Thursday, March 13, 2014

Countdown to RainbowCon Guest Post by David Berger

Welcome David!  I am so glad to have you here today to post!  Readers- make sure you comment for a chance to win one of David's books!  

For over 20 years I’ve been a teacher; it’s truly my life’s passion, and I look forward to every day with my students. Now that I’ve begun publishing my novels, writing has become yet another passion of mine, and it’s allowed me to tell stories I’ve wanted to my whole life. Adding to both of those parts of my life is yet another aspect I embrace: I’m gay. Not only do I have the chance to be a role model to LGBTQ students every single day, to show them that life does indeed get better, but I also have the chance to model for the non-LGBTQ community just what it means to be a gay professional. There’s no great mystery to me, and I’ve found that it’s always been in my best interest to be a “what you see is what you get” person. Being an out teacher has afforded me a place in the school where I can do the most good for others. A few years ago, I found that something else about me has influenced those around me—my writing.

When I published my first novel, Task Force: Gaea—Finding Balance, in 2012, I suddenly became more than a teacher to my students: I was an author. All of a sudden, students I didn’t even teach or even know approached me about writing. They wanted to know if I would read their story or their novel or give them advice for publishing. On a few occasions, these young writers were in the LGBTQ community. Some approached me apprehensively, thinking I would judge the subject of their stories (since others had), but I would read their intricately woven plotlines and thoughtfully developed characters and see pieces of myself. I remembered being a young gay student (although I didn’t come out until I was 27) and seeing the validation they wanted. Some stories I read revolved around bisexual characters while others were strictly either gay or lesbian. Oftentimes, these were fringe characters, much like the authors themselves, who had a motley crew of friends. But, the one thing these characters had in common was power. Each hero or anti-hero in the story possessed tremendous charisma or even magical abilities. These heroes and heroines seemed to be extensions of the author, but with the power and ability they didn’t have in real life. I certainly remembered writing stories like that, too.

It was through this experience as a reader of young writers that inspired me to further a same sex relationship in my second novel in the Task Force: Gaea series. I didn’t want to be a writer of gay romance or erotica—those tales are left to writers who prefer those chosen genres. I write mythic fantasy, but I wanted there to be a few characters whose relationship didn’t fit the stereotype of ages past when it comes to gay characters. These stereotypes were homicidal, victims of evil characters, or perhaps they were killed off as a “red shirt” character, a wanton throwaway person. What kind of role model would I be if my gay characters fell into those categories? So, I had a plan.

In Finding Balance, I intimated that Dan, a main character, was gay without really exploring the idea, mostly because I didn’t want the story to focus on his relationship or orientation. The world in general has a myriad of people in it, and I didn’t want to be writing a gay mythic fantasy novel (not right now, anyway). When I started Memory’s Curse, the sequel, I needed a character to play a serious and important role, so I gave Dan a boyfriend, Ari. Aside from playing a crucial role in the story, Ari and Dan have a unique relationship that will set the stage for future books in the series. Having a positive, nurturing gay relationship brings another level to the book, especially since same-sex couples don’t get the respect they deserve.

In a fantasy novel, so much can happen that bridges the real world and that of make-believe. In this world I’ve created, homophobia really doesn’t exist. Because it shouldn’t. Does that make the world of my novels less plausible? That depends on whom you ask. If someone reading these books thinks that homophobia and prejudice are necessary for fictional worlds, since they’re part of human nature and relatable, then the answer is yes: this world becomes less believable. However, if someone reading these books sees a fantasy world as an opportunity to rewrite human nature, then perhaps the world has a chance to set an example.

Something else to consider when examining same-sex relationships in fantasy novels is that the gods themselves had relationships with multiple people. Zeus had Hera, as well as his many other women too many to name, but he also had Ganymede, a young man who not only was cupbearer to the gods, but was also Zeus’ lover. Apollo had Hyacinth, Artemis had Callisto, and there were many others. This entered my mind when I developed the character of Dan, since he is the son of Apollo. Through this story, I want young readers, especially those LGBTQers, to see that not all gay characters have to be ostracized, beaten, killed, or put into heinous roles.

