Saturday, January 29, 2011

GoodReads Review: The Cater Street Hangman

The Cater Street Hangman (Charlotte & Thomas Pitt, #1)The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though this is the first Charlotte and Inspector Pitt novel, it's the actual the second I read, because I couldn't get ahold of this one initially. It took a bit of secondhand bookstore trawling to find, but turned out to be well worth the hunt. If you are interested in reading and enjoying this book, I highly recommend you don't read later in the series first: I had some of the twists and turns spoiled for me because I had read "Callander Square" not too long ago. Especially because this is the first book, the lives of the characters are highly defined by its events.

At first, the specter of murder - the death of a maid - that hovers over Cater Street is more of a nuisance to its wealthy inhabitants ... doubly so the policeman who comes to investigate. Sharp-tongued Charlotte, the middle daughter, in particular clashes with the inspector ... but when a maid in their own household falls victim, the entire family is drawn into rampant suspicion and the dissolution of family trusts and truths.

Because the reader and the central family are on the inside of the crime, the emotional and psychological elements are far more engaging in this book than in "Callander Square." The way a little suspicion can shatter trust forever is powerfully examined here. If the book starts a bit shaky - I had to reread more than a few sections to tell the family members apart, until I got used to them - it develops in full and intriguing fashion.

Another worthy component of this book is the segments where the Cater Street characters (primarily Charlotte) learn about the bizarre and foreign world of the criminal and the poor. Because it is equally stranger to the reader, we get to share in their shock and confusion. Even though it's almost unabashed infodump, it's eminently readable.

The mystery itself is almost secondary to all this. As mysteries go, it's not even particularly mysterious, though Perry attempts to heighten the drama by indicating by positing that the murderer might not even know he is committing the crimes. I found this a rather transparent ploy to make point-of-view characters into suspects, and not too convincing. Also a mis-step is George Ashwood's behavior. I never did get a satisfactory explanation of the difference between his reputation and his decision in regards to Emily.

I thought the central love story in the book was a little forced ... a few steps missing, though perhaps forgiveable with the restrictions on love in the Victorian era. Rather than having long, drawn-out romances, people ... got married. But in its own way, this book is a long, drawn-out romance, a frenetic connection with human nature bound up in the ritual of appearances. For that, it is a worthwhile read indeed.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Anatomy of an Idea: A Thousand Strips of Parchment

Real brief this time: the originating idea for this villanelle was a concept that really resonates with me, the oracle / prophet and how they deal with the gift of foresight. How do you cope when there's no way to change the future? How do cope when there is? If you have this talent, how much should you sacrifice to share it? Or are other people better off ignorant?

A few years ago, I joined the Muse Online Writer's Workshop and signed up for the poetry class. Part of the course was to post a poem daily for critique. This was the second one I wrote specifically for the course - the first was The Rivers of Nowhere, which is still seeking a home. I very deliberately chose a hard rhyme scheme, knowing that the difficulty was multiplied when dealing with a villanelle. (Villanelles were one of the first kind of poetic form I'd ever worked with, and I had several under my belt at this point ... so I knew exactly what I was getting into.)

Some of the comments were helpful and assisted me in revising and tweaking the poem for its current home.

Now out!

"A Thousand Strips of Parchment" is now up at Strong Verse! Direct link:

I had a wretched night last night (woke up at 6am with ripping, almost-called-hospital stomach pains), so ... really nice to wake up to.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

My cyberpunk retelling of "The Seven Swans" is on its way towards the climax, so I'm hoping to finish it this week. It has turned out to be a rather long story, but in contemplating it, I've realized that I really had to tell two (and a half) stories: the main plot, then the love story to establish her relationship with the "king" ... and finally, interactions with her brothers to show how she feels about them. Not a full story, but a narrative thread. I felt I needed to flesh both these out for the emotional component of the story.

Not so sure about finishing my novel by the Valentine's Day deadline. I've just finished the competition portion of the second-to-last episode, and I could probably do it, but that would mean writing nothing else for the next two and a half weeks ... and I've got a short story to finish, the FWO February challenge to contemplate, a couple of free writes I want to make because they're good for my writer-brain, and a 2k story challenge I've committed myself to.

