Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zento

When you look, there are very very few authors (of literary works, to my knowledge) whose names start "Z".  So, today I am most graciously asking for a reverse of my literary criticism post.  I will link to all of my Zento the Mercenary stories.  I would really appreciate if anyone would take the time to write a quick comment on at least one of them.

Here they are:

Zento the Mercenary



Ostrich Herding


Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Yellow Flowers

     Yellow flowers mark the trail to my little hut in the woods.  They droop down slightly, as if bowing in respect.  I give a little mock salute, my face as rigid as a soldier’s.
     My hut is a place of rest and reflection for me.  A little bible sits in one dusty corner on a cushion I found in the attic.  The bookmark is usually placed delicately in Psalms, today at the fifty-fifth.
     I read the twenty-second verse out loud, “‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.’”
     The words swim around in my head.   My burden?  Could that be sin?  Sadness?  At least it’s good to know that whatever it is the Lord will guard me against it.  Never, it says, will he let the righteous be moved.  I guess that means breaking down, letting it depress you.
     Am I a righteous person? I ask myself.  I try.  My chores are always done on time, lies rarely make it to my lips, and I seldom get in fights with my little brothers, but is that enough?  I’ve helped Mrs. McCarthy with her sewing and put out milk for her tabby cat at Christmas, but does that make a difference?
     I lay my head back against the soft wood walls of my hut.  Birds chirp outside, soothing the light thump of pain in my head.  Yes, I finally decide.  I’m righteous enough, even if there’s still room for improvement.
     The weight on my shoulders, what brought me into the woods to my home-away-from-home, suddenly feels lighter.  God is willing to accept my pain, my guilt, my sorrow.
     I realize that from now on I can walk to my little hut with a smile.  It might be a half-smile, twisted a little at the corners, but a smile nonetheless. 
     The yellow flowers on my way home look straighter and taller than ever.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for Xenicena

     Xenicena darted to her left.  Grass flattened under her feet, the surface glossy with morning dew.  Her eyes were puffy and red.  The small branded diamonds below her lower lashes nearly disappeared.  Tears streamed down her pale cheeks.
     Growling overcame the sound of mockingbirds off in the few stray ash trees in the field.  Xenicena didn’t dare to look back at what pursued her.  She knew well enough.  The giant scar on her right forearm looked like snow despite the lightness of her skin.
     “Please go away,” she whimpered as she stumbled down a knoll.
     An owl hooted in the sky, his brown feathers ruffled and missing in places.  Xenicena sighed, her eyes sparkling anew.  “I bear grave news, milady,” said the bird.
     Xenicena stopped in her tracks.  “No help,” she said.  It wasn’t a question.
     “It is time.”
     “But my skills have only just developed.”  Xenicena’s face was damp from sobbing.
     “The wizard said that you are the strongest mage he’s met in decades.  You must use your skills.”  The owl swooped around, shooting into a dive at the creatures only yards behind Xenicena.  He pecked at the gnarled head of the lead monster.
     Xenicena whipped around.  She lifted her shaking hands and formed her fingers into several gestures.  “Levin, I call you forth!”  Power filled her voice, the boom of it mingling with a crash of thunder.  A lightning-bolt shot from the sky.  One fork hit the broad torso of a creature; the other set the grass to flame.  Howls destroyed any chance of silence after the strike.
     “Bravo, milady,” the owl cheered.  He dodged a swipe from one of his opponent’s massive paws.
     Xenicena smiled wildly.  “Pyro, engulf and burn!”  The dying embers from the lightning-bolt blazed anew, spreading into a circle of perilous heat.  A single beast exited the fire, his back only singed.  The owl perched on its head.
     “Venom, stop its wicked heart!”
     The creature stared at Xenicena, his black eyes locked to her blue.  Blood dripped from his jaws, the first drops hitting inches from her feet.  It collapsed in a heap.
     “I must disagree with the wizard,” the owl said.  “You are the strongest mage I have seen in centuries.”

