Thursday, January 30, 2014

inkPageant

I'm going to take today's post to advertise for inkPageant "a parade of blog posts for writers."  All you need to do is register, then submit a link to a blog post involving writing that you think is suitable for a wider audience.  I kind of wish I had started submitting earlier, although I know that my most recent posts are a lot better than my first few months' worth.  In any case, inkPageant linked to my semi-recent post "Magic's Impact on the Economy" earlier today.  I plan on submitting some of my best posts sporadically in the near future.  Please go check out this excellent service for writers.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Woods Runner

I'm reviewing a MG novella for a change.  I read the last 140 pages of Gary Paulsen's Woods Runner yesterday.  (I had read the first 20 pages two or three days earlier.)  It's a good book for it's age group.  Truthfully, it may be considered a chapter book due to it's 5th grade reading level.  I believe I bought it a few years ago at a book fair on the merit of its cover.

As far as characters go, I've seen better.  I've also seen a lot worse.  The protagonist is a good character for sure.  He had the potential to be a great character, but something held it back.  I think the problem may be the lack of body movement from him.  His heart never flutters, he never breaks into a cold sweat, his stomach never pulses with pain.  Those sorts of things really go over well with me.  One of the supporting characters was a minor star.  Everyone else served their purpose well enough.

The setting felt pretty strong to me.  It shares some qualities with fantasy: a world with rough roads, lots of trees, and scattered villages.  The sense of wonder wasn't as high, but it was great for historical fiction.

For a novella, the plot was solid.  It held short fiction focus with novel diversity (for example, having secondary characters appearing in a few scenes then being replaced by other secondary characters).  It's a good role-model for 5th grade English class for sure.

Gary Paulsen is one of the greats in the 11-year-old market.  This book does not disappoint.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Inklyman

(This week's flash fic is one of my better pieces.  I was going to keep submitting it to markets until I found one that would publish it, but I figure I haven't posted a really good piece in a while, so this is my commiseration to you, fair readers.  It's a good bit longer than my usual flash, yet still safely under 1,000 words.)

            The inklyman’s mustachios danced as he shouted.  His blackish blue eyes threatened to leap off of his reddening face.  How colorful, those inklymen.  Their coats never matched their trousers, so far as I could tell.
            “Yes, sir,” I said.  On the way back to my desk I patted him on the shoulder, draped today with garish yellow fabric.
            My business partner, Marco, leaned toward me from his adjoining desk.  “Are you going to let him yell at you like that?  He may be one of them, but he’s only a stable hand.”
            “The client is always right,” I said, feigning resignation.  “He asked for a statuette all the colors of the rainbow.  Apparently the inklymen’s rainbow has more than seven colors.”
            Marco’s eyes widened.  “Don’t call them that.  They might be unforgivably rude, but they’ll have you in the stocks without a second thought.”
            “Without a first thought,” I muttered.
            The shop bell pealed, playing a single crisp note.  Marco set down his brush and strode into our storefront.
            “Good afternoon, fair wizard,” Marco’s voice boomed from the other room.  “How can I aid you?”
            I knocked the unsold statuette to the floor in my haste to get up.  A young man stood beneath the doorframe.  If it weren’t for his long, midnight purple robe, he could have been a simple farmboy.  His long beard, too white to be natural, cemented the notion.
            “I hear the foreigners are not happy with your traditional palette, kind artisans.”  The wizard took a step into the shop and closed the door.
            “You hear the truth,” Marco replied.  His hand moved to his own short-cropped beard.  He frowned.
            The wizard pulled a small burlap sack from one of his inner pockets and tossed it into my hand.  I untied the drawstring to reveal several dozen tiny vials of paint.  They ranged from the shade of deepest blood to the ocean’s hue at noontime.  Holding one up to the light, it almost seemed to sparkle.  No, it did indeed sparkle.  “These paints are magicked, wizard?”
            “They are heavily magicked, artisan.  My time entertaining in the foreigners’ courts proved very inspirational, one might say.”  He twisted his head slightly, pulling up one end of his grin in a sneer.
            “Not fond of them either?” I guessed aloud.  I stuffed the sack into the pocket of my plain brown trousers.
            “That’s one way of saying it.”
            Marco looked over at me nervously.  “How much for the paints?” he asked, turning back around.
            The wizard opened the door and paused, drawing in a deep breath of cool air.  “I ask only that you use them on all your projects for the foreigners.  That is a fair enough price, I think.”  With that he walked out into the street.  There appeared to be a slight spring in his step.
#
            “Magic paints?” Marco asked.  “Are you certain of this?”
            “They’re menaces, Marco.  Even that wise wizard saw it.”  I sucked on the bristles of my finest brush, then dipped it into shining amber pigment.  The statuette in the center of my desk gleamed so bright my eyes burned.  Those inklymen wouldn’t be able to stop staring at it by the time I finished it.
            “But you don’t even know what the paints do.  What if they end up hurting someone of our race by mistake?”
            “I don’t.  I’m willing to take that chance.  Look, I’ve been painting this for hours and besides my throbbing eyes I feel fine.  Chipper even.  Hand me that tealish, greenish, blue.  That one.”
            Marco swapped me vials with a shake of his head.  “I’m going home to my family.  I want nothing more to do with this plot of yours.  Good night.”
            “Night, Marco.  By morning that inklyman will have his statuette.  Or will the statuette have him…”
#
            “It is about time,” said the inklyman from the day before.  “You finally found some reasonable colors, I see.”  He turned the statuette over in his palm.  His eyes bulged, larger and larger as he leered.
            I kept my eyes on his, not daring to glance at the statuette.  My eyes still pulsed with pain from finishing the paint work that dawn.
            The inklyman huffed.  Or was it a groan?  Both, I decided.  He blinked furiously, screaming, throwing the statuette to the mahogany floor planks.  When he finally looked up at me, I took a rapid step back.  My body shook.
            The inklyman’s eyes were solid white, still living, but eternally blind.  He fell to his knees and began to cry.
    I gently removed him from my shop.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Magic: An Analysis of My Favorite Novel Quotes (Part 4)

