Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pioneer One - There Need Be No Other Title.

Throughout 2011 I had the pleasure of discovering a lot of new media via the web. From independent musical projects, to movies, to 'television programs' produced exclusively for the web - there is a great deal out there to discover and enjoy and, in many cases, a lot of this content is free to download legitimately. 

I've mentioned Creative Commons attributions in previous posts here at DFA Dot Com which is basically a fancy way of describing the availability of independent media to end users for free, but in almost all cases, the projects depend upon the generosity of the end user who can contribute to the projects they have discovered both financially through donation or by spreading the word about that particular project via social media. Both these methods are a wonderfully entrepreneurial way of ensure the success of new media and, because donations and support come from like minded people, often the projects flourish without the intrusion of commercial interests which can and has neutered such media with their particular agendas.

One project that really got me excited over the course of the past few months is a 'television' series called "Pioneer One". I've italicized 'television' you'll note, because, although it is presented as a six episode series, it hasn't (yet) been actually broadcast on television. It's broadcast space has been the exclusive and more powerful environment of the web. 

So what is "Pioneer One"?

The premise of the series is described thus: 

A mysterious spaceship enters Earth's atmosphere, triggering a massive response from the American government. Since the ship has spread radiation over hundreds of miles of rural Montana, officials are quick to bring up the possibility of a terrorist attack, specifically the detonation of a dirty bomb, however, that idea is discarded subtly by the leading investigator, asking the rhetorical question "Who would launch an attack on Montana?". 

Debris is found in Canada, where an investigation of the crash discovers a live human being in a Soviet space suit. Federal agents working for the American Department of Homeland Security get involved, receiving permission from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to operate in Canada. The man is in an unstable condition and his initial blood work shows signs of severe cancer, with his doctors proclaiming him too badly injured to transport. A note handwritten in Russian found at the crash site says that the man is the child of cosmonauts living at a base on Mars. 

Not believing the note and wanting to announce a Department of Homeland Security success to the press, the American DHS orders Agent Tom Taylor (James Rich) to bring the man back to the United States as a suspected terrorist, despite his severe condition. Believing the note could be true, Taylor ignores his orders and destroys the permission from the RCMP, forcing his team to stay on site. He also brings in Dr. Walzer, an expert who has written several books about the possibility of human survival on Mars, to discuss the incident. Over the course of the series, we are introduced to an eclectic team of investigators, scientists and medics - all of whom are drawn to the stranger who seems to have fallen from the sky. As they work to unravel the mystery, they will discover truths that will change their lives forever.

Though the series was essentially filmed on a shoe string - you would not know it. The production values on Pioneer One are on par with any of the big network TV shows and it presents as a taut, ensemble piece with plenty of drama and enough mystery to keep the viewer invested from the get go. The cast are exceptional - headed up by James Rich who portrays DHS agent Taylor who is conflicted from the start by the situation he is faced with. The arrival of the Russian cosmonaut Yuri (Aleksandr Evtushenko) - who may or may not actually be the child of a Russian mission to Mars - sets off a chain of events that will affect all those who come face to face with him. Rich is ably supported by actors who, because they aren't necessarily big names, totally inhabit their characters. From Alexandra Blatt as Taylor's 2IC Sofie Larson, to Jack Haley as the eccentric Mars expert Zachary Walzer to Laura Graham as the compassionate therapist Jane Campbell. These are names that you might not know, which is actually a plus because they become their characters. This adds to the overall sense of believability in the story.

James Rich as DHS Agent Thomas Taylor.

Production on Pioneer One began back in 2010 by Josh Bernhard and Bracey Smith who conceived the idea of producing a totally web based drama series and funding it almost entirely out of their own pockets - along with some generous support through capital raising portals such as Kickstarter. As the series progressed and it garnered a solid and dedicated fan-base, the producers were able to raise enough money to continue production on the series through it's entire 6 episode schedule.

