Sunday, March 23, 2014

HEL X 3 "Author's Cut" of the Hel Triliogy

Covers for the Hawk Books trade sized reprints in 2000, art by Boris Vallejo,
stacked above the 2002 Russian language editions from Alpha-Kniga, art by Ilya Voronin.

I finished revising and expanding my Norse heroic fantasy trilogy into what is called an "author's cut." All three novels, Warrior Witch of Hel, Death Riders of Hel, and Werebeasts of Hel, are now bundled into a 3-in-one ebook set called HEL X 3. 

I discovered from working on the Hel novels that I liked Bloodsong and her allies, warriors, shapeshifting berserkers, Witches (good and not so good), villains (bad and worse), and monsters (don't even ask) in the three books so much that I wanted to spend more time with them and am now writing a new novel in the series, Valkyries of Hel.

Most of the characters from the first three books return in the fourth book, but there are some interesting changes. For example, there will be K-Pop.

Here is the original cover for the first edition of the first Hel book, September 1985, published in the Questar line under the Popular Library imprint (that was then owned by Warner Books), gorgeous art by the legendary Boris Vallejo, and written under my previously used pen name (because the publisher insisted) that I later stopped using.

My webpage: C. Dean Andersson

Sabine Starr's "Gone Bad" series


Sabine Starr has written a “Gone Bad” series of novels that the genre and marketing folks classify as Western Romances.  Okay. They are westerns, set in the late 1800s in Ms. Starr’s native (from the author’s information) North Texas and Southeastern Indian Territory (today’s Oklahoma), and there is romance in them. But of historical novels I have enjoyed, there were always romance in them.

You learn a lot of history while enjoying a good story with these books

To me, Sabine Starr gives you real novels, not been-there-before predictability, with great come-alive descriptions of the landscapes in which the stories take place, a nice mix of interesting characters, and of course the “hero” and “heroine.” But don’t expect the main characters or the romance between them to be stereotypes. My advice to any stereotype trying to sneak its way into a Sabine Starr novel is to run for the hills before she fills its bottom with hot lead!
Take Belle Gone Bad for example, the newest in the series AmazonLink. The heroine is a serious bounty hunter tracker out for revenge against those who killed her father and fiance. But if you think you’ve been to this round-up before, nope. She has some serious paranormal activity going on, we later learn. So does the hero, for that matter. Yes, paranormal activity in a “western romance.”

This ain’t Gunfight at the O.K. Corral territory, pa’dners. Surprises like that in Belle, and the others in the series, Lady, Angel, and Bride (which can be read in any order, by the way) each holds its own surprises and mysteries waiting to be discovered, is what makes reading still enjoyable.

I hope there are more “Gone Bad” books coming our way.

T-ARA by way of a Ghastly Ghost

I’ve fallen in love with a Korean band named T-ARA.

And it all started with a Korean horror movie.

White, 2011, Youtube trailer is the story of a "cursed melody" that a K-Pop (Korean Pop) girl group called the "Pink Dolls" perform, which turns out to be a great career move in the short term, but not so much later on..."Is it getting warm in here?, hot, hot, hot, hot..." the cursed melody performed by the Pink Dolls

One of the stars of White is a young woman named Eunjung. I looked her up and discovered she really is a K-Pop star with a group called T-ARA (tiara). So, I searched YouTube for any videos T-ARA might have there and found so many I still have not watched them all. But Eunjung had also starred in another horror film, Ghastly, 2011, along with another T-ARA member, Hyomin. I watched Ghastly, too, and was even more impressed. Both actresses did excellent jobs, and Hyomin's final scenes were so strong, due mostly to her sheer acting talent, with few special effects, that it made a lasting impression on me, not an easy thing to do when you have seen as many horror movies as I have. The full movie with English subtitles is currently available, free on YouTube at this link:   Ghastly -- Full Movie with English Subtitles

Now, Hyomin has made another film, Jinx, 2013. It is not a horror film. It is a charming romantic comedy. She makes her character, a South Korean student in Japan, endearing and captivating. Jinx trailer And here is my IMDB review: JINX!!! IMDB Review -- And my updated blog review is here.

Hyomin has also acted in other dramas and comedies, including the historical epic, Gyebaek, for which she won a 2011 Best New Comer MBC Drama Award. Hyomin's heart-felt acceptance speech

Back to T-ARA. My first T-ARA experience was a video of a release called "Number 9." I always liked the golden oldie, "Love Potion Number 9," both the original and the cover by The Searchers, as well as the Beatles' "Number 9" on their “White” Album. But none of my expectations prepared me for T-ARA’s “Number 9.”

T-ARA's version got to me in unexpected ways. My musical tastes are extensive. I was trained and performed on various musical instruments throughout my youth and in the Air Force. So! This K-Pop group’s "Number 9" had a lot going for it musically. The group's dance performance was also impressive (yes, I was also trained as a dancer in my youth, but do not ask me to prove it with a "time-step").

