Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Learning About Dialect

I was looking up Pittsburgh English yesterday and learned some stuff about my dialect (okay, I don't have a complete Pittsburgh dialect, I don't use "yinz" and I don't have many of the aspects of the typical accent) that is very interesting.

In south-western Pennsylvania, we call thorn bushes "jaggers."  I've always wondered why I've never seen "jaggers" used in books or cinema and now I know why.  It's a local term.  I didn't know that until yesterday.

To me, shopping carts are "buggies."  Yeah, like a horse and buggy, but...well...not.  Again, until yesterday I didn't know it was a regional term.

Then there are gumbands, the action of "redding up," and gobs.  We drink from spickets.  We neb.  We eat hoagies and dippy eggs.

The coolest one that I noticed is that when I say the word "milk," the "l" sounds more like a "w" most of the time.  How I managed to say it like that and not notice until yesterday astounds me.

What regional terms do you know about that you use?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

One Day Late

Good luck to all of my Blogger friends participating in NaNoWriMo.  I "participated" (and epically failed) in 2012 and 2013, but I'm not going to attempt it this year.  I have too many things going on right now.  Maybe next year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Beginning of Erratic Blogging

At least for a little while, I will be blogging without a set schedule.  Having certain days upon which I post certain things isn't easy with how erratic my personal schedule is.  So, if I have a flash fic I want to post, I shall do so.  If I read something I really like or dislike for very structured reasons, I'll post a review.  When writing subjects come to mind that I'd like to delve into in written form, I shall post my thoughts.  Hopefully I shall be able to improve the quality of my posts through this fluidity, although I foresee a decrease in total postings.  We'll see.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Game Room

(Note: Check out the "Under Stars" tab on the right sidebar for other articles directly related to this one.)

I'll admit, it's been almost a year since I read "The Game Room," a reprint fantasy story (originally published in the Sept/Oct 2013 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) in KJ Kabza's upcoming (releasing the 27th) SFF collection Under Stars.  However, it's a memorable enough story that I still remember the gist of it.  Now, I have a good memory, but that only happens with very strong stories.

The voice coming from this story's first-person narrator is of top-notch quality.  It maintains the mystery that the story's concept requires without seeming really odd.  All of the characters in "The Game Room" are cool, whether they're the minimalist inhabitants of the narrator's home or of the diverse cast of "visitors."  They will especially excite you if you understand basic French and/or Chinese (yes, there is some foreign language dialogue).

A story with a title like "The Game Room" ought to have an awesome setting.  It does.  The setting is crazy and weird, yet not far from home, so to speak.  It utilizes a perfect proportion of familiar-to-strange.  I'll allow you to discover the specific details.

If there's any problem with this story it's plot-based.  I've seen a lot worse in otherwise good stories though.  This particular story only needs as much plot as Kabza included and I assure you, you will not be bored as you read "The Game Room."

"The Game Room" is one of several stories in Under Stars that make it worth its $3.99 cost.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Five of the Shortest Stories From Under Stars

Under Stars is an upcoming (releasing the 27th) SFF collection of KJ Kabza's work.  Click the "Under Stars" tab for other posts involving this collection, which you should pre-order/purchase right now.

(Note: Do not base your interest in this collection exclusively on the reviews to follow.  These are individual blurbs for some of the least significant stories in Under Stars.  The stories reviewed do not represent the mean quality of the writing in this collection.)

"...In the Machine" is the story of a possessed self-checkout machine.  It has an interesting voice to it (though there is a bit of language).  The story's creative, I'll give it that.

"Light Years" is a fine drabble.  It takes a great idea and runs with it as far as a story can in exactly 100 words.  The poetic quality of drabble-length stories is exploited to great effect.  Read it.

"The Expurgated Version" is cool in concept, but is a bit crude and jarring.  Feel free to skip it.

"The Separatists" takes a common sci-fi short fic trope and manages to not wear it out.  Predictable, but still recommended.

"Like Old People Do" has a very legitimate spec fic basis.  It's an attempt to project the loss of verbal communication due to cell phones a few decades ahead.  That I can respect.  The actual content of the story is sketchy.  It contains two levels of crudeness, both of which fit the story, but neither of which are necessary for the basic purpose of the story to be fulfilled.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The First of Several Posts Relating to KJ Kabza's SFF Collection Under Stars

I'm changing things up in the ravenous maw for the next eleven days or so.  Instead of my typical post schedule, I will be posting exclusively literary criticisms and/or blurbs of the stories in KJ Kabza's upcoming SFF short story collection Under Stars, which launches October 27th.  I will likely not write about every story in the collection, but I'll try to hit the highlights.

While I would recommend picking up Under Stars when it comes out, I will put a content warning on some of its material.  The story "The Terms of Our Alliance" contains some mildly explicit content and is not recommended.  There are also several dozen dirty limericks included, which I have not read and am not planning on reading.  They're at least at the end of the collection, so they should be fairly easy to avoid if one does not wish to read them.

Several of the stories in the collection are available to read online right now for free.  If you'd like to take a sneak peek into what you might find in Under Stars, take a few minutes to read Kabza's 1,000ish-word dark fantasy story "The Flight Stone" from Daily Science Fiction.  It features both excellent world-building and groan-worthy horror.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Sum of All Men (First Quarter Analysis)

I've listened to about the first quarter of The Sum of All Men by David Farland in audiobook and I'm loving it.  It isn't as dense as the older epic fantasy series, which cuts down on the world-building a bit, but it manages to replace the usual bulk with better character development and plenty of mystery.  The learning curve is very well-developed for the subgenre.  This novel is showing a lot of promise so far.

The setting of The Sum of All Men is winning.  It has roots in plenty of fantasy tropes, yet manages to find uncharted lands to explore.  The concept of endowments is fascinating from a character standpoint.  The two distinct layers of the magic system that I have seen so far are both very cool, even if the second one is a bit less original.  As far as scenic locations go, the amount and type of description utilized has been spot on for me.

Character development pacing has been slow so far, but I feel like the characters have been set up in such a way that when specific conflicts start gnawing at each one individually there will be a lot of it at once.  So far, all of the primary characters have seemed quality-made.  There is a great use of the sympathy and pro-activity sliders.  Competency is foggy because of the endowment system.  That will depend upon the circumstances of each individual scene.

Not a huge amount of important plot events have occurred thus far.  I attribute that mostly to the subgenre.  It isn't a big deal to me, though it might be to some people.  I like how things are going.

It's probably safest for me to listen to a bit more before I go recommending this novel.  For now, I encourage you to at least take the time to read a sample of The Sum of All Men and see what you think.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Once and For All

     Darkness swallowed the horizon in one ravenous gulp.  Swathes of firmament submitted to the torrent of premature night.
     Mathos shivered.  His heart was a lump of ice.  Bile rose in his throat, sludgy as the blackness above.
     “Mathos,” cried Elle.  “You see that?”  Her voice quavered.
     A staff appeared in Mathos’ fist.  His eyes burned.  “Yes, my wife.  This time I must vanquish the Dark One once and for all.”
     Elle leapt at him, a silent scream on her lips.  Her fingers sunk in a pool of light.
     Mathos soared, bearing the shape of a dove, and entered the darkness.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Stahl's Keys (a.k.a. Tolkien's Keys)

I was watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug yesterday and devised a variant on Chekhov's Gun.  Stahl's Keys (a.k.a. Tolkien's Keys) is the rule that "If a ring of keys is set on a hook, it ought stay there."  Basically, if the narrator observes a character doing something very mundane but still mentions it, there must be some sort of resulting plot point.  You shouldn't note actions that don't matter to the story for one; for two, if you include foreshadowing like this in a story and don't deliver on that foreshadowing, readers are likely to take everything they think is foreshadowing with a grain of salt.  This isn't good, especially for writers who rely on foreshadowed information coming together during the climax and/or resolution of their stories.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Perfect Book

"The Perfect Book" isn't a perfect science fiction short story, but it's definitely good.  Author Alex Shvartsman's stories are often in my ballpark, and this story does not disappoint.