The response to Pioneer One has been phenomenal. Within it's first week of release, Episode 1 was downloaded some 420,000 times and, according to the producers, by December of 2011 it had  collectively been downloaded over 3.5 million times through it's hosting partner, VODO and it raised almost $100,000 in fan donations, ensuring that the entire first season would see completion.

And now as I write this, the first season is now complete and can be viewed in it's entirety via the download links at Pioneer 1's Vodo Portal.

If there was to be one criticism of the series - and this is entirely not the fault of anyone associated with the project - is that, because of the disparate funding streams coming into the project, there was a long time between episodes of the show. This was kinda frustrating for fans like myself who had hopped on board the series from the beginning but, given the high value of the production, the casting and the writing, it was impossible for me not to stay the course. 

And so now the Pioneer 1 team and the fan base look forward to the production of a second season and a continuation of the story that was left by an awesome cliff hanger at the end of the first season. The sneak peek trailer for season 2 hints at heightened geopolitical tension, changing alliances and answers to questions that were tantalizing all through out season 1. 

Make no mistake. This is a new paradigm in dramatic serial television that removes all of the  big TV network impediments to great drama and offers us pure entertainment. 

I urge you to check this series out.  

Official Pioneer One website.

Official Download portal. 


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gifts Of The Peramangk - WIP Preview No. 4.

I've entered 2012 with a substantial amount of work under my belt on my new project 'Gifts Of The Peramangk' and, though it is well advanced, it is far from complete. I wish I could give you a more definite time frame as to when it will be finished, but I am doing as best I can given the crazy life I have.

In this, my fourth  work in progress preview, I am introducing - for the first time - the character of Ruby Delfey, who is the modern day protagonist of second novel "Gifts Of The Peramangk" and the grand daughter of Virginia Crammond - who I've featured in my previous WIP previews. 

Ruby is an eight year old Aboriginal girl, who lives in abject poverty in Adelaide's Northern Suburbs with her grandmother, her Aunt and Uncle and their three children Jeremy, Asher and Minty. She lives under the cloud of domestic violence, crushing poverty and ingrained racism. But Ruby's gift - passed on to her from her grandmother Virginia - has just been discovered by an elderly but formidable Professor of music. He is not yet convinced of Ruby's prodigious talent but, in the following piece, he challenges her with a piece of music she has never encountered before. What follows is major turning point in the story that will bring two worlds together - the ramifications of which will either give Ruby the opportunity to shine or crush her gift forever.

This piece came to me almost by accident, when I was trying to come up with a new way of portraying music in a literary sense. It was difficult because, whereas before - in Hambledown - I'd developed a method of visualizing the music of the guitar and translating that onto the page. I have some familiarity with the instrument. The violin on the other hand, is a much different proposition entirely. I wasn't  as familiar with it's sound, the way it is meant to be played. So, I had to take a slightly different approach.

The result is an impassioned visual, which has a particular significance for one of the central characters - which will be borne out as the story progresses.

Again, this is raw, unpolished and probably grammatically incorrect. But this comes from my soul. I would love to get your feedback...

Reading the composition before her, Ruby began to hear their music in her mind. She saw within the notes on the page, a stark emotion underlying them - a darkness that unnerved her and intrigued her simultaneously. Her uncanny ability - that which had been drawn from her by her grandmother - switched on like a light bulb and she closed her eyes. She breathed softly.

Ruby positioned herself as Khalili had shown her just a few minutes before and she raised the violin to her chin.

She drew her bow across the strings as lightly as a feather, eliciting a long and plaintive note with just enough quiver on it to give it a satisfying vibrato. She knew she had attained the note perfectly. A familiar feeling, akin to a buzz, rippled in her temples and slowly she opened her eyes.

In her mind's eye, the darkness and the dank cold of a cramped bunk house coalesced, filled with the sad faces of people. They were huddled together for warmth around a pair of candles that were seated in the middle of the room. They were prisoners in the bunk house. A large and heavy steel door at one end of the building was fastened shut. In the flickering light that played upon their anguished features, Ruby could see them clearly. Their sunken eyes. Their prominent cheek bones. Their lips, chapped and cracked from the cold. Their faces pocked with sores. All of them - Men, women and children - coughed and spluttered under the weight of chronic illness. They wore tattered clothing over emaciated frames. Ruby played their circumstance upon her violin.