I still have no idea what's going to happen in the last episode, but I finally had a brainstorm that helped me worked out the problem I had with the romantic subplot. Totally not a direction I had anticipated going initially ...

When I finally do edit this novel, I'm going to have to break down the episodes both organically and mechanically, and see how the actual size versus the flow and pacing work together.

Word count for 1/20 - 1/26: 11,669

Sunday, January 23, 2011

GoodReads Review: The Fourth Bear

The Fourth Bear (Nursery Crime, #2)The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of Jasper Fforde, but I prefer his other series. Still, to tide me over until the next Next book, I decided to give this one a try. What I found was a delightful romp through conspiracy theories definitively not involving the book's prosaic aliens, twists, turns and well-incorporated metahumor resulting in a satisfying read.

Jack Spratt (of "eats no fat" fame, occasional giant killer, necessarily insane) is head of the Nursery Crimes Division of the police force and, cast into disgrace due to fall out from a recent case, is placed at leave and at odd ends until a female reporter disappears ... and it looks increasingly that she may be the PDR (Person of Dubious Reality) Goldilocks.

Fforde does an excellent job of maintaining a tone that supports even the most self-aware commentary by the characters without jarring the reader out of the story. The humor is fast-paced and works on several different levels. This book features little clips at the beginning of each chapter with various bizarre world records. Fforde has always used flavor quotes to open his chapters, but here, it works even better: the continuing theme ties them all together nicely, and each one has relevance to the chapter that follows. It's great literary glue.

My only problem with the Nursery Crimes series is that, with occasional exceptions, I feel distant from the characters. The narration level seems shallow - we don't get deep into the characters' heads, so one feels removed from them. This makes it harder to invest emotionally, and occasionally to follow the action.

That said, I think Fforde's head works like mine (or as I certainly aspire it to work!). Ursine substance abuse, binary-speaking aliens, giant cucumbers, Dorian Gray's used cars and a serial-killing baked good all appear to have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and yet they're woven together perfectly. Fillers and details often prove to have unexpected significance later in the story. (I do think a joke about the Gingerbreadman being a "Ginja" assassin missed - just too corny and Fforde kept repeating it in a short span of space so much I wanted to apply a fried fish to his head.)

Quick, clever and highly recommended.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Sentence Lengths

Common wisdom in writing is that when you want to convey rapid action sequences, switch to short sentences. Sometimes I'll adhere to this, but other times, I actually find the opposite is more effective: using long, almost run-on (but still grammatically correct) sentences to convey the action.

To me, it's a matter of breath control. Every time you have a short sentence, you get to stop at each period. Dot. Dot. Dot. Now, each pause is placed in a staccato, rapidfire fashion ... but it is a pause. Whereas with a longer sentence, you almost "run out of breath" as clause piles on clause.

Obviously, it's tricky to build these sentences so they're easy to read and don't force a reader to double back to the beginning, but it can be done. Also, of course, like any technique, this can be overused.

To me, the best way to explain "short sentences for conflict" versus "long sentences for conflict" is the difference between a whole bunch of things happening in rapid succession and a whole bunch of things that seem to be happening all at once. Short sentences will give you an event-event-event gauntlet. Long sentences will give you an EVENTS! melee.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

I remain concerned about the burgeoning length of the episodes in my novel. On the one hand, I wanted them to resemble one hour episodes. On the other hand, I have this theory (unconfirmed!) that longer segments about fewer characters will be more appealing to readers than the shorter vignettes about a larger number. Some point around two thirds of the way through, I swapped from snippets to relating the whole adventure, which naturally bumped the word count up. I may operate and remove some of the connective tissue later.

Somehow, that sounds painful.

I finished a story this week that is rather unlike me. It's somewhat plotless (though there is a throughline about the main character's husband, it's not the central focus), instead exploring the various ways people cope with or deny the realization the world is going to end. Best classified as soft science fiction. This is either one of the best things I've ever written or one of the worst. No middle ground, and gosh if I know.

Still working on catching up on my old free-writes. The next one is my cyberpunk take on The Seven Swans ...