The texture of "The Perfect Book" is the familiar smooth of modern sci-fi shorts.  It flows like honey and makes Orwell's prose look decidedly unlike Orwellian prose (if anyone understands that reference).

I like both main characters in this story, especially because of how deep they are in contrast to the story's length.  The 1st-person narrator is given a competency boost due to the content of the story, which pairs well with high sympathy.  Jacquelyn isn't extremely pro-active, but the other main character's proactivity covers her well enough under the specific circumstances surrounding "The Perfect Book."

There's actually a little bit of plot progression in this story, even though it's only twenty-five paragraphs long.  The plot works in splendid tandem with the character development.

The setting is interesting.  It implies that in that world it is probably impossible to create "the perfect book."  Is it possible in the real world?  We don't know and probably never will.

If you haven't already, click the link above to read "The Perfect Book" by Alex Shvartsman, published in the third issue of Fantasy Scroll Mag.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Nine Writing Tips

1.  Try using "Yes, but" / "No, and" format to heighten stories' conflicts.

2.  Have a character think about doing something, yet not do it.  Great character-building strategy.

3.  The closer the resolution to your plot lines are to each other, the greater the effect.

4.  Find what your character wants most and watch his emotions as he tries (and continually fails, typically) to get it.

5.  It can be beneficial to set up medium arcs, larger than subplots but a little aside from the main arc (or even an independently-bound chunk of the main arc), to add periodical high-points triumphantly.

6.  You learn a lot about characters by how their reactions to the same events differ.

7.  For a successful resolution, build a satisfying framework in the early chapters before the conflict gets hot-'n'-heavy.  Once your characters have been through the wringer--pop--resolution.

8.  In most cases, characters were not born yesterday.  They had lives before the story began.  Use background information to your advantage and make sure you have enough so that your characters don't feel born of the plot.

9.  Weapons break.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Sky Was Our Savior

I'm swapping the order of my posts this week.  I shall post my literary criticism on Sunday.  (Edit: I shall not post a literary criticism this week, because college applications.)  Today I am providing a link to my entry in this week's Finish That Thought contest.  "The Sky Was Our Savior" is a 467-word sci-fi story with a few humorous elements thrown in.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Spirit of the Typhoon

My latest flash fic, a fantasy story I entered in Vol 2-42 of the Flash! Friday contest: "The Spirit of the Typhoon."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Character Development and Time Progression as Plot

I saw a production of the play Driving Miss Daisy today that taught me a new lesson in plot.  Typically, specific events are the basis of plot.  In the case of this play, the plot was fueled by character development and time progression instead.

Character development is important.  It is essential to almost every story above a few thousand words.  When a character changes, the flavor of the story changes.  It might not be a change from chocolate to vanilla, if you will bear my analogy, but rather french vanilla to regular vanilla.  If a story stays the same flavor for too long, readers are likely to check out.  Tweak the flavor of the story enough and you can actually create movement of story.  You can achieve plot with character development.  Some short stories have exclusively character development fueled plots, to varying levels of success.  It's very difficult for a story to have what I would consider an excellent plot without any sort of traditional plotting, unless character development is combined with time progression.

I read a lot of stories that take place over very short periods of time.  Many quick, unique events earn the limelight for a few pages, each of which move the story forward just a little bit.  This is a very common form of traditional plotting.  It works.  When you tell a story that takes place over a long period of time, however, the events tend to take the back seat.  There are important plot elements sprinkled here and there, but many scenes don't matter much in the grand scheme of things, from a traditional plot perspective.  If characters develop over the course of a bunch of these unremarkable scenes, what you get is a different sort of plot.  You get the sense of progression that the concept of plot really boils down to without much plot in the traditional way.

Using time progression and character development in tandem does not sound easy to me.  I like stories that take place over months, not decades.  I'm not opposed to the Driving Miss Daisy type of plot though.  If you can make it work as well as it did in the play, then you have nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Review Through a Different Medium

Two weeks ago I did an in-depth review of the story "Trials of Teeth and Fire" by Amanda C. Davis, which will be going up for sale (in an ebook including a bonus story titled "Lure") tomorrow.  I just now got an opportunity to write a much more condensed review, covering the entire ebook, for goodreads.  You can read it over there.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Various Difficulty Levels of Writing Various Genres

I'm a fantasy writer at heart.  It's probably the genre I'm best at writing, at least in my opinion.  However, it's only the second-easiest genre for me to write.  If I knew two years ago what genre would flow with the greatest ease now, I'd have been amazed.

A lot of science fiction writers have some form of science degree.  I don't even have my high school diploma yet.  On top of that, I haven't read nearly as much sci-fi as I'd like to have.  But I really enjoy the genre, and it isn't a huge pain to write.  My range of subjects is limited without a large amount of research, but I can do enough with the genre with my present knowledge to keep me writing.  Zento is my favorite character to write, so when I write sci-fi I typically use him.  If an idea can't involve Zento or the Zento universe, it's back to Worldbuilding 101.  Luckily, I like worldbuilding.

Horror is a really hard genre for me.  Most of my horror stories come from prompts.  I read almost zero horror, so it makes sense that I don't really understand how to do horror well.  Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes I don't.

I have a lot of fun writing military/war from time to time.  It's not very marketable at short length, but the action is fun.  M/w is only slightly more difficult to write than fantasy.  Character is the hardest to get right.  I use more description in my action scenes and I haven't mastered building character while also giving a lot of flesh to my settings simultaneously.

And now, the moment of truth.  The genre I have the least difficulty writing is (clean) teen romance.  I love how much depth you can put into a story without distracting from the plot at all.  You can build characters and setting at high speeds through commenting on visual details and emotions.  If you know what you're doing, you can do a lot in each sentence.  I don't know that my romance stories are any good (and again, they're clean, so "good" means pretty much the same here as it does for spec fic stories, not what some people would consider "good" for the broader genre), yet they entertain me enough that I shall continue to write them no matter their quality.  My first romance story, which I wrote less than two years ago, was really rough, but it had a rawness of emotion to it that really drew me into the genre and coaxed me into continuing to experiment with it.

How about for you?  What genres are the easiest for you to write?  The hardest?  And what genres do you enjoy writing in the most, even if your purpose is not to sell all those stories?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Changing the Past

I'm not exactly sure how to best define "Changing the Past" by Barton Paul Levenson.  It's a flash fic from Daily Science Fiction and it's definitely speculative.  I want to call it alternate history, but it depends upon the true circumstances of a certain event.

There's a great sense of plot progression in "Changing the Past," despite its length.  One event leads into another event and there is a clear silhouette of a deep history before and after the story's timeframe.  The nature of the plot isn't overly original, but the execution of the plot is quite good.  As a flash fic, this plot excels.

I love how one of the least-defined criminals in American history is given character by this story.  At least for me, he was always just a name and an attitude associated with an event before.  Now I wonder what he was really like.  The protagonist has a certain suaveness that I like and that gives him just enough definition to work in a flash fic.

I don't have a lot to say about the setting.  As in many of the stories I review, it's bare-bones for a purpose.  What we do see is solid.

