowflake, Lists/Outlines, Seat of the pants?)

Because I’m an engineer, I like to have the overall plot and flow of my book mapped out from beginning to end before I start to write. I use a “storyboard” technique learned from defense systems analysis that depicts various “threads” of a message to be sure that everything supports a final conclusion or objective. Many ideas come together on a wall-size graphic using colored-coded post-it notes, pictures, sketches, and connecting lines showing the progression of a story.

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Karla: Oh my goodness. I have to interrupt here. You have no idea how giddy this photo makes me. I do the same thing and trust me, I do not have the mind of an engineer. I feel so much smarter now!

Genius babyOkay, then what do you do?

I then write an outline for each chapter in sequence and match chapters to the storyline. In parallel, I write profiles of the various main characters. Then I begin writing at Chapter 1 and expand on settings, dialog, and other details. Sure, things take unpredicted turns when I get more involved with my characters. As long as the main story line stays generally on track, I keep going. About every twenty chapters or so, (which can take me two or three months to write) I’ll then perform rough editing/surgery on the text. This is where I cut down the prose—I’m not stingy with words in my first draft—and try to come close to my page/word count target. This is also where I do a mid-course correction if the story line needs to change drastically. After about 8-9  months, I have a manuscript that I then spend 2-3 months editing. I have to admit that the creative part of developing and telling a story is my favorite part of writing. Everything after that is a chore before I can start on my next book.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my third book in a fiction series for young boys with the working title, Flight from Egypt—Adventures Along The Nile. My books occupy a genre that I still haven’t fully characterized, but some call it retro-futuristic or steampunk.

The book takes place in Egypt in the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III during the 6-9 months before Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. The Biblical account of the plagues, Passover, and miraculous parting of the Red Sea are told through the eyes of Malik (a young Egyptian), Nathan (his Hebrew slave and best friend), and Malik’s sixteen-year-old sister Sarina. The two nineteen-year-old boys grew up together and are more like brothers. The speculative nature of the story weaves advanced, though plausible, technologies created by an inventor named Imhotep: a flying machine called the Eye of Horus, a box that lights the inside of underground tombs, encrypted signals using focused solar energy, and the Breath of Osiris that flashes across the night sky. These and other technologies, in the midst of devastating plagues, propel the three young characters as they pursue the identity of the Black Falcon who plundered tons of gold from the tomb of Hatshepsut in the Valley of the Kings. Linking their adventures ranging from Karnak/Thebes in the south to Giza/Memphis in the north is the nationwide heliographic (solar powered) signaling network used by Pharaoh and his military. As the plagues reach their climax with the Passover, some Egyptians believe in the God of Abraham and join Moses and millions of Hebrews on the beginning of their exodus journey. How many lives will the Black Falcon ruin in his relentless pursuit for more gold? Who will follow Moses through the Red Sea to safety and who will die in Egypt?

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This sounds sooo intriguing, and this may be a silly question because I, for one, can’t wait to read it. But are there any other reasons readers should pick it up?

Young readers should read this and other books in the series because the characters, although living in Old Testament times, have a God-centered Biblical worldview that guides their lives through adventures in a complex, dangerous world. New and often strange technologies, not unlike those in our own fast-paced world, add twists and turns as the plot heads toward a foregone conclusion that fits the Biblical record. The fate of individual characters hangs in doubt up to the last second.

How did this book come to life for you?

I’d always wondered how all the Israelites knew what was happening when Moses and Aaron repeatedly confronted Pharaoh and unleashed plagues in response to his stubborn refusals. How could slaves working hundreds of miles away in granite quarries of Aswan, brick pits of Giza, or  flooded fields of Goshen know what was going on in the palace? The usual answer, “God somehow told them,” did not satisfy me. My conclusion was that the everyday Egyptian or Hebrew had no idea what was happening until much later in the series of plagues, maybe not until the last plague, when they had fourteen days to prepare, did people understand that it was God who brought the plagues on Egypt. Even then, it’s a puzzle to me how millions of people could organize such a massive effort in so short a time. So, I came up with a hypothetical Egyptian heliographic network based on actual equipment and codes used by the U.S. Army in Arizona and New Mexico in the late 1800’s to signal long distances using solar rays. (The highly effective network was used for only a few years before it was replaced by the telegraph.) My story revolves around a nationwide “solar Internet,” the “blinkers” who run it, and the royal codes used by blinkers to inform Egyptians and Hebrews about the plagues, Pharaoh’s rejection of Moses, and God’s ultimate purpose to lead His people to the Promised Land.

