Thursday, December 29, 2011
Sunday, December 18, 2011
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Deeply rooted in the turmoil of the war between Empress Maud and King Stephen in the 1100s, The Virgin In The Ice poses Brother Cadfael with a number of puzzles: a frozen angel, a wounded monk, and missing young nobles whose guardian is on the wrong side of the fighting. These mysteries collide with the threatening presence of a band of marauders.
As ever, this episode in Cadfael's chronicles is steeped in history and poetry, written with a thoughtful, pensive air - eminently appropriate for events seen through the monk's penetrating eyes. (That this extends to the other point of view characters merely maintains the cohesion of the novel.) That the mystery is perhaps less important to this novel than to others in the series makes it no less compelling a story. There is also a secondary "mystery" that offers an important and satisfying revelation into Cadfael's history.
However, there are certain patterns to these novels that can be viewed as detractions, and it is nowhere more evident than during the battle scene of this book. The writing style can best be described as elegant detachment - neither of which makes for a compelling fight or fights. This takes away somewhat from the climax of the scene.
That said, this book delivers a solid and satisfying reading experience overall ... and ends with a warming note of hope, for all the darkness.
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Thursday, December 15, 2011
Looking at my tendencies in writing, I've often created stories where there's a tension between the character's role in life - not just their occupation, but the thing which defines and drives them - and a romantic interest. I don't, personally, believe that trading what you love for who you love is a fair or healthy exchange, and I think that's reflected a lot in my fiction.
This was, in fact, a huge issue with Who Wants To Be A Hero? ... where this potential conflict arises and, not only couldn't I see my way clear to writing my female lead choosing the love interest over (removed for spoilers), I couldn't see him allowing her to do so. It took much of the novel (knowing it was coming and planning ahead) to work out how I was going to handle it. It turned out to be a solution that was eminently appropriate to the format.
It's something that would be central to the rewrite-project-of-doom I had pondered, as arguably, most of the plot arc is catalyzed by a romance story - the villain's.
By the way, Unnatural Causes is still tabled - I want to come back to it when I have room to devote my full attention.
Thursday, December 08, 2011
I miss collaborative writing, as well. It was always an enjoyable process, if bumpy - because I'm an incubator, coming with ideas over a long brew-time, brainstorming tended to be lopsided. I used to spur partners on by asking question after question after ... they must have started to think I couldn't speak in anything else. Surely that's not right?
Another reason to procrastinate, though, is that Scylla and Charybdis is approaching the point where I've got no choice but to tackle the dreaded synopsis ...
Monday, December 05, 2011
This story started as an FWO monthly challenge to write about an odd couple of some kind. I saw the topic its one couple and raised it a second ...
Thursday, December 01, 2011
And ... my story "The Changeling Letter" is now out in the current issue of Sorcerous Signals! (http://www.sorceroussignals.com) Check it out, enjoy, and please vote for your issue favorite.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I do this a lot with the music I listen to, and much of it gets permanently associated with a character, a scene or a situation - so much that even years later, if I play a certain song, I get flashbacks. Gloria Estefan's "Dangerous Game" will always conjure memories of Miayde and Treddian from Butterfly's Poison, the character assassin and her scheming opposite; Leann Rimes' "The Safest Place" may have gotten a place in the Scylla and Charybdis soundtrack, but it still rings of its original place describing the (unrequited) romance between Mikane and Tieruko. (Hmm ... what is it with me and M and T couples?)
Unnatural Causes has a songlist, but the associations aren't permanent in my head yet. Probably the snarkiest choice I made, however, was for the queen, a minor character who largely serves to stand as an authority figure in the background.
Her themesong? "What Do The Simple Folk Do?" from Camelot.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Paradise 21 is a fast-paced, energetic ride through a space opera universe populated by generation ships, space pirates and exotic, hostile planets. The cast is sizable but never unmanageable, with some intriguing personalities and character quirks. The action scenes are particularly enjoyable: the author has a way of writing that makes you want to read faster, a gripping anxiety for the characters.
I do consider this space opera, not science fiction – though the events and places in Paradise 21 didn’t strike me as scientifically sound, the novel created a mood where that didn’t matter. The Star Wars comparison made by other reviewers is apt: you know the creatures and gadgets might be nonsense, but you’re having too much fun to care. There were a handful of places where my suspension of disbelief still got twinged, though.
Another thing to praise was the portrayal of space pirate Tiff. The way she teeters back and forth between self-absorption and a developing selflessness was very satisfying. I was less sure about Barliss. I enjoyed his maniacal calculation, the way he knew to play the social game but had no actual empathy – but I found he came off too cruel / evil to be wholly believable.
The romance did, at times, feel a bit forced – and there were a few moments where I wondered about the appropriateness of Aries’ line of thought. (When survival is on the line, this is not the moment to notice your companion’s handsomeness.) Similarly, I thought some of the dialogue was unnatural – characters explaining too much, too clearly, asking questions that seemed implausible to pose to a stranger just met.