Many spec fic lovers will like "Changing the Past."  It may not change the future of its genre, but I'm willing to bet it will entertain most people who read it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lost Love and Nightprowlers (Part 3)

     Wasp dropped his dagger.  Oaths spewed from his mouth as he spun to bolt.  He barely made it a pace before the nemu struck him across the back, tossing him to the ground.  His footing returned long enough to stare at the massive form of the beast.  Three slits marred Wasp’s leather tunic, the cuts deep enough to show the full thickness of his flesh.  Blood pulsed from the wounds.  He dropped down to one knee and cried out in pain.
     Rowan sidestepped.  He saw the nemu’s jaw open, strings of saliva sparkling in the light of a moonbeam.  Its eyes blazed red like fire above a set of white canines.  He looked away as they crunched down on his companion.  Shrieks droned from the carriage.  They sounded like Sarah’s, just before she joined the eternal darkness.
     “A real monster,” Valter said, moving to get a better view.  “I’ve always wanted to test my hand on a nightprowler.”  He charged, sword to the side of his raised buckler.  The blade plunged into the nemu.
     Black ichor spilled from the beast’s gnarled, bony neck.  It reared and struck out with a jointed limb below Valter’s shield.  He took a step back, groaning.  Covering all he could with his buckler, Valter lashed out again.  The nemu licked the new gash to the thin sinew of his flank.  Valter took the opportunity to slash again, severing its spiny tongue.  Teeth slammed down onto the sword, breaking off its tip.
     “Valter,” Rowan shouted.  His boots refused to lift from where they were planted.  He leered into the pupils of the nemu.
     “Loot the blasted carriage, Rowan.  I’ll handle the nightprowler.”  Valter drove his sword hilt down on the nemu’s pointed nose.  It toppled backward.  A battle cry poured out from Valter’s lips.  He leaped onto the nemu.
     Rowan’s heart pounded in his chest.  He turned his head toward where Wolf had been last he’d noticed.  The wily man was on his knees, hands folded.  Rowan had to force his mouth shut.  He took a step toward the carriage.  “I should aid them, not snatch their silver.  How would my Sarah think of me now?”
     A shrill, goat-like bleat tore through the night behind Rowan.  Darkness shrouded its owner.  Rowan drew his dagger from its scabbard.
     Valter snarled.  “Another one?” he bellowed.  His breathing was heavy.
     “Female,” Rowan said.  He twisted to look at Valter crouching over the still corpse of the nemu.  The armor over his torso hung in tatters.
     “I fear my sword shan’t steal another, not tonight,” Valter said.  Rowan strained to hear the words.  “Not if I am to see the morrow.”
     Rowan nodded.  “Return to the cave.  I’ll see this one to its grave or me to mine.  That I vow.  For Sarah.”  He had to stop himself from tossing his dagger between Valter’s rolling eyes.
     A similar creature trotted into view.  Curved horns rose from her skull.  Skin formed a pouch on her underbelly, stretched as if recently emptied.  Rowan’s eyes lined up with the appendage.
     “God, spare me,” Wolf said aloud, still on his knees.  The nemu shifted to look at him.
     Rowan took a step forward.  He whirled his dagger once in a circle, scattering moonlight.  His whole body shook.
     The nemu sped to a gallop.  She struck Wolf on the head.  The cracking of bone was audible.  Wolf howled, clutching at his skull.  “Rowan,” he cried.
     Rowan ran up to the beast and stabbed into her nearer hind leg.  Ichor poured out over his weapon, onto his hands.  She threw back her wounded leg, striking Rowan in the shin.
     Rowan’s face hit the dirt.  His head spun.  Two blue specks seemed to skim across the black hide of the nemu.  He put his weight on his good leg and widened the wound he had made.  This time, Rowan twisted away from the retaliating blow.
     Wolf scrambled toward the carriage in Rowan’s peripheral vision.  A dagger wobbled in his hand, then soared toward the nemu, hitting it in the eye.  The beast made a sound like a horn and lashed out with both front limbs.  Wolf toppled back in a heap.
     Rowan jumped under the nemu.  Its ribs were sunken, gaunt.  He slit the length of one bone, releasing a torrent of fluid.  The beast shuffled her hooves.  Rowan’s free hand crumbled under one stomp.  He recoiled, biting back a scream.
     The nemu backpedaled.  Her horns glistened.  Drool fell from her lips, falling on Rowan’s boots.  The smell burned his nostrils.  She tossed her head, nipping his stomach.  Wolf’s dagger slipped from her eye, doused in ichor.  It fell with a clatter beside Rowan’s crippled hand.
     Rowan forced his cracked fingers open and gripped the dagger.  With both raised, he propelled himself to one side, forcing them deep into the nemu’s working eye.
     A deep croak emitted from her throat in spite of her usual cry.  She thrashed, sending Rowan sprawling.  He cried out between haggard breaths, “I will protect them, if my life is the cost.”
     Rowan drew back one dagger.  He shot his arm forward, delivering a hard blow to the Nemu’s gaping ribcage.  Breath streamed from his lips in shallow huffs.  Both legs strained to allow him to stand.  He laid a final blow to the nemu’s heart.  The dagger slipped from his grasp.
     Someone wrapped her arms around his shoulder.  A cold tear touched his neck.
     Rowan looked up into the deep brown eyes of a young girl.  Her ebony hair brushed the scrapes on his cheeks.  “Sarah,” he said.  “I saved them.”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Most Motivating Two Paragraphs of Any Fantasy Novel Ever

"Groat looked torn between exultation and despair.  'But we've only got a bunch of old men, sir!  They're pretty spry, I'll grant you, but...well, you've got to learn to walk before you try to run, sir!'

'No!'  Moist's fist thumped the table.  'Never say that, Tolliver!  Never!  Run before you walk!  Fly before you crawl!  Keep moving forward!  You think we should try to get a decent mail service in the city.  I think we should try to send letters anywhere in the world!  Because if we fail, I'd rather fail really hugely.  All or nothing, Mr. Groat!'"

- Going Postal by Sir Terry Prachett

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Trials of Teeth and Fire

I offered to review an upcoming ebook titled Trials of Teeth and Fire for the wondrous Amanda C. Davis and just got a chance to read the title story.  The ebook consists of two stories, "Trials of Teeth and Fire," which first appeared as "Rites of Justice in Civilized Societies" in The Beast Within 3: Oceans Unleashed, and "Lure," first published in Wolves and Witches.  This week I shall be reviewing the former, much longer story.

I really wanted to love "Trials of Teeth and Fire."  Davis is an incredible writer with crisp, effortless prose I could read all day.  I think the fact that "Trials of Teeth and Fire" was written before (I believe) all of Davis' stories that I have read should explain the lower degree of mastery I noticed while reading.  It's a great tale, I don't mean to imply otherwise, it's just worth mentioning that if you're knew to Davis' work you will find that she's been getting even better as her writing career has progressed.

My main problem with this story is the voice, both the character's voice and the writer's voice (the distinction is tough to explain).  It's not as flowing as I'm used to in fantasy short stories.  A good many sentences start with the same word, for example.  The fundamentals that take writers the longest to hone are not as honed here as in more recent stories.  I wouldn't say this is a crippling problem.  Some people may not even notice it.  To me it read more like YA than adult, and maybe that's how it was intended, despite the 3rd-limited viewpoint character's age.

Voice aside, this story's characters are solid.  Their "sympathy," "proactivity," and "competency" sliders are all in near-constant motion.  The arcs and learning curve are both steep, but not so steep as to make me question this story's word count.  If you're into strong female characters, you'll find at least one here.  There's still a lot of mystery surrounding the characters even at the end, which may annoy some people, but which I didn't find disappointing.

This story has a fairly basic setting, yet it oozes originality.  There are were-eels, that's all I really have to say.  There's some politics involved and speculative diplomacy.  Those are always nice elements in fantasy stories.  I think a great majority of fantasy fans will be satisfied.

There's a layering to the plot of "Trials of Teeth and Fire" that seems unnatural for a story that's only around 5,000 words long.  Ever scene has conflict and most paragraphs change the conflict in at least a slight manner.  The plot involves the unfolding of information about the characters and setting to the reader, which I always appreciate.  If you get bored at any point in this story, I must say, you have a pretty exciting life.