Creeping tendrils of fear weaved their way through the group as they sat on the earthen floor, each of them afraid to move, afraid to speak. Outside the brick walls of the bunk house, guttural sounds, inhuman sounds swirled all around, taunting them. The sounds of machinery, of belching smoke and fire melded with anguished human voices - voices that cried out in fear and pain. Ruby's violin traversed the huddle of people, translating these sounds with a chaotic progression of notes on the violin, signifying a chilling representation of dread. That sense of dread germinated in the pit of her stomach as she played which, in turn fed through her fingers onto the strings. The piece returned to those poor souls trapped in the bunk house and Ruby descended into ominous plucking of low notes. Something was happening that changed the dynamic of the piece. Ruby was heralding the arrival of a foreboding presence somewhere nearby - a presence that was coming.

Several in the group began crying, weeping; their tear filled eyes were filled with long suffering fear - as though they had been crying for all of their lives. Ruby played long, lingering high notes, suggestive of their grief, suggestive of their wearied panic before she plunged back down into the lower registers again as the unseen presence outside grew closer and more threatening. It amplified their fear, causing many of them to scramble backwards across the floor to the corner of the room that was farthest from the direction of presence.

The room was suddenly rocked by powerful explosion which seemed to strike just outside the bunk house. Like an earthquake, the explosion caused the entire bunk house to shake. The flickering light from the candle flame threatened to extinguish. The panic that surged through everyone was all consuming. They were paralysed where they sat or stood.

A second explosion, even louder and closer than the first struck with a deafening boom, causing the brick wall at one end of the bunk house to visibly move and shake. Mortar dust collapsed from the spaces between the brick work. The prisoners huddled closer. Ruby translated their terror with rapid, punctuated strokes of her bow across the violin's bridge.

And then, from the centre of the huddle, a lone figure stands. A child, a boy wearing a moth eaten woollen pull over and tattered shorts, steps forth and peers through the darkness towards the precarious brickwork. Men, women and children gasp in horror and desperately try to coax him back to the safety of the group, but he ignores them. Something has piqued his curiosity. He shuffles cautiously across the earthen floor on shoeless feet, that are hardened and calloused.

A third explosion rocks the bunk house with such force that the brick wall and part of the roof crumbles and collapses inward with a cacophony of noise and dust and iron. A gaping hole is revealed through which, the boy gazed up onto a night sky that was ablaze with fire.

A monstrous shadow falls across the gaping maw of the ruined building. It's form is suggestive of a beast like figure with huge hands and a powerful jaw, but there is no physical accompaniment to it. It exists - wraith-like in the darkness. Two great limbs plant their extremities upon the ragged edges of the hole and the presence glares down into the bunk house. The boy stands solitary, returning the glare of the presence with an innocent curiosity. He has no fear, despite the violence that rages all around.

And with that innocence, the boy reaches up with an outstretched hand towards the presence and he smiles warmly.

There is surprise. There is confusion. There is hesitation.

The presence reaches down into the ruined building and takes the boy's hand gently in it's own. All at once, the violence, the chaos and the terror fall away. The screams subside. The machinery throttles down to a low thrum. Ruby's own strokes slow as she holds several high notes with a delicate hand.

His hand still entwined in that of the presence's, the boy gingerly steps forward and over the pile of ruined bricks, lead by the shadow, out and away from the bunk house.

The boy turns back to his companions inside, as the burning sky begins to break overhead. The presence too, has dissipated with the violence and, with a warm glow of dawn playing across the boy's dirty face, he smiles, urging them to follow him.

Through the gap they file. Slowly. Hesitantly. None of them are sure of what to expect. But, as a dawning sun rises to meet them, they step out of the bunk house. Each and every one of the prisoners are touched by a comforting warmth that splashes across their faces. A light that has eluded them for what seems like a life time.