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Wizard of Whey

     The little village of Whey held few secrets.  Everyone knew one another, what crops they were growing, and which animals had recently born calves.  Few men would strike you as unique.  They almost all wore straw hats and overalls.  One man clashed with them all: The Wizard of Whey.
     The Wizard of Whey was proud of his meager skill in magic.  His only trick was to separate the curds and whey of the locals’ milk.  The curds he gave away to the poor of the village, while the whey he sold to visiting nobles.  Whey was such a money maker in the village that they named it thus.
     One day, the Queen of the land came to buy some whey from the Wizard.  She came in a sparkling carriage bristling with gold.  A circle of spearmen alighted from the carriage, surrounding their monarch.  “Hear ye, hear ye!” one shouted.  “Here comes the Queen of our fair country.”
     The Wizard of Whey rose from the rough wooden chair he liked to sit at while waiting for buyers.  His beard, the shade of purest milk, fell almost to the stone floor.  “Greetings, Your Majesty.”
     “I wish to purchase all of your whey, Wizard,” the Queen declared, her voice full of the necessary flourishes and regal airs.
     “All of it?” the Wizard questioned.  His eyes didn’t bulge as one might expect.
     “Every ounce.”
     “For your Majesty: a hundred gallons of whey.  Come this way,” said the Wizard, motioning toward a small chamber filled with urns.  He smiled.
     “My men shall take care of it,” declared the Queen.  “Rest your elder soul.”
     “That is most gracious of you, Your Majesty.”
     “It is the least I can do for an old village sage.  In return, I offer you your weight in sage.”
     “Sage for a sage,” the Wizard said, clearly amused.  “Any payment at all is more than enough coming from Your Majesty.”
     “All is due to you.  Your whey is the finest in the land.  I cannot imagine your curds are not one in the same?”
     The Wizard blinked.  “I’ve never eaten it myself, Your Majesty, but I’ve heard it told so, at least by the village folk.”
     The Queen broke into a smile that lit up her whole face.  “You give it to them free of charge, or so I hear?”
     “It is the least I can do for my countrymen.”
     “I wish for one pound of your curds.”
     The Wizard pursed his lips.  “Take them, Your Majesty.  Take them all if you wish it.”
     The Queen stood up and smoothed her flowing skirts.  “You shall have your weight in gold for a single pound.  That is what I offer to the Wizard of Whey, the most selfless man in the land.”

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Violence

I'm not afraid to admit that my prose gets violent quite often.  My main conflicts are usually man v. man, so combat is the simplest solution.  My literary pieces refrain from it, of course, but almost everything else at least eludes to violence.

When writing violent scenes, it's important to get the emotion right.  That's really why most scenes in general are written.  Either emotion is being shown creatively or a theme is being displayed.  I almost never have themes, so I tend to focus on emotion.  Body language is the number one indicator of emotion in third-person.  You can tell a lot from characters' actions.  In first person, the tone of the piece itself shows emotion.

Do you use violence as a method of bringing conflict and emotion to your fiction?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Underlings

This is my fifth flash fic featuring Zento the Mercenary.  You can find the other four via here.

     Zento sighed far louder than he needed to.  “We were instructed to maim the Senator, not kill.  Pay attention to your objectives.”
     The fresh-faced man in old-fashioned Kevlar who Zento addressed frowned.  “Yes, sir.”
     “Now repeat our instructions back to me again.”  Zento paid close attention to his footing as he stalked through a downhill slope coated in foliage.  A manor appeared at the top of the next rise.
     “Wait in the Senator’s garden for him to come outside then maim him.”
     “Good enough.  We’re almost there.”  Zento inspected his crossbow one last time.  Everything was in order.  A pair of quarrels stuck out of the quiver on his back.
     Quintiffer flowers dotted the hillside.  Their yellow petals rose in their centers, forcing them into an odd cone-like shape that seemed to point upward at the pale blue sky.  A sweet aroma wafted all around.
     “Were you nervous on your first mission, sir?”  The younger man asked.
     Zento’s face went blank for a moment.  “My father was a Grand-General of the Verion Army.  Do you expect the son of such a hero to get nervous on his first mission as a mercenary?”
     The younger man blushed.  “No, I suppose not.”
     “Of course I was nervous,” Zento began.  “My father expected me to become a General in the Army, but I ran off and became a freelance.  If I failed my first mission, I would either be dead or dishonored so heavily that I wished I was.”
     They climbed past a buriba tree in silence.  The manor’s nearest wall was almost fully visible.
     “Can you take the first shot, please?”  The younger man swallowed hard.
     Zento sighed again.  “Underlings…”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Tor

If you are a genuine fan of science-fiction and fantasy you have to have at least heard of Tor Books.  The imprint of Tom Doherty Associates is one of the most reputable in both genres.  The Wheel of Time, John Cleaver, and Enderverse books were all published by Tor.

Somewhere around twenty percent of the books on my shelves were published by Tor, to my estimate.  I haven't read all of them yet, but certainly will.  Brandon Sanderson, one of my greatest mentors, even if he has no clue who I am, was published first by Tor Books.

I haven't found a book by Tor that I didn't like.  The Wheel of Time series is incredible.  Occasionally I find something that could have been changed to make it better, but for the most part it gets a 10/10.  Ender's Game was pretty revolutionary for me.  I hadn't read much sci-fi before it, so it was definitely a good intro to the genre.  Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide showed me that not just literary fiction can delve into philosophy and psychology large-scale.

