Sunday, March 30, 2014

Space Caltrops

            Jagen fought his predisposition to strategize based upon two-dimensional space.  Positioning his space troopers efficiently was impossible—he knew—without keen perception of altitude.  Verbal testing didn’t make it any easier, he had told Master Rhine.  His old tutor’s tenor laughter echoed in his mind, disrupting the flow of the mathematical figuring churning through his subconscious.
            “And in Zone (-4, 4, 3)?” asked Master Rhine.  His mousy grey hair dangled over gaunt cheeks.  It jiggled with every word.
            Jagen placed a sweating palm to his brow.  “It should contain Emperor Class sloops for flanking and containment.”
            Master Rhine pursed his lips, frowning.  He drummed two calloused fingers on the head of his porcelain desk.  “You wish to try containment maneuvers in open space?”
            “Of course not, Master.  I wish to try containment maneuvers in limited space.”  Jagen glanced down at his pad.  “The asteroid cloud two zones west stretches ten zones north-south and up-down.  It’s as good a wall as any against a mob of Class III brigantines.”
            A smile bore a path in Master Rhine’s face nearly wide enough to touch his drooping locks.  “Very wise, Nobleson.  You have chosen one face of the battlefield wisely.  Your choice of Medieval Earth study shan’t aid you much further, however.”
            “My tutor, how brash of you.”
            Master Rhine raised an eyebrow.
            Jagen slid a finger across the screen of his pad, opening a calculator application.  He poked at the digikeys with fervor, pouring over every scrap of old Earth warfare, physics, and calculus he could recall.  With a final press he said, “I have it.”
            “You’ve a plan for the other five sides of the battlefield already?  Six thousand lives safely accounted for in mere moments?”
            “The south side is easy, as you well know.  A fleet hospital with adequate guard in X-formation, supported by First Class cruisers.  No need to complicate the non-combat side.  The other sides are a bit more interesting.”
            “Well, let me hear it, boy.”
            Jagen cleared his throat.  “Our siege boats still carry mines, correct?”
            Master Rhine nodded, squinting at Jagen even more deeply than usual for Test Day.
            “Add one siege boat and one sloop to every squadron on the other four sides.  As soon as combat begins, send out the sloops, pulling the siege boats in tow, so that the siegers may place their mines in front of the enemy mob.  They’ll have only one direction to go: homeward.”
            “Splendid work,” said Master Rhine, with a twist to his tone.  He placed a hand on Jagen’s shoulder.  His grin dissolved.  “Now tell me what you plan to tell the families of the thousand marines you’d be trapping between mines and enemy cruisers.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Writing and Me (Repost)

(I just finished acting in a musical and I'm pretty tired.  Instead of posting something new on the topic of writing, I'm reposting an interview I performed on myself in order to show how writing relates to me.  If you're new here or stopping by in the days just before the A-to-Z Challenge, place look it over to learn a little about 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.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A-to-Z Scheme

As you can see by my sidebar, I'm doing the A-to-Z Challenge again this year.  The Challenge is meant to challenge bloggers to post every day during April except for Sundays, moving topically from "A" to "Z."  Last year I started with a story called "Arson" and ended with an open critique for my "Zento" stories.

I posted four flash fics, one literary criticism, and one writing post each week in 2013.  This year I shall be changing things a little.

My schedule:

Monday---Flash Fic Criticism

Tuesday---Writer Criticism

Wednesday---"Whatever Flash Comes to Mind Wednesday"

Thursday---Writing Post

Friday---"Fantasy Flash Friday"

Saturday---Short Story Criticism

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Quick Blurb for "The Soul in the Bell Jar" by KJ Kabza

(I almost literally have no time to post today, so you're getting a blurb instead of a full post.  Sorry.)

"The Soul in the Bell Jar" is a brilliant blend of dark fantasy and horror through a cross of stained glass and translucent prose.

