A-Z Challenge: V is for the ‘Verse

image descriptionYes, I know, I know, technically it’s Universe and should be under “U”, but in Firefly, everyone calls it the ‘Verse, so it’s under “V”. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

There are two main planets in the Firefly ‘Verse, Sihnon (East Asia-themed) and Londinium (American/Western Europe-themed), but there are many other terraformed planets and moons, where mankind has colonised after the demise of Earth-That-Was, including one the Alliance would prefer people didn’t know about (this makes up a major part of the plot in Serenity, so I won’t reveal it here!).

Whedon has packed his ‘Verse with locations and peopled them all with well-rounded characters which make Firefly such a wonderful show.

A-Z Challenge: U is for Unification Day

Unification DayUnification Day marks the anniversary of the triumph of The Alliance over the resistance.

It is a sad, sad day for those who were Browncoats, and you really, really don’t want to pick a fight with an old Browncoat if you see one drowning his or her sorrows in a bar on Unification Day, because you will seriously regret it when you’re nursning your injuries next morning. That’s if you are capable of doing so. You might find you need a nurse. In fact, if you’re stupid enough to pick that fight, make sure you’re wise enough to have a friend look after you in the aftermath.

And if you’re actually celebrating Unification Day, then you’re Alliance scum and I don’t want to know you!

Browncoats forever!

A-Z Challenge: T is for the Tams

The TamsNever have a brother and sister so defined each other and never have siblings been so devoted as the Tams.

Simon Tam is a brilliant young doctor – really, he is something of a genius – and occasionally rather arrogant, but he honestly doesn’t mean to be so cold and distant. Simon has the very best of reasons – he is completely preoccupied with his sister, River, who is in a very fragile state and needs constant attention.

Because, River Tam is dangerous. Seriously dangerous.

Her mind, even more brilliant than that of her elder brother, is completely unhinged, and it’s probable that she could kill you with it. Equally, she could kill you accidentally because she’s playing with a loaded gun that she mistook for a tree branch.

Nutsy-cuckoo would be a pretty good term to describe her.

Still, River is a sensitive and sometimes serene soul whose quirky personality and abilities get the crew out of trouble pretty much as often as she lands them in it.

Both the Tams prove their worth as members of the crew of Serenity.

BLOG TOUR: Author guest post by Carol M. Cram


The Towers of Tuscany by Carol M. Cram is available NOW both in paperback and Kindle editions

Paintings in The Towers of Tuscany

The Towers of Tuscany takes place from 1338 to 1348 during the last decade of the “Golden Age” of Sienese painting that began in 1300. Sofia Carelli and her father, Antonio Barducci, are fictional characters and the works they created never existed. However, the subjects they depicted in panels and frescoes are typical of the period, as are Sofia’s struggles to develop her own style. Like most painters in Siena at the time, Sofia and her father were following in the footsteps of Giotto and Duccio, the first western painters to infuse their figures with a new realism.

Nativity Scenes

Sofia paints several small panels of the Nativity during the novel. She adds a tower to one Nativity panel (Page 9) and makes Joseph an old and tired man in the Nativity panel given to Matteo Salvini (Page 196). Here is a version of the Nativity scene painted in 1325 by Taddeo Gaddi. The tower to the right, the old and tired Joseph, the ox and ass looking on, and Mary’s delicate lifting of the sheet to cover the child all recall moments in the novel.

Santa Lucia

Sofia had painted one of the oxen with its neck extended and its snout high in the air, straining to pull the saint off her feet. (Page 52). The panel Sofia painted was similar to the one shown to the left which was painted by Giovanni di Bartolommeo Cristiani, a Florentine active between 1367-98 (a few decades after the narrative).

Annunciation Scene

While her brush moved, her mind moved faster as she thought how to arrange the figures of the archangel Gabriel and the Holy Mother in an Annunciation panel. She would make Mary young and beautiful, of course, but she would also show something of her fear, maybe have her turning away slightly from Gabriel. (Page 200) Here is the Annunciation by Simone Martini painted in 1333 and now in the Uffizi in Florence.

Simone Martini’s Frescoes

Sofia is taken to see Martini’s frescoes in the Palazzo Pubblico (they are still there in Siena). She marvels at Martini’s use of architecture in the fresco of General Guidoriccio (detail right) that was subsequently covered by a map and heavily damaged.