To find the first three parts of this series, check out my "quotes" tag.  Today I'm switching gears, moving to the adult age group.  This one is rather brief, taken from a seemingly-random spot toward the middle of the third Enderverse book.

"For a long time, several minutes, the three faces in the display gazed in silence at Qing-jao, at Wang-mu." - Xenocide

The magic this time around is subtle, very subtle.  The quote may confuse you if you don't know what's going on.  That's where the magic comes in.  It's all about POV here.

This sentence is from the POV of Jane, one of the major characters in Xenocide.  To make things simple and keep back spoilers, let's say that Jane lives in a computer network.  She processes information many times faster than humans.  A minute to her is like months to us.  Applying that tidbit to the quote, Jane simply stared at Qing-jao and Wang-mu for the equivalent of about a year from her standpoint.  Could that get any more mind-boggling, amazing, and outright magical?

Orson Scott Card is great with characters, and he hit a home-run here.  His description of several minutes as "a long time" in Jane's POV is easy to overlook, but shouldn't be.  Just when Jane seemed so human, bam!  You get this line.  Few sentences can hold similar amounts of magic on their own.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"The Machine" by Sean R Robinson

This week I decided to do my crit on "The Machine" by Sean R Robinson because it shares its title with the very first flash fic I posted on this blog.  This story is better than mine, I must admit, but it fell a little short like a lot of stories I've reviewed lately.

The protagonist of "The Machine" is formidable.  She could have been written "smoother," I think, yet enough was done to keep her from being a major flaw of the story.  The other characters don't matter much, so I can let things slide with them.

Setting is a minor feature of this story.  I think a little bit more could have been done to give this story more "flair," but I enjoy the minimalist approach typically.

This story has a really strange plot.  There's plot there, at least, which is a bonus compared to some flash.  Minor spoiler: the tense changes halfway through.  I think the switch made sense, although I would have appreciated a little more grace in the execution.  The ending is solid.

Overall, this story clocks in at "above average."  I'll give it an 83%, give or take.  It's worth a read, I suppose.  It'll only take five minutes.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I Love It

I've been a bad fiction writer the last two weeks.  Here's a story from about five weeks ago, entered in the 23rd Finish That Thought contest (I was Special Challenge Runner-Up, which basically means fourth out of six entries at best).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Magic: An Analysis of My Favorite Novel Quotes (Part 3)

I'm finishing up the quotes from children's novels today.  The first two parts to this currently seven-part series can be found via the label "quotes."  This quote is unique in that it is entirely dialogue.