Please go out and support Tor Books.  I just recently picked up David Weber's Out of the Dark.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Serviceman

     My father did die in the service, he did.  Jolly good chap, always cheery and energetic, dashing here and there to play cricket or lend a hand fixing someone’s plumbing.  Mind you, he weren’t no soldier, never touched a rifle one day in his life, but golly me, he was a serviceman.
     They say my father was the best acolyte they ever did see in the church down the street by the Ol’ Yew Tree.  He’d light the candles an’ put ‘em out, ring the bell, pass out the bulletins, and lead the choir.  By the time I came along, my father was hoarse with all the singing.  His throat was stripped like a screw he’d say.
     Not a single lady in town was scared to call my father over when she had a problem her husband hadn’t the time to fix.  A most respectable gentleman they always said, paying him only in simple words of thanks.  Mum never minded much, she trusted him more’n anyone, if you can believe that.  She on’y had to see him smile at her in the morning and snuggle her at night to keep ‘er happy.
     The money was always short in my household, what with three hungry children and one parent at home.  My father never did make much, despite the work he did.  We lived on bread and butter for many years.  I didn’t much mind.
     We never really saw it coming when Father took ill.  There was a bit of fever in his eyes, maybe, but not much else.  To his dying day, he’d rove about the town, coughing out, “as you require, so shall my service be.”
     When they laid him down to rest beneath the Yew Tree, I made a solemn oath with just a pair of tears in my eyes.  I would be a serviceman like my father.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Rerion-a

     Do you want to ride waterfalls?  Grapple with three-headed tigers?  Drink eighty proof for hours and never get drunk?  Consider Rerion-a for your next interstellar vacation.
     You’ll love the low gravity environment, perfect for little aviators yearning to touch the sky.  While not much can be done for your mass, you’ll see your weight drop by fifty percent the moment you land!
     The wildlife on Rerion-a is the tamest in the world.  Zoos are stocked with exotic breeds and hybrids, all yearning for attention.  You can swim with sea snakes, perform a duet with an uplifted toucan, or create your very own species in the genetic facilities.
     After years of study, Rerion scientists have discovered the solution to intoxication.  Before you order your first drink, take a shot of a specially designed solution that enters your blood stream and breaks down just enough alcohol to keep you buzzed but never hammered.
     Book your trip to Rerion-a today!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for Quilt of Souls

     Amaranth took in a shuddering breath.  She wobbled on a stool hewn of ebony dark as night.  Her fingers jutted out at odd angles, the knuckles swelled in some places and almost indiscernible in others.  They wrapped around a bone-white needle.  The trailing crimson thread painted the side of one hand.
     A dozen tiny murmurs seemed to resonate from the quilt Amaranth held.  She shook it.  Her chuckling drowned out faint shrieking.
     No square looked more elegant than the next.  In fact, none of them looked very elegant at all.  The white backing of each held just two red, smeared words.  Names.
     Amaranth set down her needle.  The world pulsed in her eyes, a cloudy, distorted visage of stone, aged wood, and general clutter.  Amid the greyness only one thing stood out—the black figure of a cat.
     “Hither, my Tiber,” Amaranth forced from her lips.  The words shook, fragmented and stale.  Tiber stepped toward his master.
     Amaranth ran her hands through Tiber’s fur.  It felt cold and greasy, quite like an amphibian hide.  “I hath a surprise for ye.”
     The quilt moaned as Tiber slit the fabric with jagged claws.  Amaranth’s skin prickled as if suddenly chilled.  A dark cloud rose from the patchwork.  It streamed, audibly, forcing its way upward until the last shred of cloth broke into powder.  Amaranth smiled large enough to show her empty gums.  The room fell silent.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is for Past Tense

John sat on a damp log, munched on a carrot stick held tight in one hand, and tested the edge of his dagger with the other.

John is sitting on a damp log, munching on a carrot stick he is holding tight in one hand, and testing the edge of his dagger with the other.

John will sit on a damp log, munch on a carrot stick he holds tight in one hand, and test the edge of his dagger with the other.

The above is obviously an example of the three basic tenses: past, present, and future.  Each has their own place, advantages, and disadvantages.  Present tense feels bloated and long, although it can help you to really connect with the protagonist if done well.  Future tense, especially here, can create an ominous tone like that of ancient prophecy.  It isn't very common, however.  Past tense is really where it's at, if you aren't writing children's.

Past tense is what you'll find in almost all books written for adults.  It gives the story a feeling of being in the past, a little distant, but perhaps more sure, more credible.  A tone of finality can accompany the prose.  He already swung that dagger and killed the beggar an infinite time ago, there isn't any stopping him by yelling at your book (as if there is anyway).

