Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year of Our Lord 2015

I was not a very good blogger in 2015.  I only posted a handful of times.  However, I did accomplish a decent number of things.  These include the following:

  • Took 4th in the Extemporaneous Speaking category at my District speech meet
  • Performed as Mr. Bixby in my high school's production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • Graduated 1/77 from high school
  • Received an Honorable Mention in the 3rd Q 2015 edition of the Writers of the Future Contest
  • Filled the pulpit at my church four times and led an additional contemporary worship service
  • Finished my first semester at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown with a 4.0 GPA (I'm majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in French)
  • Got much, much better at the mandolin
  • Won a small flash fiction contest (see the post below)
  • Wrote a few poems that are actually pretty good (currently submitted to my college's lit mag)
  • Joined the staff of my college's lit mag

I have some new things up my sleeve for 2016.  Hopefully I'll make some more story sales.  I've been submitting on occasion, but to no avail (other than that HM).  My goal is to post every Thursday in 2016 and to make it the whole way through the A-to-Z Challenge.  If you're lucky, I'll write more of the stories I had intended to write for the A-to-Z Challenge for 2015.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year.  I hope your 2015 has been at least as swell as mine has been.  Here's to an even better 2016!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Biggest Flash Fic Contest Win Yet


Head on over to the results page for the Year 1, Week 18 round of the Cracked Flash Fiction Competition to read my winning story "Special."  It's only 299 words, so right in my wheelhouse for flash.  It's not exactly my best story though.  I won't tell you the genre because it's a surprise (though you could just look at the label for this post; shhh).  This win over six other entries breaks my record by one entry.  This is also my first 3rd-person story to win a contest (and all of my published stories were written in 1st-person too).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Perfect State (Full Analysis/Review)

Brandon Sanderson is known chiefly for his novels, but in recent years he has become one of the better novella writers of today. The Emperor’s Soul even won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 2013. Perfect State, published by Dragonsteel Entertainment on March 31, 2015, may be his best novella yet.

Kairominas of Alornia is the God-Emperor of his State. He has ruled the world for nearly a century and is almost four hundred years old. Kai acts as a first-person narrator for Perfect State and his voice, while jarring from time to time due to linguistic patterns that span several centuries of real time, is excellent overall. His character arc was constructed almost flawlessly. The other main characters are given all of the flavor you could ask for and even the few named characters who only exist on the page for a single scene have their own distinct personalities. Sanderson hit it out of the park with characterization in this novella, despite having less than ninety pages to work with.

For readers who do not consume fantasy and/or science fiction on a regular basis, Perfect State may be confusing for the first ten or twenty pages. It has one of the steepest “learning curves” of any work of fiction I’ve ever read. The setting is very complex and layered. Fantasy and sci-fi buffs will likely appreciate how it takes well-worn themes from the genres and makes them fresh and intriguing. Sanderson is known for his settings and magic systems, but this one should really impress.

There are two main plotlines in Perfect State. The first is that Kai has a nemesis who is constantly sending threatening messages to him and sometimes other dangers. The second is that Kai has been contacted by an external force and commanded to go to another realm in order to procreate. This novella contains mild violence and sensuality. It never goes beyond that. The two plotlines are paced beautifully and intertwine as well as any writer could hope.

If I were to give Perfect State a grade, it would be a 96%. Fans of sci-fi and/or fantasy will probably like it the most, but anyone who enjoys reading stories set in a world very different from our own will likely find this novella very entertaining. Perfect State is available from several online vendors for $2.99. At this time, it is only being sold in e-book format.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Genre Hopping

Highbrow literary types annoy me.  Actually, they don't even need to be highbrow.  I suppose I'm a hypocrite in some ways with how I treat the literary form of prose, but if proponents of literary writing back off from dissing genre writing I'll be happy to do the same.  Their arguments are archaic and ignorant to what knowledge of the craft good genre fiction writers possess.  Excluding the classics, they don't even have sufficient readers to back them up.

I was thinking of an example to use in an argument supporting speculative fiction ideals and came up with "a wizard casts a spell on a tree."  Yes, that does place the ball in my court, doesn't it?  I still think the comparison can work though.

Here's my spec fic writer version:

Uleria deadpanned his chant, eyes glazing over the twisted network of willow branches.  The needles swayed under his power.  He closed his hand tight and hissed.  The whole of the tree blazed into a blue-hot inferno, brighter than the gray-blue sky of the evening.

Here's my literary writer version:

Uleria cast his words flat as one might throw a discus.  His arcane energy bristled on his lips.  The tall willow tree before him threw up a dozen terrified arms.  Unable to flee, it danced, its shimmering akin to the rain of sequins on the dress of a gyrating woman.  Uleria clenched his worn ebony fist and hissed.  A blanket of blue-eyed flames enveloped the forsaken tree.  Beside it the evening sky was dull.

This post will inevitably fail to prove my point perfectly since I'm not all too learned in the literary ways.  It would probably do better if I were to ask someone who writes in the literary style to compose a paragraph based upon "a wizard casts a spell on a tree" and use that rather than my version.  But I'm actually writing a blog post and I want to try to make my point as best I can alone, right now, before I can delay it.