That said, there’s moments of beauty in the book, and ultimately, an optimism that was heartening to encounter. It’s definitely a fun read.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011
I may try to do a Nano-esque stint at some other time, because I'm dying to give this novel focused, undivided attention ... and that's precisely what I can't do right now without putting too much on hold. Scylla and Charybdis needs its final polish; I have online gaming obligations; I still have an unfinished short story; for that matter I have an entire unedited second novel (Who Wants To Be A Hero?) that desperately needs my eye - I finished it March or so of this year!; and there's a ton of house reconfiguring left to do.
I am fairly sure there was an excess of punctuation in that last sentence.
Thursday, November 03, 2011
That said, if I do bow out, I don't look at it as losing or failing. Rather, I will be making a conscious choice to divide my time more evenly among other activities. I devote enough time and discipline to writing that I don't feel as if I'm giving it short shrift.
The title settled in as Unnatural Causes for now. It was Supernatural Causes, but I decided the word had a modern-paranormal / ghost-story vibe I didn't care for. Since I'm very definitely trying to avoid the overdone (to me) concept of the contemporary world detective investigating paranormal events, it seemed important to make the distinction.
So I'm going to veer and use the old pre-modern concept of natural versus unnatural within the framework of the story. Since sorcery in this setting is performed by thought-machines, and the category of the unnatural, in medieval thought, encompassed anything being made to act outside its nature - that is, an arrow shot would be unnatural because the natural quality of wood is to obey gravity - this seems doubly appropriate.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
I want to address something quickly - and that's the idea of realistic dialogue. It's common wisdom among writers that "As you know, Bob," dialogue is frowned upon: a long passage where one character sums up something they both know. However, there are subtler forms of this. People leave out bits in their speech constantly, not just past events, but complete explanations, specific references, emotional states ... and things they may think inside the confines of their head, but would never say (exact perhaps under extreme duress).
Obviously, story dialogue is a sculptured form of real dialogue. If dialogue were rendered completely consistently, it would need tons of footnotes and a shot of caffeine. However, I find that you can get a more realistic and intriguing in-character conversation by strategically allowing characters to assume, elide, short-circuit ... and sometimes, say nothing at the worst possible moment.
When a character can say one thing in dialogue and the reader knows - without needing a narrative aside - that they mean something else, I think a writer has opened new possibilities for tension. Conflict can hinge as much off what isn't said as what is.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
No, actually, I'm off the space station. Barely!
Does anyone else have a horrible time with titles? I'm afraid to brace Nano without a working title ... wait, who am I kidding? There's no such thing as a working title for me. It's just "the horrible preliminary title that will stick because I can't think of anything better." The few times I've had to retitle a story for one reason or another turned into an uphill battle. Here's the worst:
Firstborn / The Dreamweaver's Dispute: Had to change the title because the magazine had printed a story with the same title in the previous issue ... by Orson Scott Card, no less. I did a brainstorm where I wrote down every word I could think of that might relate to the story - character type, name, nouns, verbs, etc. I spent hours kicking around ideas with another person ... and this is still the best I ended up with.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
What I've just finished doing, too, is reading through all my worldbuilding and character notes for the still-unnamed fantasy / mystery novel. I've tweaked some points, either due to inadvertent contradiction or better ideas left dangling that I forgot about. I am trying to imprint enough of this in my brain that I don't miss any of the cool things I've created. Well. Most of them. If the whole book were this cool, you'd have to chip the ice off it.
Yes, I'm being facetious.
About to start a short story based on a writing exercise. Here's the original snippet, yet to be revised - for instance, I'm changing the name, since I appropriated Lina for something else, and some of the descriptiveness needs work:
Turgid artic waters rushed about the isle, swept by low currents towards the icelands and eventually, the base of the world. From here, Lina could see the dim shadow of the immense column that anchored them in the field of stars, but that was not her destination.
She clutched her cloak tighter to her, a speck of brown in the small boat, a figure no smaller than a child, though girlish amber curls had been given the hatchet job before she applied. One of the first healers to do so; accepted when three months of waiting turned up only two other volunteers, none quite so qualified.
The ferryman conducted her without glance or sound, but his apprentice kept peeking under his elbow at her. "Why are you doing this, miss?" he asked finally.
The voice did not match the woman, resonant, midnight-deep. "Someone has to."
Sunday, September 18, 2011
“Is that part of why men aren’t allowed out of isolation? The language barrier?” The question hadn’t seemed so foolish in her head. To take her eyes elsewhere, Anaea focused on the pointillism painting behind Thalestris’ head. She had done a three-month rotation as an artist apprentice, but she hadn’t felt creative enough to stay, though she enjoyed the act of making something with her hands.
Thalestris chuckled. “A trifle, perhaps. A larger part of the reason is how durable Y-Poisoning is: it can stay dormant on surfaces for a long time. Bring it in with a salvage, expose a male who happens to be wandering the station, and you have a madman on the loose.”
Anaea bit her lip and said nothing.
“You’re thinking that seems tenuous. Remember this disease shattered everything we know.” Thalestris closed her eyes, added mildly, “There is, of course, the social element: reintroducing men would be disruptive. Technological advances recently have made it possible to consider the idea, but it will be a long debate.”