Most of my flash fiction is in past tense.  I feel more comfortable with it and feel that my words are sharper without having to add in extra words like you do in present tense.  The only disadvantage really is the fact that you have to try even harder to keep your story character-driven.  Thoughts help you get a sense of the moment a little better, that and body language.  I must say that past tense is my preference.

Which tense do you prefer?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Ostrich Herding

This is my fourth space opera featuring the mercenary Zento.  The first two were linked to on the third.  You can find it here.

     Zento cut the engine to his hoverbike.  He waved a hand at a figure sitting on the porch of a strange house.  The dwelling was a huge cylinder, seemingly fashioned from some type of dark wood, almost black, and shingled with pale stone.  A narrow chimney jutted out of the roof.  The smoke that drifted through it looked closer to white than grey.  “High-tech filtration for a farmer,” Zento said, smiling.
     The figure revealed itself, stepping into the light to meet its visitor.  “Our Viceroy has great love for Goran 5.  He wants the air as clear as Goran 3’s before the decade is out.  I joy in playing a part.”  The words came from a green-skinned humanoid, his voice seeming to quiver with a thick Goranean accent.
     “I never stay on one planet long enough to worry about the ecology.  It’s nice to know that there are people who do, however.  Untriouf,” said Zento, his final word a botched attempt at Goranean “good day”.
     The Goranean crinkled his thick brow, then nodded.  “Good day to you too.  What brings you to the agricultural side of my humble home-world, man-of-Earth?”
     “Verion, actually,” Zento began.  “My grandparents emigrated from Earth.  I came because I heard of some ‘ostrich herding’ for pay.”  He made little quote marks with his fingers at the slang.
     “You speak the truth.  I offer four hundred in Goran currency for moving my ostrich to their winter staying.”
     Zento’s mouth twisted a little.  He blinked.  “You mean literal ostrich herding?”
     The Goranean frowned.  “What did you think I meant?”
     “Never mind.  For four hundred I’d herd ice salamanders.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for Nix

Garth Nix is a perfect name for a dark fantasy writer.  It follows the same style of his prose, slightly archaic, but also mysterious and fantastical.

The coolest concept explored by Garth Nix is death.  In his Abhorsen Chronicles books, death is, literally, a river.  When someone dies, they enter the river and float through the nine precincts of death.  In between each precinct is a gate.  The sections of the river vary over its course, each more creative and interesting as the last.

When you're writing about death in a fantasy series you must have...necromancers!  Not only does Garth Nix include mages of death, there are good ones and bad ones.  Obviously, the bad necromancers are antagonists, while the main protagonists are good.  The leader of the good necromancers is the Abhorsen, as featured in the series' name.

This review is somewhat incomplete, as I haven't read any of Garth Nix's writing beyond the Abhorsen Chronicles.  It'll be a while before I read anything else of his because of other books, but I strongly recommend checking out everything he's written.  The Keys to the Kingdom is one of Mr. Nix's better known series.  His YA space opera novel A Confusion of Princes will most likely be the next of his books that I will read.  That is, if he doesn't finally finish Clariel...

Monday, April 15, 2013

M is for My Country

     Those dogs.  Those filthy, mangy dogs.  They slaughtered all of them.  Men, women, children, burned and cut down.  My country.  Tears stream down my lucid face. 
     I left them.  The survivors of the sentry guard and militia were backed up to the door of my manor.  I watched them from my grand windows, Linus the sentry leader ran through by a bayonet as he shielded a young boy, Friar George’s brother Vernon shot in the arm and later innards, blood spurting from his pale lips.  Most of them I knew by name.
     My protectors, wife, and daughter made for the back door.  “I shan’t let ye perish, m’Lord,” declared Martin, the leader of my personal guard.  I was hauled away, but I didn’t resist.  I heard the cries of my people as I left them to die.
     We rushed to a small boat in the wharf.  Martin assisted my family into the boat before he and my five other guardsmen got to work at the ropes.  After the vessel was released from the docks they jumped in and went for the oars, wind too slight for the single sail.  I couldn’t see the last of my countrymen perish.  That didn’t matter.  The screaming was evidence enough.
     I surveyed what was left of the populace of my dear home.  My wife Mary, cheeks like spiced milk, gown of green satin.  My daughter Sophia, charcoal braids framing a round face, cheekbones high and regal.  Randulf, the oldest and most trusted of my guard.  Norman and Orson, brothers possessing incredible strength and loyalty.  Lenard, former sentry leader and strategist.  Hieni, a dark-skinned captive from the west, highly knowledgeable of flora and fauna.  Martin, man of amazing speed with the sabre, accuracy of the musket, and cultivation of the mind.  Perhaps the finest soldiers in all of Hannon, or former Hannon as it soon shall be.
     I snap back to attention as we exit the harbor.  The occasional sobs from Mary and Sophia have ceased, Sophia drifting to sleep in her mother’s arms and Mary peering blankly at the slight waves of the sea.  They are still in shock, I’m sure.  Sympathy isn’t Mary’s strong-suit, but she is far from cold-hearted.  I realize now that I sheltered Sophia too much.  She will never truly understand this event.  She may not live much longer anyway.  A new round of tears slides down my face.
     “Have you a plan, Lenard?” I ask.
     “Aye, m’Lord.  We’ll find a small island for the night and then continue to Jeri.  The Jerians have always looked kindly toward us, even if our requests for an alliance were dismissed,” he replied.
     “Splendid.  You may ease, men, the Yirmans won’t bother looking for small ships escaping.  They’re quite a superstitious nation, as far as the ocean is concerned.”
     My men half their oaring pace.  They will continue for as long as I request; Norman and Orson alone could row for hours.  The sun will set soon, however.  The first sight of land will be our heading.
     A few minutes later, I spot a speck in the distance.  “Steer right, men.  I see some land.  We shall rebuild our great country.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for Lily of the Valley

