Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mythological Tech Support 1

-Thank you for calling the Yggdrasill Support Desk. You've reached Knute. May I have your name please?
-Okay, and how do you spell that? O-D-I-N. Uh huh, and have you called before?
-Hmm… not coming up in the system, might it be under another name?
-And that's spelled W-O-T-A-N. Okay, I've found it now. How can I help.
-You're waiting for a download. Of what?
-Wisdom. I see. Let me just find the order for that. Ah here it is. It was just submitted yesterday.
-Yes sir, I understand it's important you get this, but you'll have to hang on one moment while I check the estimated delivery date.
-What's that? Oh, you're literally hanging from the the Yggdrasill by a rope around your neck. Well that is standard for these downloads sir, can't be changed.
-Yes sir, I understand you're a busy man, but it can't be helped. You'll just have to wait another…twenty days for the download.
-Sir, I'm going to have to ask you not use such language with me. I can't speed up the delivery.
-Is there a shortcut? Well, we're not supposed to say anything, but have you visited the Well of Mimir.
-Oh, you have. And it cost you an eye. I see.
-No sir, that wasn't a joke at your expense.
-Yes sir, I understand it would be quite painful to lose an eye.
-Yes sir, I sure you handled it manfully and can take pain. I brought up the Well because since you drank from it we can can escalate this request and provide quick processing. You'll have your wisdom in eight days, but there is a catch. You need to be pierced by a spear.
-Yes sir, a spear.
-No, a splinter won't suffice. It needs to have a spearhead and everything.
-I know it sounds crazy sir, but it's what the manual says and I have to go by that.
-Oh, you have a spear handy? Good. If you could just pierce yourself.
-Excellent. Thank you sir. I've escalated your request. Is there anything else we can help you with?
-Sorry sir, the download doesn't include a list of busty tavern wench jokes. Anything else?
-You have a good day as well sir.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Dork Review: Fall From Earth

The title for Mathew Johnson's book Fall From Earth has always puzzled me. The book's been out for a few years now, so I've had time to consider it even if I'm a little bit late in reading it. How does one fall from Earth? I know you can fall to Earth, fall to the ground, or even fall under the earth if there's a quake, but how does one fall from Earth?

Hmmm... maybe I'll ask the aliens in this book, but how do I know I can trust them? Are they playing a game with me, using me against the Borderless Empire, or are they really as altruistic as they seem?

These are the questions that drive Fall From Earth. The main character, Jin, the leader of a failed rebellion and exiled criminal, must grapple with them and ultimately find a way through them in order to decide the fate of an empire.

It's a intriguing tale told from many different viewpoints with a decidedly Chinese flavor, especially relevant to anyone who's studied a bit of East Asian history. The world that Johnson creates in this far too short novel is well realized and oddly believable, especially to anyone who's worked in a bureaucracy. Chilling indeed.

The number of viewpoints can be a bit daunting at first, varied as they are, and the book could be longer so that we have more time with each of them. Really, that's my only problem with Fall From Earth. It's too short. I would like to have seen more time spent on the conflict between Jin, the Borderless Empire, and the aliens, nevermind all the other conflicts that arise from the multiple viewpoints presented. It may be that Fall From Earth's sin is to try to do too much in too little space.

Still, that sin aside this book is a wonderful example of worldbuilding and has a twisty plot that many could enjoy. I recommend you go and pick it up.

The Dork Review: Hapax

Can an entire universe be born out of just one word, a word that is never spoken again? According to K.T. Bryski's Hapax it can.

In fact, that's the central McGuffin of this book.

Oh don't worry. I'm not giving away any spoilers. It's all right there in the book's title. Hapax refers to Hapax legomenon a word that, according to Wikipedia "occurs only once within a context, either in the written record of an entire language, in the works of an author, or in a single text". So we know right from the beginning that words, or rather a Word, will play a vital role in the story.

And really, that's the core idea behind Miss Bryski's novel. Words matter, whether spoken or written, whether provided by a priest to give comfort or recorded for posterity and held in a library. They matter and they can bring either destruction or salvation.

Hapax starts from this base idea and crafts a world on the brink of ending unless the Word can be found and gives us characters we can care about; the compassionate priest, the orphan, the young magician, and the artificial girl learning to feel. All of them are archetypes but none of them are cardboard cutouts.

The book is also good for showing both sides of religious belief, the compassionate and the judgmental, the soft and the hard, the loving chaos and the harsh order. The forms the central conflict of Hapax, resonating throughout the novel, and affecting all of the characters.

