Sunday, August 2, 2009

This month on Collector Times

I have two items on Collector Times this month. First, as promised, I wrote the 10th chapter of the monthly Round Robin story, "The League of Explorers." I'm afraid my chapter is a bit short and sparse as I was suffering writer's block and actually didn't even start it until after the mid-month deadline. Thank goodness for a forgiving editor.

Also, I wrote a review of Jay Lake's Mainspring.

This makes several months in a row that I haven't been able to come up with anything for my gaming column, Playing God. I need to dredge up some inspiration for that.

I haven't been writing much at all lately, just reading, but ideas and desire are bubbling just below the surface... I just need to set aside the time and make myself do it.

Maybe then I'll update this blog more than once or twice a month! I really appreciate those of you who still pop in to read and comment despite my sporadic posting schedule. Thank you!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My first rejection letter!

Last weekend, I was bored, and hanging out on Twitter, and I saw that Tweet The Meat had open submissions. What have I got to lose? I asked myself, and in my boredom, I wrote up a quick 135 character long storylet and sent it in.

Not surprisingly, I had a rejection form letter in my e-mail a few days later. True to their word, Tweet The Meat's editors had read and responded to my tiny bit of fiction within 1 week. Their rejection was very politely worded and invited me to submit more fiction, and included what their upcoming theme was.

As you can tell, I'm not very broken up by this. It took me less than 5 minutes to embark on my first foray into micro-fiction, and that includes proof-reading and editing. It's like easing myself into the world of rejection letters. If I'm not overly attached to what's being rejected, I don't have to be hurt that they didn't accept it and I didn't earn $1, minus PayPal fees.

I'll talk more about my thoughts of micro-fiction in another post, and share some of the fiction-y Twitter feeds that I follow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book Review: The Night Watch

A few years ago, Sergei Lukyanenko's novel The Night Watch was made into a movie. As I watched the movie, I found myself thinking "This would be a lot better if they took any time to explain anything. Maybe the book is better."

A few months ago, I found said book at the used bookstore and decided to find out if it was any better. The answer was a definite "yes," though it's still not without its flaws. I found it to be a really interesting read. Moscow is a new and different setting for me, the writing was evocative, and the cast of Light and Dark agents are interesting.

If there's one big problem with The Night Watch, it's that it is marketed as a horror novel, and it fails to live up to this expectation. It takes more than vampires to make horror. Horror needs to be scary, eerie, or intense. There's a lot of darkness in the world of the Watches, but the pacing of the book keeps it from being scary. Everything feels a little too casual. The main character is already pretty well-steeped in the supernatural world. Sure, he's moving from a desk job to being a field agent, but he has enough knowledge that he faces the challenges ahead of him without too much fear of the unknown.

While I read this book, I was turning the pages out of curiosity over the story, rather than any sense of urgency. This lack of intensity causes me to feel that it's much more effective as a dark, brooding, but introspective fantasy, rather than a true horror.

There are some major differences between the book and the movie -- the movie starts out with the main character going to a Dark sorceress for a magical abortion on his cheating wife. This never happens in the book. The first third of the book does otherwise mostly follow the movie's plot, but without some of the subplots, and with some differences in character and plot resolution. The rest of the novel consists of two other stories (both like short, interconnected novels of their own) which continue the main plot thread while introducing secondary plots that move it along. The third story even allows us to see how the Light agents act on their rare days off, which was fun.

The Night Watch is the first of a four-book series, and I intend to work my way through the rest, assuming they don't take a steep nosedive in quality.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Another book review on CT.

I have a review of The Somnambulist over at Collector Times this month. There will also be some new reviews here at the blog soon, as I've been reading a lot lately.

My next writing project is the next chapter of the League of Explorers round robin story we've been doing over at Collector Times. I like how Jesse treated my characters in this most recent chapter, and I'm looking forward to getting back to Chloe the dreamwalker and Tuffy the talking corgi.

I suppose it's an interesting coincidence that I reviewed a book called The Somnambulist and next I'll be working on a story about a super hero reluctantly codenamed Somnambula, but I've long since accepted that dreaming-related things will be prevalent in my life.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Review: Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm

The best sort of friend is the one who knows about your interests outside of whatever brought you together, and gives you gifts related to that. Like my gaming friend who brought me a pearl from Hawaii because he knows I do beadwork. Or a beading friend who sends me a book on writing, because she knows that I'm an aspiring author.

That was how Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller ended up in my hands. This book's subtitle is "Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop" which sums things up pretty nicely. It's a memoir and a how-to beautifully wrapped up together.

Many years ago, another beading friend who was very supportive of my writing sent me On Writing by Stephen King. That book spent the first half of itself detailing the author's early life and journey to being published, and then delved into his drug abuse and more, before switching gears to being a how-to.

Storyteller takes a different approach. The author reminisces about the years that she and her husband (the late Damon Knight) spent at Clarion, starting at the very first Workshop (actually, starting with a different workshop that inspired it), and as she tells this tale, she also weaves in how they worked, how the workshops evolved, and what exercises the reader can do at home to improve their writing without attending a 6 week workshop.