Word count for 1/13 - 1/19: 8,963

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Blog

In my madness and ambition, I have started a second blog, Evil Overlady in the Kitchen, intended to amuse and divert with my adventures in the culinary arts. Also reviewing and commenting on recipes. The primary thrust of the blog is comedy, so hopefully it will be interesting to some of a non-culinary bent ... or if nothing else make them feel better about their own kitchen skills after reading my left-handed lampooning.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

GoodReads review: Thunderer

ThundererThunderer by Felix Gilman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thunderer is a complex novel about an enigmatic, labyrinthine city with unknown boundaries; the bizarre, indifferent gods that flood its streets; and a cast of characters navigating this maze, foremost among them Arjun, a priest seeking his lost god of music, the Voice. And the list really should be in that order: it's first and foremost a book of setting, and everything else cascades from there. It's been a long time since I've read a book where the world was so perfectly integrated into and necessary to the plot. That aspect of the book is phenomenal, and leaves the reader with intriguing questions: how aware are the gods of their worshippers? Are they free-willed beings, or do they follow mechanical rules? Can the city be measured? What else lies within its walls?

Unfortunately, there were some ambiguities in the setting that detracted from it. I was never quite clear on the tech level. Sometimes, it seemed Victorian; other references seemed downright modern. Mostly, this was a matter of word choice.

Outside of the setting is where this story falters. The primary "romance" in the book is emblematic of much of the decisions the characters make: an accommodation of convenience, not love, not even lust. Only Jack seems to put his claws into a goal and go for it wholeheartedly; the other characters stumble through, letting themselves be detoured because they can't see a clearer way to their goals. This keeps the emotional timbre of the book low throughout, with one major spike near the end ... after which it drops off to attempt a second, lesser climax.

On the positive side, I enjoyed the way the characters didn't quite intersect or interact, but rather passed each other - or rumors of each other - on the vast streets of their tiny corner of the city. When they finally do collide, they do so with powerful literary momentum, and the result is the most satisfying section of the book.

Ultimately, this book was interesting and impressive, but left me cold. I don't know that I care enough about this absorbing setting to read the sequel.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Pictorial Note

<----- Going to put rotating fractals up here, changed ... whenever I feel like it. All artwork copyright me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I just came to a somewhat surprising realization ... I'm a bit of a movie buff.

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising, considering I used to watch a good dozen movies a month, and I still enjoy kicking back with a new film, whatever the genre ... but I never think of myself as having seen that many movies. I guess the thrill of a movie is I can turn off my analytical, editing / critiquing brain and enjoy the film ... mostly. I still do notice the occasional plot hole or weak moment.

This came up due to a discussion on, where we were discussing the escape plan or heist, and arguably the best examples come from movies because of the ability to conceal and reveal. Besides Leverage and the new Ocean's movies, which had already been mentioned, I brought up Lucky Number Slevin and Who Is Cletis Tout? (That's not a punctuation mistake. The question mark is in the title.) These are both pretty good examples of that genre, but dang ... who here has heard of or seen these? (Though Slevin has an insane cast: Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, Ben Kingsley ... on top of Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu, just to add insult to injury.)

(I'm also a parantheses fanatic, but we'll get to that another time.)

I really hate the "big secret" kind of romantic comedy, where the tension comes from hiding something and then the fact that the other person refuses to stop and hear them out (seriously!), creating another false twenty minutes of tension so the movie doesn't end early. I've seen a few good recent examples of romantic comedies that don't follow this pattern: the slightly off-beat Love Happens, Leap Year, and When In Rome. The last is probably the most adorable thing I've seen in a while. It's hilariously implausible and sweet as anything. Carve out some time for that one.

Up In The Air gets points from me for being surprisingly layered and nuanced, and not going where you expect it to. This is definitely not a fluffy, formulaic film, but it's not an arthouse piece, either. Just don't watch it when you're already feeling depressed.

Got any recent recommendations for me? I'm still trying to catch up - I haven't rented a movie in a while, so I'm now picking up things as they premiere on television. I do have the premium movie channels, so I get them on that time-table.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Thousand Strips ...