The concentration camp crumbles all around them. Buildings collapse inwards. Other gaunt, emaciated prisoners file out of similar structures.

The boy leads the way towards a brilliant green meadow, beyond a ruined barbed wire fence. Wild flowers bloom into life as the prisoners cross over from the coarse, grey stone of the prison to the soft, lush pasture of the field beyond.

Some fall to their knees in gratitude of the splendour to which they have been delivered. Others just stand, unsure of what to make of their circumstance now. But in time, they look around at each other and, slowly, they greet each other with beatific smiles.

In the centre of the meadow, stands the boy, free of the shackles that has been his bondage. His eyes meet those of an elderly woman who kneels on the ground nearby, unable to support her own frame. In that moment, her eyes are as vibrant and alive as his very own.

In that final moment, Ruby drew the bow away from the violin, allowing the last note to trail away. Then she lowered her instrument and gingerly looked up at Khalili. She was surprised to find him sitting there, his eyes redenned with evidence of tears having stained them.

Ruby shifted uncomfortably in her chair and fidgeted with her violin.

"W...was that okay?" she asked hesitantly.

Khalili nodded slowly and gestured silently to the auditorium behind Ruby.

Slowly, she turned to see a number of people who'd been watching her. They appeared visibly moved. Some of them, like Khalili himself, were wiping away tears.


Gifts Of The Peramangk is copyright © 2011 Dean Mayes & Hambledown Road Imprints.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Gemini Downs - There Need Be No Other Title.

On New Years Eve, my young family took a tram up to Adelaide's Elder Park to enjoy a free NYE's outdoor concert in the twilight hours on the river Torrens. It was a typically balmy Adelaide evening after a day which had brought temperatures of up to 100 degrees (F). By the time we set ourselves down on the grass in front of the rotunda however, it was a much more hospitable environment in which to enjoy some live music and we had a totally lovely time there.

One of the things that made the free concert so enjoyable was the quality of the acts that were headlining the event. Bands such as the Atlantic Street Band, Lucky Seven, The Wholias, Matsuri Taiko Japanese Drummers,  Las Chicas Bomba Brazilian Dancers entertained in an atmosphere that was suited to everyone - not just families. You had big band sounds, the sounds of Bourbon Street, Argentine rhythms and some eclectic Bollywood bravura in amongst the set list and it made for a totally enjoyable evening, which was capped off by an early fireworks display at 9PM - perfect for the kids. 

But in amongst all these stellar musical acts was one band that stood out like a beacon and had me wanting for more. And, true to form, I embarked on a typically enthusiastic information gathering exercise the next day on the band Gemini Downs.

On stage during 2011's NYE celebrations, Adelaide, Australia.

Gemini Downs is a seven piece South Australian indie folk rock outfit who hail from the pretty South East township of Mt. Gambier. Formed by siblings Sean and Jessica Braithwaite sometime in 2010, Gemini Downs takes it's name from a holiday spot on South Australia's Coorong district, where the Braithwaites spent many holidays as children. Their beginnings were unassuming enough but the outfit has since grown exponentially and they now feature a superb line up of musicians from both Australia and abroad. Their music is, what I like to call, heart-land music - a richly Australian sound that turns the traditional notions of folk music on it's head and fuses it with a rock sensibility that is gutsy but understated. Again, I hate comparing here but for the purposes of this article - there are flourishes of The Decemberists, Swear & Shake (who I featured here at DFA Dot Com last year), Australian band The Waifs, Missy Higgins and perhaps a little bit of The Mavericks.

Where Gemini Downs mark their individuality though is in the way they flirt - devilishly so - with the unconventional by bringing a host of instruments to their music including the piano accordion, alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet, mandolins, the Cello even tap dancing. Jessica Braithwaite is a formidable tap dancer who, during the NYE performance in the park, ripped the roof off the place with an enthusiastic tap performance that works - TOTALLY WORKS. Their songs are lyrical poetry and speak of love and places, life in all it's untarnished glory, the passionate and the dispassionate. You will listen for their lyrics but you will experience their musicality as a sumptuous whole and take it all in like a hearty meal that leaves you warm.