Bottom line: I recommend the ebook this story is being reprinted in to all lovers of fantasy short stories (available for pre-order here).  It's definitely not the best story by Amanda C. Davis, but even so it holds up compared to the many stories I've read at this length, in this genre.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Another Week Off

Hello anyone and everyone!  I've had five school days so far and class is starting to settle in.  I'm reading a lot, playing my mandolin a lot, and right now I'm practicing for a murder mystery at my church this Sunday.  While I regroup, I will be taking this week off.  Hopefully I will be able to get some stuff pre-written so I don't have to do this any longer, but I really have a lot less time than I'd like for this blog right now.  Well, see you in a week!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lost Love and Nightprowlers (Part 2)

     A brook burbled amid the oaks of the Fairwood.  Thickets and shrubs grew randomly, choking out the short emerald grass that spotted the landscape.  The thieves’ cave camouflaged amongst the greenery.  Tinges of red and orange were only beginning to betray its stealth. 
     Flattened undergrowth formed a path under Rowan’s feet.  A light crunch emitted with each step.  Above, the air smelled of light decay, a sort of sweet, subtle aroma.
     The Triplet Moons shone in a cloudless sky.  Melanie, the brightest, hung far to the west on the horizon.  Rowan guided his band in its direction, traversing some thousand paces.
     The bustle of an ox-pulled wagon revealed Count Lungren’s Highway long before it came into view.  By the time they could see the packed dirt and drainage channels of the Highway, the cart was too far off to make out in the blackness.
     “Lay low,” Rowan whispered.  The other men nodded. 
     With those words, Rowan’s thoughts turned back to his fallen Sarah.  Memory flashed before his eyes.  She had told him to lay low, to apologize if he had to.  It wasn’t worth getting into another fight over.  He didn’t listen, couldn’t listen over the lust for blood pounding in his temples.  The drunkard returned Rowan’s sloppy hook with an ales mug to Sarah’s head.  He stood there, gaping, as the brute sent her to the tavern floor in a crumpled heap.  By the time he found the sense to knock him off his stool, she was gone.  Rowan coughed back a sob.
     Melanie arched a full finger’s length in the sky before the clop of horseshoes became loud enough to hear.  Two tall, dun horses emerged from the shadows.  Their forms wavered, backlit by two torches affixed to a carriage.  The driver sat on a velvet pad atop a high-seat.  He glanced in the thieves’ direction and crinkled his brow.
     “Release,” Rowan said, just above a whisper.  Wolf shot out from behind a bush, his dagger stuck out in front of him.  Valter raised an iron-rimmed buckler and followed.  Lock pick in hand, Wasp crept toward the covered body of the carriage.
     The driver’s drooping eyes flew open.  His hand crawled to the knife scabbard at his belt.  Wrapping the reins around one wrist, he scrambled to his feet and swore.  Wolf drove an elbow into his leg, knocking him back onto his seat.  A flick of the driver’s knife came within a hair-breadth of Wolf’s throat.  Wolf’s manner lit up, turning even smugger.  He plucked the knife from where it had imbedded into one of the poles supporting a canopy and somersaulted backward from the high-seat.
     A sword gleamed in the low light from above Valter’s fist.  Its hue tinted red, oozing, as Valter jabbed it clear into the driver’s ribcage and withdrew in one smooth motion.  Crimson dripped across his lips, spread by a sputtering cough.  The driver’s body spasmed, then slumped in the seat, lifeless.
     Rowan sprinted off to settle the horses as Wasp and Wolf ran to keep up with the vehicle.  He tore the reins from the driver’s failing grasp and whistled in a low-pitched whine.  The equines slowed.
     Inside the carriage the screaming had only just begun.  Wasp tinkered with his pick on the door’s entry-lock.  He mumbled as he worked, “Right, up, quarter-turn…”  The door slamming into his face stopped him short.
     A feminine voice called out, “I plead to you highwaymen, take all you can carry, but spare my daughter and me.”
     “We don’t kill maids, milady,” choked Wasp from the drainage channel.  He sounded hurt.
      A new cry flew through the black.  It brought all four looters to a martial stance, Wolf with his own howl and Valter a heavy grunt.  Rowan cut the reins before the horses could jerk the carriage away in their fearful frenzy.
     As Rowan glanced toward Wasp’s paralyzed form, his worst fears felt confirmed.  He couldn’t make anything out yet, but he had heard too many horrific tales to doubt the beast’s name.  A foul nemu stalked the night before them.  

Friday, August 29, 2014

Oh, the Rust and Atrophy

I attempted to write two or three stories in the last month and failed each time.  Only just now did I manage to write words that I'm going to keep, and those are in the form of a 158-word sci-fi flash fic that I probably won't want to talk about a year from now.  It's quite clear to me that I've gone a bit rusty and my writing muscles have already begun to atrophy.  Exhibit A: "White, Rubbery Dragoon Uniform."

Having written something at least, good or strange and mediocre, I feel a little better about the decline of my writing abilities.  I really hope I can kick myself into writing more frequently, even though I'm now juggling school as well as various other commitments.  My  fear is that it shall take at least as long for my writing muscles to return to peak fitness as it took for them to decline.  I pray that I underestimate myself.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Not Today

Today's writing post is delayed until tomorrow.  Sorry.  It's sleep or writing post and I need the sleep more.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Going Postal (Two-Thirds Analysis)

As the title of this post may suggest, I'm right around two-thirds of the way through Sir Terry Pratchett's comic fantasy novel Going Postal.  There have been a few hiccoughs, but overall it's really great.  Allow me to elaborate.

Character is a bit difficult to critique for this story because it's written in 3rd-narrative POV.  The viewpoint never descends perfectly into any character's mind, but it gets close.  It's definitely one of the best examples of the POV I've seen.  Moist von Lipwig, the protagonist, is a solid character.  He's an anti-hero who manages to be sympathetic, incredibly proactive, and very competent (in several ways).  I would love to see this story from his POV, yet I really love getting dips into many characters' heads too.  The others are high-level as well.  They each have a lot of personality, which is key for this genre.

This setting is killer.  That's the only way to put it.  Oh, and hilarious.  And brilliant.  This is my first Discworld experience and you can tell that Sir Pratchett wrote twenty-some (I believe) novels in this setting prior to this one.

I'm pretty sure I'm nearing the climax of Going Postal, but I can't be sure.  If it isn't, the real climax is going to be amazing.  The complications have managed to tie in character and setting perfectly.  There are arcs twisted into other types of arcs.

If you want to read a light-hearted fantasy story with top-notch world-building, look no further than Pratchett's Going Postal.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lost Love and Nightprowlers (Part 1)