My poem "A Thousand Strips of Parchment" just sold to Strong Verse! This is a villanelle where I tackle a subject I'm confessedly obsessed with, how oracles deal with the implications of knowing the future and not being able to change it. More of my evil poetry seepeth out into the unsuspecting world ...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

Finished writing a short story this week for the FWO sequel story challenge. Light dawned, the angelic choruses sung, and I am going to need to swear up and down to the members that I don't always write about music-related topics, because this one is back to my rhythmists, mages who shape spells through percussive (non-musical) patterns.

The story which I am sequelling (and verbing) was originally written for the "write a main character who isn't a hero" challenge. Rather than take that as writing from the perspective of a villain or an anti-hero, I decided to write a very ordinary, non-heroic character whose actions still drove the story despite himself.

With this sequel, without the pressure to keep him from doing brave deeds, Dossian gets bold. What he doesn't get is particularly competent. I had a blast writing him fumbling around. He's not the kind of person you'd want watching your back in a fight. You'd be worried he'd hit you instead.

The novel continues apace. I'm into Episode Nine - the second to last episode - and looking on track. I have no idea what's going to happen as we come into the closing round, especially with my romantic subplot, for which there appears no satisfactory conclusion ... but that's part of the fun of it.

Word count for 1/6 - 1/12: 11,829

Saturday, January 08, 2011

GoodReads Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blending biographical fact (almost) seamlessly with the fantastic, this book creates an impressive secret history for president Lincoln, infusing it from his earliest days with the spectral presence of vampires. It is also accompanied by illustrations, which are cleverly photoshopped and/or reinterpreted to highlight the influence of vampires in Lincoln's life.

This book is written in the style of many immersive biographies, and in general, carries it off quite well. There were some hitches, though: I found the frame narration explaining how the author had gotten his hands on Lincoln's vampire-hunting journals unnecessary and thought it confused reader expectations. If Lincoln did have such a journal, why not just publish it, rather than an interpretation?

The journal segments aren't always spliced well, either: occasionally, one sentence will be plopped into the middle of a narrative passage, jerking one back and forth. The majority of the excerpts are better handled, though.

The final stylistic issue is with the dream sequences. These are again a huge confusion, because they aren't prefaced as dreams, so disorientation ensues. I guess they were meant to foreshadow Lincoln's famous last dream, but it just didn't work for me.

As far as the incorporation of vampires, I was wholeheartedly impressed. Grahame-Smith incorporates vampire lore into Roanoke and the life of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as invoking the connection with Erzsebet Bathory. I was worried that the connection between vampires and the Civil War / slavery would be spuriously, but it’s simply and convincingly connected. On the flip side, I did get a bit exasperated when everything in the book came back to vampires (or the author made a point of clarifying / reminding us when it didn’t).

High marks, too, for the handling of vampires: they’re clearly monstrous, and the mystique and charm of them is handled without it ever predominating.

Overall, this is a solid, well-executed read, an entertaining story that makes good use of its form. It’s a fun play on history.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Top Chef - A Character Study

So some of y'all may know that I'm a pretty big fan of Bravo's Top Chef series, and in watching their most recent season - the All-Stars, with favorites and almost-winners from previous seasons - I've started to consider it as a character study with one particular central question: do people change?

In fiction, there are different schools of thought about this. Some authors will tell you that character transformation is necessary for a piece. Others (probably a minority) will tell you that people don't really change, and there are stories written specifically to illustrate this point. I'm sure there's also a middle ground of folks who believe that "real" people don't change, but it's necessary for compelling fiction.

So let's look at the evidence as pertains to Top Chef:

(Warning: spoilers ahoy, if you follow the show and happen to be behind.)

There are several chefs who were infamous, whether for fits of temper, backstabbing, snide remarks or just general personality dysfunction. Some of these chefs appear, at first examination, to have matured this season. Marcel seems more relaxed, less melodramatic, and more open to team play. Dale - whose most memorable moment in his season comes from slamming a piece of equipment hard enough to dent it - has become more quiet and less contentious.