My Daughter Rocks Out With the band at Adelaide's NYE celebration.

As their profile Down Under continues to rise, Gemini Downs has already featured on Triple J's Unearthed series which gives exposure to up an coming Australian bands and, at the time of writing, they are working on a debut album to complement a self titled EP release which is available as a download from CD Baby for the princely sum of $5.99. I've already purchased this EP and I can attest to the beauty of the Gemini Downs sound (check my left side bar where I've placed their album cover). It is rich. It is honest and it is wonderfully unconventional. 

I hope for big things for this band and given their impressive work rate on the tour circuit domestically, Gemini Downs will be an outfit to watch in 2012. Try out their music. I know you won't be disappointed. 


Post Script - My daughter's first experience of fireworks.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Defiance Rising - A Look At "Mortal Defiance" by Nichole Chase.

Well here we are hey? 2012 - and no sign of John Cusack...yet. I hope your holiday season was a grand and warm one and you're entering the new year with good things to look forward to. 

In this, my first post of 2012, I wanted to return to Savannah, Georgia where, last year, I visited with a stellar new author, the totally charming and lovely Nichole Chase. During 2011, Nichole made a rather large splash in the indie book world with her debut novel "Mortal Obligation", the first book in a three book cycle badged as the Dark Betrayal trilogy. I featured "Mortal Obligation" here at DFA Dot Com back in September and I said then that, in a ever growing dearth of paranormal fiction, Nichole's work was definitely a huge shining light and it gave the genre a massive dust and polish. Her writing features well drawn and engaging characters, cracking and intense plot with touches of hip humour and an overall sense of 'realness' and 'grittiness'. I chatted at length with Nichole about the book and the series and she promised that we would see Book 2 before the close of 2011. True to her word, book 2 "Mortal Defiance" did hit the shelves in December and already it has garnered a enthusiastic response from readers who, like me were eager to read more about the understated heroine Ree McKenna. 

Savannah, GA native and author Nichole Chase.

"Mortal Defiance" kicks off pretty soon after the events in the first book and is described thus - 

One short week turned Ree McKenna’s life upside down. Not only does she have the weight of the world on her shoulders, but she still has to juggle homework, a job, and a curfew. While Ree tries to find her footing amidst the chaos, the Dark Ones and their champion are busy hunting down any humans that have a touch of the gods running through their veins. Allies have turned into foes, and enemies have become stronger.

The world is growing darker, but the passion between Ree and two irresistible guys blazes hotter. Romantic ties from a past life will threaten to break Ree away from the love of her life and will cloud her judgement. In order to follow her heart, Ree will break rules put in place by the gods, risking her life and the lives of her friends in an act of Mortal Defiance.

The premise certainly promises much and, true to form, Nichole Chase delivers, imbuing her rich world with added depth to the characters, heightened tension to her prose and more of the cinematic flourishes that made "Mortal Obligation" such an engaging jump off point. As the title suggests, there is more at stake in "Mortal Defiance" with the Dark Ones ramping up their campaign and wreaking havoc and the heroine, Ree, struggling with her own internal conflict. For a 17 year old girl, living in the midst of a somewhat normal life whilst dealing with a potentially cataclysmic 'other world', it makes for a compelling reading experience. Nichole's deft hand as a story craftswoman, again shines as she handles the multi-faceted plot line with all it's inherent complexities while maintaining a 'spunkiness' and a dark humour which is intelligent and appealing. "Mortal Defiance" is kinda like Star Wars "The Empire Strikes Back". It takes all the ingredients that made the first instalment so successful and adds to it - depth of character, heightened stakes for the characters and a richer world to explore and experience. As such, "Mortal Defiance" is a resounding success and one that will set the stage for a thrilling finale when book 3 lands.