"'Nothing changes, Rossam√ľnd.  You are my factotum, I am your mistress; the plot thickens, that is all." - Europe in Factotum

I love this quote on several levels.  Looking at it from a distance, it probably seems mundane, but having read the 2.5 books preceding the quote it's quite extraordinary.

The tone of this quote is abrupt, yet elegant, a common trait in Europe's speech.  She is a Duchess who fights monsters using levin, by the way.  The sixth and seventh words in that sentence have a huge impact on the quote, though I'll kindly step away from that matter, as it will ruin the trilogy for you.  Hopefully I haven't just done that...Anyway, the use of "factotum" and "mistress" in the quote displays (the author) D.M. Cornish's great ability to write dialect.  It gets a bit annoying at times, but here it shines.

When I saw the phrase "the plot thickens" I'm pretty sure I set my iPad mini down and simply shook my head, smiling.  It's one of the most bold declarations possible.  Yeah, it threw me out of the story, which isn't usually good, but the sheer cleverness involved saved it ten-fold.  My favorite moments in cinema, television, and novels, occur when the writer works in a writing joke seamlessly.  (Can you spot the one in The Smurfs 2?)

Writers talk about scene-and-sequel formatting on occasion.  I'm by no means an expert on the subject; however, I believe this quote can count as a sequel in and of itself.  It diffuses huge amounts of tension, while leaving a soft, tingling in the pit of your stomach.  It's showstopping for the complete opposite reason as other such quotes.

This novel is fantasy, so there's definitely a lot of literal magic involved.  I assert that this quote displays qualities of literal magic, not in a fantasy world, but in our own.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

We Are All But Embers

I had really high hopes for "We Are All But Embers" by Gemma Noon (her first published story, by the way).  This time around I picked my literary criticism subject based upon title appeal.  Fire is a very strong concept.  "Embers" is not only a bold word, it also has a certain smoothness to it.  It can almost feel melancholy at times.  When you place the pronoun "we" in front of it, you get a flash of emotion potent enough to draw me in.

"We Are All But Embers" fell a little short of my expectations.  It read more like literary than science fiction, although it is most definitely the latter.  The language, while splendid for the most part, dipped at times, which is a major problem for stories aiming for a literary feel.  A few other problems hacked away at this story's validity.

The characters in this story are fairly well done.  Little is learned about them, but what is learned is vibrant and attention-holding.  The protagonist's struggle could have been portrayed a smidgen better, yet in a story of this type the effort is commendable.

This story's largest flaw is plot.  Is there plot?  Well, yes, I suppose there is.  There isn't, however, a traditional plot.  This story's plot has no tempo to speak of.  The use of a distancing variety of 3rd-narrative separated me from what plot there is.  This is a very common occurrence, and some probably enjoy this sort of story based upon the shear amount of examples, but I am not a fan.

As far as setting goes, this story gets a thumbs-up.  Could it have been better?  Yes.  Was it good enough?  Definitely.  The setting puts a nice spin on the typical setting of the dystopian subgenre.  It's a smallish spin with a smallish scope; it wouldn't work in some stories, but it worked here.

Obviously, I have some mixed feelings toward this story.  It didn't deliver to the extent of my hopes.  It did entertain me.  In this case, the latter is more important.  Please try this story out and tell me what you think of it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Suprise In The Abdominal Cavity

This was my (failed) entry in last week's Flash! Friday contest (Vol 2-4).  I do hope you enjoy.  For more fun, read the story first, then the prompt.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Magic: An Analysis of My Favorite Novel Quotes (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this (currently seven-part) series, I tried to find the origin of the magic in my favorite line from A Corner of the Universe.  This time around, I will discuss a quote from the viewpoint of one of my favorite characters in all of fiction: John Cleaver.