K.T. has done a marvelous job with her first novel, and I look forward to see what else she can produce. Still, the book is not perfect. One quibble would be, it was too short. It felt as if the conflict was only really starting and then, bang, the book's done. Extending the length would also provide a chance to develop the villains a bit more. After finishing the book it felt as if they didn't get as much screentime as they could have.

Still, those minor bits aside this is a good book, well worth taking the time to read. Get in on the ground floor and start reading K.T. Bryski now so you can be all hipster and tell your friends you've been reading her for years before she hits it big.

Monday, October 7, 2013


It's time to refocus my writing projects.

For the last year and a half I've been working on a novel between shorter projects, and from the I've discovered two things:

1. I can write novel length fiction, even if it takes me a damn long time right now.

2. I still have a long way to go before I can write GOOD novel length fiction.

This isn't to say what I've got so far is bad...no, wait, that's exactly what I'm saying!

To be fair this is still early days, and unlike some of my writer friends I've only been seriously writing for the last four years. In the grand scheme of a writer's career that's barely any time at all. Yes, I wrote before then but not with serious dedication or consistency. I'm still discovering my voice, still learning about creating memorable and interesting characters.

I'm still in the infancy of my writing career, and the novel I'm working on is suffering for it.

That being said, I've decided to refocus on shorter fiction for the near future. Recent experience has shown that I can develop faster by writing short pieces and getting good feedback from people I trust, people who's critical opinions I respect. People who I can make mistakes in front of and not worry about the bruising my ego will take.

So here's the plan; for the next year I want to write at least one new short each month. At the very least I want a new first draft each month. On top of this I'm going to get more serious about submitting my work in as many markets as possible, something I've been slacking on for the last few months.

The other half of the plan is more blog posts, and not just book reviews. Heck, I started this blog to keep my honest and it's time I started using it for it's intended purpose.

So there it is. Let the year of shorts begin!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lessons Learned From The Wheel Of Time

If you follow this blog you may have wondered why there was an unannounced hiatus this summer. The truth is I decided to read The Wheel Of Time from start to finish, and if you're not familiar with the series it's fourteen books and each one is a door-stopper. Honestly, I think a short book in the series would be 700 pages long. Between reading that and my own writing The Left Hand of Dorkness got the short end of the stick. Sorry.

So to make up for it I've decided to share with you all the lessons I learned as a writer from the reading the series. Fair warming, there may be SPOILERS.

Still here? Okay, let's do this.

As I said, The Wheel Of Time is a massive series with multiple viewpoint characters. It's also a story with a definite ending laid out from the very beginning. The "main character" (I'll explain the quotes in a moment) Rand al'Thor is destined to fight the Last Battle against The Dark One. It's all there in the manual, or rather the epic glossary necessary at the end of each book if the reader has a hope in hell of keeping things straight.

It was also started and mostly written by Robert Jordan and finished off by Brandon Sanderson, both writers of epic fiction (at least in length).

Having the end goal stated early on is both a good and bad thing. It's good in that it gives the reader a goal to get to, so what when the series begins to lag (boy does it do that - more later on this as well) a dedicated reader can make it through knowing he or she has an epic battle to look forward to later on. It also allows the writer, or writers in The Wheel Of Time's case, a chance to setup expectations and then subvert them.

This is the series' greatest accomplishment. Going into the Last Battle we know what has to happen, Rand has to defeat the Dark One and lock him back up in his prison outside of creation in order for the Wheel of Time to keep on spinning, and that every prophecy indicates this will require him to die. What we don't know is how he will do this, or if what the prophecies say about him dying is really true. As I said, this allows Sanderson, working from Jordan's notes, to twist around the reader's expectations and show them what the entire series was all about.

Subversion is an important lesson every writer needs to learn, especially genre writers. A lot of the tropes we rely upon are well worn, some even threadbare. There are times to play them straight, times to subvert them, and times to fake out a subversion. It all depends upon the story you want to tell. The Wheel Of Time manages to accomplish all three by showing the price being The Chosen One takes on Rand, and how ultimately he has to both accept and refute his role, how he has to remain true to himself instead of becoming just the tool of destiny.

The way this all plays out is extremely satisfying, especially after the terrible lull in the middle of the series.

And that is the next thing to discuss. As I said earlier, both Jordan and Sanderson are writers of fiction that is epic in both length and scope. I think it takes both of them ten thousands words just to say hello in most of their stories. This isn't a bad thing at all, if the readers interest can be maintained, and both authors have the ability to do this.

The first Wheel book, The Eye Of The World, starts with a prime example. It takes over six chapters to introduce the main characters and get them out of their home village. Six! However, there's plenty that actually does happen in those chapters. They could almost stand on their own as a story of a young man and his friends discovering that the myths they always thought were nonsense were actually true.