Every sentence from the original version has more than one purpose.  The first part of the first sentence establishes Uleria as a character and shows an action.  The second part gives away a tiny detail about the nature of what Uleria is doing and/or how he is doing it (thus character detail), and it gives a description of the tree that evokes a stark image in very few words.  The second sentence shows a consequence of Uleria's action with another image of the tree, emphasizing the cause to the effect.  It is shorter than the first sentence to give balance.  The third sentence reveals a pair of actions in an abrupt manner, both because they don't need to be embellished and because a second shorter sentence here compliments the flow of the paragraph as a whole.  The fourth sentence shows a further consequence to the action with precise language, giving a clear picture of not only the tree, but the sky as well.  The sentence also reveals the time of day of this event.  In this paragraph, point-of-view is emphasized.  The camera lens is focused on what Uleria is focused on.

The second version is thirty words longer than the first (seventy-four words vs. forty-four words) without actually revealing anything extra.  It brings a variety of images to mind with figurative language and may stimulate the senses more than the original version, but those images distract from the story.  The sentences are given a length based not so much on flow as on how long it takes to draw up an image.  In this paragraph, point-of-view is abandoned in favor of an artistic narrator.

Is there a place for literary writing?  Certainly.  If you like it, you like it.  But I simply don't understand how some people can feel there is no place for genre writing that doesn't try to emulate literary methods.  Maybe you have to learn from a genre writer to appreciate the art that is genre writing.  Maybe the two art forms aren't even siblings, but only cousins, only one of which the average reader may favor.  I cannot say for sure.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I'm Not Dead, I Swear

I've been really mistreating this blog the past ten months or so, I know, I know.  I'm sorry.  A lot of things have happened that either took up all of my time or energy.  Now I'm just really out of the swing of things.  But there will continue to be posts.  They may not be regular, but there will be posts.

I start college at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown on Monday.  My major going in is Creative Writing and if everything goes well, I'd like to do a double major with Theatre Arts (acting/directing concentration) plus a minor in French.  My classes for the first semester are: Medieval French Courtly Romance (may swap for a different class because it doesn't help me much with getting my degree), Composition 2, Topics in Philosophy (Moral Psychology), Intro to Physical Oceanography, and Intro to Creative Writing.

I may work 10-12 hours a week.  In addition to that, I have my own reading to do, as well as writing.  I will soon begin some in-depth research into Sumatra, Borneo, Java, and Peninsular Malaysia in order to write a fantasy story with a setting based upon those areas of South-East Asia.  I'm also teaching myself how to play the mandolin (here is me playing and singing "Let Her Go" with my sister providing backing vocals).  There are various school activities I'd like to become involved in too.  I do a good bit of volunteering with my church and have done some pulpit-filling in the past.  And maybe I'll spend some time socially!

Despite all of this, keeping myself busy may actually help me to keep this blog going.  When I'm going, I usually expend all of my energy working on the various things that make up my life.  We shall just have to see how things go.

If you're really, really lucky, you'll soon get a review of any or all of the following in the coming days: The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan, Firefight by Brandon Sanderson, and A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Omniscience For a Day (Part 1/4)

It's not best for someone in this business to give up on a story, but for my purposes, it isn't exactly giving up to post a story on my blog for free rather than continuing to send it places after it's been rejected several times.  I could put it up on QuarterReads, but it's really not lucrative anyway.  What I'm getting at is that over the next several days, I shall be posting a story I wrote titled "Omniscience For a Day," broken down into four parts.  I've done serials on this blog a few times before and have serialized short stories as well.  They shouldn't be too hard to find (though I really should change the labels on them to be more distinct).  If you're interested and don't feel like searching, leave a comment and I'll be happy to point you toward all such posts.  Anyway, without further adieu, the first part of "Omniscience For a Day":

Martha tripped down her favorite spiral staircase.  Her head struck the first landing with a resounding thud, the sound almost drowning out her piercing scream.  The world flickered and died in her blood-shrouded vision.
Through a thick haze, Martha detected three orbs of colored light.  As she blinked they gained some solidarity, but a halo of dazzling light remained.
"Lady Martha of the Cornerland?" a voice boomed.  The leftmost orb, ringed in blue, seemed to vibrate with the words.
Martha tried to speak, but fluid filled her throat.  She coughed and sputtered.  "Yes.  Where?  How?"
The rightmost, orange orb began to buzz.  "You have been granted by the Council of the Second-Life a third chance at life.  Your second-life was not pleasing to the Council of the Afterlife, yet the Council of the First-Life is adamant that you be granted Paradise."
"First-life?" Martha gurgled.
"Never mind," communicated the green, middle orb. "In any case, we, the Councilmen of the Second-Life, have sentenced you to one day of omniscience, followed by the resumption of your second-life on a trial basis.  If after this period this council deems you worthy, you shall be allowed to finish your second-life as you wish."
Martha threw herself down to the cold marble floor.  The last of the muck in her head drained away as she tottered in a cross-legged position, glaring at the three talking orbs.  She retched.  A thick clump of coagulating blood pooled before her slippered feet.  The feeling of helplessness in her lungs subsided.
The orange orb shone in a way that may have synonymized smiling.  “Now that you have refreshed your Life Court form, we shall send you on your way,” it said.
“Where am I going?”  Violent force tugged at Martha’s stomach as a phantom gale ripped her from the realm.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Just Your Average Berserking Family Man

And here it is, my new blog background, courtesy of my cousin Zachary Shenal (you can find his info at the bottom of the blog page), along with the story I have written to accompany it.  If you like the photo, please visit Zach's current Indiegogo campaign page.