I'd heard of the Clarion workshops before but didn't really know much about them. By reading this book, I learned that it was a 6-week residential workshop geared towards writing short stories of genre fiction. Students wrote while at the workshop, and had their work critiqued. What was interesting to me was that the writing class that I took, that was very biased towards literary fiction ("genre fiction" was often said with contempt, much to the dismay of those of us who wrote it) used the exact same style of critiquing as was laid out in this book. Take that, literary snobs!

Most of the exercises are geared towards short story writers and would be impractical for a novelist to use -- for instance, it's recommended that you cover up all of your story except for one sentence, and see if that sentence says what you want it to. And then you do that with every sentence. Tedious with the 12-page stories students were producing at Clarion. Damn near impossible for a many thousands of words long novel like The Princess Dilemma.

Some exercises, however, would work for a piece of any length. For instance, writing a scene multiple times, from the point of view of different characters. And doing the same with character descriptions. By creating three or so different subjective points of view, the author then has a more objective point of view of the scene or character in question.

Although this advice is scattered throughout the book, it's also gathered conveniently in the end, for ease of future reference.

As much as I found the lessons and exercises to be thought-provoking, it was the memoir aspect of this book that kept me turning the pages. Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight taught at Clarion from 1967 to 1994. The chapters about the early days of the workshop were like a window into another world. The late 60s were a time when a woman in jeans or a man with long hair were still looked upon with a certain amount of confusion or even distrust. Co-ed dorms were practically unheard of, curfews at the colleges were strict, and the towns rolled up the sidewalk at 6pm (ok, there are still parts of Tucson that do that in 2009...). A time when an author couldn't just walk down to B&N to pick up the latest Writer's Handbook to get all of the advice they needed, nor could they attend writing workshops in their own city, unless they were very lucky.

Storyteller never dwells on any one thing, occasionally leaving me wanting to know more about how certain things were resolved, more about the students over the years. At 190 pages, it's a slim volume. At times it feels almost shallow, skimming over things, moving on to the next tidbit about the difference between plotted and unplotted stories or an anecdote about a squirt gun battle that got out of hand. It's almost like you're sitting in Kate Wilhelm's living room, and she's telling you the story, and each little thing sends her off on a tangent, and then she might forget to come back to where she left off. Maybe that's where the title comes from.

All in all, I thought this was a neat little book and will probably improve my writing, even though my main focus right now is novels. I would especially recommend it for anyone trying to get published in the short story market. It was published by Small Beer Press and you should be able to purchase it directly from them.

Friday, May 22, 2009

An old character story

I was poking around in my writing folder and I came across this story that I wrote for a D&D character. It's fun sometimes to go through my old character stories, they remind me of games that never finished, and friendships that have drifted away. Bittersweet, perhaps, but mostly sweet. This file says last modified in 2006, but I think the story is a little older than that.


Once, she was a dancer. In those days her name was Elysa, a name that she considered to be as beautiful and graceful as she was. Her grace was such that from a distance, only her height served as proof that she was not an elf. Her beauty was not exceptional, but it was enough, and her fame as a dancer served only to make her more attractive in the eyes of the people.

Everyone imagined Elysa to be as charming as she was lovely, but this was far from the truth. She was a proud woman, with an incredibly sharp tongue that she had no compunctions against using. She felt that her fame was her due, and that she deserved all of the best things in life, which she rarely got (her dancing brought her far more fame than money). Elysa constantly strove to find a wealthy patron who would reward her art with a shower of lavish gifts, but her arrogance drove most people away.

At the age of 18, she met what seemed to be the perfect patron. Vedorn was a young, attractive nobleman who seemed quite smitten by her. Elysa was dazzled by his masculine good looks and the promise of his wealth. Though she was seeking a patron, she ended up with a husband instead. Their wedding was a huge affair, with hundreds of guests and a huge celebration feast. Elysa left the city to go spend her honeymoon at his country estate.

When she got there, all of the illusions crumbled. The country estate was not as grand as Vedorn had promised, and it turned out that he had spent nearly all of his wealth courting her and throwing the wedding party. The happy couple came home to a small, run-down estate out in the sticks, and the happiness ended there. Vedorn learned what a sharp-tongued shrew Elysa was, and Elysa learned that Vedorn was not above raising his hand to his wife. Each learned that the other had a fiery temper, and they fought constantly.

In addition to their temper and greed, Elysa and Vedorn had one major thing in common; they were both too proud to admit to the mistake of their marriage. They stayed together and maintained the illusion of marital bliss. Elysa still kept her small home in the city, and danced whenever she could, bringing her money home to Vedorn.

Although they quickly grew to hate each other, the physical attraction remained, and make-up sex became the one good thing about their fights. It came as no surprise, then, that Elysa eventually conceived, and then gave birth to a son a little more than a year after they had been married. Their child actually brought a little calmness to the marriage, as they each discovered a spot in their selfish hearts where their was room for love for their son. As well, Vedorn was proud to have an heir and Elysa loved how her friends all oohed and aahed over her and her baby.