(This novelette appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thought He Looked Familiar

     Thomas studied himself in the mirror, his lips parted.  The outline of his silhouette seemed to flicker on and off. 
     “What have I done?” he muttered.  The memory clung to a rock in the sluggish stream of his mind.  “Think hard, Thomas.”
     He remembered a metal box covered with thousands of tiny light bulbs.  One column flashed blue, the next red, green, violet.  A phantom hand wrenched his stomach as he…went back in time? 
     It was a brisk autumn morning in downtown Chicago.  Thomas stood dazed under a maple tree in a small park.  A young boy rushed over to him, his eyes almost large enough to touch the brim of his brown flat cap.  The face looked right.  He drew his blaster.
     Cold, feverish chills racked Thomas’ body.  He had thought the lad looked familiar.  It had struck him with the last note of his weapon’s introductory vibrato. “Sorry, Grandpa Jim.”
     Thomas’ brown hair faded to blond, then vanished.  His body shone for an indeterminable duration before dispersing into a timeless void.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tactile POVs

Once again I am coining a new term for use on my blog.  Tactile POVs emphasize the nervous system reactions of the viewpoint character.  This works best in romance, but can excel in any story in which the protagonist emotes very heavily through physical feeling.

In tactile POVs, you'll see phrases like "his heart beat against his chest," "cold sweat slid down her neck," "his mouth went dry," etc.  It's very much within the viewpoint character's body.  You still get all the usual narration, with the addition of the physical aspects of the emotions the viewpoint character is feeling.  Rather than using the "tell" "he fell into embarrassment," you can use the "show" "his face went hot."

Tactile POVs are almost always 3rd-limited or 1st-person.  The other POVs can get away with "his face turned red" or "she flushed" because the narration is outside of the protagonist's body.  In limited or 1st you're not supposed to state a detail that isn't visible to the POV character, such as their face.  You can have a nice emotional punch by still describing the detail, but doing it in a tactile way.

I've been using tactile POVs a good bit lately.  I love how they can pull readers into the viewpoint character's head and create sympathy quickly by making the reader feel what they feel in a tactile way.  There are many ways to exploit tactile POVs for your advantage, although not every story needs to be tactile, nor should they be.  I recommend playing around with this POV variant and see what you think.  It's a tool in my toolbox that I really enjoy using.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hotel (Repost)

(I'm very busy, so I'm reposting a criticism of a story that remains one of my favorite novelettes today.)

"Hotel" is a sci-fi novelette by Suzanne Palmer published in the January issue of Asimov's.  It seemed to match its publisher's style perfectly.  The time-span is too long to make an accurate statement, but I believe this was my favorite story out of this issue.

Setting is, as most people know, important in sci-fi.  This story is set on Mars.  While not entirely unique, the localized setting was fresh and intriguing.  I won't give too much away.  As the story suggests, most of the action takes place in a hotel.  The hotel is also sort of a character (a simulated intelligence), bringing new meaning to "setting as a character".

There were a lot of characters in this story.  I like that.  A lot of people feel that a novelette should have very few characters.  I don't think that's necessarily the case.  However, you have to be a talented writer to get it right.  Ms. Palmer did a great job with this story.  I connected with the characters, could tell them apart 95% of the time, and found them to be quite cool.  As a bonus, two of the characters were aliens!  The characters had many secrets to be discovered over the course of the novelette.  Which is, of course, a plot device.

The plot had an awesome feel to it.  It ranged from high-action to suspenseful to almost mystery at different points.  Tension was always there, something ever story should have to keep the readers' chests a little tight.  One tiny section at the end could have been shortened even further, but it had to be mentioned anyway, so I can live with a few paragraphs spent on it.  Every problem presented was resolved, typical for a short fiction piece.  The resolutions were satisfying, all except for the death of one character.  It was foreshadowed passably, but felt a little far-fetched and slightly like a "deus ex machina".

I recommend this story to anyone who likes sci-fi, especially in the style of Asimov's.  It gets a 94% from me.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

He Took It With Him

This week I'm linking to my (non-winning, but still decent in my opinion) entry in the ninth round of Flash Fenzy, a weekly flash fiction contest.  My story, featuring a 1st-person feline protagonist, can be found here.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Flash Fiction (Repost)

(Rather than posting something new today, I'm reposting one of my oldest writing posts, a post on flash fiction.  I talk about it a lot on this blog, so I feel it's appropriate to highlight flash fiction again.)

Patience is a virtue.  It's tough to hold a reader's attention for a long period of time if you aren't a highly experienced author.  Flash fiction pieces help to solve this problem.

The reader's attention needs only to be held for a few minutes for flash fiction.  It also takes less time and attention on the writer's part, usually about an hour's worth in my experience.