Anaea tried to imagine living side by side with someone like Gwydion, wondered why it was so hard to picture. Was he so different from her, apart from the physical element? And she had seen women – not many, but a few – who were larger and more muscular than he was.
“You’re saying that men are disruptive?” she asked.
“No more or less than we would be, in the reverse situation,” Thalestris said. “Men and women are strangely designed. They do not fit together with ease.”
Yet people had lived as such for far longer than they had not. Anaea recoiled from her doubt, swallowing. Thinking these questions made her uncomfortable.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Besides ... when you wake up, immediately starting make house maintenance phonecalls, get in the car, drive to a gig, come back, and alternate two different work requirements, ultimately finishing at 12:45am ... this ... is not a time for great writing product. It is, in fact, a time when incoherence is not only acceptable, it is expected.
Which I suppose should actually mean it is the perfect opportunity to product some surrealism ...
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Waiting behind the airlock door, Anaea Carlisle tried to wrap her mind around the nature of the refugees she might see on the other side – if any were still alive. She clutched her medic’s kit in twitching hands and flicked a glance to Valasca Braun, the angular woman who led the team. Why did the chief doctor insist on leading so many salvage missions?
The door oozed open. Anemic grey light filtered in from the ship’s docking station. Valasca gestured them forward. “Stay cautious,” she said through her mask. “If anyone is alive, they won’t be expecting rescue. Stun first, apologize later.” The techs at Themiscyra Station had retrieved the crew roster, but hyperspace had damaged the ship too much for an attempt at jury-rigging communications.
Even through the mask’s filter, the corridor smelled like overstewed tomatoes. The hum of electronics sputtered and snorted, disconcerting Anaea: she was used to hearing such sounds as white noise. Every time they cracked, she tensed, expecting someone to leap out. Of the six-woman team, she was the least imposing – one of the tallest, but slender and pale. In the light, her dark auburn hair washed out.
Valasca led the way to a door that had been melted open. The ship’s hub – central point for navigation – lay beyond, choked with broken girders. Anaea gasped as she saw the two bodies. Her eyes widened at the shapes, larger and more square than what she thought of as human norm. One had a fringe of hair on the chin. Males.
Next step is to do a pass where I look for continuity issues and whenever I encounter something, scan the whole manuscript for references / lack thereof ... combined with a read-out-loud test, since my brain seems to work such that these two complement each other.
I had the word count down as I approached the final chapters, but adding and expanding the emotional reactions there increased it again. I keep telling myself not to get freakish about added words, but I don't think I'm listening ... ;-) Still, there's no doubt I added a significant amount of necessary fleshing out.
For the curious, word count:
First pass: 153,325
Second (or third, or whatever) pass: 151,784
Thursday, September 08, 2011
My main concern with the narrative is that I'm writing from the first person perspective of the familiar, who is from a very alien mindset. This is avoiding the traditional trope, where you have a narrator who watches the genius detective. I decided on this because it's a fantasy novel first, a mystery novel second. The point is, however, I need to avoid making her narration a "humans in funnysuits" situation - where the differences of mindset and culture are only skin-deep. Among the attributes of her people is the fact that though they're very perceptive and clever - brilliant, even - they don't understand falsehood. Which is where her sidekick / the enchanter's apprentice comes in ...
Another stretch for me that might not be for other people is I've placed the apprentice in a romantic relationship best described as dysfunctional. She loves him, he wants her up until about the point he can actually have her, and it's circled back and forth like this against any better judgment for a few years before the novel starts. Cross your fingers for me that I don't chicken out or make it too black and white. Not to say that it's an acceptable situation, but there's a difference between an opposing character and a villain.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Esther Diamond is a struggling actress in New York City ... and sometimes the only job you have to help you through is that of a singing waitress at the friendly neighborhood mob hangout. This leads her headlong into murder, mayhem and the tabloids as a doppelganger curse dogs (... and speaking of dogs ...) the gangsters. If this isn't complicated enough, she has to avoid the suspicion of her hunky cop would-be boyfriend long enough ... to actually *become* his girlfriend.
Fast paced, witty, clever and consistently good at racketing up the insanity - all without ever sacrificing believability or heart - this book is a joy to read. Resnick has a unique grasp on the comic aspects of mobsters - no one writes them quite like she does, and watching scholastic sorcerer Max try to grasp the language is just one of the many hilarious sequences in the book. And the dog - excuse me, familiar - is a charming character in her own right.
This book pokes fun at some tropes of urban fantasy and inverts others, and does it with affection. As far as other cliches, one of my personal pet peeves is when a main character has to hide something from her significant other, sometimes with "comic" mishaps preventing her from doing so, until he finds out anyway, and thus much angst and aggravation ensues. Resnick handles the inevitable problems with Lopez in what I found to be a satisfying way, sidestepping my usual irritation with the entire trope.
If I have one quibble, it's that the mystery is a bit weak: I figured it out by process of "what has the writer included?" elimination rather than clues-in-story deduction (and by one suspect being a trifle too obvious). But the story is so much about the characters puzzling it out that it really doesn't matter.