But looking at this last episode, Marcel wonders if Mike won because the judges still had traces of his dish on their palette, and Dale cusses out his colleagues extensively in the interview box. So I'm led to wonder if there's been less a change of personality and more of a growing awareness on how to harness emotion and practice diplomacy - crucial elements for a chef in the kitchen.

Spike, easily one of the biggest game-players in his season, takes an undeserved loss with relatively good grace. Mike seems to have tempered his arrogance into confidence, but we'll see.

Then there are chefs who were fan favorites ... who have faded this season. Jen seems to have lost her touch in the kitchen and traded it for a higher level of aggression. Jamie, who was one of my favorites in her season, seems to have just fallen apart. Fabio, charming to the point of making his faux-arrogance entertaining rather than irritating (usually), seems to have gotten a lot more sour and grumbly - though some of that is the same old hyperbole. If these were characters, you'd be asking what happened in their lives to trigger this change.

Antonia seems to have gained confidence and poise in the kitchen - whether that extends to leadership (which is what got her kicked out in her season) remains to be seen. Carla is still the serene zen-artist she was, though she seems to have gotten a bit less ... ahem ... kooky. She learned a lot from her Top Chef finale, I think, about staying grounded and true to herself. Richard is as experimental and level-headed as ever, but for the first time, I'm actually hearing him snark a little at the other competitors. I don't think it's mean-spirited - if anything, it's deserved - but it's new. Is it a change in him, or is the environment?

The hypothesis I come down to, looking at these real people (as presented through a slanted TV lens, of course), is that perhaps people don't change, precisely. Instead, the same essential personality evolves through time, experience and circumstances. People don't lose their basic outlook and impulses, but they learn to temper them or perhaps get enough proof of different points of view to stop and consider.

It's food for thought.

Thursday Thoughts

It's been a good week: I got a lot of critiquing and editing (short stories) done on top of the writing. I still am drawing blanks on the FWO challenge topic. I feel obliged to enter, since the concept of a sequel story was my idea ... but I can't seem to find anything suited. I've written stories that are linked and involve the same characters, but very few that qualify as a sequel. Many of my stories have endings that scan as, "... and then ..." but in such a way that it's meant for the reader's consideration, not the writer's fingers.

Finished the Ishene and Kemel story ... finally. It just deals with way too much material (and gets started too slowly, but at least that part is fixable). Will I get tired of using time travel and paradox in fantasy? Only time will tell ...

And these stories aren't suitable for sequels since, while I could tell plenty of other stories about these two, none of them stem directly from a specific current story.

The novel ... ah, the novel. I've lost my neurosis about being continuously funny, which means I may have to go punch some things up - but at this point in the story, the interactions of the characters create a lot of the humor, meaning I don't have to work at it as hard. It's like a sitcom: something happens, and there's this beat where the audience knows how character Y is going to respond ... wait for it ... the anticipation enhances the laughter.

Word count for 12/30/10 - 1/5/11: 10,336

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Neurosis in Reading

Considering fantasy can be replete with armies and battles, and short stories add a lot of random deaths, I added this to my file to give my cumulative death toll some "meaningful" criteria:

For death toll, I’m only counting on-screen / described deaths or plot-related deaths that are given a specific number. For instance, in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, Grahame-Smith quotes a statistic about 204 murders, then shows a news report about one of those deaths. The 204 murders not being directly related to the plot, just color, they don’t add to the tally, but the news report does, for a total of one. A fantasy battle in which "hundreds" died would not get counted because it's not a specific number. I am not going to count non-fiction deaths, though ALVH gets a pass because I am too lazy to separate out the fictional characters from the historical ones.

Also, it's probably evil of me that I want to file ALVH on GoodReads on my Non-Fiction shelf and see who notices.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

GoodReads Review: Witch Way To The Mall

Witch Way to the MallWitch Way to the Mall by Esther M. Friesner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me put my cards on the table first: I adore Esther Friesner as a writer – and having seen her at a few conventions, she is just as boisterous and witty in person. So even though I’m not a huge fan of urban (or suburban) fantasy, I came into this anthology with high expectations.

I admit, I did find the introduction over-the-top to the point of being too-obvious funny, which usually doesn’t hit my laughter bone. It is clever, though, and sets a nice opening tone.

