Tag Archives: fantasy

Confession of a Spec Fic Writer: Sometimes We’re Not Clever, We’re Just Plain A-Holes.

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In October of 2012 I started this blog as a budding Spec Fic writer. I wrote Doctor Who Horoscopes, I shared Fantasy excerpts and short stories that I had written. However, in March 2014 I went into a psychiatric hospital with postnatal depression. My blog focus shifted but strangely enough I still often identify myself as a Spec Fic writer. For the next couple of years I have Spec Fic slated to come out. A Historical Fantasy this year and a Paranormal Crime next year. As such I am having more Spec Fic focused conversations with fellow writers. We all think we’re pretty clever. We all like playing with reality. We all enjoy coming up with clever tricks…. But sometimes we fail. Sometimes we unintentionally write things that are harmful and bigoted. 

A recent conversation with a friend reminded me of a concept that an ex came up with when we were in our early 20s, about 15 years ago. It was a vampire film (yeah, I used to do short film, I’ve even got an award, I’m quite the Jack) and he was so excited about it because it combined his two great loves, medical science and vampires. He had a medical science degree. He had honours. He was doing his PhD. In short, he knew his stuff. And as he told me his plans I said, “Wow, that’s really fucking interesting.” 

His premise was that vampires were a result of a blood mutation and that people with hemophilia were actually descendants from the original vampires. He had way more science behind it than that but that’s about the extent that this aging, arts-degree brain can remember. We hi5ed to good thinking and how solid the science was. We listened to Placebo’s Haemoglobin. We were sooooo cool. But then some thoughts started cropping up…

…. Hang on, are we saying that very real people who exist today are not entirely human? Are we saying that a group of real people are part parasite ready to suck the blood of others? Have we made out that they’re different and savage because of a medical condition? Have we seriously othered them? Oh shit, we had. But aren’t vampires cool? Doesn’t everyone want to be one? No. People who have been systematically excluded already probably don’t want to be further dehumanised. 

You know what we ended up doing? We set the idea aside. We decided not to run with it because there were too many issues. Sure the science was interesting, the play of ideas was interesting, but actually putting that dehumanisation of a group of people out into the world was not interesting. It wouldn’t be fun or cool. It would be actively othering and already misunderstood group. 

What did we do? We came up with other ideas that didn’t dehumanise a group of marginalised people. Just because and idea seems interesting on the surface doesn’t mean it’s actually a good concept to film or write about. We’re creative people. We can think of more things. We can do better. We can come up with equally exciting concepts with out dehumanising marginalised people. I believe in us. We’re thinkers. 

This was 16 years ago and I’m still having similar conversations. Let’s do better. I know we can do it. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll all fuck up at times, I definitely do, but at least put it on our radar.

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Book Review: “Crossroads of Canopy” by Thoraiya Dyer #AWW2017

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Thoraiya Dyer is bringing classic High Fantasy back!

 


Crossroads of Canopy is Thoraiya Dyer’s debut novel but by no means her first foray into the world of Speculative Fiction. Dyer is a well-known short-story writer who has won four Aurealis awards and three Ditmar awards. As such her turn to novel length writing was highly anticipated, and she has not disappointed. The Epic Fantasy canon can now add another novel.

Classic Fantasy tropes are respected throughout this novel. We all know that a special child is usually required and preferably parentless. This pervades most of Speculative Fiction and beyond. Luke Skywalker thinks both of his parents are dead and so is raised by his uncle and aunt until a couple of robots show him the light. Harry Potter’s parents are dead so he is raised by his evil uncle and aunt until he receives word from an owl. Superman, dead parents, dead planet. Frodo Baggins, adopted. All of these guys for one reason or another do not have their biological parents anymore, and they receive a higher calling to leave their old life and become the super-bestest heroes ever. Awesome right? 

Dyer does a similar thing. Her main character, Unar, has less than loving parents. They think of their child as slave labour. In fact they are literally going to sell her to become a slave. Unar decides that she will run away rather than be sold into slavery. It is through this slight change in the dead parent motif, that Dyer gives her lead character more agency than other orphan heroes. It is not until after Unar has already made the decision to run away that she receives her “calling.”