     The sun was setting, Rowan could feel it.  It was time to go to work.  He brushed moist earth from his silk smallclothes and stood.  Creeping forward, he felt along rugged, rocky walls until his fingertips brushed against the glass of a lantern.  With a hard swipe of his dagger and a hunk of flint, a fire erupted inside it, bathing the cave in a haze of yellowish light.
     Two simultaneous groans rang out from the floor.  One was followed by a curse.  Its owner turned over on his makeshift bed of moss and linen strips.  The other man got to his feet, his amber eyes blinking hard.
     “Wolf,” Rowan said, turning up one corner of his mouth.  “Rest well?”
     “About as well as Charlie after he tried to snatch from that druid in the Elderwood,” Wolf replied.  “Doth thou besmirch my deified pockets?” he mimicked.  “May night be your bane, foul brigand, for under the moon you shall perish.”
     Rowan hooked his lips into a full grin.  “How did that bloke end up passing?”
     “Last I heard he was still scouring the High Road.  Only at first light, mind ye.  He’s still too afraid to leave his cave in the dark.”  Wolf gave a name-sake howl and dropped to his knees, rocking in his laughter.
     Rowan scanned around for his boots.  He found a sturdy fox-hide pair a few feet from his goose-down pillow.  A matching hide vest, covered in metal scales, lay beside it.  “He was quite a snatcher, that Charlie.  Never saw a lock he couldn’t pick.”
     “Much better than Wasp, for sure.”  Wolf patted the head of the still-sleeping man.
     “I heard that,” Wasp said.  “You two mongrels woke me from a wonderful dream.  I was pick-pocketing the King while he sat on a gilded throne.”
     Wolf snickered.  “You and your dreams.  The guards would have your head on a pike before you could cross the bailey.”
     Wasp turned, a scowl plain on his face.  “As if you could get past the gate with that hair of yours.  They’re likely to think you truly are canine.”
     “The Queen has more hair on her chin than you have on the full of your face, Wasp.  How will you ever dream yourself a wife for lack of whiskers?” Wolf taunted.  He stroked his thick beard.
     “What do you know of women, Wolf?”  He put up one bony fist.
     Wolf shoved Wasp against the wall, howling.  “I was promised back in Riermont when I came of age.  A plump maid, that Molly.”  He looked over at Rowan.
     Rowan grunted.  “Her name was Mary and she was my sister, if you recall.  A gentle, pious girl, two things you’ll never be.”
     Wolf bared his teeth.  He swapped his smallclothes for a pale green tunic, layered beneath a thick leather shirt. “She was pretty too, enough to bear the praying.  Yet not as pretty as Rowan’s lass.”       
     Rowan’s heart sunk.  His eyes darted to the cave mouth.  A large man stood guard there.  He turned around and gave a short bob of his head.  “It’s time to scour.”
     Wasp hauled himself up and began switching clothes.  “You never told me about this lass.”
     “She died,” Rowan said.  He strode toward the faint moonlight ahead, beckoning the others to follow.  Moisture welled up in his eyes.  He forced back the tears.  “And I was to fault,” he added, under a shaky breath.
     Wasp shivered.  “Oh.”
     “Cold, Wasp?  Or are ye scared of old Rowan?”
     “We’ll be snatching wool soon, Wolf.  If you haven’t noticed, it’s nearly Frosttime.”
     “No need to lie to us.  Rowan is quite scary when he wants to be.”
     Rowan nodded, paces from the exit.  “Yet a coward in the worst of moments,” he muttered.  In a higher voice, he called out, “Valter.”
     The burly guardsman took a step toward him.  There was nothing but stone in his grey eyes and weathered face.  A white line ran from his right cheekbone to the edge of his chin.  “Ready?”
     “Aye, Valter, a snatching we shall go.”  The party left the cavern in silence.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fantasy: A Complex Genre

(Note: This post is meant to make my post "Types of Fantasy" from twenty-six months ago disappear from all memory.  I wrote it originally for a dual-credit English Composition class.  Also, sorry for the irregular formatting.)

Many people see the word “fantasy” and have a concrete impression of the genre.  Any singular image for a genre as large as fantasy will leave out a lot.  Fantasy is a very complex genre with many subgenres.  In order to consider fantasy as a whole in any context, one must have knowledge of at least most of those subgenres.
The four most prevalent subgenres of fantasy are epic fantasy, urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, and heroic fantasy.
Epic fantasy, interchangeably called high fantasy, although some writers consider them separate subgenres, is notable for its massive scope, slow pacing, and high amount of magic.  Lord of the Rings is the most widely-known epic fantasy novel/series.
Urban fantasy is often set in urban areas, although the subgenre has grown to the point that location is not of chief importance.  Urban fantasy crosses real-world society with supernatural society, often fey society.  Mentor/student foils are very common in urban fantasy.  Television shows and novels like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a “chick kicking butt in leather” are urban fantasy.
Contemporary fantasy is tough to nail down.  The Harry Potter series may be considered contemporary fantasy, although the case can be made that it fits better as urban fantasy.  Contemporary fantasy, like urban, tends to be set in the real world at the current time.  The distinction, typically, is that in contemporary fantasy the fantastical qualities of the world are known to many, while in urban fantasy very few people are aware.
Heroic fantasy, sometimes mislabeled as Sword and Sorcery, is characterized by a heroic protagonist and small or medium-sized scope.  Swords, sorcery, and mythology, typically German or Norse mythology, are often present.  Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories are heroic fantasy.
Regardless of subgenre, any type of fantasy can be labeled “dark fantasy” under certain conditions.  “Dark fantasy” denotes fantasy with qualities of horror fiction or general macabre.  Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Chronicles books are dark fantasy.
Paranormal is the term attached to any genre with basic, but only basic, qualities of fantasy.  Currently, paranormal romance is the most popular form of paranormal fiction.  The Twilight Saga is “paranormal.”  If a work of fiction is “paranormal,” it’s inherently fantasy, although it is probably multiple genres.
There are several subgenres of fantasy that are also subgenres of other genres.  The two most common are steampunk and space opera.
Steampunk is a combination of several genres.  One is fantasy.  Steampunk stories are typically set in the Victorian era, but the technology is different.  As the name may suggest, steam-power is almost always important in steampunk settings.  The most recent remake of The Three Musketeers contains steampunk elements, which in themselves include elements of fantasy, science-fiction, historical fiction, alternate history, romance, and/or horror.
Space opera is where the line between fantasy and science-fiction blurs.  Some consider it fantasy, others science-fiction.  Star Wars and Star Trek are both considered space opera.  Science as we know it is completely disregarded on multiple planets in both settings, which some argue makes space opera a subgenre of fantasy.  The often futuristic settings of space opera stories make them appear to be science-fiction.  To be fair, space opera can be regarded as a subgenre of both science-fiction and fantasy.
Sword and Sorcery is probably the least-respected subgenre of fantasy.  It used to be one of the main fantasy subgenres, but has become a niche genre.  If there are wizards and rogues working together in a story, it is probably Sword and Sorcery.  The role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons is the foremost example of Sword and Sorcery.
Low fantasy has low levels of magic.  Sometimes works are classified as low fantasy without containing any magic whatsoever, so long as they have a secondary-world setting.  Low fantasy is fairly rare and the term is rarely used.
Magic realism is sometimes called a subgenre of fantasy and other times considered a genre of its own.  Magic realism is essentially low fantasy with a real-world setting.  Often only one or two fantastical qualities exist in each story.  Writers such as Ray Bradbury experimented a lot with magic realism before science-fiction hit big in the early twentieth century.
With almost a dozen subgenres and distinctions, fantasy covers many different types of stories, some of which barely resemble one another.  All things considered, fantasy is probably the most complex genre out there.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Marshmallow Walls

"Marshmallow Walls" is a good introspective story, but not an incredible horror story.  It has some chill to it, though not enough to make it stand out.

The voice in this piece, the only aspect of character utilized, is strong enough to carry the story.

There isn't a strong sense of progression.

The setting is mostly white-wallish.

I truly have little else to say about this flash fic out of Fantasy Scroll Mag.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Waiting For Me

     My monocle flashed red.  I pressed its orientation button, activating a set of on-screen instructions.  “Rotate head twenty degrees left.  Tilt ten degrees down,” it read.  I did as advised and flipped the auto-zoom toggle.
     At first, all was dark.  Then night-vision activated.  I shuddered.
     A beast crouched at the base of a tree along the river’s bank.  Its eyes glowed yellow as they zoned-in on my fleshy torso.  His maw opened a fraction, just enough to reveal glints of teeth even from two hundred yards.
     It can’t get me from across the river, I thought.  Until the barge lands.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Three Flash Fic Writing Contests

I'm still not back into the swing of things with my writing, so I think I'm going to try going back to the weekly flash fic writing contests I've entered in the past.  There are three such contests that I shall be plugging today.

The Finish That Thought contest, on Ms. Alissa Leonard's blog, starts at 10 p.m. Eastern time each Monday night and extends until the last moment of Tuesday.  It features a first line that you must use for your story and offers an optional Special Challenge.  Stories must be 500 words or less.  I managed Grand Champion status once for this contest.  That story is here.