This is one of the few books that has made me guffaw aloud - repeatedly - and yet it is rife with moments of excitement, danger, drama and a little heat. Highly recommended.
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Tuesday, September 06, 2011
So here's mine, from page 73 of Doppelgangster, by Laura Resnick:
I smelled something foul floating up from the laboratory, a putrid, acrid odor mixed with smoke, incense, and ... wet dog fur?
"Max?" I called.
Saturday, September 03, 2011
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I came into this anthology with high hopes, because while the years have taken the luster off them, I love my issues of MZB Fantasy Magazine and think they contain some of the most enjoyable, while still wholesome stories I have ever encountered. Unfortunately, this anthology - filled with what the editor considers the best stories of a range of issues (I am not sure how many issues of MZBF this encompasses; she does not specify); not, notably, necessarily those that the readers voted as the best - failed to live up to my hopes.
Of the stories in this anthology, I would have to say that the humor stories are the most disappointing ... strange, since one of my favorite qualities of the magazine was its ability to provide light but still believable stories. But in this anthology, the humor stories are generally of that quality where the behavior of the characters is stretched to ridiculous for the sake of a joke, ruining any suspension of disbelief I might have had. I didn't care what happened, and the humor wasn't gut-splitting enough to overcome that.
The editor's commentary, overall, detracts from the book. Bad enough that the first story is basically a "punchline" story (in that the only purpose of the tale is to reveal the final line, whether humorous or not), but MZB chooses to telegraph that ending ... making the actual read a bit of a moot point. The personal comments in the intros make it feel as if the magazine was a friends-only club ... not the impression I got from reading MZB's editorials throughout the issues I have.
It's a fantasy magazine, yet at least twice, I counted in the comments, "This is the closest to science fiction we've ever published ..." (you can't say that twice unless they're tied, can you?) and at least two other stories that verged on that territory. This in an anthology of nineteen stories, making about twenty percent of the total ... more if you consider two of the stories are essentially flash fiction.
Those two pieces of flash fiction are very vivid and enjoyable, however. Also of note is Jo Clayton's "Change", which gets deep into the mind of a non-human entity. " The Dancer of Chimaera" from Diana L. Paxson shows the unexpected consequences when a shy, girlish dancer on a space station finds true love. Interestingly, both of these are stories MZB lumped into the SF category (I'd argue that "Change" isn't).
Some of the better stories beyond those draw strongly on a mythic tradition. For Mary C. Aldridge's "The Adinkra Cloth," it is African myth; for Lawrence Watt-Evans' "The Palace of al-Tir al-Abtan," it is Arabian legend. I also liked Pat Cirone's "To Father A Sohn," though I am never a fan of invented pronouns and there's got to be a better way to do it.
Overall, most of the stories are readable, but have distinct flaws, and few are really exceptional. I wouldn't go out of my way to track down this anthology.
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Friday, September 02, 2011
Four words: psychic-vampire unicorn story.
This one doesn't warrant a full Anatomy of an Idea post, as I can't recall a lot about how it came to be ... except to say that I very consciously looked at early portrayals of unicorns and the coloring of their horns and imitated that.
Thursday, September 01, 2011
With Flow up for the editor's eye soon (Double Dragon's, that is), I've toyed with the idea of another novel in that setting. Two ways I can go: a sequel (which opens up the potential for Hadrian's point of view) in the "new adventures happening to these characters" sense rather than the "continuation of the same story" sense ... or an unrelated mystery story I've been kicking around with an Asrai and her self-appointed mortal companion. In the grand tradition of Flow (okay, not very grand), this second idea is likely to involve another character cribbed from a MU*, a bird-like street kid named Gray (short for Igraine).
So I would just like to state for the record that the mounds of time I've spent roleplaying lately are not wasted, thank you very much. Roleplaying gave me my first book sale. Can't argue with that.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Imagine the poor little homeless story, crouching on a park bench somewhere, feeding the pigeons ...
I'm still working on my character notes for the mystery novel, and though I'm enjoying the process, I'm starting to burn out on one thing - the names. I've chosen a naming convention which produces a very distinct look for very little effort (though those of you who have been following me for a while know that I love naming languages and can spend hours putting them together - heck, I even looked up a supplementary list of the hundred most common words to use) (this is an exceedingly long paranthetical and for that, I apologize) (where was I?) ...
In any case - though the naming convention definitely has a lot going for it, one of the things working against it is that it becomes difficult to come up with authentic sounding names after you've put together, oh, thirty or forty. Most will not appear in the text ... but at this point, without a clearer idea of how the plot will play out, I can't be sure which will be needed. So I'm sure that I've omitted some I'll need to go back and add, conversely.
I once saw a panel of mystery writers at one of my local(ish) bookstores who commented that they don't know whodunnit when they start writing - and because I think it would be fun, I decided to take that route. I'm going to firmly squelch a tendency I've had in the past, which is to set up the mystery so multiple people dunnit. One murderer. Two at most. It does not need to be a social event.