As soon as she makes the decision, Unar’s heart races. The smell of quince blossom and wood fern fills her nostrils. Something inside her chest, like a seed sending out tiny root, begins to grow there. No idea she’s ever had has felt so right, yet the sensation is distressing; she clutches at her rib cage.

Unar gets this special feeling as a result of having made a decision, she is not simply dragged off unwittingly by a wise guide, she willingly chooses to leave and then receives her calling. Having the decision come first gives Unar an active role in her life in a way many popular, heroes of epic fantasy do not. From the start the reader knows that Unar is a person of action and capable of making tough decisions.

Despite this kick-ass aspect to Unar the reader knows that she has a softer side and has sympathy for her from the outset.

Unar Lies as still as a twelve-year-old can lie.

Eyes shut tight, anticipating her mother’s pleased and surprised reaction to her day’s work, she breathes, deliberately and deeply, with intent to deceive, in the wreckage of the cot that belonged to her sister. A curtain divides the cot from the rest of the hollowed-out, one room dwelling. The corner twitches. Tickles her foot. Father checking on her.

Unar’s bent arm is her pillow. She keeps her legs curled so they won’t dangle over the splintered edges. The cot bars have been broken off to burn for fuel but the body remains whole.

Father thinks she’s sleeping. She’s never been so wide awake. He lets the curtain drop.

“It’s time to sell her,” Unar’s mother says from the other side of it, dashing Unar’s excitement to dust.

We are introduced to an excited little girl who just wants to make her mother happy. A little girl that we then witness being callously betrayed by the people who are supposed to love her. To them she is simply a product to be sold rather than a little girl to be loved. This is heart-breaking to witness but also provides context to Unar being emotionally distant at times later in the novel. Her parents wanted to sell her, we also learn that her baby sister was swept away by floods; Unar has had a horrific life in the twelve short years before she runs away. Being strong and distant is an understandable coping mechanism and not simply arrogance over being the “chosen one.”

Crossroads of Canopy has the scope of a Raymond E. Feist novel. There are thirteen gods. There are different factions following each god. The gods are at the top of the hierarchy, walking amongst people in bodies of flesh and blood. Just under the gods are their body guards, after them are those who have received the calling to serve the gods, and below them are of course the slaves. Slaves being the lowest of the low without any agency at all. Unar, who we see as a strong person, with amazing talent, could easily have been one of those slaves.

On top of that there are layers within the world. Those who live in the canopies of the great forest are the most blessed, those who live below, considered less, and the world of the ground is seen as a dirty hole that is best avoided. My favourite nod to classic Fantasy is that the creatures from different areas actually look significantly different like in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel. As early as the first chapter we are introduced to a truly fantastical creature.

He dropped suddenly, suspended by clawed toes in front of her, upside-down with his skirt hems held in one hand, loincloth and concealed throwing knives showing, grinning, making her gasp. It wasn’t right, to have feet like that. Unar had heard rumours that those who served Orin, goddess of birds and beasts, were permanently changed in size and shape, but nobody had ever mentioned to her that the Bodyguard of Ehkis had the grey toes and talons of a sooty owl.

Going back to this traditional model of having creatures from different areas actually look different, rather than all being super sexy humans, opens up a whole range of actions and predicaments that cannot be achieved with merely the human form. This is followed up, with more references to the differences that people from other areas possess, in chapter two and continues on throughout the novel.

Unar examined this one closely for the first time. The woman had the baby-sick skin but not the deep forearm scars of Understorian warriors with retractable “claws” for scaling trees. She couldn’t be a slave taken in war, but instead must have been born a slave. Nobody had set snake’s teeth in place at puberty to form a grown fighter’s magically grafted climbing skills.