The Flash! Friday contest is a bit shorter for word count, but a bit larger for participation.  Stories must be between 140 and 160 words and be influenced by a photo prompt and the Dragon's Bidding.  As its name may suggest, the contest runs all day Friday.  The contest is hosted by Rebekah Postupak.  I haven't placed in this contest as of yet.

For a perfect punch of words, the Flash Frenzy contest allows stories up to 360 words in length.  It also utilizes a picture prompt.  Entries must be posted between Saturday at 8 a.m. Eastern time and Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern time.  The contest appears on the blog The Angry Hourglass, run by @LadyHazmat.  My best result in this contest was a three-way tie for runner-up.  That story is here.

Please take some time to participate in any or all of these fun contests, or at least read an entry or two.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Do Not Count the Withered Ones

I'm a fan of Caroline M. Yoachim.  I've read about seven of her stories, and this is one of the better ones.  "Do Not Count the Withered Ones" will only disappoint you if you go into it wanting an action story.  This story is not an action story in the least, but its pensive tone and subtle voice make it a strong example of the more elegant, passive fantasy that has been surfacing more and more lately.

Callie works very well as a 3rd-limited narrator.  Ms. Yoachim managed to give her some of the voice apparent in 1st-person prose, while forcing some distance between the protagonist and the reader, which needed to be done in order to make this story's intended tone work.  I liked how the character relationships were presented in this story, especially how they were tied into the setting.  The characters were a bit dry, but such an attribute suited this story.

I've read some stories with similar fantasy elements, yet this story manages to be more unique than most.  I think the concept of heartplants is well-done and well-developed for such a short story.

The plot of this story manages to wrap character and setting in expertly, a story trait I really enjoy.  I think this story would have done better as a short story than as a flash fic, but it certainly isn't plotted poorly.  Character and how it relates to plot is the only part that could have had more depth in my book.

"Do Not Count the Withered Ones" is not the best story I've ever read; it's probably not even in the top ten.  However, has a grace to it that I think a lot of modern fantasy readers enjoy, and it's definitely a worthy read.  It'll only take a handful of minutes to read, at a maximum.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

My First Two SpeckLit Drabbles

My first two drabbles published by SpeckLit.com can be found here and here.  The first is straight-up fantasy and the second is dark fantasy/horror.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Not Writing For Substantial Periods of Time

Besides one scene of straight (maybe one line of description?) dialog, I haven't written any fiction in over two weeks.  I'm starting to regret that and I haven't even sat down to write anything yet.  I'm kind of scared of how visible the rust will be.

Obviously, the solution to going substantial periods of time without writing is to go ahead and write something.  But what to write?  Or should I edit a few things I have laid out for edits to ease myself back in?  I haven't gone so long as to completely forget how to write, but it's longer than I've gone in a good while.

One of the many advantages to flash fiction is that, hopefully, I should be able to get back into the swing of things after a piece or two.  After a couple of hours I should be back into a decent rhythm.  The story/stories may not be up to par, but I don't have to show them to anyone if I don't want to, so it doesn't matter all that much.

Breaking this fiction hiatus is going to be tough.  I should be able to get myself to write something tomorrow, but I'm not sure what I'll do.  Perhaps I'll just do a complete discovery write like I used to before I had so many ideas waiting to be turned into stories.  Those are always fun.

This is a forewarning for myself: don't go this long without writing, you'll let your edge get dull.  And you hardly have an edge to begin with.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Girl Meets Father

I'm not sure what the general consensus is, but I've decided to allow screenplays to be the subject of my literary criticisms.  Today I shall be critiquing the screenplay of the fourth episode of the coming-of-age sitcom Girl Meets World, titled "Girl Meets Father."

I like the expression "full-circle."  It's subtle, yet powerful.  "Girl Meets Father" manages to go full-circle with about four major concepts.  The circle is the strongest shape, so this episode really holds together.  I've never encountered something that does this so well before.

This episode is about character conflicts, motion, and change.  It harps on all of the story elements I enjoy: relationship plotting, character growth, natural progression.  The penultimate scene contains one of the most heart-warming character moments I've ever been exposed to.  I've you've seen most/all of Boy Meets World, it'll really make you stand up and cheer (if only inside of your head).

Like a lot of television shows, Girl Meets World usually utilizes a frame-story, in this case containing an A-plot and a B-plot.  What's unique here is how tightly the two plots are tied and how even they are in importance.  I'm a huge fan of this form of story-telling through this medium.

If you haven't watched this episode of Girl Meets World, you should.  Even if you've never watched an episode of the series, nor its parent series, I'm certain you'll find something to love here.  (Just keep in mind that the intended audience is somewhere around 12-16.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Temporary Blogging Break

I don't take a lot of blogging breaks, but I'm going to be going without a laptop or tablet from the 27th to the 2nd, so I'm going to go without posting until August 5th.  I've elected to start my break a bit early by not posting today.  "See you" in twelve days!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Custom Reproductions TM

"Custom Reproductions TM," written by Angelle Haney Gullett, is the first story I've read from Kaleidotrope.  It sits in the murky region of fictiondom that isn't long enough to properly distinguish as a specific one of the speculative genres.  Sci-fi, fantasy, or magic realism?  That is too tough to call.  And like genre, the quality of this short story is hard to pin down.  "Average" is perhaps the best way to put it.

I liked both of the main characters, but neither struck me as spectacular.  Julienne is a bit blank-slate.  Grigory has more depth, yet we never get to see him do something he's really competent at, which hurt him as a character.  His sympathy and proactivity sliders were decently high, though never affected me quite as they should have.

I've seen this plot before.  Someone is making babies through artificial means.  The only new element this story brings to the table is the conflict with the protagonist about the babies not having souls.  There wouldn't be a story at all if that bit hadn't been included, as without it the story would've fizzled out without a proper ending.  As it was, the final paragraphs felt forced.  Up until the very end of the third scene the story was paced nicely.  After that it fell apart for me.  I know it was supposed to have a snap to it, but it didn't work quite right.

Again, this is a trope story.  A setting with artificial babies has been done before several times.  There isn't a whole lot of "new" or "exciting" going on.  The attempt to tie the building with Grigory emotionally fell flat and failed to redeem this aspect of the story.

This review may be a bit too harsh.  Despite all of the little negatives, "Custom Reproductions TM" is far from being a bad story.  I would recommend it to those who enjoy the speculative genres, but not to those who don't.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Post Delay

I'm delaying today's post until tomorrow.  Ten minutes is not enough time to type up a proper review before midnight and I have to get up relatively early tomorrow for a dentist's appointment, so I'd like to have the sleep.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Last Page

      Mai swore.  She ran a finger along the jagged edge of a piece of oiled parchment.  The leather back of her tome mocked her.
     “It’s okay, Mai,” she muttered.  “I’ve performed the Ritual a thousand times.  I don’t need that page.”
     Mai’s breathing slowed.  “No, it can’t be coming this fast.”  Her heart crashed against her ribs for several beats.  Then its pumping went soft.  The setting sun, image shimmering through stained glass, dissolved—along with Mai’s vision.  She gurgled.
     The maid’s bright laughter echoed behind her.  Mai heard parchment crumble.
     Her other senses bled away, one at a time.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Recommended Writing Resource and Anthology: Shadows Beneath

It's late and I completely forgot about posting until just now (about 11:37 PM).  So, I'm going to give you a link to a valuable writing resource/anthology and call it a night.  Buy this and thank me in the morning.

I got the numbered-edition before it sold out.  My copy is numbered 51/200.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Next of Kin

Next of Kin (a novella by Dan Wells) is the best story I've ever been disappointed with.  By that I mean that I was expecting a five-star story and only got a four-star story.  The sheer awesomeness of the original John Cleaver trilogy may actually make this story look bad, even though it's great in its own right.  Just not as great as I wanted it to be.