Even their shared love of their son wasn’t enough to fully bring Vedorn and Elysa together, however, and though they fought less often, they still fought just as fiercely. Elysa was adept at goading Vedorn to anger, constantly harping on him for being one of the poorest nobles in the land and “forcing” his wife to dance just to have enough money to raise their son. If he hit her, she would remind him of how the bruises marred her beauty, making it hard for her to get work dancing.

And so it continued until the night when things went too far. Elysa provoked Vedorn until at least he truly snapped. He yelled and screamed and raged as he always did, and hit her and threw things, as he always did. His madness didn’t become apparent until he threw an oil lamp at Elysa and laughed when it shattered against the wall and splashed burning oil everywhere.

“Let it all burn up!” he screamed. He pinned her against the wall and wouldn’t let her leave as the flames spread throughout the room. Through her anger and panic, Elysa tried to reason with him, tried to remind him of their child, but still he insisted that they would die together and end the farce.

Desperation lent her strength, and eventually she was able to fight him off. She ran towards her child’s room, but she never made it. A falling timber struck her, trapped her, and that she did not have enough strength to escape. The house continued to burn around her, and the suffocating smoke overwhelmed her. Her vision went black, and it was some time before she came to in a strange place.

By the time anyone arrived to put out the flames, it was too late. Much of the house had been consumed, leaving only stone and brick and debris. In amongst the men armed with buckets there were clerics of various churches, there to pray for the departed souls and offer what help they could through the magical creation of water and spells which boosted the strength and stamina of the erstwhile firemen.

It was a cleric of Ilmater who felt drawn to Elysa as the volunteers pulled her badly burnt body from the wreckage. Drawing closer, he saw that she was not dead. “This one will return with me to my god’s temple,” he said. He could feel the hand of his god guiding him to help her. There would be much suffering to ease.

He healed the burns just in time to keep her from dying, though her body was left quite scarred, and much of her hair was gone. The healing did not wake her, however, so he carried her the long way back to his temple, praying to his god for the wisdom necessary to help her through such a painful time.

Elysa awakened in the temple of Ilmater, disoriented and distraught. She demanded to know what had happened, and when she found out the truth, it crushed her. The house was gone, Vedorn and their child were dead. The flames had taken her beauty, too. She was left with nothing. For a time, she withdrew into herself. She did not speak, and she had to be forced to take those actions that would keep her alive, such as eating and drinking.

During this time, the cleric who had saved her ministered to her. He shared with her the doctrine of Ilmater, and also the personal pain that he had been through before he found peace in the church. As Elysa listened, she realized the folly of her life up until that point. Her vanity and pride had been her downfall, and it had cost her child his life. The cleric told her that enlightenment often came through suffering, and he was right.

When at last she finally spoke, Elysa stated that she was going to rededicate her life to Ilmater and his church. Deep inside, she did not feel that she was worthy to even presume to be a vessel of a god’s power, so rather than seeking to become a cleric or paladin, she stated that she would join the ranks of the monks she had seen practicing. Perhaps she would be able to channel some of the anger that she felt at herself into righteous violence.

Elysa realized that deep down inside, she was still the same person. Enlightenment was not instant, and she had much work to do. To ensure that vanity would never again be a problem, she refused to seek out any healing for her scars. Her outer appearance, she felt, reflected the ugliness that she’d always had inside.

It was her tongue that really worried her, so she took a vow of silence, swearing to not speak again until she achieved true enlightenment and inner peace. To remind herself of this, she had her tongue pierced with a sharp spike, its presence reminding her of the pain a sharp tongue can cause. To remind others of her vow, she took to wearing a tight mask around the lower half of her face, a sign that nothing would leave her mouth.

She said only one last thing before swearing her vow. “The woman that I was is dead. Call me Null, for I am nothing.”

Null trained in silence, and because she did not speak, she spent much time listening. She grew familiar with the doctrines of the church and pondered them always, growing wise in ways she had never been before. She learned when to end suffering, when to ease it, and when to administer it. Still, though, inner peace avoided her. She remained bitter and sarcastic, and as such, she remained silence.

She made no real friends at the temple. Not only did she not speak, but she never sought out the company of others. She never fully fit in at the temple, and so when it was suggested that she travel with a cleric who was scouting out a new temple location, she agreed with a sharp nod of her head. The journey to true enlightenment would be a long one, and it could not be completed within the temple walls.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My current project

I haven't been working much on The Princess Dilemma (more on that in a later post), but I have been writing a bit. My current project is yet another gaming character background story. Sometimes I question why I bother writing them, as they usually only have an audience of one (the gamemaster), but then I remind myself that they're just good practice.

And sometimes, they lead to fun research. The game in question is set in our modern world, and the character in question is the daughter of the Hindu goddess Parvati (well, sort of. The gaming sourcebook played a little fast and loose with the Hindu pantheon, as White Wolf games are wont to do with complex and nuanced mythologies). This has sent me all over the internet, reading up on Parvati, Hindu temples, various regions in India, the languages spoken therein, and Indian surnames.

Of course, I'll probably forget most of this fascinating information in the next few weeks (I've already forgotten the word for the towers on Hindu temples, and I just read that last night), but it was still an enjoyable experience to hunt the information down and read up on things that I otherwise never would have thought of.