            Edward stooped down to the cool, wet grass and examined the patch of fungi his elder son had run home to tell him about.  They appeared to be the correct shape: thin stalk, tall head with a moderate brim.  The regal purple of the heads looked poised against the glowing white of the stalks.  Not the most potent, Edward decided, but they would work.
            He placed the mushrooms in a sack and jogged back toward his home.  When he returned, his sons were already putting on their armor.  He smiled.
            “The water is boiling,” said Edward’s wife from inside the house.
            Edward dumped the mushrooms into the pot straight from his sack.  “How long?” he asked his daughter, who was sharpening his sword.
            “A quarter hour,” she replied.  She handed him his padded leather gloves.
            “Thank you, Mara.”  He slipped them on and flexed his fingers.
            Jonathan, the elder son, stepped through the threshold.  “Father, Michael is a little nervous.  He can’t hold his axe steady.”
            “I will talk to him, thank you.  I know you just honed it, but give your sword a few extra swipes with the whetstone.”  Edward strode out the door and put a hand on the shoulder of his shaking younger son.
            “What if they kill you, Father?”
            Edward chuckled.  “Oh, is that your worry, boy?”
            “There are ten of them and only three of us.  And you aren’t even wearing armor.”
            “You’re old enough now, I suppose.”
            “For what?”
            Edward opened his shirt to show his chest.  A dozen long, thick scars covered the surface.
            “Father…”  Michael went pale.  “Are you an Unbreakable?”
            “A more ancient Order, son.  My father wanted me to be an Unbreakable when I was a lad, but Unbreakables cannot have children.  I am an Ironheart, the last in this hill country.  That is why they have come to kill me.  The foreigners fear the Orders more than anything else.”
            “Will they fight me, father?”
            “Don’t you worry, son.  Hold your axe firm, but do not be afraid.  This battle is mine.  And if I am slain, it is your brother’s.”
            “I love you, Father.”  Michael wrapped his powerful young arms around his father’s blessed chest.
            “I love you too, son.”
            Edward’s wife handed him a wooden bowl.  “Fight hard.”
            Edward gave his wife a kiss.  Then he turned away and drank.  A party of men crested a hill near the old tree stump where he had gathered his shrooms.
            The world became blood and Edward’s heart became iron.  He growled and his sons joined him in battle.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Coming Soon

I was quite busy the past seven months or so.  Now I should be able to make a return.  I have some plans I'd like to make public about the direction of this blog, mostly to coax myself into actually making them happen.

May 15th was my 3rd blogiversary.  I know that my 3rd year of blogging was a lot less productive than my first two, but I plan to make the 4th at least better than the 3rd.

I graduated from high school on May 29th.  My first day at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown will be August 31st.  I will be studying creative writing.

The first thing I need to do is get a fresh background on the blog.  My cousin edited a photo he had taken to my specifications so that I could use it here.  He took the background photo currently displayed and I'm pretty sure at least one of the ones immediately before the current one.  This time around I'm going to write a story or vignette in support and celebration of the photo.  That should be the next post I do, up within the next few days.

As I mentioned before, I would like to continue to post some stories in the Drake Lunar Base setting.  There is a lot more for me to explore and learn from the exercise.  If anyone wants to have their name and/or nationality used, feel free to tell me in the comments section.

I'd really like to start getting back to writing story reviews, especially short fiction reviews.  I think I'll do some more movie reviews as well.

I'm not sure if writing posts will return with any sort of frequency.  I doubt that I'll never post another, but I don't know that they're really good enough to warrant the hour of writing time, energy, and concentration.  We shall see.

There is a great possibility of new features on the blog as well, including the return of an occasional flash fic vlog.

For anyone actually reading this, hello!  I'm sorry for my absence.  Welcome back to the ravenous maw!  Watch out for that massive saliva droplet above you!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A to Z Withdrawal

I'm sorry to say that due to time restraints from my high school musical, I have decided that it is in my best interest to withdraw from the A to Z Challenge for this year.  After April is done I may very well continue with posts similar to those I may have posted had I had the time and energy to do so during the Challenge month.  I will do my best to still leave some comments on other blogs when I have a free moment.  Sorry and thanks.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

F is for Frieda

April 4, 2053

Frieda slept through much of the alien landing.  She would've slept through all of it had it not been for the turncoat.
Barbara was like a sister to her.  She was a budding botanist whereas Barbara was a veteran astronaut on her third mission, but they had a lot alike.  They were both heavy sleepers.  The biggest difference there was that Frieda woke up that day and Barbara never did.  Frieda slept through Barbara's throat being cut.  Only God could have awoken her before her own was slit.

Monday, April 6, 2015

E is for Ephraim

(Note: It's best that you at least glance at my A to Z Plan before reading unless you want to go into this story completely cold.)