This pattern continues on a greater level with most of the books in the series. The first few are nearly completely self contained, especially the first. In fact, a little bit of editing and The Eye Of The World could become the one and only book in the series.

It's only later in the series that this pattern breaks. The worst offender is Crossroads Of Twilight, the tenth book in the series. The majority of that book is reactions to the end of the last book, namely where Rand cleansed the source of magic available to male magic users of a taint that was causing them to go mad. It's a huge moment and with the way magic works in Wheel it's blatantly obvious to every magic user across a continent what's going on. Yes, there are other things that happen in Crossroads, but the majority of it is reaction shots and if there was ever a book that you could skip in this series that's it.

This is another important lesson for writers, especially those of us who want to write epic fantasy. Every book in your series should be self-contained to certain degree. Yes, events from previous books should influence the next in the series, otherwise how can you have character development, but no book should consist mainly of reaction shots while moving a few minor plot-lines along. At the point of Crossroads I will fully admit I was hate-reading just to get through to the end of the series.

The next lesson The Wheel Of Time imparts is to keep your characters and plot-lines well trimmed. When I called Rand al'Thor the main character I had to qualify that statement because there are easily three main characters in the series if not eight. Hell, even the minor characters could become the hero of their own stories. The Wheel Of Time is overflowing and abundant with characters, and the viewpoints to go along with that.

Now having multiple viewpoint characters isn't a bad thing, just look at The Song Of Ice And Fire (Game of Thrones for you HBO fanatics) by George R.R. Martin, but it there needs to be a limit. As Wheel progresses the number of minor characters who get a viewpoint scene becomes ridiculous, to the point they start to overshadow the main characters.

In some of the books in the series we barely see Rand at all. Sometimes this is a good thing and builds suspense, especially in the third book where we know where he had to go and what he had to do so the focus can be on other characters who are pursuing him or dealing with their own issues. The problem is when the focus is on too minor of characters for too long it starts to become a slog to read through.

In any series there are going to be characters each reader likes and dislikes. For me the worst offender was Elayne, a princess and future queen. To be honest, I found most of her scenes trite and expected and oh so boring. There is very little I find interesting in her story, and to be honest she's a grating character most of the times we see her. In my opinion most of her scenes could be dropped with very little loss.

The lesson here isn't that annoying characters should be dropped or that they shouldn't have viewpoints, it's that there needs to be a balance in how much visible time they get. Every writer has their pet characters, and I believe Elayne was one for Jordan. My reasoning for this is that as soon as Sanderson took over the series we saw a lot less of her (thank goodness).

In summary, let me say that I really did enjoy The Wheel Of Time. For all it's flaws and excessive length it does pay off in the end with a series of emotional moment/payoffs. For anyone who wants to write epic fantasy it is a must read. It's also a good read for anyone who wants to understand the writer's voice, because the contrast between Jordan and Sanderson is noticeable, even though the latter was attempting to channel the former while finishing the series.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Dork Review: Hero Is A Four Letter Word

One thing I never expected when I started on the path of becoming a published author was how many awesome relative unknowns I would meet. I fully expected to run into a whole gaggle of writers like myself; eager but clumsy and wanting desperately to see our words on paper if nowhere near good enough for that to happen. But those hidden gems, those diamonds that should be held up to the light for everyone to enjoy, that I didn't expect.

J.M. Frey is one of those diamonds and Hero Is A Four Letter Word a shining example of why.

The book is a collection of three of her shorts (stories that is). Two I've already read in previous anthologies, but it was indeed a pleasure to read them again. One of them, Maddening Science, has one of my favorite lines of all time: “Heroes can save the world. But villains can change it, Rachel.”

I still get goosebumps when I read that. It captures the essence of the superhero/villain paradigm with crystal clarity.

The other old tale is The Once and Now-ish King, a look at what would happen if King Arthur were resurrected fully aware in the body of an infant. It is wonderfully daft and fun.

The new story, Another Four Letter Word, is classic J.M. Frey. It has a distinct British flavor over top of a modern Canadian sensibility, both mixed together deliciously. It takes a very classic story archetype and twists it around. I don't want to give away spoilers, so let me just say that you will never look at fairy-tales quite the same after reading it.

Now all three of these stories sound fantastical and out there, but at their core they are all about people. This is what makes J.M. such a jewel and why she needs to be read by more people. The emotions the characters are raw and visceral, like an exposed nerve that someone keeps flicking. They inform and shape the stories as much as the outlandish ideas or classical mythologies that J.M. draws upon. They crackle and spark with anger and humor, with simple joys and complex passions.