8/18 - 8/24
Word count: 1,959
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This, the final (?) book in Jana Oliver's Time Rovers series, brings the events of the previous two books to an explosive conclusion - shapeshifters, time travelers, meddlers from a future beyond, anarchists, and all combinations thereof. As with the previous two books, the majority of the action takes place in Victorian London, with some events in "now-time" from the prospective of the time travelers ... well, the point of view characters who time travel ... there's a dizzying amount of crossover, but it all comes together with crystal coherence in the end.
For the first third of the book, however, I was disappointed by the flow. In Madman's Dance, Oliver does a good job summarizing while still moving the plot forward, but for most of this portion of the book, I felt the characters were almost exclusively reactive, responding to the situation without much agency of their own. I also felt just a bit disconnected from events - I think in good part because Jacynda, who is so vibrant in the first two, spends much of this one profoundly altered and just ... not herself. As a new reader, I would not have been drawn to her. As someone coming from the previous two books, I missed the old Jacynda terribly.
A potential word of caution: while, again, Oliver does a great job filling you in on previous plot points without bogging down in it (which is a skillful feat, given how much happens in those two books that is vital to this one), I think the book loses something for not being read with immediacy. If you're going to pick up this series, I'd recommend going straight through.
But it all turns with Jacynda, and when she gets her feet back underneath her, so does the book ... and the way she leaps back into action is a delight. Her audacity and the controlled (barely) chaos she creates are a pleasure to read. The plot device that damaged her at the end of Virtual Evil comes into play and has intriguing implications in the later portions of the book. The reader learns a lot more about the transitives (shapeshifters), their organization, the Lead Assassin who emerged from the shadows in Virtual Evil ... and their future.
The ending of this book is a pitch-perfect illustration of character and exactly the kind of denouement you would want for a time traveler. It made me want to stand up and cheer. I was never quite sure I bought the romantic storyline here, but I think that's personal rather than anything amiss with the way it was portrayed. Definitely recommended as an ultimately satisfying close to the series.
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Sunday, August 21, 2011
The presents glinted under the tree, but Irena hardly thought about gifts this year - not even the look on her grandfather's face when he saw the antique watch. Instead, she was fixed on the party, the thought of spending time with Justin, and the hovering promise of mistletoe.
Christmas Eve arrived with no phone call from her mother, perhaps because she stood staring at the phone, willing it to ring. Irena expected to feel more resentment, but her heart seemed to be encased in ice. It was difficult to feel anything, even joy over the snow that had delighted her - still fresh and crisp on the ground, as if it had fallen that very morning.
"I am sure her duties are very important," her grandfather said.
"A midnight call, I expect." Her grandmother's pinched face encouraged her to believe this. "So as to reach us when it's properly Christmas."
Phone call or not, Irena didn't intend to be home at midnight. She endured a day of carols, cookies and traditional Christmas movies - a Christmas Story, Elf and, for reasons never properly explained, The Long Kiss Goodnight - with her attention elsewhere. She felt more distant from her family than she ever had before and wondered if it was more than the party on her mind.
"I don't feel well," she said after dinner, feeling the tingle of the lie dance on her tongue. "I think I ate too much. Do you mind if I lie down?"
"Go on, dear."
Irena trudged upstairs, resisting the urge to sprint instead. She plumped her pillow and blankets in what she hoped was a convincing fashion. Truth was, she had never broken out of her house before. What if she couldn't manage the climb down? Television made it seem so easy. Obligatory for any teenaged girl, in fact. At the very least, she knew she couldn't risk wearing tights and a dress. Well, she had planned on slacks anyhow. It was dorky, but her thighs were too big.
She tossed her cellphone on the dresser and eased the window open, wincing when it creaked. The cold slapped her in the face. She held her breath, sliding out shoulders-first. Her fingers clutched awkwardly at a frost-covered branch. It stung. She should have worn gloves, but they were downstairs in the closet. She wobbled out into the crook of the tree and pushed the window as far shut as it would go from the outside.
Then she was alone in the darkness.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Carter slammed into Adam from behind and drove a fist into his lung. The skinny kid was a powerhouse and that blow would have incapacitated a human – but Alastyns have the lungs of a horse, and it only slowed him. I drew Adam’s attention with a feint of the knife. His head jerked around, teeth snapping, but he was too far from the water to transform. He kicked out at Carter, who mewled as the blow caught him below the kneecap.
We kept Adam from the water, circling. My thoughts whirled, already imagining sleepless nights spent nursing my niece/nephew – a hazy hermaphrodite – and miles driven as Greta forgot appointments or lingered to exchange coy words with a clerk.
“Brianna!” Marcus bellowed. Adam was upon me, far too fast. I drove the blade forward in a belly-thrust. It glanced off his ribcage, but the shallow cold-iron knick drew a shrill scream.
I locked my thoughts on the present. Unprofessional, sloppy … now to correct my mistake.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
I'm at about the midpoint of the novel, which features one of Anaea's lowest points. She's sacrificed herself for a friend - I won't get into any more detail than that - and when an opportunity to escape comes up, she can't (ethically) take it.