And last but not least, Dyer pays tribute to the randy teen trope. Don’t kid yourself, this is important in Fantasy. Think about Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Wise Man’s Fear who managed to be so great in the sack that he out classed the fairy of sex despite being a gawky teenager. And let’s not forget Robert Jordan’s Rand (should be Randy) al’Thor and his menagerie of lusty ladeez who are absolutely gagging for it, and him relatively happily bed hopping. The ladies of High Fantasy are no exception, with Kristin Cashore’s kick-ass heroine Katsa going weak at the knees for Po. Not that Epic Fantasy only has horny teens, the adults are pretty lustful too; I’m looking at you Chris Bunch and your continuous references to “oiled up” penises…. I might just go reread some Bunch… for… reasons. Anyway, Dyer’s Unar is plenty lusty. She’s celibate but still has enough urges to keep us secretly-lustful Spec Fic readers happy.

Instead of dwelling on it, she remembered how her whole body thrummed, like a hanging bridge in high wind, at the thought that Aoun might have undressed her.

Excuse me whilst I go smoke a cigarette…. I’m back, just remembered that I don’t smoke.

Although Dyer includes many tropes from Fantasy, Crossroads of Canopy is still fresh and original. This is because of the lush setting, the unique characters, the detailed hierarchy, and Dyer’s distinctive authorial voice. I cannot recommend Crossroads of Canopy highly enough but don’t just take my word for it, you can read these other reviews here:

https://ventureadlaxre.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/review-crossroads-of-canopy-by-thoraiya-dyer/

Book Review: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

 

Also, keep an eye out for a review of this book to appear on Newtown Review of Books   because they always quote a code for a discount at Abbey’s Books Shop  for all the books that they review.

 

Thoraiya Dyer, Crossroads of Canopy St Martin’s Press PB 336pp $34.99

Learn more about the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge here.

Speculative Fiction Festival at #NSWWC

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Be Careful What You Wish For

As you all know I can’t resist a good festival so I of course went to the Speculative Fiction Festival at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre run by Cat Sparks. A good time was had by all. My main take-aways from the day are listed below. Enjoy.

Garth Nix

  • Garth Nix is so brilliant and so talented that he sold his first short story at the age of 19 to a magazine he didn’t even submit to. No I don’t feel like elaborating on that story because the specialness might decrease and I prefer to keep him godlike in my mind.
  • Garth Nix states that there are no dead manuscripts. A manuscript might not sell simply because it does not fit with the appeal of the time, in another five years it might suddenly be in. Don’t ever throw away manuscripts, resubmit, recycle, repurpose them.
  • Garth Nix said that I could sit in the same sunny spot as him. I died and the ran away. Totes kept my cool…

James Bradley

  • Initially thought that he would live out his days as a poet in poetry excellence of the most poety kind. Turns out he unfortunately needed to have written more than six poems to do this.
  • If you win a cheque, don’t lose it, the organisers of whatever competition or award you won it for will be pissed off that they have to rewrite it.
  • Authors get rejected all of the time. Don’t let rejection deter you because even if you have one success that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a nasty rejection lurking around the corner.

Kate Forsyth

  • Submit your manuscripts typed. Publishing houses don’t generally accept ones hand written in an exercise book that you have illustrated yourself.
  • Always be brave and keep on persevering. Never let your own fear or ego hold you back.
  • Kate Forsyth signed a copy of Impossible Quest 3 for my niece. I am now the favouritist aunt ever.

Marianne de Pierres

  • Internal logic is key to ensuring that your work is believable and accepted by the reader.
  • Marianne de Pierres says she doesn’t know how she feels about a lot of issues hence her characters have different views and she allows them to sort through bigger picture issues. Her works are explorations not morality messages.
  • Write to you personality style. That being style, genre/subgenre, length, strength of message etc. You have to write your novel not somebody else’s.

Stephanie Lai

  • Stephanie Lai starts with a human/scientific problem and then develops the story around that.
  • Stephanie Lai leans towards short stories because she loves quick immediate communication and gratification.
  • Stephanie Lai says to keep the science real but the world fun and fantastical.

Isobelle Carmody

  • Isobelle Carmody crowd funded her book before crowd funding was a thing. That’s how cool she is. She sold shares in her first book for $30 each and agreed to give the money back should she ever be published.
  • Isobelle Carmody has never been rejected. She humbly claims that it is because she takes so long to write her books that publishers are too scared to say no lest she never write another one or takes even longer next time.