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I love ancient and 1800s technology! This is such a fascinating book. Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

I think that is like asking which of your children is your favorite because I invest so much into my characters. But Malik’s father, Hatep, might be my favorite because his struggle over whether to believe in the God of Abraham or the gods of his Egyptian forefathers parallels my spiritual struggle when I first heard the Gospel of God’s grace and realized that the Good News was opposite to what I had been taught by religion all my life. Hatep has to face repeated evidence in the plagues that the LORD God of the Israelites is more powerful than all the gods of Egypt and he’s frustrated, disappointed, and scared by what he experiences. As a Royal Architect of Tombs, Hatep tries to reason everything logically but finally concludes that salvation is by faith alone in the One True God.

How did you name your characters?

This is a difficult task for me since I invest most of my energies in the storytelling. Fictional Egyptian characters take their names, or slight variations of them, from historical persons although not necessarily from the same time period. Most archeological evidence points to Thutmose III as the Pharaoh during the approximate time of Moses, although none of the historical records can prove this. Names for Israelite characters are either common Biblical names or modern Hebrew names. The principal Hebrew character is Nathan because I like that name.

Are the characters based on people you know?

The Inventor Imhotep, Royal Architect Hatep, and General Herihor have some parts of their personalities and experiences based on my own. The sixteen-year-old Sarina is a mathematician and crypto-solver very much like my wife, who spends hours and sometime days working on a cryptogram that I would never dream of tackling. When I hear “I did it!” shouted from another room I know she’s cracked another one.

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Oh, I love cryptology! I’m not good at it but I’m fascinated with it. I must meet your wife and pick her brain sometime.

Why will readers enjoy your book?

It’s the type of exciting, wholesome adventure that I loved to read as a pre-teen and teen myself when I grew up with characters like Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys. I loved the mysteries and action stories that planted seeds in the mind of a future engineer who wanted to build airplanes, submarines, space ships, and complicated gadgets. Today, young Christian boys should read my books for the enjoyment of adventure fiction with technologies that they can relate to within a Biblical worldview.

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I think I read every Nancy Drew book growing up. What is your favorite scene in the book?

Nathan and Malik enter a large chamber in the Great Pyramid of Khafre with a gold cylinder in its center and directly under the pyramid’s golden apex . As they inspect the inscriptions on the cylinder and the tubes that rise from it into the ceiling, they hear a whine that gradually increases in pitch and intensity. This is Imhotep’s Breath of Osiris. They don’t know what it does, but the reader senses that something terrible is about to happen as the noise becomes deafening. We want to scream, “Get out now!” but they approach the gleaming object and reach out to touch it. There is paralyzing tension as the two boys can’t decide whether to investigate with captivating curiosity or flee in deadly terror.

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Oh, that’s edge-of-your-seat stuff there!  Can you tell us why you chose to write Christian fiction?

My principal motivation in writing Christian fiction for young boys is because there are so few wholesome books available that appeal to their interest in stories with physical action, adventure, suspense, mystery, and complex gadgets. Classical science fiction from the 1800’s (Jules Verne, H.G. Wells) fills some of this interest. But good (moral, safe?) Christian fiction for boys is meager; good Christian fiction written by godly women for young girls is abundant. Today’s young adult (YA) fiction is not suitable, in my opinion, for Christian young people, although I realize that many read it. My desire is to write speculative fiction to honor God and I hope that comes across in my books.

We’ve all heard that fiction writers should write about what they know. That has motivated me to write stories that blend engineering and technology with my understanding of the Bible and history. I’m fully committed to the inerrant, inspired Word of God. I believe we are free to speculate about what the Bible does not say, providing we do not contradict what it does say. I was encouraged by Dr. John Whitcomb (co-author of The Genesis Flood and other creationist books) to speculate in my first book about technology in an advanced pre-Flood civilization. We had several conversations in which we agreed that civilizations before and after the Great Flood were much more sophisticated than the backward cave-dwellers depicted today. I place my fictional plots in Bible times but use seemingly modern, although primitive, instruments, engines, vehicles, and devices in adventure plots.