As I did back in September last year, I was able to catch up with Nichole this past week and over a couple of glasses of South Australian sauvignon blanc in the foyer of the Marriott Hotel in Savannah, GA ( *massive disclaimer* ), we talked about the response to book one, the evolution of its central protagonist, Ree McKenna and the Dark Betrayal trilogy from book one to book two.

*   It's great to catch up with you again Nichole and I've gotta say from the outset - Well done you! You've made quite a impact with the Dark Betrayal series and have garnered some wonderful feedback for "Obligation" and "Defiance". How does it feel to have achieved so much and how has that shaped your writing going forward?

It was one of my wildest dreams come true - last August I published a book. Then another dream unfolded before my eyes. People began to buy my book and even better, a bunch of them seemed to really enjoy it. I could hardly believe it! And then a thought occurred to me; One that I had barely hoped to ever be faced with. I had to get crackin’ on book two.

Holy bejeezus, was that thought exhilarating. And horribly frightening. I sat at my desk, late one night and stared at my keyboard. Writing a second book should be easy! I’ve already done it once, right? Yeah, the pep talk didn’t work on me either.  There was a whole new set of expectations at this point. There were flesh and blood readers invested in the story that I had created. And while I already had the entire trilogy outlined, I felt a little lost. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and that became one of the biggest obstacles to writing Mortal Defiance. Reviews poured in, some people loved this and hated that, while others had a complete opposite reactions. I found myself worried that I might write my story the wrong way. I had to shove away all of the doubts, fears, and worry to focus on my characters and the story. The story that I wanted to tell, not necessarily the story others thought it should be.

*   Yes, and there is no doubt that the series thus far has an individuality and an 'independence' that really shines through. I take your point about keeping the momentum up in continuing the writing journey and the pressures that can befall authors in maintaining a steady workflow. It's not an easy thing to do and we as authors can't be forced by the weight of expectation to produce.  In evolving both the story, the protagonist Ree McKenna, and her enemies and friends, what did you learn about them in penning "Mortal Defiance".

Well, Ree had a lot of growing up to do in Mortal Defiance, and I was looking forward to sharing her journey. So, I set aside my worries and doubts, and worked on unfolding the story. In the first novel, Ree and her friends are thrust into a situation where they have little control. Their actions and thoughts are in response to things happening to them. In book two, they’ve had some time to absorb what has happened and to try to wrap their minds around who and what they are expected to be. Ree must learn to trust her instincts, to stand up for herself, and to take control of her destiny. Let’s be honest, that is a lot for someone to process (especially at seventeen—not to say that teens aren’t faced with very serious dilemmas all the time), and it doesn’t go smoothly. When does life ever go smoothly?

*   Ha-hah indeed! Life as mortals here the real world is complicated enough without the additional burdens of adolescence and world crushing beings from the nether-world, aren't there. Do you think the Dark Ones ever had to wait on a line for a Starbucks? (At this point Nichole fixes me with a puzzled frown and we sip our wine in a momentary awkward silence). I'm kidding of course.

Now in penning Mortal Defiance, there is certainly a raising of the stakes that no doubt required a certain approach to the development of the work. Did your writing process differ at all from the first book "Mortal Obligation" and, if so, what drove your process.

Much of the process came from me in writing the books. When I look at their situation, I ask myself questions. What would it feel like to have all of this responsibility dumped on my shoulders? What would have to happen for me to come to terms with the situation, to accept the things that are being demanded of me? Big things would have to happen. And in Mortal Defiance, some very big things happen. Hopefully, these things help shape Ree and her friends into the individuals they need to be in order to win the battle. Hopefully they will all survive to find their own happily ever afters.

*   Well, Nichole I have must again congratulate you on "Mortal Defiance" and I wish you all the best for the final instalment. It's been a pleasure talking with you again. 

Thank you Dean!

There you have it - "Mortal Defiance" Book 2 in the Dark Betrayal trilogy is available now by following the links from Nichole's own website. Be sure to visit Nichole over there and secure a copy today and while you're at it, catch yourself up with the series if you haven't already buy reading "Mortal Obligation".  

So - Kindle-up people! You won't be disappointed.