Bruce McCabe

  • Bruce McCabe starts with real life problems being explored in scientific labs today, then moves out twenty years and explores what will be happening with those issues and advances.
  • Bruce McCabe feels that trying to box Science Fiction into a narrow definition isn’t productive. That there is a whole spectrum of sci fi ranging from hard to soft and they’re all equally valid.

Pamela Freeman

  • Okay, I am so spun out by what she said to me personally that I cannot even remember what she said on her panels. It would have been insightful too because she always says really good stuff. Pamela Freeman told me that she had read my ebook What Happens in Book Club… and had laughed so hard that she had to read bits to her husband. I nearly died in fangirling overload. I’m not confident that I am actually awake and this isn’t some extended dream. If I truly am awake… GO ME!

Now the bit that you really want, WHAT DID THE PUBLISHERS SAY THEY WANTED?!?

FableCroft Publishing

They are looking for sci fi. Middle Grade and YA. Make sure you read their submission guidelines or Tehani Wessley will cry. You don’t want to make her cry do you?

Ticonderoga Publications

They like anthologies. Love them! So write an awesome short story. Just don’t be sexist, and violent for the sake of shocking rather than for the sake of the story, otherwise Liz Gryzb will cry. You don’t want to make her cry either, do you?

Just quietly, I did pitch to one of the owners the idea of making a The Voice / Literary Pitching crossover show. They weren’t down with it, so if you have any great ideas like that, don’t pitch those to them. Russell Far rather kindly pointed out that although spinning chairs would be fun, they don’t actually see the person pitching as it is, only their words. Good point Russell, good point. However, if there are any TV execs out there who like my idea I am prepared to except my millions of dollars now.

Pantera Press

Their rep was so warm and wonderful that I think everyone wants to now submit every manuscript to them. Seriously, he was lovely and so caring. He was the Rick Martin of the Panel because he had such passion. The rep in attendance likes Romance so I think we’re all switching just to work with him.

Momentum

Genre fiction with a very clear audience in mind. So none of that boundary hopping, all over the place, wishy washy stuff. Keep it tight, keep it focused, keep it commercially appealing.

Harper Voyager

Wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of Epic Fantasy. But please don’t use humour in your submissions, or guilt trips over the fact that your family will starve if they don’t pick up your manuscript. They don’t like that.

Bloomsbury

Submit through the UK website

Hope to see you at the next festival.

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Vale Terry Pratchett #RIPTerryPratchett

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Terry Pratchett will forever be one of my fondest memories. My brother and I both loved his books and it was a real joy to hear my brother’s laugh, echoing my own in the middle of the night, as he secretly read under the covers in the room just next-door to mine. It became standard practice that we would give each other Pratchett for our birthday presents and my most prized possessions is the signed copy of Mort that my brother had signed for me when Sir Terry Pratchett visited Wollongong. Vale Terry Pratchett, you were a big source of joy in a childhood that was oft times bleak.

Here are some memes I’ve made in his honor.

f92ee66d5ba669e4b5d1dac49e08585a c82f2bb820df0497896940efd9e96616 GaimanPratchettHC-725803 weekend-pratchett-3_153194c Prachettmain_2334426b 589432-sir-terry-pratchett 053c2f2f101e8768cd8f943812f68c0d 1297674315264_ORIGINAL c1551211d769e06c1851b63616480a3b

“All I Want For Christmas Is You” … and books, mainly books

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Trust me, he wanted a book not that sweater.

Have you left Christmas shopping until December? Have you just realised that stores are now zoos full of rabid animals? Never fear, I can and will help you… well,  not so much me as books. Books can and will solve your problems. So here are my Christmas recommendations for those of you without the time to think.

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Where Do You Hide Two Elephants? by Emily Rodda. Ridiculously cute picture book.

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The Red Wind by Isobelle Carmody. For the lover of fantasy. Added bonus, yes it is a series. We fantasy geeks love a good series.

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Impossible Quest Series by Kate Forsyth. The first two books are already out. Get into them before they blow out Harry Potter style. Fantastic kids series.

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The Protected by Claire Zorn. Incredibly moving YA novel about grief, resilience… I actually have to stop writing about this novel now because I’m tearing up just thinking about it. It’s powerful stuff. I’ll leave it at that.