     I look into two cerulean saunas, heating up my face.  They seem to look past my flesh, peering into my basest essence.  To my vices, they dart away; to my virtues, they glisten.  Gentle, they set me at ease.  Beautiful, they nearly bring me to tears.
     The swathes of beige around them are smooth.  Not a hint of red mars the surface, save some rosy pink.  Two knolls rise from the plane.
     She is the Lily of the Valley.  Perfume seems to radiate from her, yet you shan’t see her dab a drop.  If only…
     I swap out the books in my hand with others in my locker and shut the door.  The rightward hallway looms ahead, the math wing, taunting me with “cute” little signs of anthropomorphic numbers.  I catch a glance at Lily’s light blue dress, spotted with small white circles.  She walks into Mr. Lewis’ Trigonometry classroom, her lips not quite frowning but certainly not cheery.
     The top book in my stack reads “Trig” in a ragged hand on a torn brown bag of a cover.  I sigh.  At least she’s there.
     Mr. Lewis steps up to his podium, blinking far too often for fourth period, his bearded face drooping.  He asks us if anyone has any questions on their homework.  I do.  I don’t raise my hand.
     “Twenty-five,” Lily says, her voice level.  My heart thumps its next beat.  I look down at my paper.
     “I can do it,” I say, my tone a little shaky.
     Mr. Lewis points to the board.  “Finally know what you’re doing, Acherson?”
     “This time,” I reply, looking him square in the eye.  My gaze holds for barely a second.  I walk to the board, lift a fragment of green chalk, and start copying from my homework sheet.
     “Well done, Acherson,” Mr. Lewis says.  I hide a smile by pretending to scratch my nose.
     “Thanks,” says Lily.  This time I can’t hide my grin.

Friday, April 12, 2013

K is for Knightingale

     Beyond the farthest reaches of the Crudilin March lies Avion.  There, the air is clear and bristling with birds.  Peace is so wrought of the fellowship of winged society that only a single guard resides over it.  They call him Knightingale.

*     *     *
     Knightingale alighted one day from a somber sky at day’s end.  His shining armor clinked as his feet struck the grass of a meadow full of dandelions.  A light breeze ruffled exposed feathers, bringing with it a shiver.  Knightingale tweeted a note, yet it drowned in the din of his plates.
     “Need be, need be, for a knight in the gale?” he sang.
     “Need be not, need be not, for a knight in the gale,” another bird trilled.
     “Thou fare well here?” asked Knightingale.
     “Well enough, well enough, knight in the gale.  Away, away, to your roost I should say.”
     “A nest?  A roost?  For the knight in the gale?  Nay, nay, I really must stay.”
     “Come westward then, yon knight in the gale.  I shall find for you something.”
     Knightingale flapped his great brown wings and set off.  He soon spotted a young mockingbird.  “Dear brother, hath you a task for me?”
     “Yes, yes, knight in the gale.  Catch me a worm for my sup.”
     Knightingale clattered to the ground very near to a stone.  Beneath it wriggled a worm.  “Come here and sup, dear brother.”
    “Only one for my sup, knight in the gale?”
     “Two then, dear brother?”
     “Nay.  Three, four, knight in the gale.  My stomach is light as the gale.”
     “Four worms, dear brother?  Nay.”
     “Nay, you say, knight in the gale?”
     “Five worms for your sup, lest I be a miser.  It’s never a trouble, for the knight in the gale.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for Justification

As far as I know, "justification" is not a true literary term.  However, for the sake of this post it is.  A justification is a swift smoothing over of a plot-hole or other general problem.