(FYI – if you don’t want to read a story-by-story, flip down to the line of asterisks for a summary.)

“Birdwitching” by Harry Turtledove starts off the anthology with a witchery arms race – centered around the birdwatching count / competition between two neighboring counties. This is a folksy, funny tale with seamless integration of birding jargon. It builds well throughout and comes to a satisfying conclusion. The problem that muddied some of the reading for me was the fact that Turtledove wasn’t wholly clear about how witches fit into the real world and how the birding count related to witch activity until very late in the story. That marred some of the tension.

Steven Piziks’ “Witch Warrior” takes the legend of Baba Yaga and brings it to a world of and suburban Celtic warriors when the famed witch attempts to claim a father’s adopted children. Another tight, witty tale, crackling with energy and well-incorporated personal knowledge. Here I found only one small quibble, that the protagonist’s inward debate was illustrated in a way that was a bit too on-the-nose, but it was definitely enjoyable.

“Nimue and the Mall Nymphs” by Lee Martindale has an amusing setup: a witch lost in the back corridors of a suburban mall runs into a group of bubbleheaded pretenders. The events are humorous, but it came off a bit flat and dry for me – a funny concept that didn’t wholly translate into a funny story. I also had trouble suspending my disbelief about the labyrinthine construction of the mall and honestly, expected it to have supernatural origins.

Kevin Andrew Murphy provides us with “Tacos for Tezxatlipoca,” the story of a young man who buys himself a stuffed manticore and finds himself a magician. This story has a more subdued sense of humor than the first two, but in this one, it works, providing smiles along with the grins that the absurd situation conjures up. Unfortunately, I thought the story flatlined at the end. I was expecting more drama and consequence from the conclusion, though there are hints …

I thought Hildy Silverman’s “The Darren” was one of the best stories so far. It takes place at a dance for a school where witches are segregated from the normal population. Mariah has to chaperone a wayward friend and gets more than she bargained for. Typical teenaged shennanigans take on a mystical cast with an intriguing glimpse into how publicly known witches would interface with the rest of society. (I thought it was fairly realistic, too, or maybe I’m just cynical.) There was an element late in the story that I thought didn’t walk the silly-scary line quite properly, diffusing some of the tension, but that was a minor flaw.

Sarah A. Hoyt’s “The Incident of The Inferno Grill” is another entertaining story that peters out somewhat at the end – though more forgiveable as this is a very relaxed story to start with. The fun is watching the bewildered narrator cope with his new boss, a psychic investigator, and the possessed grill they have been called in to deal with. File this under cats, properties of, and be prepared for a few real belly-laughs in this otherwise low-key humor story.

Dave Freer’s “Soot” features a charming feline narrator whose sarcasm and superiority are the highlights of this story. The plot follows a witch, her familiar and a local troll as they attempt to stop the opening of a door to the world of the fey. The background and goal of the story are somewhat muddled. However, it is enjoyable sharing Soot’s point of view for a while.

Storm Christopher’s “The House of Lost Dreams” starts with vivid descriptions and a lush, metaphor-laden tone that perfectly suits the story that follows. A restless salesman stops at this mysterious store and finds unusual merchandise within its array of boxes. I loved this story: it’s sweet, sorrowful and absorbing, with the perfect conclusion. If I have to pick any nits, the narrator’s angry outbursts early in the story seemed excessive – but a minor point in a lovely tale.

“Queen of Suburbia” by Selina Rosen is one of the highlights of this anthology. This the story of a witch with a plot to take over the world with good luck generated from an email chain-letter … and the writer who runs afoul of her. The build and tone of this story are pitch-perfect, and I loved the ending. Rosen should have foreshadowed her protagonist’s knowledge of sorcery earlier, but that’s the only thing I could point out that could possibly be improved. Great story.

Esther Friesner has a knack for writing great humor stories intimately involving mundane professions, and “Twice A Year” is no exception – about a dental hygienist and her yearly struggle against an entity of the sea. If there is a flaw here, it’s the over-the-top, expository dialogue. People don’t explain things they know to each other in quite the fashion herein, and the rest of the story is close enough to real-world logic that it didn’t quite jive for me. However, the story is intriguing and whacky both and builds slowly to an entertaining – and walrus-y – conclusion.