Another area that I wanted to make sure to include in my writing was strong women, and not just superhuman. The main female characters, Sarah and Aleta, do possess magical powers, but their strength comes from within, too. I have tremendous respect for women with power, especially in this real world. I do my best to stop misogyny with students (some teenage boys can be the worst!) as well as with other people I know who just don’t understand that women and men should be playing at equal levels. Sarah Jacobs grew up with three parents: her dad and his partner, and her mom. I actually had someone ask me why I don’t really have traditional families in my work, but that all depends on how you define traditional. Whose traditions? Aleta Halston’s mother and grandmother raised her. Just because her father doesn’t make a presence in the books doesn’t mean he won’t eventually show up or that he didn’t exist. The matriarchy of the Halston family provides the foundation of Aleta’s power, that and a silver javelin that lets her call upon Zeus’ lightning. Another woman who deserves her props is Alkinoë, queen of Arkadeia and Apollo’s wife. Having moved from ancient Arkadeia into the modern world, she still has the strength to deal with the issues put before her by her husband (read Memory’s Curse to find out) as well as those of her offspring. A large part of the inspiration for women like these came from two sources: my own mother who provided me with the foundation on which I built my life, and my favorite comic book heroine, Wonder Woman. One real, one fictional, yet both provided me with role models. I am who I am today because of them both.

I’d consider myself a complex person, I suppose, having dealt with more than my share of obstacles growing up, but being an educator, and a gay one at that, has afforded me the opportunity to be more for others. My life (not just a job) is to teach, to prepare others for the world, and to show them that, with enough motivation and willingness to take risks, life can be what you want, or more.

Attending RainbowCon will be something of a first—I’ve never been the guest of a convention before. I’m thrilled to be a part of this inaugural event, and particularly to be on the Writing Diversity panel. As the descriptions states, “It's difficult to find diversity in race, religion, ability, and occupation in a lot of QUILTBAG fiction.” I believe I have much to say on this subject as I have incorporated a variety of elements that will be discussed in this forum in my novels. Fantasy pretty much invites diversity, since a writer not only has humans to factor in, but also any number of creatures, gods, and otherworldly beings. This panel will truly be one I will remember.

Task Force: Gaea—Finding Balance: During the age of Olympos, when a vengeful goddess shatters the Sacred Scales, both immortals and humans alike suffer. Apollo suffers from Zeus’ wrath and is sentenced to live as mortal. The Fates direct his course, and he must make difficult, yet vital, choices. Millennia pass, and Dan, Aleta, Brandon, and Sarah—four reluctant modern-day heroes gifted by ancient civilizations born of the gods—bound by prophecy, have to choose whether or not to save their world when it could mean they never existed. They must battle against incomprehensible forces from the Underworld and repair the Sacred Scales, destroyed long ago. With Order and Chaos unhinged, and the Olympian gods struggling to exist, these four become part of the United Nations Task Force, protecting an endangered world, by becoming the only group who can fight against metaphysical threats to the Earth: Task Force: Gaea. Can mortals succeed where gods cannot go?


The third man remained on his mount, but kept his distance from the other two. Perhaps he would be a voice of reason for them, or maybe he would coax them into frenzy. Regardless, Delos’s eyes never left him. This first day on Gaea would end in death; only the Fates would know if it were his death, or Ios, or these marauders. On the other hand, would it be salvation to die and not endure an unknown period as a human? Something intrigued the man on horseback. While Delos had been watching Polos and Creon, the man had been watching Delos, especially his armband. With subtle gestures, he nudged the horse forward, hoping to get a better look. When he translated the symbols, his face paled.
“Brethren! Cease this at once! The fair-haired one is...”
Fearing the priest would give away his identity, Delos raised the bow and sent an arrow clear through the man’s throat. His hands clutching his neck, the man fell off his horse, crimson life oozing into the earth. Creon charged at Delos, but another arrow found its mark in his chest. Delos brought the bow up to his cheek, nocked with another arrow.
“You have now twice insulted the sea god, first in his own shrine, and now by assaulting an innocent man near the sea. Unless you wish to see the Netherworld, turn and go,” Delos instructed Polos. Delos admired Ios’ courage in this.
The Galateian dropped his weapon, started to turn, but swung around. The arrow made a hollow thud as it penetrated Polos’ head, killing him instantly. A hidden dagger fell from his hand. Delos had not been on Gaea more than an hour and already he had killed three mortals. Surely, the Moirae had a sense of humor, or of the macabre.Ios stared at his companion, finally managing to speak. “Thank you, friend. I felt sure I would see Hades this day.”
Delos lifted the cart back to its wheels and salvaged some of the undamaged burlap bags. Wolves or wild dogs would eventually consume the dead men. No doubt, Hermes had taken their souls. Gaea would claim what remained. Ios and Delos didn’t speak until they arrived at a pennant denoting the boundary of Trapæzos.