"I glanced at her, and she smiled back, weak and...something.  How was I supposed to know?" - I Am Not a Serial Killer

If you haven't read Dan Wells' rockin' debut novel, you probably have no clue why this quote is so special.  You may even find the quote annoying, because it breaks the usual mold of fiction, where the narrator knows everything he describes.  John Cleaver is not a usual narrator, however.  He has sociopathic tendencies.  He's slightly unreliable.  The voice Mr. Wells gives him is vibrant and melancholy, yet strong just the same.

I could really relate to John Cleaver (no, I'm not a sociopath) because I'm male and pretty much the same age.  Dan Wells portrayed him very well.  His attraction (almost squeaky-clean attraction, I'll specify) to his classmate Brooke really resonates with me.  She's realistic, wholesome, and compassionate.  Unfortunately for both Brooke and John, John isn't too compassionate.  He doesn't process emotion quite "normally," if I may use that term.

John's inability to pick up on emotional and physical cues makes this quote magical.  From reading his narration up to the point of this quotes, it's pretty clear that Brooke likes him a lot.  Despite this, John is virtually clueless to that fact.  I think deep down he's supposed to know, but his narration omits it.  If he did, this quote would never have been, and John wouldn't have been nearly as great a character.

This quote is sad, it's bloody sad.  It's 1st-person POV from John, but I can feel the pain in Brooke, even though John doesn't.  That speaks volumes about Dan Wells' ability to tell a story.  My rule-of-thumb is that if a reader is invested in my characters, they'll be able to make the reader feel what they feel.  It's absolute magic that I can feel what Brooke feels without the narrator ever picking up on it himself.

"I glanced at her, and she smiled back, weak and...something."  That little adjective, "weak," coupled with the context, creates a solid image of Brooke's face.  She wants John to like her even though he's moreorless diagnosed to be sociopathic.  She sees right through his exterior, however, into the John we know from reading the story.  John and Brooke are both enthralled with one another, but the situation is so confused and bleak.

"How was I supposed to know?"  This is where John gets a little unreliable.  As I mentioned, I think John is supposed to have some inkling of what's going on with Brooke.  In spite of this, he falls back on his diagnosis to avoid dwelling on things.  Either that, or he really doesn't have a clue.  Both possibilities are bad for Brooke, and by extension John.

This approach to teen romance is, I'll say it once more, magic.  I can't help but sorry for both Brooke and John, even though I'm not the type to get hung up on fictional characters.  That's power.  That's magic.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

IWSG---I'm In a Hole, You're in a Hole, America is in a Hole


I don't know if you can really call this an insecurity, but let me try to build it as such.  When I waste time I feel insecure.  It happens.  "It happens," however, is not a valid excuse.  Ever.  I try my hardest to work as hard as I can.  I want you to do so as well.  Now, don't take this as me gloating or anything, because I'm not.  What I'm trying to say is that I was blessed with a good work ethic and I want you to have a good work ethic too.  Many of you do, I'm sure, being writers mostly.  If you do, major thumbs up, spread the message.

I'm insecure that I haven't spread the necessity of a good work ethic enough on my steadily-building platform.  I'm now going to try to relieve myself of that insecurity.

I posted the following on my personal Facebook page minutes ago:
A lot of people seem to think that in order for the poor to gain wealth you have to take it from someone else. That isn't true at all. When you grow an extra acre of corn on your farm, design a more efficient engine, waste less resources, plant a garden, come back from your lunch break on time, volunteer (and work hard while you're volunteering), or do more in an hour than the average joe, you're raising the nation's GDP so that we have more money. Right now, more money means less owed money. Some may live in despair, saying, "Why should I work hard when no one else is?" The reason: integrity. "Only you can prevent forest fires" goes the phrase. In the same vein "Only you can get us out of debt." Don't simply blame people for ruining the economy, get those people to understand that they shouldn't continue to ruin the economy. Their acts will be forgiven after they've committed to not doing it again. Simultaneously, resolve to work your hardest. Ever time you waste an hour at work you steal from society. Would you want society to steal from you? I really doubt it. That's not to say that leisure time isn't important, because it is; but, making the right decision about how you spend your leisure time is your responsibility. If you like to knit, good for you, you're producing something and having fun at the same time. Independent study is another good use of time, so long as you take your knowledge and use it to better society. If you like video games, you don't have to quit them cold turkey. Game responsibly, however, and consider all the learning opportunities as you play. If you're playing a strategy game, hone your critical-thinking skills. If you're playing a simulation game, hone your creativity and efficiency skills. If everyone gives an extra tiny bit of effort in their everyday life, everyone benefits. Think of it this way: anyone milking the system (whether there are two or two million of those people in our country), producing less than they use are stealing from their fellow poor. In conclusion, work to the fullest of your ability and you can't go wrong. If you have little ability, no problem, work to the fullest of your ability. If you have much ability, work to the fullest of your ability. Don't ever settle. Don't ever quit. Only you can get us out of debt.