David Vierling’s “Neighborhood Witch” delivers a delightful tale of a husband and wife pair who arrive in their new neighborhood … and stumble not just one but three bizarre local communities. In attempting to find peace and quiet in their new surroundings, they provide the reader with an excellent tale, good to the stomach-turning conclusion. Very well-done.

K.D. Wentworth’s “Hex Education” is an entertaining story that begins with a soccer mom – literally – and her suddenly uncooperative Honda. Suspecting magical meddling from her well-meaning husband at first, she soons discovers there is more afoot. This is a nice, solid story that pffts out a bit with a too-mild climax, but the turns it takes are fun to read.

Jan and S.M. Stirling’s “The Importance of Communication” is a lighthearted story about a retired witch whose old friend and evil-battling buddy shows up on her doorstep to discuss her daughter’s potential gifts. This is another one of those stories that doesn’t really seem to climax, maybe through a lack of tension. It’s frothy and enjoyable, though, and has a few perfect snicker-worthy lines.

From David D. Levine comes “Midnight At The Center Court,” a story set in the seventies about a young boy discontent with the gender division of magic, his best friend, and a haunted mall. The references to popular television shows of the era were lost on me, but might be more familiar to older readers. I thought this was a sweet, simple story of friendship, though one of the central issues posed – the reasons why certain kinds of magic are reserved for women – was never answered.

“The Price of Beauty” by Robin Wayne Bailey is about an appearance-fixated woman whose trips to a charmingly-named witchery salon are the only thing – as far as she believes – that can keep her on top. Can a shallow siren learn the true meaning of beauty? While the story leads the reader on to find out, the spoiled-brat behavior of the lead character makes it hard to sympathize with her. (Also, way too many exclamation points.)

I would classify Brenda W. Clough’s “Making Love” as slipstream, a story where you’re not entirely sure whether it’s fantasy or simply the perception of the character, but it’s a quiet, touching tale nonetheless. Milly’s magic is in her knitting, small works of art that bring love wherever they go – but she’s at a loss how to convince her husband of their curative powers. Nicely done.

Ellie Tupper’s “Yo Moms A Dragon” takes on the idea of a dragon banished from another dimension and trapped in human form and pits her against a trio of too-perfect self-help divas. It’s an energetic story with one of the best food fights I’ve seen in fantasy (now there’s something you don’t type every day) and great twists and turns. I felt there were a few too-convenient loose ends that weren’t properly addressed, but this is still a fun ride.

“Witch’s Brew” from Berry Kercheval is the cute tale of a reluctant witch who finds that doing homework while serving as a barrista can lead to unexpected complications, as she and a school crush chase after an imp. While not dramatic, it’s fluffy and enjoyable.

Daniel M. Hoyt’s “The FairWitch Project” follows a group of mortalos – children of witches who choose to live non-magical lifestyles (?) – as they plan to play the biggest prank yet on the magical community. That question-mark indicates my main problem with the story: I was never a hundred percent sure what the exact definition of a mortalo was. The conclusion is certainly worth the read, though. Overall, this story is a nice examination of the perils of using magic to the exclusion of the real world.

Julia S. Mandala’s “Valley Witch” is a (sometimes painfully) exaggerated story of a cross-world sorceress and her son hiding out in high school. I loved the description of the Evil Academy which the main character (the son) attended, and the references to it were gems. It’s a good clash of humor and tropes, though I found Tiffany’s character to be overdone.

Jody Lynn Nye closes the anthology with “There’s No ‘I’ In Coven,” the story of a competitive Pentackle mom and one memorable game where both her children have an opportunity to shine. Sports stories are always hit and miss with me; after a certain point, I tend to lose interest in the play-by-play. This was a very well-done example, though I found the amount of parental interference from adults who were portrayed as seasoned spectators stretched my credulity. (This could, however, just be because I don’t have any personal experience with sports parents!) Sometimes, it’s all right to have a narrator who’s just a spectator … and the engaging tale of the two siblings would have held up without their mother taking part.