Maestà Panels

The Virgin and Child was one of most popular subjects for painters in early fourteenth century Siena. Small panels depicting the Virgin and Child were commonly painted as devotional items, and very large versions painted on wood or fresco adorned churches and public buildings. Sofia is commissioned to paint a Maestà that uses her lover’s betrothed for the face of Mary. To the left is a detail from Duccio’s Maestà painted in 1308-11, the same Maestà that Sofia views in Siena Cathedral.


Almost all painting of the period depicted religious subjects. One of the very first secular works is Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good and Bad Government fresco in the Palazzo Publicco completed in 1339. Before her marriage, Sofia sees Lorenzetti working on the fresco in Siena. Depicting architecture fascinates Sofia until finally she paints the small panel of the towers of San Gimignano that will survive to our time. To the right is another of Lorenzetti’s secular paintings – City by the Sea that is the direct inspiration for the panel Sofia paints at the end of the novel.

A-Z Challenge: S is for Serenity

serenityWell, what else could it be?

Our favourite little Firefly class spaceship is called Serenity, after Serenity Valley, the scene of the crushing defeat of the Browncoats in their fight for independence from the Alliance.

She is home to our intrepid crew, unfailingly getting them fro one place to the next (usually with a little help from Kaylee in the engine room!), and not one of them would ever let anything happen to her. They will defend her with their lives, because their livelihood and lives depend on it, and because they love her. Especially Captain Reynolds. He’d never, ever leave her, and if all else failed, he’d go down with his beloved ship.

Serenity is also the name of the film which functioned as a sequel to the show several years after cancellation. It’s well worth watching. Yuo can enjoy it even if you’ve never watched the show, but it would give you plenty of spoilers for the show which came before, so please do watch the series first!

A-Z Challenge: R is for Reavers

reaversThroughout the entire series, the crew of our favourite Firefly class ship show all kinds of bravery – courage is not in short supply – but there is one thing that strikes fear into even the stoutest heart, and that is the Reavers.

To say Reavers are horrifically damaged is a crass understatement. If they catch you, they will kill you, rape you and eat you. And if you’re lucky, they’ll do it in that order. These guys are freaky on a scale that’s off every chart. They skim the edges of the ‘Verse in their cannibalised ships that belch out smoke, attacking other ships and raiding communities on terraformed planets, taking what they want with extreme prejudice.

If you encounter Reavers, the best thing you can do is run. Run, and hope and pray that you run fast and far enough to escape them. Because if you don’t, you might live just long enough to regret it!

A-Z Challenge: Q is for Quotability

Firefly_quotes_-_bigger_white_writingOne of the great things about Firefly is how incredibly quotable it is. From quick quips to snarky asides, the scripts are riddled with words the fans just want to repeat.

Sometimes it’s Kaylee reassuring Mal with, “Everything’s shiny!”
Sometimes it’s River telling someone, “I can kill you with my brain.”
Sometimes it’s the assertion that the crew are “Big damn heroes,” or that they, “Aim to misbehave.”
And sometimes it’s a spiritual counsellor telling a crew ember that there’s “A special kind of hell” waiting for people like the.

Whatever the occasion, there’s a line that comes tumbling out of the characters’ mouths that will, at some point, be exactly the right thing to say in real life.

This is the case with pretty much everything in which Joss Whedon is involved, but I think it’s particularly true of Firefly.

A-Z Challenge: P is for Producer


All bow down to the genius of Joss Whedon!

Actually, I want to tell you about one of the Executive Producers as I opted not to include him under either of his initials but he’s entirely deserving of mention. Indeed, one cannot think of Firefly without thinking of Joss Whedon who not only was Executive Producer of the show, he created the concept, wrote the scripts, and composed the theme music.

Whedon has been involved in some of the very best cult television, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, s well as directing films such as The Avengers and The Cabin in the Woods. Fans, however, tend to think of Firefly as his magnum opus – an epic space-western drama with his trademark sense of tongue-in-cheek, self-aware humour. Indeed, Firefly and Serenity took first and second place respectively in New Scientist Magazine’s 2005 poll to find The World’s Best Space Sci-Fi Ever.

Firefly is constantly referenced in other shows, for example, Dr Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory) is a fan and part of the room mate agreement that Friday nights be reserved for watching Firefly (he was under the impression that the show would run for years. Unfortunately, that was not to be!). Nathan Fillion’s current show, Castle, has also made numerous references to Firefly – Castle appeared in a “space cowboy” costume one Halloween (his daughter claimed it was “So five yeas ago!”), and characters have been spotted sporting blue latex gloves to crime scenes.