June 24, 2096

            Ephraim was young and, frankly, stupid.  He almost got thirty-six people killed.  Or was it thirty-seven?  It was fifty years ago, and yet it feels like something he should remember.
            He was late leaving his room that day.  When he opened the door, the Base’s chief biologist—Lira or Leona or Lisa, maybe—was leading one of the aliens down the hall.  Ephraim didn’t understand.  He threw the biologist into his room and drew a utility knife.  Likely, the blade couldn’t have even pierced the alien’s hide, but Ephraim was young and stupid.
            “Is this a sign of aggression?” the alien asked gravelly.
            Ephraim muttered something about protecting his comrades or some such other thing that sounded a lot more gallant in his head than it did at the end of his tongue.
            The alien pushed the knife down with one wing.  Huffing air from his long, strange mouth in a defective copy of laughter, he slithered on past.
            Ephraim went back to bed, not at all suspecting that the alien he had let pass would very nearly kill everyone he had come to love.  There was a pistol at his belt.  He should have used it.  But how could he have known?  He was young and, in hindsight, he was stupid.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

D is for Drake Lunar Base

(Note: If you want to understand what's going on here, I recommend you at least glance over my A to Z Plan for this iteration of the Challenge.)

            The Drake Lunar Base was completed on November 9, 2044 in the Lacus Gaudii area of the Moon.  The project was financed by NASA in association with several other space programs across Earth.  Twenty men and sixteen women landed at the Base on April 15, 2045.  They came from the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Australia, Russia, and the Central American Confederation.
            The Base was one hundred meters long, ten meters wide, and three meters tall.  It contained twenty-seven rooms including two men’s restrooms, two women’s restrooms, a planetary science room, a life sciences laboratory, an auxiliary occupational room, a kitchen, a game room, and eighteen bedrooms.
            There was artificial gravity set to 0.97g and idealized artificial atmosphere within the Base.
            The only entryway/exit to/from the Base was a single airlock.

Friday, April 3, 2015

C is for Christopher

(Note: It's best that you at least glance at my A to Z Plan before reading unless you want to go into this story completely cold.)

December 6, 2046

Coffee was scarce in the Lunar Base, real coffee from beans, not the caffeine-pill-and-water upper to be drunk six days of the week.  It was a Tuesday, so Christopher sprung from his bed at ST+8:00 (eight hours after sunset) to brew the Base’s sole pot of coffee for the week.
He divided the contents into twenty-two mugs, one for each crew member who had requested the beverage the day before.  One of the otherwise-identical cups sported a chip on its rim.  The bottom appeared perfectly white, replaced to the cabinet with every last drop consumed.  Only two people at the Base drank their coffee to the last drop, and Martha would’ve fessed up if she had chipped her mug.  It wasn’t even a challenge.  When Jarod walked into the kitchen at ST+12:44, Christopher handed him his cup and waggled a finger at him.
Echoing screams prevented Christopher’s intended lecture.  They were Kyra’s screams, he decided.  Too shrill to be from any of the other women at the Base.
Christopher fell into a stream of moving people, several yet in their pajamas.  He noticed Abednego at the head of the pack, raven-black hair cut at the shoulders.  The Israeli turned a corner and the river ceased flowing behind him.
After approximately two minutes, to Christopher’s watch, a dark figure slithered by up ahead.  It took only a moment to deduce its alien nature.  Christopher smiled.
An intriguing puzzle, he thought.  What is it?  Why is it here?  Why now?
“I suppose I shall have to find out,” Christopher said to himself.  He pardoned his way through the stunned mass to get a better vantage point.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

B is for Beatrice

(Note: It's best that you at least glance at my A to Z Plan before reading unless you want to go into this story completely cold.  Also, if you happen to be British, please tell me all the things I inevitably got wrong in this story, as far as word choice goes.)

June 24, 2056

            There weren’t supposed to be children on the moon.  Beatrice and Arran had been told this several times before they boarded the shuttle to the Drake Lunar Base, both by UKSA and NASA.  But Beatrice couldn’t help it.  She had given up on conceiving months before she and her husband had been selected to participate in this venture with the Americans.  Nonetheless, thirty-nine weeks after landing at the Base, Beatrice delivered the first baby born outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
            Luna woke up wailing on the morning the aliens came.  She had just been fully weaned, so Beatrice cradled her in her arms and rocked her back to sleep.  Luna’s kip lasted perhaps twenty minutes before the sound of heavy footsteps outside of her door had her crying again.
            Arran didn’t even stir in his sleep beside Beatrice.  She set Luna down beside him and opened the door to have a butchers, dressed only in her nightie.
            “What is going on?” she asked Jarod, one of the Base’s septics, as he hustled by.
            “Not sure, going to see.”
            Beatrice ran after him, navigating the halls as best she could.  It wasn’t often that she was beyond the life sciences laboratory on the airlock’s side of the Base.
            Jarod stopped dead in his tracks in front of her.  He looked up at the head of a giant, snake-like beast.  It must have been thirty meters long.
            The beast unhinged its jaw and said, “hello,” sounding as if it were gargling marbles.
            While Jarod continued staring at the beast in silence, Beatrice spun around and broke into a footballer’s pace to cradle her baby, expecting it to be her final chance to do so.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A is for Abednego

(Note: It's best that you at least glance over my A to Z Plan before reading unless you want to go into this story completely cold.)