Task Force: Gaea—Memory’s Curse: For Aegis, Zodiak, Aether, and Talon, operatives in the United Nations Task Force: Gaea, life should have returned, but paranoia plagues this new time line, and tight-fisted governments mandate control through a pervasive military presence, DNA scans, and surveillance cameras. A new mission for Task Force: Gaea emerges when an ancient cloudlike evil referred to in prophecy only as The Nebulous One emerges from Tartaros, with the intention of devouring the Olympeian gods. But, before she can find them, all of the gods but Apollo have disappeared. Will he and Task Force: Gaea find and vanquish this primordial goddess without falling prey to her power before she finds the gods? Aegis and his teammates, perhaps as a side effect of their encounters with The Nebulous One, have to battle personal demons in the form of potent memories that could jeopardize their mission’s success, seemingly insurmountable obstacles that could indeed mean the end of their team. Starting in antiquity and moving to the modern day, this epic battle between good and evil leaves both immortal and mortal alike wondering whether memory can be a blessing… or a curse.


“What the hell is that?” Aether looked down into the quarry. “I think we’re in trouble, guys.” Her voiced quivered a bit.

Zodiak caught a glimpse of it over her shoulder. “Damn. I think that’s the largest thing we’ve gone up against. Aegis?”

“I see it,” he said, assessing it from the other side of the copter. “You’re right, Zodiak. Let’s get on the ground. And that’s Ladon, so yeah, I’d say we’re in trouble.”

Ladon—son of Ekhidna, mother of all monsters, and Typhon, another monstrous dragon but with one hundred heads—guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides, sacred to Hera. What could have brought this beast from its post was a mystery, but nonetheless he towered up over the granite canyon’s walls. Aether glided to the ground on the air currents, while Aegis and Zodiak just jumped to the ground when the copter was close enough. Talon returned from her aerial reconnaissance without much to tell.

“So, no people. I don't think there were any to begin with. It’s just us, and that.”

“What’s the plan?” Zodiak realized it was more rhetorical. He knew the answer: either transport it somewhere, or kill it. “A head-grower, right, Aegis?”

A head-grower was a dragon that grew two heads when one was cut off, like a hydra. Only one head of the eight would be impervious to weapons; that head would be a challenge.

Aegis nodded. “This doesn’t make sense. Why would Ladon be here of all places? No human prey, either.”

“Let’s speculate later. You ready, guys?” Zodiak needed no answer.

They moved closer, hearing the roaring heads below, not noticing the dark cloud looming above them, like a thunderhead before a storm. Ladon’s sneer vibrated the air around him. Taking a running jump, Aegis landed on the back of one of the heads, grabbed onto a green scale, and positioned Thyroros. Another head opened its mouth, spewing fire, but Aegis threw his manacle up, and the impact shield kept him from being incinerated. Unfortunately, he let go, bounced off Ladon’s back, and landed on the floor of the quarry. He didn’t have time to get his bearings when the dragon’s tail swept him into the granite wall, cracking the stone, chips flying everywhere. Aegis sheathed his sword, ran toward a massive leg, leaped up and did a somersault, landing on Ladon’s back. Smooth scales made it almost impossible to get a strong foothold, but Aegis balanced his way to the base of the eight necks, clenched his hands together, swinging them down hard. Most of the heads turned, some spewing acid while others spat fire.Drops of acid landed close enough to eat away some of the leather on Aegis’ black boots. He looked up and saw Talon flying in an attack formation, her javelin at the ready. Even if he could get his sword out, he could only get one, maybe two, necks severed before Ladon’s other heads would attack. He would have to time his sword strikes just right and signal Talon. Withdrawing Thyroros once more, spinning it over his hand, he slashed into the six-foot wide scaly neck. Earthsteel went smoothly through dragon flesh and bone, and as soon as the head and neck fell to the ground, he signaled above and a meandering bolt of lightning came down and cauterized the wound before it could grow two more heads. One down, seven to go. Roaring loud enough to shake free some of the granite blocks from the side of the quarry, Ladon turned three of his heads toward Aegis, ready to shower him with both acid and fire. The son of Apollo knew he couldn’t make another strike without giving the dragon a tactical advantage, so he leaped to the ground to find a better position. The cloud that had hovered above them descended slowly, but went unnoticed.

David is generously giving away copies of his books to three people who comment on this post with something from the post that resonated with them.  Leave your email in the comment in this format: YOURNAME at EMAIL dot COM.  David will choose and contact the winners!


Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your emphasis on plausibly strong female's not something you see a lot of in fantasy or m/m!


Mary Preston said...

I love it when teachers turn to writing. Such a fantastic grasp of the language.


Douglas Wickard said...

So proud of you, David.

David Berger said...

Thank you, Douglas! That means a great deal coming from you.

Emily said...

I love the sci-fi/superhero element, two of my favorite genres :)