For this novella to work, the setting had to be pretty bare bones.  It really doesn't matter much, especially through the lens of POV.  As far as depth of description for the setting, Mr. Well's mastery plays on.

The conflict in the story went steadily deeper across its short length.  It came from several different directions, which I liked.  The use of foreshadowing was spot on.  The largest conflict in the story resolved itself rather quickly, but the built up to the event coupled with the impact of the last few pages on the series as a whole allowed that to work.  A few more paragraphs would have aided the pacing perhaps, if one wants to nit-pick.

Character was my only real problem with Next of Kin.  Compared to other narrator's, Elijah isn't that bad.  It's just...he isn't John Wayne Cleaver.  Elijah is sympathetic, competent, and compelling, yet he's missing something crucial.  He isn't proactive enough.  At least, for this series.  John thinks about what he's going to do intently for a few pages, then he does them.  Elijah thinks a little bit longer and I think it hurts his proactivity "slider" a lot.  Yeah, he got things done, but he was (for the most part) a bit too reactive.  I couldn't get into the voice quite as much as I did with John.  There are probably several reasons for that, none of which this literary criticism is going to get into detail on.

Would I recommend this story to others?  Heck yeah.  It wasn't as kick-butt as I wanted it to be, but it's still better than a lot of other stories out there.  So go buy Next of Kin and support the superb Dan Wells.  Right now.  Please.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I'd Rather Fight the Zombie

"I'd Rather Fight the Zombie" is the 360-word fantasy flash fic I entered in the 27th round of the Flash Frenzy contest.  Results are pending.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Favorite Quotes From the First Third of The Lord of the Rings

"'The worthies of Bree will be discussing it a hundred years hence.'

'I hope so,' said Strider.  Then they all fell silent, and one by one the hobbits dropped off to sleep."

This first quote is perhaps the most mundane of the three I'm going to mention here.  There isn't a whole lot to it.  It's two bits of dialog and a sentence of description.  However, it manages to hide tone brilliantly.  Normally, you don't want to "hide" tone.  That should defeat the point.  In this specific case, it manages to show a facet of Strider that readers need to see early on.  Strider is hopeful, yet still very realistic.  Readers who haven't been exposed to the remainder of the story prior to reading this quote may miss some things about it.  This statement cements the massive, epic scope of The Lord of the Rings.  Strider hopes that "Bree will be discussing it a hundred years hence" because it is quite possible that Bree may be burned to the ground by Sauron within a hundred years.  He knows how dire the situation is and if readers read will incredible care they can know too.

At least, that's what I got out of it.  Maybe I'm just making that all up...

"There came a cold clear dawn at the end of a long stumbling night-march.  The travellers reached a low ridge crowned with ancient holly-trees whose gray-green trunks seemed to have been built out of the very stone of the hills.  Their dark leaves shone and their berries glowed red in the light of the rising sun."

In many places I feel that Tolkien's descriptions in LoTR were too extensive.  I like bare, Orwellian prose.  Here I feel that Papa Tolkien hit a sweet spot.  He managed to create an engaging tone, push the plot forward slightly, and show the setting in very few words.  These setting details are attractive and manage to give us a sense of the landscape as a whole for this scene, all while playing cool tricks with dawn lighting.

"As soon as Frodo swallowed a little of the warm and fragrant liquor he felt a new strength of heart, and the heavy drowsiness left his limbs.  The others also revived and found fresh hope and vigour.  But the snow did not relent.  It whirled about them thicker than ever, and the wind blew louder."

To my knowledge, the concept of "Yes, but"/"No, and" is relatively modern.  This, however, is definitely an old example of its use, on the small scale.  Yes, the cordial of Imladris made Frodo feel better, but, the snow made the magic far less useful.  Gandalf had a quick fix to their problem, as readers would expect, but natural events managed to thwart it somewhat.  Well done, Tolkien.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

No Post Today

I'm on vacation.  No post today.  I'll be back Thursday.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fallen But Not Forgotten

My fantasy flash fic "Fallen But Not Forgotten" was one of a few runners-up in the 26th round of the Flash Frenzy competition.  The judge had some nice comments for it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Liebster Award

RULES
1. List 11 facts about yourself.
2. Answer the 11 questions asked by whoever nominated you.
3. Nominate 9 bloggers with less than 300 followers and leave them a comment saying they've been nominated. (Since just about every blogger in the sphere who qualifies has already been given the Liebster, I'm just going to snip my root from the award-spreading tree.)
4. Ask 11 new questions for your chosen nominees.
5. You cannot re-nominate the blog that nominated you.

11 Facts:
1. "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" is my current favorite hymn.  It is pretty amazing.
2. I have played both soccer and football for my high school (although not both in the same year).
3. I have done some form of extemporaneous speaking in school Forensics every year since 7th grade.
4. I have written over 50 fantasy flash fics (almost all of which are readable on this blog).
5. (Shameless self-promotion) I have three drabbles forthcoming to SpeckLit.com in the relatively-near future.
6. I have red hair and blue eyes.
7. Brandon Sanderson has taught me more than any other teacher I've ever had.
8. I turn 17 in 13 days.
9. I am asking for a feather duster for my birthday.
10. Boy Meets World, House, and Dr. Who are my favorite television programs.  (Hopefully Girl Meets World lives up to its birthright.  The pilot was quite good for a pilot with the target audience it has.)
11. I'm considering the purchase of a mandolin in the near future.

Questions for me to answer:
1. What is your least favourite book genre?
First of all, there's no "u" in favorite.  :p  To answer the question, I'm going to go with erotica, because I simply refuse to read it.
2. What is your least favourite colour?
I've never given this a whole lot of thought.  I suppose pink.
3. Pick one character (from anywhere, book, tv, movie, etc.) for each of these: snog, marry, avoid.
Since snog is a British/Australian term, I'll go with Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series.  I'm wracking my brain to think of some overtly-Christian girl to "marry," but I can't think of many off the top of my head, so I'm going to go with Topanga Lawrence from Boy Meets World based upon all of her other amiable personality traits.  Avoid?  I guess Foreman from Dan Well's Mr. Monster.
4. Your favourite television programme from your childhood?
Winnie-the-Pooh
5. Was there a character from a kids show you were legitimately afraid of?
There was one frame from an episode or movie in the Winnie-the-Pooh "franchise" in which Piglet was drawn in such a way that it was pretty terrifying, as funny as that sounds.
6. What fruit do you consume most frequently?
(These questions are really hard.)  I'm really not sure.  Apples, red/purple grapes, or peaches probably.
7. Would you rather be able to do a backflip or stand on your head?
Backflips are cool.
8. Can you do a backflip or stand on your head?
I suppose I'm probably physically-able to do both, but I'd rather not try.
9. What style(s) of dance have you had lessons for? (They don't have to have been serious lessons.)
Musical-style, if that counts.  (I was in my high school's production of Damn Yankees.)
10. Which of your own characters are you most proud of having created?
Zento
11. Would you rather live in Westeros and the Free Cities, Middle Earth, or Narnia?
I guess Narnia.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Forthcoming Drabbles and a Post-Script

I haven't made it known on here yet, but now that I've signed the contract, been paid, and have the dates of publication in my inbox, I guess I can tell everyone some exciting news. I have three 100-word stories (drabbles) forthcoming to SpeckLit.com. These are my first pro-rate sales (5 cents a word; also my first sales I'm making any money on at all). My stories go up: July 15th, August 10th, and September 21st. The first is fantasy, the second is horror, and the third is sci-fi.  All three are 1st-person, which is kind of odd, because I don't write a lot of 1st and SpeckLit doesn't publish a lot of 1st.  I'm definitely not complaining though.