The T-ARAians were great singers and dancers and, from their between dance moves performances in the video, competent actresses as well. Not to mention, of course, their costuming and generally striking appearance (I wasn’t going to mention this, but since you forced me, yes, okay, they are all quite beautiful). Then, I found the English lyrics to “Number 9” and was even more impressed. T-ARA“Number 9” Video and Lyrics

I went back for more K-Pop, me, who likes Viking Metal by Bathory and Amon Amarth! Could anything be farther from Viking Metal than K-Pop? But I have not been disappointed. I have barely scratched the surface. Miss A. Brave Brothers. Girls Generation. Speed. Sistar. 2NE1. And so many more. Fascinating and fun. Here is a nice sampler from YouTube. 100 top K-Pop songs

T-ARA is a classy and very accomplished group of performers, and from my own experiences, a very hard working bunch. Their kind of perfection takes long hours of practice to make it look so easy on the stage or in front of a camera. Indeed, I read that T-ARA rehearsed for three years before their debut in 2009, for which they became known before their debut as the "Super Rookies." Well, if true, it shows.

Now, they have followed up “Number 9” with “FirstLove” – Video and Lyrics. From the title, I was afraid I would find some pop music sweet syrupy concoction, maybe a K-Pop version of Pat Boone’s “April Love.” But T-ARA surprised me again. To begin with, after the intro, the song is done in a Tango rhythm! And the women’s singing is captivating. The addition of a sharp, guest-rapper named EB (yes, rapping within a Tango), adds a nice touch.

“First Love,” by composer Cho Young Soo, however, is a rather ironic title. In some ways, it has lyrics that are even more edgy than “Number 9.” Yet, the video that goes with it, by contrast, provides fans with a welcome, candid look inside the recording studio, with three of the members, Hyomin, Jiyeon, and Soyeon, no flashy costumes, no fancy dance moves, simply working together in ways that reminded me of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” movie, except without the building feuds. Here is a good interview with the three about "First Love" (with English subtitles) "First Love" Interview.
In fact, T-ARA’s artistic progress in just a few years reminds me of the Beatles, too, starting with entertaining pop music then progressing to more serious themes, even, yes, now, art. This group and those creators and collaborators behind the scenes, of whom there must be many, are doing important things that should only get more interesting and enjoyable in the months and years to come.

How much of their progress is due to input from Hyomin, Eunjung, and Jiyeon (the three that have been with T-ARA from the beginning) and the other current members, Boram, Soyeon, and Qri, I do not know, but I suspect that these savvy, creative professionals are an important part of the input-mix. And in a new development, Jiyeon and Hyomin each had a solo debut released in 2014, and Hyomin's second solo album arrived in 2016.  But each had also done memorable solo work during T-ARA's concerts, which can be found and viewed on YouTube, such as Hyomin's spectacular "Love Suggestion" solo, sung in English and danced with the style of a Bob Fosse Hollywood vamp number, with echoes of Monroe, Hayworth, and Dietrich, but infused throughout with Hyomin's unique style and energy. Hard to believe this is the same person who created the loveable Jinx character and the dramatic Gyebaek portrayal, but that's showbiz for you. Hyomin's versatility is impressive. She also does photography, creating professional photobooks, draws and designs, models, and composes. Here's a classic vamp shot from her "Love Suggestion" solo.

Here is a link to a performance of "Love Suggesstion."

Here is a link to Hyomin's solo debut "Nice Body"

Also see my blog about Hyomin's "Nice Body" solo, "The 'Rocky' of K-Pop"

And on her first EP, titled MAKE UP, she included a self-composed song, a strong rap with an emotional punch. I hope to see more of this kind of work from her as her solo career evolves. Link to "Overcome" with English subtitles

Hyomin has composed two new songs that are included on her 2016 full-length album.

Jiyeon (the youngest or "maknae" of T-ARA) had a solo debut in 2014 with an incredibly strong dance and singing tour de force of a performance. It was a surrealistic, beautiful, nightmare of a music video with enough striking images to make a surrealist master like Dali or Magritte take notice. Watch for the sudden bat-wings dance move designed by Yama and Hotchicks choreographer. And the weird mirror-dance effect. Unforgettable imagery executed perfectly. Here is a link to Jiyeon's solo debut "Never Ever."

I want to also include a link to T-ARA's "Do You Know Me?" music video.The costuming and sets and ensemble dancing alone will reward you with smiles, and giving us smiles is largely what T-ARA is about. Once upon a time, listening to the Beatles could uplift my spirits and turn a solid, determined frown into a silly, who cares let's be happy smile. Now, for me, smiles are guaranteed by listening to T-ARA. No, I have not learned Korean. Yet. Knowing Korean would add to the enjoyment, but the MUSIC transcends language... and in some ways treating the voices purely as musical instruments even enhances the effect. As I have heard it said, music is the universal language.  "Do You Know Me?" link

And last but not least, for pure can't sit still fun, here is T-ARA sub-unit N4 (Hyomin, Jiyeon, Eunjung, and Areum). N4 has traveled to the U.S. and appeared in Las Vegas. Hold on... here you go... go... go ahead... you know you want to... get up and move!  T-ARA N4 link

So, now I must say, with all their other fans, “Sarrang-hammida, T-ARA!” Because it turns out, and no one is more surprised than die-hard Viking metal-head me, I do love this group and what they are doing. Long live T-ARA! And long live all Queen's (don't correct me... T-ARA fans are "Queen's," with the possessive apostrophe, not "Queens" -- as T-ARA fans have corrected me!) Yes, T-ARA fans, male and female alike, are correctly referred to as "Queen's.") T-ARA official facebook page  T-ARA on Wikipedia