You're reading along and thinking "what an idiot, [insert protagonist's name], why didn't he just do [insert reasonable action here]?".  Before you know it (assuming it's a well-written novel) a justification will come along.  Most of the time justifications come in the form of dialogue.  Sometimes, the author seems to be poking fun at the concept, making the narrator believe that he/she had his/her thoughts read.  I love those wily author jokes.

Have you ever made up your own literary term?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I is for It All Ends Here

I finally finished my Fifteen serial!  This is part six.  You can find the first five here, here, here, here, and here.

            Amelia brandished her staff, facing the looming darkness in the valley below.  Her heart leapt.  The moisture in her throat evaporated.  “It all ends here,” she said.
            A gust of wind soared up the mountainside, ruffling Amelia’s woven hair.  She fought against it, stalking down the slope, her staff a walking stick.
            “The Strength runs deep in this one,” came a voice below.  It could have been a knife scratching stone.  “But not deep enough.”
            “Weakener, you shan’t be wakeful a day longer.  It all ends here.”
            The ground rumbled.  Tendrils of cast-up dirt lashed at Amelia, fueled by the phantom breeze.  Her expression remained hard.  “Come, if you are so wrought with determination,” the voice stated.
            “Fly,” Amelia said, and her feet picked up from the earth.  She wafted there for a moment, almost smiling.  Then she kicked her legs and jettisoned down toward her foe.
            “Clever too,” mocked the voice.  “A pity you must be killed.  I would have liked you as my new apprentice.”
            “You say that as if you shall live this day,” Amelia cried, her speech amplified by the vortex of air propelling her.  She pointed her staff out like a spear.
            “Likewise, little mage.”
            Amelia spotted the dark form of Tovorchica, standing at the lowest point in the valley.  Her face was pale as snow, yet her hair was the darkest of black.  She grinned far too wide.
            “The end?” Tovorchica said, shrugging back her shoulders.  She took a step back.
            Amelia slammed into the grass.  It lie dull and broken where the Weakener had last stood.  “Unleashing,” she said, faint, yet determined.  Her body quivered as she struck out with her staff, hitting Tovorchica in the chest.
            The world turned to color: black, white, red, yellow, blue.  All was nothing.  Nothing flashed to gold.  Gold flashed to clear, blinding light.  The valley settled, lush and green as if it had never changed.  Not a soul stirred.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H is for Hinton

I've only read one of S.E. Hinton's books.  Prior to a Google search, I didn't even know if she had any other books published.  Suffice it to say, this critique is more of The Outsiders than Hinton herself.

The Outsiders is a pretty good book.  I gave in four stars on goodreads, and that's right about where it lies.  The characters were realistic with intriguing personalities and enough conflict to drive a good story.  Actually, everything was in conflict, creating a solid plot with few bumps in pacing.

Two-Bit is one of my favorite characters.  He's just smart enough to get by (unlike me), but I look quite a lot like he is described.  I've had sideburns since I could grow them (a year and a half).  I do not, however, have a swich-blade, although I do have a swiss army knife.

My eighth grade teacher read us part of The Outsiders and had us read outside of class as well.  Pretty much everyone in my district can remember her reading "Need a haircut greaser?" in her "Soc-ist" voice.

I don't need to read anymore to say that S.E. Hinton is a good author.  I'll leave it at that.

Monday, April 8, 2013

G is for Great Man

            “Greetings, sir,” said the butler, stretching one gloved hand out to shake Vladimir’s.  Vlad took it firmly and strode through the threshold.  He smiled.
            The room he entered was vast, stretching the entire width of the manor and at least twenty paces deep.  A crystal chandelier dangled from the centermost point of the mahogany-paneled ceiling, sending a cascade of light down upon the shimmering dresses and pastel suits of the guests.  Vladimir blinked at the contrasting brightness, coming in from a cold, dark December night.
            A pack of people danced in the western side of the room.  Six violinists played a lively, yet elegant, tune.  There was no sign of the party’s host.
            The eastern side of the room held a much more boisterous air.  A long bar sat against the back wall, staffed by young girls pouring only the most carbonated champagnes.  One woman swayed as she tried to migrate to the other wing.  Vladimir caught her before she could fall.
            “I’m sorry,” said a vested man hardly old enough to drink.  He hurried over and took the woman from Vladimir.  “My mother is a little too fond of the bottle.”
            “It is all well,” Vlad said, stroking the corners of his thick mustache.  “Quite a gala, do you not say?”
            “Yes, I must say so, Mister…?”
            “Vladimir Sedov.”
            “Bradley Morse,” the man said, taking Vlad’s hand in a weak grip.  “How do you know our host?”
            “He was an old business partner of mine.  Great man, brilliant.  By the way, have you seen him?”
            “Upstairs, in the billiards room.  He has a nice break for an old guy,” said Bradley.  “No offense,” he added at the last moment.
            Vlad began walking toward the staircase in the rightmost corner of the room.  “Great man,” he whispered.  “Too great.”  The Sig beneath his shirt felt cold.  His heart beat hot.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F is for Fight or Flight