What do you think?  I'd be happy to consider your opinions, clear up misunderstandings, etc.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Shore at the Edge of the World

The writer of "The Shore at the Edge of the World" is in his eighties and it really shows.  As in, he's probably one of the most experienced writers out there.  I'm not sure about his other works, but this one is great.

I enjoyed all of the characters.  The protagonist is a little odd, but odd doesn't equal bad in many situations.

The plot is a little lacking.  I liked how light it went.

The use of 3rd-narrative, while shameful in conservative fantasy writing circles, was very well-done here.  It read in an almost literary way, without the common literary drawbacks.

The setting is really cool.

If you like fantasy, especially the occasional 3rd-narrative fantasy, consider picking up the September/October issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, or, if possible, borrow it from a friend.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Uniyabon

I entered my seventh story featuring Zento the Mercenary, "Uniyabon," in the Flash! Friday Vol. 2-3 contest.  (It did not win.)  You can read it here.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Writing and Me

My Room/Writing Alcove


I'll be back on my regular schedule tomorrow with my Sunday flash fic, but for today, I've decided to post something semi-personal as my delayed Thursday writing post.

I write.  How do I write?  That's a weird, large question.  Let's take this interview-style.

Q: Where do you sit on the outlining scale?
A: For flash fiction I'm very close to the discovery writing end.  For non-flash short fiction I'm about one-fifth of the way to the outlining end.  For novels I'm right around the middle of the scale.

Q: Do you prefer to be called a discovery writer or a pantser?
A: I'll accept either, but strongly prefer the former.  You can also call me a gardener if you'd like.

Q: What do you write?
A: I write a wide variety of things.  A good percentage of what I write is for school.  I take both Honors English 11 and College English.  The former is low on writing assignments.  The latter is almost exclusively writing assignments.  We've mostly focused on non-fiction papers, but I did have the opportunity to write a piece of fiction as a "descriptive essay."  I got a 100%, by the way.  I also write for my county's newspaper's High School Highlights section.  Most of my contributions are 150-200 word persuasive responses to each Question of the Week.  I've also reviewed the movie Gravity, my school's new soup option, and explained how literary-bent English education is.  For my school newspaper, I write the occasional flash fic and sports article.  This blog is my largest publisher.  You can find many swathes of organized text here, from writing advice, to literary criticisms, to speculative fiction of varying genres, to the furthest reaches of fiction.  Okay, maybe not the furthest reaches, but pretty far.  Fiction-wise, I write fantasy flash fiction the most.

Q: Where did you learn how to write?
A: Not English class, I'll tell you that.  I mean, I'm sure it's helped, but most of my English education is courtesy of the Writing Excuses podcast, Brandon Sanderson's lectures at BYU, and Patrick Rothfuss' short-lived Youtube series The Storyboard.  I also learn a lot from other writers' blogs, through reading, and through practicing my craft.

Q: What do you plan to do with your skills?
A: My dream is to one day become a Senior Editor at Tor Books.  I'd also like to do some writing on the side.  I'll consider starting a small press in the far future.

Q: Where do you write?
A: My room is pretty much a writing alcove.  You can see it above.  I also write on the floor of my dining room.  Oh, and there's school.  I don't write much fiction there, but lots of non-fiction logically sprouts from my hands there.

This is a random assortment of questions to give you a basic idea of "writing and me."  I was interviewed "for real" here.  If anyone has any questions they'd like me to answer, I'd be very happy to do so.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Judging Finish That Thought #26

This post comes two days late with the sole reason being to reduce redundancy.  I judged the twenty-sixth installment of the Finish That Thought contest.  Check out my comments taking the form of five mini literary criticisms.