March 27, 2047

            Abednego rolled out of his bunk and laced up his indoor boots.  He threw a pair of earbuds in and started a rock playlist on his government-issue mp3/mp4-player.  Patrick snored in the bunk above him, loud enough to cut through the King.
            It was a Tuesday, so Abednego pulled his razor from his all-purpose bag as soon as he made it to the restroom.  His face down to black stubble—the razor blade was seeing its last days—he brushed his teeth and yanked a stiff comb through his shoulder-length hair.  Harold, the base’s linguist, greeted Abednego in Farsi as he pushed open the door to leave.  “You know I was born in Jerusalem, right?” he said with a laugh, remembering the first iteration of the long-running exchange as it occurred the day he and Harold had arrived at the Drake Lunar Base.
            Abednego was halfway to the planetary science room when he heard Kyra screaming.  He threw down his bag and sprinted toward the airlock, where Kyra was stationed.
            Kyra was hyperventilating against the wall opposite the lock.  She held a pistol in one hand and a knife in the other, as if unsure which to use.  Or maybe which to use first.  Abednego met her from the left and stopped cold.
            “Basalt-black, hairy worms with wings” was the only way he could describe the figures looming before him.  They were built no thicker than a cobra, but their full length must have approached ten meters.  Their mouths were perhaps a cubit long, cut out of their length like a crocodile’s snout.  Where eyes should have been there were only two small patches of yellow hair that flowed as if dancing.  One of them dropped his lower jaw.
            “Spoke” is too strong a word.  The extraterrestrial “communicated” is all Abednego could say, though how it did so was entirely outside the realm of his expertise.
“Greetings,” it communicated.  “We come in peace.  My name is unpronounceable in any of your Earthling tongues, but for now you may call me simply ‘Leader.’  I am glad to make your acquaintance.”  Leader stretched out a wing toward Kyra.
Abednego pulled the knife from Kyra’s hand just before she fainted.
“Shalom,” he said to Leader, taking the offered wing with his free hand and shaking it.  “Don’t mind her.”

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A to Z Challenge Warning

No, this isn't a content warning.  At worst, content will be at PG-13 level, with nothing lewd.  This brief warning is to note that some of the stories here in the Ravenous Maw will exceed the suggested 300-word maximum for A to Z posts.  The first post may approach 1,000 words, but hopefully the majority will fall from 300 to 500 words.  My median word count for flash fiction is 310 and my mean rounds to 319, so I definitely have experience writing 300-word stories, it's just really tough with my pseudo-theme to pack everything that needs to be presented into so few words.  Then again, due to time crunches, there may very well be a few pieces at drabble-length.  Anyway, please bear with me for word count.  If a post appears to be too long for the amount of time you have to spend on it, feel free to skip it and move on to other blogs participating in the Challenge.  Good luck, everybody!

Monday, March 2, 2015

A to Z Challenge 2015 Plan

This will be my third year joining in on the A to Z Challenge.  To fulfill the challenge, you must blog each day in the month of April except for on Sundays.  The first post must deal with something starting with "A," the second post "B," the penultimate post "Y," etc.  (If you'd like to take the Challenge too, you can sign up here.)

I'm going to try to be creative (read: complicated) this year for the Challenge.  I won't be using the schedule that I developed for my past two years, nor will I be utilizing a concrete theme.  Instead, I will be taking a setting and event and using that as a framework for all of my posts.  Before I explain further, it's probably best that I describe that framework.

On June 24, 2046, the aliens landed.  They did not, however, land on Earth.  First contact was made at, appropriately enough, the Drake Lunar Base.  Every member of the base's crew remember the specifics of that day a little differently.

I'm going to experiment a lot with this framework.  Each day, the post will be: a) an account of the alien landing by a character whose first name begins with the letter for that day; b) a sequel to one of the character-POV posts (those posts will have to have a title to match the letter); c) a pseudo-informational article on some aspect of the setting (my "D" post will probably be about the Drake Lunar Base, for example); or d) a story tying together different character threads (which will need a title).

Posts of the first variety will be given a date, corresponding to the date the "testimony" was given.  To prevent confusion, every post of this type will be written in the 3rd-person.  Yes, the characters will be telling their stories from their points-of-view, but in the 3rd-person rather than the 1st-person.  The date of the "testimony" may range from the day after the event to several decades later.  Because of this, facts such as the physical appearance of the aliens or the exact timeline of events will not necessarily be the same across posts.

All sequel posts will be taken from the same date as the original post for their POV characters.

Pseudo-informational articles will be written in a 100% reliable manner.  All facts stated are meant to be the truth.  That does not mean, however, that they will line up with what is stated in the stories.  There will likely be foreshadowing and dramatic irony present in these articles, so if you want to leave everything a surprise, wait until the month is over before you read those ones.

The stories tying together different character threads are to be taken as cross-sequel between two or more posts of the first variety.  They will be told by a character who was not the POV character of any of those posts, but may have been included in one or more "testimony."  These stories will be told in the 1st-person.  You will be provided with the name of the POV character and the date on which the story was meant to have been told.

This series as a whole shall be titled: First Contact at the Drake Lunar Base.  It is meant to be character-driven science-fiction somewhere between soft SF and hard SF.  The science will not be perfectly sound, but it will be more sound than the science in space opera stories, for the most part.  Because of the wide variety of characters present, some stories will lean toward soft SF and others will lean toward hard SF.

This is an experiment.  It will test all of my sci-fi writing skills.  Hopefully it won't crumble, nor become too redundant (through the repeating of the same basic events or through different character voices being too similar).  If it does, I apologize, in advance.

After April has ended, there may or may not be bonus posts extending this series.  As of this writing, I do not plan on including any posts from the POV of any of the aliens with the Challenge month.  However, I may post some such stories later, for anyone who cares to know.