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I raised four boys and I can’t tell you how excited I am about your vision and mission. It was always difficult finding good, wholesome, engaging reading material for them. Thank you for answering the call and writing these books! Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

I inherited my love for reading and writing from my mother, Peggy Vetter. She wrote the society page of a newspaper (The Niles Daily Star in Niles, Michigan) in the 1940’s while still in college. After WW II she married my Dad in 1947 and wrote long letters to family and friends describing her “adventures” in exotic places like Guatemala, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Mexico, and Jamaica. Growing up in those countries (with no television!) we read books for entertainment. She founded, published, and edited the weekly Herndon Observer (Herndon, Virginia) for almost thirty years until a few months before her death in 2000. My second book, One World Tower-A Babylonian Adventure, is dedicated to her.

Michael, thanks again for joining us today. I am so excited to know you and to get to follow your career. I know God has an amazing plan for your work! God bless you!

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Erica’s Edition: Vikings!

Today’s blog post is brought to you by my hard-working intern, Erica Graphman! Take it away, Erica!

Erica GraphmanI’ve always been a huge fan of history—I actually considered majoring in it until my dad pointed out that I wouldn’t be able to make a good career out of it unless I became a teacher (not really my cup of tea). I love reading about history and especially love learning about different myths that famous cultures believed in. So, in my excitement for the return of The History Channel’s Vikings, I did a little research on the beliefs of the famous group. (I have a feeling that this season is going to involve a lot of mythology!)

The Norse and other Germanic tribes who followed the same beliefs in multiple gods called their practicing a tradition. They believed Odin, Thor, Freya, and Loki were the high gods, known as Aesir. Odin, Thor, and Frigg each have a day of the week named after them (I learned about this in my Structure of the English Language class) Woden’s day, Thor’s day, and Freya’s day (scholars debate whether Frigg and Freya are the same goddess, most think it’s likely because they share the same characteristics). These names eventually evolved to become Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Odin is the king of Asgard and he sacrificed his eye to gain knowledge. Thor is his son and the god of the sky. He can control wind, lightning, and thunder. As noted before, Frigg is Odin’s wife, and she is the goddess of love and the heavens. Women often prayed to her during childbirth. Another common Norse god is Loki, the god of mischief, who is so handsomely represented by Tom Hiddleston in Marvel’s Thor.

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The Vikings believed in four different realms. The gods dwell in the realm of Asgard while humans remain in Midgard. There are two places Viking warriors can go when they die. If it is a worthy death, aka bravely in battle, they pass on to Valhalla where they feast while waiting for the end of time. If they do not die a heroic death, they must remain in Hel, which the Vikings considered the ninth world. After reading all this crazy information about the Viking gods, I must say, I’m super excited to see this season of Vikings, especially to see which warriors take their places in Valhalla and which fall to Hel. (I’m rooting for strong, female warrior Lagertha to kick butt!)

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Ally’s Angle: Fantasy Literature: Through the Facade

Today’s post is written by my intern, Allison O’Neil.

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Last week I wrote about the value of nerd-thinking: the genuine desire and love of learning, teaching, and research. This week I want to explore another nerd-related topic very near to my heart.

Fantasy literature (and a lot of sci-fi) are my favorite kind of fiction. While I love a good novel, and do enjoy a well-written read from almost any genre, fantasy books allow a certain kind of involvement which is rare in other kinds of reading. There are many explorations of this topic available in countless formats, but I will here explain the specific value of fantasy literature as I see it.

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A key element of most fantasy is the presence of a mission or quest. The main character(s) may or may not be aware of the quest as they begin, but the quest functions to give these characters a purpose in life. They have something to accomplish: usually in an effort to stave off evil, preserve a virtuous element of their world, or perpetuate their peoples’ survival.

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These tropes of fantasy must be interpreted in the context of metaphor, otherwise we would only have adventure stories. They are certainly that, but our analysis must go deeper. We, as readers, necessarily identify with the characters as we read a book. As we become attached to characters we like, we experience their turmoil and joy through them. Any book we enjoy contains features we recognize, whether a character, a place, or a feeling.

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Not only do characters function to allow us to experience adventure in our armchairs, but the literature itself represents elements of society. This is the key boon of fantasy literature, in my opinion. While other forms of literature are hampered by the desire or need to mimic reality, fantasy and sci-fi largely abandon this aim. That is not to say the observations and criticisms of social structures or patterns aren’t real—quite the opposite. By eliminating the imitative components of other literature forms, fantasy becomes more universal. Through artifice we see what is real.

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