One of the most exciting parts of this is that my first professionally-published story will be launching the day before my 17th birthday.  It's just a bonus that it's in the fantasy genre.

P.S.  I'm not doing a full literary criticism today.  Instead I'm just going to point you toward Cat Rambo's latest Daily Science Fiction story, "English Muffin, Devotion on the Side."  It manipulates POV in a cool, sci-fi way.  And, if you really think about it, the story is also horror.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

An Ancient Beverage

     Orth’gung plunged his proboscis into a hummingbird.  Plant fluid flooded his mouth.  He shook with delight.
     A man-beast, bound by an electroweb, asked, “Why drink the blood of such a small animal, Great Gung?”
     Orth’gung whispered to Clor’gung, his translator.  “It’s not the blood I cherish, sapien.  It is the plant juice.”
     The man-beast’s face contorted.  “Oh, we call that ‘nectar’.”
     “Clor’gung, define this ‘nectar’.”
     “In ancient Earth mythology, nectar was the drink of the gods.  In modern—”
     “The gods,” Orth’gong exclaimed.  “The Ancestors who scouted Earth must have drunk it first.  How cultural trends repeat over the millennia.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

I Hadn't Forgotten in Quite a While

It's been months since I've forgotten to post on a regularly scheduled day.  I kept telling myself I had a writing post to write, but I never actually did it.  I didn't have a strong idea for a post anyway.  Last week's post was about duel-length, so I can only offer that as compensation.  I'll be back Sunday for my usual flash fic post.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Promise of Blood

"THE AGE OF KINGS IS DEAD...AND I HAVE KILLED IT." - Cover blurb for Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

What would happen if there were powder mages involved in the French Revolution?  Oh, and there may or may not be resurfacing deities too.  In a nutshell, that's the speculative question being asked by McClellan's Promise of Blood.  While it's definitely epic (flintlock) fantasy and not historical fiction, it has deep roots in the "familiar" with parallels between its basic situation and that of the French Revolution.  I may not have noticed normally, but my history class started a fairly in-depth review of that historical event around the same time I started listening to PoB via audiobook.  (By the way, the narration in the audiobook is excellent.)

McClellan took a risk in his first published novel (third overall, if my memory serves) by including four POV characters (or perhaps five; the Epilogue may have included a "cameo viewpoint").  Three of them rotate regularly.  The fourth only takes charge in a few scenes.  I really enjoyed the three main viewpoints.  The other one was passable.  Each of the main POV characters set up their own story type.  Adamat, a grizzled investigator, pushes the narrative into the mystery genre a bit.  Taniel's POVs mostly deal with war, an epic fantasy staple.  In Tamas' POV, you can get a taste of a little political intrigue and plenty of action.  My favorite of the three is tough to decide, but I'm going to go with Tamas.  His competence and proactive sliders are way up and his sympathy slider builds almost constantly over the course of the novel.  The other two are equally developed, but the fact that they're acting under orders gives them a disadvantage in the "proactive" department.  There are a bunch of great secondary characters, including my two favorites: the savage shaman Ka-poel and the sleepless guard Olem.

Many exciting events occur in Promise of Blood.  The different POVs allow multiple threads to run simultaneously, each one complex and dynamic.  Every tiny resolution is proceeded by a couple new complications.  The tension never drops, yet there's never a risk of melodrama.  There's plenty of magic and fantastical theology to fuel a plot full of wonders, at an epic scope.

The Powder Mage Trilogy's setting is one of my favorites.  It manages to be unique while also showing some influence from legends Robert Jordan and (McClellan's former teacher) Brandon Sanderson.  Close-ups of the various locales featured have minimal details, a trait I prefer in my prose.  The French Revolution comparison can give you a basic impression of what everything looks like, if you choose to fill in the blanks.  For specifics on the world-building, give it a read (or a listen).  You won't be disappointed there.

Promise of Blood is astounding as a debut.  It isn't quite as powerful at key moments as Sanderson's Elantris was, but for overall quality it's just about level.  They may very well tie as the best epic fantasy debuts to date.  PoB didn't win the Morningstar Award for nothing, that's for sure.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Day She Came to Hate the NRA

"The Day She Came to Hate the NRA" is a contemporary horror flash fic that I entered in the 23rd Flash Frenzy contest.  While it did not win, it's probably one of my better attempts to elicit horror in my readers.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Diversity in the Written Word

I'm taking on the behemoth today: diversity in the written word.  Why am I walking this tightrope?  Partially because I'd like to share my thoughts on the subject and partially because I'd like to hear others' thoughts on specific questions.

I'm a month shy of seventeen years of age, have very pale skin, red hair, the majority of a beard, and both of my parents (still married to each other).  I'm a fairly traditional Protestant who firmly believes in Matthew 5:28 (which basically boils down to "asexual until marriage").

In the world of SFF, I'm fairly standard.  However, my hair color makes me a sort-of-kind-of-but-not-really minority.  The amount of characters specifically described as having red hair is probably a tiny bit lower than the number of red-haired people in the world.  Do I feel that that's a problem?  No.  Can I relate to Rand Al'Thor better because we share a hair color?  Not at all.  Then again, not many people are complaining about diversity of hair color.

Many are complaining about diversity of skin color.  I have mixed opinions on this.  I don't think, unless there's a story reason, the skin color of the characters matters.  Most of the characters I write can be any color you want them to be.  I almost never specify.  Should there be more characters who specifically have skin tones reminiscent of Africans, Asians, South Americans, Aboriginals, etc?  I'm going to ask you that question rather than trying to answer it myself.

Culture is a tough point.  It's extremely easy to do it wrong, so my inclination is to tell people that if they are of a non-American culture, if they wish to read fiction of their culture they ought to read fiction written in their ancestral homeland.  This, of course, may lead them to have to learn a completely new language.  I hope that if those readers are fully interested in their ancestral culture that they would be okay with that, but I'm sure that's not always true.  I write mostly northern European culture in my stories.  Should I expand the cultures that I explore through my writing?  A little bit wouldn't hurt, although I'd like to do a good bit of research if I'm going to try to "do it right."  If you can't find any books featuring the culture that you feel most attached to or at home with, encourage others with similar feelings to write.  My guess is that you'll enjoy those books more than the ones that I would end up writing after reading up on foreign cultures.

Now for gender diversity.  As far as I can tell, women in SFF tend to write more YA than adult.  While the number of SFF writers of either gender appears to me to be about the same, men write a decent majority of adult.  However, male protagonists dominate across the board.  My guess is that this is because men tend to write mostly males and women tend to write both males and females.  My proceeding guess is that this is because women take offense to female characters who they feel are written poorly, whereas men don't mention it often.  It would take a while for me to figure out what the exact percentage is, but I estimate that about 25% of my stories have a female protagonist.  Do I feel compelled to write more female characters in light of recent discussion?  A little bit.  I would appreciate if when I write female characters "wrong" that females would then tell me, straight to me, so that I could improve them.  Still, I encourage writers to write characters based upon their stories.  If for some reason a character of a certain gender wouldn't allow you to write the story you want to right, don't feel bad.

Regarding all of this, please don't gut someone because you feel they misrepresented a culture, gender, etc. if they made a reasonable effort to not do so.  If you tell them what you felt they did wrong, politely, I'm sure many of them would be happy to do better next time, especially if it meant a more happy reader-base.

As far as the real-world portion of this concept goes, I'm a little leery of it.  Some magazines are giving priority to minorities.  Should they not do this?  They can publish whatever stories they want, I'm not going to argue with that at all.  Will I ever play the "only 1-2% of the world's population has red hair" card.  Personally, no, I don't feel that that's right.  I want to be judged by the strength of my prose, not the color of my hair.  However, hair color, as I mentioned, isn't a huge deal from the story side of things.  Should affirmative action extend to authors being published?  You tell me.