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The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss. Non Fiction exploration of stereotypes and beliefs thrust upon women/Tara Moss. That description does not do it justice at all. Captivating read. Just go out and get it for any and all women you know.

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Under Siege by Belinda Neil. A memoir about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It rings true for a lot of mental illnesses though, such as depression and anxiety,  not only PTSD, so is highly accessible.

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Holiday in Cambodia by Laura Jean McKay. For you travel bug friend. Get Destination Cambodia by Walter Mason as a companion piece. Your friend will love you forever. I’m trying not to literally laugh out loud remembering the “dangerously jolly” scene in Destination Cambodia.

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The Black Dress by Pamela Freeman. Get it for the woman who wants to read about strong women and also anyone with an interest in religious history. A truly excellent read about Mary MacKillop.

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Yes, you can believe the hype. Buy it for yourself for Christmas.

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The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. For your historical fiction loving friends who enjoy some romance.

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The Nightingale by Fiona McIntosh. Another beautiful romantic historical fiction novel.

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Fishing for Tigers by Emily Maguire. For the Literary snob who secretly likes it a bit sexy. In other words,  exceptionally well written but they get down to business.

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Avoiding Mr Right by Anita Heiss. For the woman who likes the idea of chick lit but needs something with a bit more depth.

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Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan. Styled as young adult but so brilliant. Honestly,  it’s for any adult, young or old, human or seal. A beautiful take on the Selkie myth.

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Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood. Love a light murder mystery and the cover is very cool. Seriously, I know you can’t judge a book by its cover but… well… we do.

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Animal People by Charlotte Wood. Slightly traumatising but oh so good. For your friend who likes a bit of real life grit.

Okay Christmas peoples,  go forth and part with your cash. Probably online, so you can avoid the people. Mwah.

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Writer/ Publisher Interviews: or Literary Speed Dating as the cool kids call it

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As a high school English teacher I’m familiar with Parent/Teacher Interviews. I get to see the parents of the children I teach and find out why they’re so hilarious or why they’re so not hilarious. Often they’ll have the nervous teenager in tow giving you that look like, “Please don’t tell them I said my parents don’t care if I don’t do my homework because they do and they will kill me,” so I obligingly start with homework. It’s generally all very civilised and we have a few laughs and agree that their child is special and what we can do as a team to maximise their potential, ie homework. Well except for that time when the parent turned up drunk and fell off their chair and kept forgetting why they were there and persisted on asking me about their nephew who I didn’t teach instead of their son who I very much taught,  that was slightly less civilised and laughy. Although now years and schools later I am seeing the laughingness of the whole thing. However, this only prepared me in part for the Literary Speed Dating event hosted by the Australian Society of Authors and the New South Wales Writers’ Centre.  Mostly because the publishers were the teacher, I was the parent and my manuscript was the kid… and I was utterly petrified that I was going to hear that he hadn’t done his homework.

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Fortunately, as I am the queen of catstrophising, things did not go as badly as I’d imagined.* Now I was a little delirious from lack of sleep,**  so my word can’t be taken as gospel,*** but it all seemed really good to me. The organisation was excellent. I know from Parent/Teacher Interviews that things can quickly devolve into a chaotic quagmire with nobody hearing bells or moving on but with the very loud air horn going off every three minutes that just wasn’t an issue. Light bladder leakage may have been an issue as some of us never quite got used to the volume, but it certainly made things run smoothly. I salute you air horn. Lining up was a great chance to catch up with old friends from writing courses like Lisa and Helen who I met through Kate Forsyth courses, and new friends I’d met through twitter such as Meyrnah. And I cannot forget my fellow acolyte of Walter Mason,   Ms Ashley. Thanks to Ashley I am now obsessed with Armenia. My husband is very pleased because he loves discussing history and politics. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. Being around so many dedicated writers was really inspiring. Most people were happy to discuss their manuscripts and I can honestly say that there are a lot of very interesting concepts out there waiting to be published. And to top it all off the Publishing reps asked for my manuscripts so that was brilliant. I shall now have an accelerated heart rate for the next three months whilst I wait to hear back about my memoir, or my children’s novel. Worth it!