Without Whedon, there would be no Firefly, no Browncoats, and no A-Z challenge theme for me this year! The man is, quite clearly, a genius!

A-Z Challenge: O is for The Operative


Calmly kills for the Alliance
and always cleans his sword

When it comes to being completely aloof, there’s one person who springs to mind, and that is The Operative (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor). This guy is cool as a cucumber – nothing ruffles his feathers and he will always get his man in the end. The thing is, he’s incredibly intelligent and can get inside the heads of those he’s after, so he can easily anticipate their next move.

Of course, he’s never met the crew of Serenity before and there’s someone on board who is more than a little out of the ordinary. It just so happens that’s the very person he’s trying to recapture.

The Operative works directly for the parliament of The Alliance, and although he has no official name or rank, he has “access all areas” firmly stamped on his theoretical card – there is literally nowhere he cannot go and nothing he cannot do – he can act with impunity so long as he gets the job done.

And that’s what makes him so scary – he does his job extremely well and has absolutely no remorse, no emotion, no conscience – he’s almost robotic in his pursuit of duty.

That said, he’s incredibly eloquent and can easily make others think twice about their own actions and encourages them to take responsibility for their choices. He would dearly love to create a better world – a world without sin – and if that means he has to execute others for that cause, then so be it – he’ll do so, usually with a sword, a serene countenance, and a courteous conversation beforehand. He is a most elegant killer!

BLOG TOUR: An interview with Andra Watkins

To-Live-ForeverAs part of the blog tour for To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, I asked the author, Andra Watkins, a few questions which she was kind enough to take time out of her very busy schedule to answer. Thank you, Ms Watkins!

Kell: To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis has been described as a genre-bending novel. How would you describe it and on which bookshop shelf would you place it?
Andra: I call it a genre-bending novel. It’s a mix of historical fiction, paranormal fiction and suspense/adventure fiction. Some readers have described it as magical realism and as young adult. At the end of the day, I fear we are too hung up on categories. I just tried to write a book I’d always wanted to read, and I hope other readers will feel the same way.

Kell: The novel is a great concept – what first gave you the spark of an idea to write the story, and what was your greatest inspiration when writing it?
Andra: Thank you! I first thought about writing the book when I was working in Nashville. I was rushing to a meeting in the West End. When I looked to my right, there was the Parthenon, this historic end of the Natchez Trace. I looked to my left, and there was a tiny road sign that read “Natchez Tr.” I started thinking about how Meriwether Lewis died on the Trace, and my imagination took it from there.

Kell: Research is a large part of a writer’s work. How long did you spend on research for this novel, and do you enjoy that side of writing? What do you enjoy best of all when writing?
Andra: I read academic works and biographies for several months as research for this novel. I also drove the entire Natchez Trace over two separate trips, and I spent time in New Orleans, both touring sites for the book and interviewing people who’d lived there for decades. I’ve always been a history geek, but I never wanted to write straight historical fiction. A book like To Live Forever gives me the ability to dive into research and still make up a new story, which is the kind of writing I enjoy best of all.

Kell: Do you enjoy the promotional side of things, such as public readings and signings? If so, which has been your most enjoyable experience?
Andra: I’m a former stage actress (Kell: Ooh, me too! How exciting!), so promotional things are really fun for me. Parnassus Books in Nashville hosted me for an author event and book signing, and I was honored that they chose me. I loved meeting readers and hearing their stories. That’s the best thing about writing: meeting the people whose lives are touched by my words.

Kell: Can you tell us a little about what other work you have in the pipeline?
Andra: To launch To Live Forever, I was the first living person to walk the 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. I did it in 34 days. Because my novel is about a girl’s relationship with her father, I took my almost-80-year-old father along on the trip. I’m writing a memoir called Not Without My Father, about the importance of taking the time to have a five-week adventure with my father at the end of his life. It will be available Fall 2014. I’m also working on a sequel to To Live Forever, which will be available Spring 2015.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m very excited to hear about that forthcoming sequel!

My thanks, again, to Ms Watkins and her PR team for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

See Andra Watkins’ guest blog post at Kincavel Krosses HERE.

Visit Andra Watkins’ own blog HERE.