I do realize that, in part, my take on character emotion is influenced by Ann Hood's Creating Character Emotions, which (among other points) emphasizes two things: showing the emotional reaction / feeling rather than telling it (showing the way the fear makes the character feel rather than labeling it fear) and avoiding the obvious cliches on how emotion makes people react. So I also do worry, as I add bits, that the reactions are too subtle / oblique ... but for me, I would rather err on the side of obscurity rather than hammering a reader.
As a sidebar - only a few more days to buy Taming The Weald from Gypsy Shadow Publishing and get two free harp tracks!
7/21 - 7/27
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Pazia awoke before her companion and crept into the shrine chamber. Her arm was still sore, but she could move it without wincing. Hafsha knelt, turning lengths of bone over in her hands. The daserii hung back, recognizing the ritual casting of morning lots.
Hafsha’s nostrils flared; she looked up. “Pazia. Please sit with me?”
“I don’t want to interrupt …”
“You are known to Iphiri. You are welcome here.”
Pazia knelt opposite the Kivesh, hands on her knees. “Thank you.” She ventured a question, “The people who brought us here yesterday seemed nervous. Is there something out there?”
“The forest is angry with us,” the priestess replied. “It has been this way for some months. Best to tread lightly.”
“Are you seeking guidance for that?”
“It -” Hafsha faltered. “Among other things.“ She changed the subject. “Do you know the language of the bones?”
“Somewhat – but not well,” she admitted. “I know a bit about every game of chance, but I’m more familiar with seer dice.”
Hafsha seemed to relax at this admission. “Close your eyes, then, so they might fall as they will.”
Pazia did so, waiting. The tink against stone echoed in her head. She squinted open one eye to see Hafsha pass her hand over the bones.
“You may look,” the priestess allowed.
Pazia complied. “What do they mean?”
“They mean …” Her lips rippled, not exactly pursing. “That good fortune has come to us as a gift from the gods, without expectation of return.”
Pazia had seen, in the second before the bones were covered, two crossed bones that indicated a trial or test. Hafsha was not being totally honest about the results. Had she and Vanchen walked from one danger into another?
Thursday, July 21, 2011
As for mystery project, I've just encountered the reason why I had pondered waiting until later in my character-building to do my main characters: my entries get longer by bits and bobs as I go on. The entry for the prince - who is a semi-major character - is about as long as the entry for the apprentice, who is the main character's sidekick (more or less ...). I don't know whether it's momentum or shifting moods as I work.
I put this question up on my writerly Facebook, and I'll repeat it here. For those of you who read mysteries, a quick poll. Which do you prefer:
1. Books where the murder happens in the first pages (if not on the first page) and the murder is the immediate focus.
2. Books where the murder happens later on (but still early), giving the reader time to identify with the victim, while some connected plot thread provides the tension.
Or ... it doesn't matter as long as it's good. ;-)
I've already decided which way I'm taking my project - just curious.
7/14 - 7/20
Word count: 873 (oy ... ouch)
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Crouched over his laptop in a dank SleepRite motel somewhere southwest of Cleveland, Mannix Tippet waited for the werewolf to call.
The beast was not expecting Mannix to answer. The room three doors down was temporary residence of the water-witch Tala Blight, who had offered him sanctuary and a cure - as if that could absolve him of the blood he had shed. It had been simplicity to tap the hotel phone system. When the beast called Tala's room to confirm where they would meet tonight, he would not reach her.
Mannix shifted on the bed, starting a minor fugue in the springs, and pulled up his file on Blight. There before him, all the electronic details of her life: her saving habits to her tastes in fiction to how many times she had purchased lavish presents for friends who never reciprocated. Something more precise and useful than magic. Witches relied on it too much; she didn't even own a cellphone.
He knew, without asking questions, that he would kill her. His malice was not for her personally, but it was also immutable. His superiors in the Borderwatch had told him there was informal peace and the supernatural threats both organizations had to face were more important than any difference in methods. The word 'peace' was hollow when a good man like his cousin died on a mission - and the unidentified witch who guided him emerged without a mark on her.
His cousin had drowned.
Mannix had read the official report, which claimed it had been an accident. That meant nothing when a few bytes could erase any truth.
"Take the beast," were his official orders from the Borderwatch. "Use her to find him if you have to, but make sure you can deny it."
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In this fifth novel of worldly monk and self-appointed detective Cadfael, the tension of the book hinges first upon a bleak arranged marriage and the young man who is in love with the bride. Murder, when it occurs, adds a new dimension to an already intriguing storyline. There is a rhythm, a pattern and poetry to Ellis Peters' novels, and if that makes certain aspects of the story predictable, the tradeoff is the experience of the book.
Peters is as devoted - if not more - to showing the positive, luminous side of humanity, kind deeds both large and small, and her books brim with people who rise above the gravity of the crime. For me, personally, I sometimes find her take on pure young love to be repetitive, and I'd love to see darker romances ... but the characters in these books are always skillfully drawn and entertaining.