If anyone has any questions, thoughts, etc., please leave a comment here or on any of my Challenge posts once the A to Z Challenge begins on April 1st.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What is a Drabble and How Do You Craft One?

It's nearly impossible to write a drabble.  Why?  Well, a drabble is a story built from exactly 100 words.  Crafting a drabble is therefore difficult, but altogether doable.  Trying to write a drabble is a lot more difficult.  Allow me to explain.

If you'd like to experiment with the literary form that is the drabble, my first advice to you is to not try to write a drabble.  Taking an idea and drafting it in exactly 100 words is a highly restrictive task that compromises the fabric of the story you are trying to tell.  The first step in crafting a drabble is to find an idea that you believe can terminate in 100 words.  This may take some practice.  If you aren't familiar with writing flash fiction, you may find yourself taking your story idea and turning it into something many times longer than a drabble.  That's perfectly fine, if your goal is simply to write a story and to have fun doing so.  Coming up with a drabble idea is quite difficult and not fully predictable.

The second step in crafting a drabble is to write a story based upon your idea.  If you want to make an outline you can, but for something this small, an outline only compresses the freedom of your writing.  It doesn't matter how long your first draft ends up, though any longer than 200 words and you'll have your work cut out for you.

After you have your first draft of your story, which probably isn't a drabble, but could be, the next step is to add or cut words until the story is within a few words of your goal of 100.  So far as I remember, I've only actually finished a story in less than 100 words while attempting to craft a drabble on a single occasion.  Normally, you will end up with more than 100 words and have to cut.  For the rest of this post, I will use my story "One Test Remains" as an example.

I wrote "One Test Remains" at a musical practice one day, with a pencil in a notebook.  It finished out at 124 words, not all that bad.  The same notebook contains the first drafts to two of my other stories, "Once and For All" and "An Ancient Beverage."  Those stories finished at 139 words and 127 words respectively.  When I went to type up "One Test Remains," I tried to get it as close to 100 words with basic cuts as possible.  (For "An Ancient Beverage," I actually rewrote the story to 106 words directly in my notebook.)

Here is what the first draft of "One Test Remains" looked like:
     Phillip dropped to his knees.  The iron head of a throwing ax arced over his skull, rending a patch of thin grey hair from his scalp.
     “Good work,” Commander Jean said.  He strode past Phillip and pulled his ax from the grass.
    “Am I a sage yet?” Phillip asked.  His wrinkled cheeks rippled.
     Jean consulted a long sheet of oiled calfskin.  “One test remains.”
     “And that is?”
     An ancient man, his skin dripping from bony limbs, hobbled onto the green from the barrack.  A green orb was etched below his right eye.
     “Him,” Jean said.  He frowned.  “You must kill the Elder in order to become a sage.”
     Phillip’s mouth went arid.  “Father.”  A sphere of blue flame erupted from his palm.  “Forgive me.”

It's a pretty tight first draft.  However, when you write a drabble, you have to cut everything that can be assumed and every adjective that doesn't matter to the story.

This is what the final draft looks like:
     A throwing ax arced over Phillip’s skull, rending a patch of thin hair from his scalp.
     “Good dodgery,” Commander Jean said.  He strode to his ax.
    Phillip’s weathered cheeks rippled.  “Am I a sage yet?”
     Jean consulted a sheet of oiled parchment.  “One test remains.”
     “And that is?”
     An ancient man, skin dripping from bony limbs, hobbled onto the green from the barrack.  An orb was etched below his right eye.
     Jean frowned.  “You must kill the Elder in order to become a sage.”
     Phillip’s mouth went arid.  “Father.”  A sphere of blue flame erupted from his palm.  “Forgive me.”

As you can see, they're quite similar, the second one just has as few descriptive words as possible.  You get all of the story and its associated flavor but almost nothing else.  That's what drabbles are for.  They allow you to infer a huge story through the reading of a microscopic story.  Most adjectives can be deleted.  An action can be replaced by a change in dialogue.  Any word that isn't required by the story can be removed.

I don't have an intermediate step to show, but often when writing a drabble one round of editing won't get the story to exactly 100 words.  In that case, give the story a second pass and really focus on exactly what the story is trying to do.  Often, the essence of the story is at the very end, for drabbles.  In this case, it's the reveal that to become a sage, Phillip must kill his father and that he is willing to do so.  This implies a larger story, one set in a world in which patricide is not nearly as taboo as it is in ours.  It also allows readers to wonder what sort of person Phillip is.  The 84 words leading up to the final paragraph allow the final 16 words to have an impact.

Crafting drabbles isn't easy and crafting good drabbles is even harder.  I've written about nineteen drabbles, three of which I expanded beyond 100 words (such as "Thought He Looked Familiar").  Of the sixteen stories that remain drabbles, I only consider nine of them to be good, as compared to my full pool of work.  Three of them were published by SpeckLit.com, where I was paid the minimum professional rate of the time.  If you'd like to read some drabbles before you attempt to craft them, I definitely recommend reading some of those to be found at SpeckLit.com.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

3rd-Person POV

First off, I would like to make a shameless plug for my second story up at QuarterReads.com, “You’re Worth It.” The story is 1,358 words by Microsoft’s count, above average length for your quarter. It is a young adult romance story at heart, with sci-fi elements amplifying the conflict and seasoning the story overall. If you aren’t already signed up for QuarterReads.com and you like reading stories that are 2,000 words or less, you really ought to try it. The cost is $5 for 25 reads, usable for any story up on the site. There are a load of gems at QuarterReads from the likes of Amanda C. Davis, Cat Rambo, Ken Liu, and Alex Shvartsman.