     I creep into the cave, my back arched to keep from hitting the roof.  There is a glint of light far off in front of me.  The darkness between it seems to stretch for miles.  I start on my way.
     The cavern alternates its width constantly as I progress further and further into the dark.  Bats fluttered close to the mouth, but none seem to live this far in.
     Stalagmites and stalactites jut everywhere, dripping, making it sound as if I’m under a waterfall.  I draw my cloak in tighter to keep out the moisture.
     The light ahead begins to illuminate my surroundings.  The walls are caked with blood.  A carcass lies broken in the middle of my path.  His throat is missing.
     I quicken my step and draw a cross from my pocket.  The polished wood gives me comfort as I move my thumb across its surface.
     The light is just in front of me.  A creature stands there, his torso twice as thick as his legs, even those heavily muscled and pulsating.  Its head has one massive, glowing eye.  The mouth is partially obscured by the glare.  All I see are teeth.
     “Be gone,” I yell, pointing the cross at it, my voice only quivering a little.  The creature swats it away with a strange, sinewy arm.  It’s fight or flight now.  I have a feeling neither will save me.

Friday, April 5, 2013

E is for Empress of the Sky

     The cloud rumbled under the giant’s bulk.  He stumbled along, following the snow trail to the castle of ice.  Her castle.
     The gates opened up to admit him and quickly closed behind.  A squat hawk-eyed man declared his coming, “may I present Agorius, Prince of the Giants.”
     Agorius boomed, “I must speak to the Empress.”  His frown stretched a man’s pace across.
     A dark-haired man in full plate walked forward and gave a short bow.  “Her Excellence shall see you in the ballroom on the second floor; may I escort you?”
     “Get on with it,” said Agorius.  He stamped forward looking as if he were going to crush his guide beneath thick leather boots.
     The stairs were of vast, spiraling marble.  Even still, Agorius’ heels didn’t fit on the stairs, forcing a string of grumbles.  The second floor landing, adorned with sparkling frost, opened into a large dancing room.  White birch made up the floor, trimmed at the edges by everlasting snow.  A woman strode in from the far side.
     “Prince Agorius,” said the Empress, dipping her head no more than a hand’s breadth.  “I have been awaiting your arrival.”  Her dark hair clashed with the white surroundings, yet complemented her blue tiara of massive snowflakes.  Much the same color, her eyes shone despite the full light of the room’s chandeliers.
     “I have a query for you,” Agorius stated.  One fist shook at his side.  The undertones of his voice were evident beneath a deliberate attempt at tact.
     The Empress only smiled.  “And that is, Prince of Giants?”
     Anger found its way to Agorius’ face.  He wore a sneer.  “What have you done with my fowl?”
     “That bird of yours?” the Empress began.  “I know nothing of it beyond its simplest nature.  The gold of its eggs has filled your coffers as of late.”
     “Don’t you lie to me, miss!” bellowed Agorius.
     The Empress showed no sign of stress.  “None in my kingdom have entered yours to do the deed.  If they did, it was not from any decree of mine.”
     “Your façade cannot deceive me, Empress of the Sky.  I shall be back.  And with an army.”
     The Empress’ smile broadened.  “Lucky me.  I’m already here.  And I have my own army.”

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Death and Darlings

To get attached, or not to get attached?  That is the question.  You never know when you're going to have to kill your darling.

I have to be somewhat attached to my characters to be able to protray them in a way lively enough for the current mode of character-driven prose.  I'm so attached to two of the characters in my W.I.P. that I've named two of my idealized future children after them.  However, one day (if I ever get to writing it) at least one of them will have to die.  Not because it's a sort of superstition of writers to kill your darlings, but because of plot.

The reasons to eliminate characters are varied.  In The Hunger Games, most of the characters simply had to die, due to the plot.  If a sub-plot character starts overshadowing your protagonist, you have to murder, rewrite, or lobotomize them (not meant literally, although that is an interesting idea...)  That rule of thumb (kill your darlings) can conceivably ring true, yet it hasn't happened for me.

Unfortunately, I don't have an answer to my original question.  You should probably at least like all of your characters, but tucking your Word document in bed each night and reading your antagonist a bed-time story can get both creepy and ill-advised.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C is for Carmel-Eyes

This is the third installment in my episodic Space Opera series featuring Zento the Mercenary.  You can read the first two here and here respectively.