The writing style is poetic and leisurely, prone to details and a certain delicacy in description. It's not for those who prefer a swift, action-packed pace, but is ideal for slow immersion.
One of the best features of this series is that both the broader history - the tumult occurring in England between Empress Maud and King Stephen - and the personal history of Cadfael continue to evolve and change, not in earthshattering ways, but in subtle, organic steps. Shrewsbury can be relied upon both for its stability and for its forward momentum. However, a reader can pick up any of the books and generally feel neither lost nor as if something has been spoiled, should they go back and read an earlier volume.
View all my reviews
Monday, July 11, 2011
Her fingers scrabbled at a cardboard flap, pulled it free. The scent of mothballs and something else, a little cloying – familiar, but out of context. It was full of snow globes; even the little tap she had given the box caused endless blizzards within. She scooped one out of the box. Instead of the expected scene – a cute snowman or a foreign landmark – there was a little cornhusk doll …
“What are you doing?”
Irena yelped and dropped the globe. It pinged off the concrete. She whirled to face her accuser, feeling the flush burn her cheeks. Moira Alban was a tall woman somewhere in the infinite expanse of middle age with auburn hair and eyes the color of a storm.
“Well, if it isn’t the girl who stole the kiwi,” she continued.
“I did not,” Irena said by reflex, then bent for the snow-globe. “I was just curious …”
She hadn’t seen the globe roll, but somehow, it was at Moira’s feet and the woman cradled it like something infinitely precious. “Do you understand the hazards of curiosity?”
In the chill and the dark of the garage, the words seemed menacing. Irena drew back, her heart pounding with a rabbit’s fear – even though she could easily have dodged past Moira, even though hers was the next driveway over and kids shouted at each other in the yard across the street. The rescue of that scene seemed impossibly far away.
“Killed the cat,” Irena said bluntly, and wished she hadn’t. Her skin prickled, even as her mind shouted at her that it was ridiculous. Neighbors didn’t attack each other for picking through boxes, and the garage door had been open. Surely that was an invitation. And how would Moira hurt her, besides?
Just by looking at her, she somehow knew.
Then Moira laughed, a full, rich sound animating the air. The menace evaporated. “Not the most original answer, but it will do. Since you’ve meddled with my boxes, you can help me carry them inside. Come, child.”
Thursday, July 07, 2011
As someone who also GMs - that's GameMaster, for those unfamiliar, and yes, it can be a verb ;-) - it also helps on the plotting side. My experience has been that other players routinely come up with courses of investigation or action that I would never have even thought up if I had been writing a tale out on my own. So I have to rewind, sidestep and work out new responses.
So I'm indulging myself in these dangerous waters for now, with an eye on how much time it takes away from my projects. I'm also reading - Ellis Peters, which means that I tend to describe my life thusly: "Brother Cadfael and I are going to get my car's oil changed." "Brother Cadfael and I have a dentist's appointment."
6/30 - 7/6
Word count: 854 (yes, really ... sigh)
Sunday, July 03, 2011
They ate a second meal together and Flick talked about some of his experiences in Defiance, his inventions, his grandmother – who, by process of deduction, seemed to be the only family he had. Anaea pieced together what a Tweaker was: a salvage expert who could give anything that might otherwise have been thrown away a new form and purpose … and an inventor without government sanction or funding. A unique product of the Pinnacle Empire.
She found that by phrasing her questions in an open-ended manner, she could keep Flick talking while sharing little in return. His cheerful spates of information sputtered out occasionally into jokes or questions – but he seemed more interested in what she thought of the crew or hypermentals or philosophical oddities than personal details.
“I mean, supposing they give every child an aptitude test,” he said. “Whatever they turn out to be good at, that’s what they do in life. It’d be efficient, right?”
“How could you possibly design a test that would cover all variables?” Anaea asked.
He crinkled his nose. “Neural mapping on a particular field of tests could account for that – but you’re avoiding the point. Would it be good for people?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I’m not an expert -”
“You don’t have to be an expert!” he burst out, gesturing wildly with his fork. “You just have to be human. You just have to have a heart in things.”
She wondered what he would think of the way she had left her home. “I suppose just as a thought exercise -”
The ship shuddered. Anaea’s plate slid out of her grasp and clattered on the floor. An animal bellowed.
An unfamiliar voice came through the overhead. “Captain of the Bleak, you have twenty seconds to surrender. Passengers of the Bleak, the warning shot you have experienced represents only a fraction of our firepower, and your only chance is to prevail upon its commander not to test it.”
The voice faded out, and was replaced by the tail end of creative cursing from the Bleak’s captain. “… frighten the passengers into mutiny, of all the low things -”
“You’re on broadcast,” someone else said.
Anaea rose in a flurry, then stopped, the blood humming in her ears. Pragmatism pulled her panic into stillness. Where would she go? She looked to Flick for some reaction, hoping to see him calm, even bored, but he sat shaking his head like a furry dog.
“Oh, no, no,” he said, “I put most of my take into hard barter -” He seemed to realize only then he was speaking out loud and pressed his lips together into a frustrated line.