Funny enough, every single story of mine that has been published (three stories pro-published by SpeckLit, two stories gathering royalties at QuarterReads, and two stories up “gallery-style” at non-paying MicroHorror.com) was written in 1st-person POV. I don’t have an exact stat, but my guess is that at least two-thirds of all of my stories are written in the 3rd-person. So maybe I’m not quite so qualified to write about 3rd than I am 1st. Oh well. (I actually already have an article about 1st-person narration on this blog, as well as one on how epistolary POV can lead to unreliable narration.)

In middle/high school, only two forms of 3rd-person are generally discussed in depth: limited and omniscient. 3rd-person objective was mentioned once during my sophomore year, but it’s an extremely rare POV and could probably be lumped into a different form of 3rd. I classify 3rd-person stories into five categories: limited, regular omniscient (or simply “omniscient”), head-hopping omniscient (or simply “head-hopping”), cinematic, and narrative. Most people consider the two different omniscient POVs to be one-in-the-same. I do not.

I’ve written about the elder incarnation of 3rd-limited already on this blog, so I’m going to focus on the modern structure of the POV here.  3rd-limited is almost certainly the most-used POV in fantasy and sci-fi novels today (excluding YA). It contains the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of just one character at a time. Who the POV character is can change any time a scene changes. Many novels in this POV have only one or two POV characters, but some contain a dozen or more *cough* Robert Jordan *cough*.

Regular omniscient is difficult to explain. It exists in a gray region between narrative and head-hopping. Usually stories I would consider to be written in the 3rd-person regular omniscient POV are thrown into one of those two. After much debate, I have decided to consider regular omniscient a distinct form of 3rd-person. When 3rd-limited and 3rd-cinematic have been ruled out, you’re left with the other three and possibly a tough decision. If a story looks like narrative but feels like head-hopping, I would consider it regular omniscient. In other words, if it’s clear that the narrator has access to unlimited information and yet spends most of its time inside characters’ heads in a limited-style, the story is regular omniscient. Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein is 3rd-regular omniscient, by my classification.

Dune by Frank Herbert is the classic example of head-hopping. Head-hopping is the same as limited, except the POV character changes constantly within each scene, rather than only switching at a scene break. This is done in order to see inside every important character’s head without losing the intimacy of 3rd-limited. Head-hopping is rare.

Cinematic is the rarest of the 3rd-person forms, as far as prose goes. It is the POV of films. Everything is perceived as if from a camera. No character thoughts are shown. Cinematic is very similar to the objective form. They may even be the same form. I would say that cinematic is “allowed” to have a certain element of voice to it, whereas objective is not. That would be the only major distinction. Cinematic is used almost exclusively for individual scenes because using it for an entire story would rip the humanity inherent in stories of every other POV.

If a story sounds like it could be told around a campfire, it’s probably written in 3rd-narrative. Narrative stories are told by the author or by a character outside the context of the story (though sometimes featured in the story, in the case of a story told in recollection of an event after all important knowledge on the subject has been obtained). There is a separation between characters and readers in narrative. To make up for that, narrative has a lot of freedom as far as voice goes. If the voice of the story is great, it can make up for the lack of intimacy in the form. Novice writers tend to default to narrative. While it’s the simplest form, it is also, in my opinion, the hardest to do well. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction contains many marvelous 3rd-narrative stories (but does not contain exclusively narrative stories).

There’s plenty of room for discussion as far as the 3rd-person POV goes. Some writers may prefer to generalize to two or four forms and that’s perfectly fine. I like to get into the nitty-gritty details to see how each form works. All five forms have their uses, though limited and narrative are definitely the two most commonly used.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A List of Stories, Costing a Quarter Each

Short fiction writers are some of the ultimate cheap entertainers.  A lot of it is free to read.  What isn't free is of a high quality, for the most part.  However, you'll likely not like all of the stories in a particular issue of a magazine you buy, or in an anthology.  On a different, yet related coin, it's tough and demoralizing to some writers when their writing doesn't make them much money.

A new source of fiction and poetry, QuarterReads.com, is intriguing.  It allows you to pick and choose what stories you want to read from the site, for a quarter each.  That way, you sort of make a custom anthology for yourself.  And better than an anthology, all of the stories you pay for are placed onto a list in your dashboard together, so you have easy access to all of your stories at the same time.  This service is good for writers too, because every time you read a story on QuarterReads.com, the writer gets 22 of the 25 cents you spent.  Not much, but a very fair price for a story, especially the longer ones on the site.  Some stories are less than 200 words, while the longest are 2,000 exactly.  No matter what length, each read will cost you a unique form of currency, a read!  You can buy reads in increments of 20, paying $5 for every 20 reads.  I highly recommend paying the $5 for an initial 20 reads from the site and see what you think.

If you're unsure of this whole concept, I suggest you try whatever story is currently the free read of the week on QuarterReads.  At the time of this writing, that story is "Nuclear Family" by Alex Shvartsman, which is a very good dark Christmas post-apoc story.  Yes, dark, Christmas, and post-apoc all combined!

