Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lost Love and Nightprowlers (Part 2)

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Oh, the Rust and Atrophy

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

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Not Today

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Going Postal (Two-Thirds Analysis)

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lost Love and Nightprowlers (Part 1)

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fantasy: A Complex Genre

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

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Marshmallow Walls

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

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

There isn't a strong sense of progression.

The setting is mostly white-wallish.

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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Waiting For Me

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Three Flash Fic Writing Contests

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Do Not Count the Withered Ones

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

My First Two SpeckLit Drabbles

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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Not Writing For Substantial Periods of Time

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Girl Meets Father

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

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

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

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

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