“Everyone remain calm,” the captain’s voice continued. “They don’t know who they’re dealing with. The Bleak has outgun and outrun every decent pirate in the sector.”
“What about the indecent ones?” Flick said in a sotto voce. The other two passengers in the mess glared.
The deck pitched. The furniture was secure; nothing else was. Anaea tumbled, landing elbow-first in a corner with the remnants of two or three lunches. Voices yowled – animal or human, it was impossible to tell. Her arm throbbed.
Flick grabbed her wrist before she could stand. “Should’ve known a berth like this wouldn’t have the high-grade inertial dampeners,” he said. “Stay down. Crawl along the fixtures. Though really, where are you going? It’s raining food, what more could you ask for?”
She recognized his manic cheer for worry and swallowed.
Friday, July 01, 2011
1. Purchase my novelette (that's a long short, for the uninitiated) "Taming The Weald" from Gypsy Shadow Publishing sometime during the month of July. Make sure you purchase it directly from GSP - the editors have graciously offered to send me the email addresses of those who do, but I won't have a record if you purchase it elsewhere! It can be found under their Moonbeams line, or here: Taming The Weald. That's the Wild portion ...
2. Sit back, relax, and you will receive two tracks from my studio-produced Celtic harp CD, "Rolling of the Stone." The tracks in question are: "Fingal's Cave / The North Brig of Edinburgh" - that's bridge to you non-Scots - and "Banks of the Spey / Tommy's Tarbukas." That's the Wet portion: two water-themed tunes and their medleyed companions.
Please feel free to pass this along to anyone who might be interested!
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Third of all, two moons. Two, Lindsey. Gosh, I hope I haven't contradicted that in "Natural Selection" or "The City of Lanterns."
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This anthology offers stories about the mage's faithful companion, the familiar, and promises to depart from the usual cliches with new and different interpretations. Unfortunately, it fails on this account. Most of the stories do involve cats or dogs - which seems to be to be the obvious anti-cliche of the familiar world - and the familiars generally play an expected role in the story. (There is one tale where the familiar is particularly clever, which I won't identify because it spoils the ending ... but it's the only story where I felt the familiar was an intriguing, different sort of beast.)
I initially was going to give this anthology three stars, because most of the stories are passable and entertaining enough, and a couple shine: the riotous (if somewhat loosely plotted) "First Familiars," by Laura Resnick, which manages to take on the Clinton's pets and still marvelously avoids partisan commentary; and "This Dog Watched," by Von Jocks, where magic, love and the power of words blend together into a poetry of their own. However, many of the stories seemed uneven, bland or incomplete, and the final story is a bewildering eighty-nine page epic where I still couldn't tell you exactly what happened and why.
I also found the description of this anthology somewhat misleading, because a large majority of the stories are contemporary, with only a few set in secondary worlds. With so many options for familiars in different societies, I was a bit disappointed by this. Not that I mind modern stories, but I feel the description of an anthology should be more upfront about the contents.
In the end, most of the stories were a decent read, but predictable or forgettable.
View all my reviews
Sunday, June 26, 2011
The library was an austere rose-marble building with a dome ceiling and two abstract figure sculptures for front pillars. Pulses of light passed through their glass limbs, mimicking features. Inside, two doors led into massive chambers on either side, but Anaea’s attention was drawn to the central dome and the encased pillar there.
“Central terminal,” Gwydion explained. “More comprehensive and faster than using the link.” The other rooms were for group holographs, school programs and tours. Past the terminal was a series of isolation doors.
Anaea pressed herself up against the isolation doors with a little cry of astonishment. In that sealed, regulated environment stood shelves upon shelves of real books: massive hardbounds, some with plastic, others velvet or vineskin, paperbacks staggering in untidy lines, and everything in between.
Labels on the shelves divided them by subject and origin. She could see two sections that dated to before landfall on Elysium.
“Oh,” she said, warmed by some ancestral feeling of ownership. Her hand uncurled against the glass.
“I feel the same way,” he said. “It’s silly, I know, old-fashioned – but something about the fact they don’t change, that every word is permanent, speaks to me.”
“I like that they’re not dependent on anything else,” Anaea said. “A world to themselves.” Like home, she thought, and felt a twinge of regret.
To assuage that sickness, she pondered the idea of working here, the meticulous attention to detail and the constant guard against decay. New books must be printed occasionally for collectors or historians, but the originals were priceless. There was charm in the idea, but that might be the novelty.
Gwydion had moved away, speaking in soft tones to his link. He smiled ruefully when she turned to face him. “The officer I report to wants to speak with me,” he said. “I think it would be better if he didn’t meet you just yet. Will you -”
“I don’t need to be chaperoned,” she assured him. “I can find my way back.”
He slipped out. Apart from a few voices in one viewing room, she seemed to be alone. She studied the labels on the bookshelves, noticing the preponderance of fiction. The soft light blurred too much detail to read more than a few of the covers.
The directions next to the door sternly admonished that visitors must be accompanied, clean, free of food, beverage and disease, and that the decontamination protocols took two minutes during which it was crucial the visitor remain still. The implied castigation turned her elsewhere.