Another great thing about flash fiction is that it can be used to experiment.  I had never written anything in the horror genre before I decided to write some horror flash fiction.  I still don't think that I'm ready to write a horror piece beyond a thousand words or two, but I'm more confident with writing it now that I have some experience.  Flash fiction has helped me branch out to many other genres that I had never written before.

Give flash fiction a chance, from both a reader's and a writer's viewpoint.  You can test out a different genre, play with a cool magic system that's stuck in your head, or simply have fun writing whatever pops into your head.  Reading flash fiction can be equally enjoyable, and even if you despise the piece that you are reading you won't waste a whole lot of time surging to the end.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Martian (Midpoint Analysis)

I've been listening to the audiobook of Andy Weir's semi-recent hard sci-fi novel The Martian the last couple weeks.  I'm about halfway through it.  It's really quite good.

Other than using the "F" word twenty or so times, I really love the protagonist and 1st-person narrator.  He has an excellent character voice and manages to incorporate humor into the main stream of things, which is essential for humor to work in sci-fi.  The other characters with little parts toward the end of the first five hours of audiobook have solid characterization and voice right off the bat.  The entire cast is stellar.  (That's a crazy partial-pun, intentionally.)

While the conflict in this story is different from that of other stories I've read, it works for me.  Survival stories are daunting to write, but very satisfying to read if done well.  Add Mars, a pseudo-travelogue (involving food production), and a Time Bomb and you have yourself a really cool plot.

There are two main settings in The Martian.  The first is Mars.  That's awesome's Mars.  The second is the NASA base.  It's chaotic and colorful, too things the novel needed to compensate for the weaknesses in Mars as a setting.  So, yeah, Andy Weir is a genius.

I would definitely recommend purchasing this novel, whether it be in hardcover, ebook, audiobook, whatever.  Even lacking knowledge of the second half, the first half is worth your money, trust me.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Sharp Lullaby

     Yamish fidgeted with his mask as he crawled into the Duke’s bedchambers, slipping past armed guards.  He stifled a laugh.
     The Duke stirred amid his silk blankets.  Yamish paused at the side of the bed, waiting for him to still.  The urge to keep him stilled made Yamish’s hands twitch.
     Yamish drew his dagger, Lullaby, from her sheath.  She hummed a melody to him.  The song came louder than usual.  The Duke opened one eye and stared.
     Lullaby went silent.  Then she started to sing.  Beautiful words poured out from her silver blade, calm and peaceful. 
     Yamish finished his job.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Old 3rd-Limited

Prior to about 1990, 3rd-limited POV was in its infancy.  Many works implemented it, but few stuck to it 100%.  Back then, omniscient snapshots in the middle of a 3rd-limited story were acceptable.  Today they would be considered horrendous POV errors.

The first novel I noticed with such a POV was Ender's Game.  Perhaps five times during the book the POV shifts for a sentence or two in the middle of a scene.

I just found today that George Orwell's classic 1984 stands in the same boat.  At the end of Chapter IV in Part II the thoughts of two characters are seen in the same paragraph.

Prose is changing constantly, and this is just one small way that it has transformed recently.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Some Praise For SpeckLit Stories

Here's what I had to say about a few stellar drabbles from SpeckLit Magazine:

Storytime by Sierra July
This is an interesting little magic system. The repercussions could be massive if it isn’t an individual thing.

Bully Balloons by Anne E. Johnson
It’s funny how this story manages to start with one conflict, gain a solution, add another piece of conflict, then use the original solution in a different way in order to solve both conflicts at once.

Blink by Maggie Denton
This is beautiful. I just wish the ending wasn’t so abrupt. There’s a certain sincerity to it, but it could have been very graceful as well.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mylnn's Ride

     Cascades of light from a far-off star adorn Mylnn’s water droplet.  She shivers, tucking her miniscule wings closer to her body for warmth.  Gravity pulls at her stomach, or what passes for such, as the droplet tumbles ever faster.
     Despite the friction, heat abandons her.  Mylnn releases a telepathic scream as her droplet begins to freeze.  The beating of her triplet hearts slows to a low rumble.  For a few moments, she is encased in an icy tomb.
     Mylnn takes a rapid breath.  Her droplet warms to a liquid state, joining millions of others in the planet Bynthon’s wrap-around waterfall.