If you have a completed manuscript that you feel is ready for a professional eye I strongly recommend you book in early for next year. It sells out around 6 months in advance so make sure that you’re organised.

For great tips on how to handle the event read here:
http://illuminationsbylisafleetwood.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/literary-speed-dating/
https://highfantasyaddict.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/literary-speed-dating-sydney-nsw-writers-centre-2014-asa/ ****

The only thing I could possibly add is, don’t be afraid to discuss your manuscript with others. Discussing it will warm you up for pitching to the publishing representatives. Life is too short to be paranoid that everyone is going to steal your ideas. And heck, even if they are, back yourself, you’ve written it better and at the very least you’ve got a massive head start as yours is already finished. If someone is now out there madly attempting to write a memoir inspired by my time in a psychiatric hospital best of luck to them. Heck, if they want to write a tale of friendship for children, go ahead, there’s already plenty on the market and there will be plenty more because life is about relationships. Back yourself,  be confident, believe in yourself. If you can’t believe in your own writing how can you expect other people too? So book in early, be confident and pitch your heart out.

*I’d imagined being met with a long awkward pause followed by, “Don’t ever waste my time ever again.”

** Mummy still loves you, but kids… I’ve got an audio book narrated by Samuel L Jackson that you need to hear.

*** Or any biblical chapters for that matter.

**** Those entries managed to capture photos of a smoking hot red head… a red head… a bottle red head. It’s me ok!

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Stop Troll Shaming!

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You read the title!  STOP IT!! As a Spec Fic fan and writer I feel honour bound to stop all this troll shaming that has spread across our society like some sort of oozing pandemic. Every time a human is a bit of a wanker or a complete bastard they gets called a troll. Well, that’s just not cricket. And to be quite frank, it’s a damn elf conspiracy. Yup, elves. What a bunch of troll hating bastards.  “Oh but they’re so magical and beautiful,  they wouldn’t do such a thing.” To that I say “Pfffft.” There are many different kinds of trolls and they provide a valuable service to society but the elves don’t want you to know that. No, they’ve blackened the name of the noble troll so much that now the race of man thinks the word troll is synonymous with evil. So please, let me enlighten you about trollkind so that we may all have a better understanding of them and from that hopefully the gap between us can be “bridged.” I shall tell you about the most common types:

Bridge Trolls

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Very important guardians that provide a barrier between us and magical stuff that would make our heads explode. There is some stuff that the human mind isn’t complex enough to deal with, these guys put themselves on the line daily, miles from loved ones, just to keep us safe. They got a bad rep because they ate some goats. Well guess what, they’re not the only ones who eat goat. I’ve heard that with some lemon they’re quite delicious. And imagine if you were stuck on your own for months at a time eating only from ration packs… a bit of fresh meat trotting past…

Cave Trolls

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Well we need caves right? Who do you think makes them? Cave trolls. In fact, before dwarves busted in on their territory, cave trolls used to do all the mining. Dwarves actually just use sites already dug out by cave trolls. You’ve got to watch those dwarves,  they’ll steal your lunch and your land before you know it.

Good Luck Trolls

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Rub these guys on the head and they’ll bring you good luck. Fairies don’t like these groovy little dudes because they can basically do everything a fairy does but without giving everyone around them craft herpes. And trust me, there is such a thing as too much glitter.

Cyber Trolls

They are not bored teenagers or middle aged men dissatisfied with their lives, they’re actually very similar to bridge trolls. They guard the information highway to prevent us mere mortals stumbling upon cyber magics and secrets that would literally blow our mind. They’re the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. My mailer daemon, Brampton, introduced me to some cyber trolls a few weeks back and all they did was look up pics of goats and turn around lost searches. And for no thanks. The cyber elves want us to hate the trolls because they want us to access forbidden content. They want us gone. The elves see us as a plague to be eradicated.

Please don’t believe the rhetoric. You know what happens if you let the glitterrazzo get hold of mythological creatures, sparkling vampires. Trolls are our friends,  not our foes, so please no more troll shaming.