If you decide to try QuarterReads out but have no clue what to read first, I have a solution!  Below is my recommendation for your first 8-9 reads, in alphabetical order.

1.  "A Thousand Cuts" by Alex Shvartsman
1642 words of horror, fantasy, and light romance with an eerie voice and tone; Shvartsman is a master of the form.

936 words of sci-fi; very cool concept for the most part.

596 words of sci-fi that plays with how stories lose their truthfulness over time; cool setting elements and beautiful execution.  (Disclaimer: the subject of this story is Jesus', whose life story has become riddled with misinformation by 1,000,000 AD.  I am a firm Christian, but I did not take any offense.  I just want to warn you, if you think it might offend you.)

4.  "Christmas' End" by Jamie Lackey
166 words of fantasy; brief, but with potency in every word.

5.  "Golden Years in the Paleozoic" by Ken Liu
960 words of sci-fi from one of the biggest names in sci-fi short fiction; wonderful voice.

6.  "Minor Details" by Jaleta Clegg
1815 words of fantasy with two young female characters, one of which is dyslexic.  The fact that she is dyslexic is very important to the story.  It's a bit weird a points, but overall very funny.

7.  "Queen of the Noble Gases" by Patrick Stahl
962 words of speculative fiction; okay, you don't have to read my sole QuarterReads story if you don't want to, but I'd really appreciate it if you did.  It contains anthropomorphic noble gases who are actually nobles within the gas anthropomorphic gas community.  I think it's a cool idea, at least.

8.  "Superior Firepower" by Alex Shvartsman
981 words of fantasy; this concept is a little strange and perhaps a tad undeveloped, but the writing itself is excellent.

9.  "Things That Matter" by Amanda C. Davis
981 words of sci-fi that also just so happens to have Christmas and post-apoc flowing deep within its veins, though not quite as dark as "Nuclear Family" (which you should buy if you're reading this after it's no longer free).  The setting is developed well.  Great prose from one of my favorite spec fic writers.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Last Christmas

I've been gone for about a month and a half.  Has anyone noticed?  Probably not.  Well, anyway, I just got a chance to watch the 2014 Dr. Who Christmas special, "Last Christmas," and I've decided to review it.  Normally, I will only review television episodes from the view of the teleplay, but today I'm going to review it with a bit more openness, just with a higher emphasis on the story as it would appear in black ink on white paper.  I'm using two new labels today: Television Episode Criticism and Dr. Who.  In 2015, I hope to get into a decent rhythm of random blogging (how's that for an oxymoronic phrase?), with a wider range of topics covered.  I'm not an expert on anything I try to talk about on this blog, but I think just writing my thoughts on various things I'm interested is very fun and if anyone happens to stumble upon my posts, I'd be happy to hear their thoughts.

I'm a pretty big fan of Dr. Who.  I've seen all but one episode that has aired since the reboot in 2005, at least so far as I can gather.  There might be a few more that have slipped into the cracks.  The Christmas specials are some of my favorites.  "Last Christmas" definitely ranks high on lists of top Dr. Who Christmas specials, top episodes of this season (or series, if you prefer the native terminology), and top episodes featuring Peter Capaldi.  It might be among the top ten episodes of Dr. Who in the modern era, and almost certainly in the top twenty.

Setting is always a high-caliber product of Dr. Who episodes.  "Last Christmas" erred slightly on the side of "normal," though every scenic location was built for its purpose within the plot and character arcs of the story and was therefore splendidly done.  Going with Chekhov's Gun, the main setting needed to be pretty plain, because nothing in the main setting was very important.  It was what was going on and by who in that setting that mattered most.  A touch too much gray, perhaps, other than that it was to satisfaction.

A few characters of lesser-import could have been developed a little more in this episode.  Some were given very strong character-builds, which left the blanker ones looking rather blank.  However, you can't expect every character in a space opera to be awesome.  If that was the case, than it would make the characters we need to think are awesome look noticeably less awesome by comparison.  Still, a smidge more flavor on a character or two wouldn't have been a waste of time, I don't think.  As for the main cast, "Last Christmas" did a very good job in linking the end of the first part of this season/series with the beginning of the next part.  The Doctor's companion, Clara, needed to quickly recover from a traumatic event, and this episode allowed her to do so without it feeling rushed.  Some of that trauma definitely needs to be shown later on, and I think it will be a great plot point at some point, likely in one of the final episodes of the season/series, but the way that this episode conducted things will help prevent a lot of future melodrama or the dreaded T.V. "let's pretend none of that just happened."  The Doctor got some needed development as well.

"Last Christmas" hit plot out of the park.  It started with very subtle foreshadowing, confused us, made us think that we weren't confused, and then confused us some more.  It wrapped character and setting in close for a Christmas hug and held on tight.  The writers had a lot of time on their hands (about sixty minutes) and they used almost every moment wisely.  They used try-fail cycles!  A lot of try-fail cycles!  I loved it.  Maybe the aliens could've been a little less plot-tailored, but I think a show like Dr. Who can get away with that.

If you haven't watched Dr. Who and would like to, I recommend three places to start: the beginning of the modern era (2005), the first episode in the Matt Smith era, or this episode.  If you don't have a lot of time on your hands, start with "Last Christmas."  You probably won't be disappointed.