         She gave a laugh, faint but sweet.  “What kind of a nickname is that?”
         “The best kind, for it puts on a pedestal your best feature,” said Zento.  He wore a broad grin.  A fresh burn on his right cheek crinkled.
         The woman faded back into a rigid stance.  “That last mission too tough for you?” she inquired, pointing at Zento’s cheek and raising one eyebrow.
         Zento laughed.  “You told me that cybervolcano was dormant.  I couldn’t believe it when burning saline starting streaming through the jungle of Goran 3.”
         “I can see it in my mind’s eye, the mighty Zento running in panic while a village of Goraneans simply moved to their shelter in the trees.  You should know that cybervolcanos don’t spew real lava.  They’re just enriching the soil with salt water.”
         “I know,” Zento said.  The rest of his face looked burnt now.  “I’m used to the super-volcanos on Verion.  Anyway, I got the intel.  Mission accomplished.”
         The woman nodded.  “That you did, IC108.”
         Zento reared, despite still holding a smile.  “Calling me by my independent contractor number?  Now that’s some kind of nickname.”
         “Just remember, 108,” the woman began, tilting her head to the side a little, “your father may have been a big-shot, but you’re only a mercenary here.”
         “Hurry up and give me my new assignments, Carmel-Eyes,” Zento said sticking out his tongue.  “I may be a freelance, but I’m the best your company has got.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for Barnabas

I had some trouble thinking up who or what would be my literary criticism for "B".  Then I remembered.  Didn't Jeff Hargett of Strands of Pattern have a short story called "Barnabas" published in Spells: Ten Tales of Magic?

He most certainly did.

It took only three paragraphs to sympathize with the protagonist, Barnabas.  He's been looking for his magic for years to no avail.  That he knows of.  Can you find the gun on the mantle?

The reread value is high.  Everything is clearer once you've gotten to the ending on an initial read.  It doesn't lose much even after knowing.

I'm not from the South, but from what I could tell the dialect is perfect.  It's a little tough to understand at first because of that, yet it's definitely not a "deal-breaker".

(Actually taken from an email I sent to Jeff): Quite near the middle of the story I was surprised to find Barnabas' thoughts italicized for the first and last time in the story. On at least one other occasion the character spoke his thoughts aloud at a whisper. While the italicized thought did not derail me fully from the story, it broke my focus for a moment.  (My biggest criticism)

Overall, it's a great story and break-in for the soon-to-be-famous Mr. Hargett.  If you like literary fantasy, you'll like this.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A is for Arson

     The sky opened up above me.  One droplet of water struck the sleeve of my flannel.  The rain grew colder and thicker by the step as I strode along my sidewalk.  Not the best conditions.
     A bus stop materialized as I rounded a corner.  Its black cage of a sanctuary would do well to keep out the storm.  I took a seat on one of the benches beside a young girl and her mother.  The girl smiled up at me.  My lips curled in response.  They’re oh so naïve at that age.
     The bus paused, its engine stuttering just a tad.  I motioned for my bench mates to board first, with a tip of my ball cap, and came on myself.  My wallet felt heavy as I drew out a five and handed it to the driver.  “Keep the change,” I said with a grin.
     I strolled almost to the back and grabbed onto a strap hanging from the ceiling.  The bus lurched forward.  My heart fluttered.  Almost time.

*    *   *
     The house before me looked a lot like a miniature barn.  The tin roof formed a simple peak with no gables.  The main construction was wood, painted a garish red.  There weren’t any windows, at least not on this side of the house.  The front door looked hand-crafted from some dark maple.
     I double-checked the address in my smartphone.  Everything matched.  Time to get to work.
     I wrapped on the door three times.  No reply.  Twice more.  Nothing.  Good.
     The lock clicked nearly the moment I plunged my pick into it.  I stepped inside.  There were shoes everywhere, some sitting on metal racks, the rest thrown haphazardly.  A perfect fire hazard.  Chuckle.  So soon?
     I scanned the room for an outlet.  No need to make this any less “natural” than it needs to be.  I found one against the right wall.  A lone Nike Air sat beneath it.
     I slipped my hand into my right pocket and pulled out a plastic case.  Inside were a dozen metal instruments.  I took out a short metal rod like a toothpick.  From the other pocket I drew out a green rubber glove.  Slipped it on.  Took a euphoric breath.
     I jabbed the metal rod into the outlet and set the other side down on one of the shoe laces.  It took only a moment for the spark.  Then smoke.  Then flame.  I blew life into the fire.  It blew cash into my pocket.  Mission accomplished.