Overall, this was a strong anthology, with no stories that I would classify as really “bad,” several solid stories, and a few gems – one of the best being the only non-humor piece in the anthology (“The House of Lost Dreams”). Some of the jokes flatlined for me, but the majority worked – which, the sense of humor of individuals and authors both being so varied, is quite an achievement. As far as the construction of the anthology, I thought the pace from story to story was well-constructed, though the opening – two boisterous, in-your-face stories followed by one of the weakest in the anthology – could have been improved.

The virtue of this anthology is that every story takes the mundane, the ordinary, the tiny rituals and patterns of modern life, and brings them to life – sometimes with magic, sometimes athwart it, but always putting it in a new light. And if urban fantasy draws on the vast, sometimes ineffable power of the big cities, then this is the heart of what suburban fantasy should be. On that count, forging a new definition (however tongue-in-cheek) and living up to it, this anthology succeeds.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 03, 2011

Anatomy of an Idea: Twice Given

This is a true story.

Well ... sort of.

I own - and am a great fan of - the Uppity Women series by Vicki Leon. At one time, I had notes on well over a dozen of these feisty historical heroines that I wanted to turn into stories.

In ancient Mesopotamia, there is a historical case where a priestess and her sister were wed to a man in tandem ... and the wedding contract not only regulates all the chores and childbirth to the sister, it stipulates that when the priestess is happy, the sister has to be happy, too. This last clause is what really caught my interest, because of course, in a fantasy setting, you can make this literal requirement a mystical certainty ...

I tried to give the setting of Twice Given a sense of that era without hammering readers over the head with it. I did derive the names of the two female characters by juggling the names from the historical case in question - Taram, the priestess, and Iltani, the sister - but the other major player in this story (besides the husband) is entirely an original creation.

Anatomy of an Idea: Bird Out of Water

"Bird Out of Water" has pretty simple origins: it stems from a challenge to write about the offspring of two fantasy creatures. I decided to write about two monsters from different environments and a child who was poorly adapted to both. Of course she would wish to be human, but what comes of that wish?

One of the key elements for me in writing Vri was to keep her rather visceral and beast-like - not childish, but without much grasp on niceties and fine details. I also wanted Calis to come out as an ambivalent figure ... much to the dismay of some of my reviewers, who wanted me to "nice" him up.

And, of course, the opening quote was pretty much an inevitability.

Twice Given

Twice Given is now up at Abyss and Apex - pleasant surprise, because I had thought first quarter would be March / April. Check it out!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Book Goal Revision

I did some common sense math and remembered how fast I read versus how much else I do, and ... decided to revise my book goal to 75 books for the year. I don't want to get into the feeling that I have to keep up with the pace. (And me being neurotic, I will ...)

Carry on!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Bird Out of Water - Now Out!

Bird Out of Water can now be read over at Crossed Genres:

This Is *Not* A Resolution ...

... but seeing someone else blog about their reading goals for 2010 and the nifty stats they tracked, I decided to do the same.

I am going to pick the goal of 100 books for the year. I will also try to put up reviews (hi, GoodReads!) on at least the fiction. And I'm going to be tracking the following things:

Novels read in my genre (fantasy):
*Secondary world:
Novels read in mystery genre:
Sequels and prequels:
Books over thirty years old:
Books I would recommend:
Books I was tempted to put down*:
First person:
Third person single-POV:
Third person multi-POV:
New vocabulary words:
Number of books containing said:
Books with maps:
Appendix consultation necessary:
Cumulative death toll:

* = for several years, I've had a personal rule that I don't put any book down. This started after I read fifty pages of Terry Brook's Running With The Demon, was about to give up ... and then on page fifty-one, it got good. Really good. (For a long time, Nest Freemark was my benchmark for an adolescent character done *right* in an adult novel. It's been so long since I read this book that I can no longer say this for sure.) Even a bad book, I can learn something from it, if only how *not* to write.

I am starting with "Witch Way To The Mall," an anthology edited by the (fantastic) Esther Friesner, all stories featuring (sub)urban witchery. Wish me luck!