J.M. Frey continues to surprise me. With each new story of her's I read I think there's no way she can exceed this, she's hit the top, but then she knocks it out of the park and I sit around stunned at what I just read. Pick up Hero Is A Four Letter Word and found out for yourself.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Alternate Realities: Man Of Steel

Okay, something new I'd like to try. Instead of writing a Dork Review for Man of Steel, I'm going to provide an alternate take on how the story could have plaid out. Basically, I'm spit-balling my version of the movie, since I know the movie has been thoroughly analyzed by others, such as my friend Adam over at Page of Reviews (here).

To start off, I should mention that I agree wholeheartedly with Adam's review. He nails the same issues I had with the movie. Man of Steel was a huge letdown for me. Not because I'm a Superman fan but because I'm not and the trailers and snippets for this movie had me convinced that they might actually be doing something interesting with the character, and because despite my better judgement I actually like a lot of what Zack Snyder has done. Yes, even Sucker Punch. (Don't look at me like that. I'm a sucker for all the elements in the movie, even if I understand the issues a lot of people have with it.)

Now on to the rebuild.

First, we need a foundation. I will give Snyder props on the style and visuals in this movie. Krypton is suitably alien and stunningly captured, looking dark, decadent, and foreboding. Really, the only issue I have with the visuals is that they remain dark throughout the entire film. There should have been a greater contrast between Krypton and Earth. Our world, as Jor-El states, is young and vibrant. It should have a color scheme to match. Superman has always been a primary colored superhero. Keep him that way. All it would have taken was adjusting the colors just a wee bit.

Next, we need to chop off quite a few elements, including a few characters. All the military characters, gone. They added almost nothing to the version we saw on screen and can easily be tossed. Next, the crew of the Daily Planet, including Lois Lane, are going to appear much later in my film, as in they'll be in the third act. And finally, Zod and his henches won't be the villain Superman defeats and kills at the end of the film. In fact, Superman won't kill anyone at all.

Okay, so now we know what's going to be cut, let's move on to what is going to be added in. The answer is, more Krypton!

The Alternate Reality version of Man Of Steel will have either it's first third or half take place on Krypton and show the struggle between Jor-El, Zod, and the ruling council. In the version that got up on the screen we received a taste of that, but not enough in my books. Zod could have been such an interesting character, a conflicted patriot who thought he was doing what was right for his people, a dark hero who slid into villainy. Instead he was a genocidal schmoe.

I want to have time to develop both Zod and Jor-El, to show how their choices shape what happens to Kal-El. I want time to explore this decadent, festering society they live in, and I want the over the top space-opera action we only got a tiny taste of.

The rest of the movie would be about Clark discovering who he was. I'd probably use the same flashback technique Snyder employed, simply because it will let me compress the amount of time spent in Kansas while showing the moment Clark decides to come out of hiding and reveal what he can do to the world.

And that is the crucial thing that must happen before Zod, before any villain shows up really. Clark needs to become Superman before there is a threat to respond to. He needs to decide to help people, to explore his full potential after being encouraged by both his fathers. You see, unlike Papa Kent in Man of Steel, my version of Clark's human father would come to realize his son can do great things and encourage him to make a difference, but also encourage his son to do those things without attempting to take credit, to do them because they are the right things to do, and would have some kick-ass scenes of Superman doing those things, saving people from impossible odds.

The whole second half of the film might just be that. Clark traveling the world, helping people, while a reporter named Lois Lane investigates all of these strange stories and sighting that have started cropping up. And my Lois would be able to take care of herself, able to get out of nearly any situation that arose.

The last part of the film would be Clark discovering the scout-ship left behind by his people and the suit inside. The very last scene would be him announcing himself to the world after saving a large group of people, and Lois, from a natural disaster, something that they couldn't have saved themselves from.

My version of Man of Steel would understand that, ultimately, Superman represents hope. Hope that we can do better. Hope for the future. Hope that we are not alone and that we do not need to be afraid.

My version would also attempt to avoid turning Superman into Space Jesus.

In the end, what should be taken away from the thought exercise above is that it is possible to make a big action flick with a heart, and this is what the next Superman film should strive for since he is a character that is all about heart.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Dork Review: Hair Side, Flesh Side

It is rare to find a book that is lyrical, sweet, powerful, and horrifying (in a good way) all at once. Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall accomplishes this with apparent ease.

The book is a collection of shorts with no apparent thematic connection until you step back and take a long, hard look. It's like the human body. As with the body, all the parts work independently but they function better as a whole.

 Hair Side, Flesh Side demonstrates what I love about single author anthologies; many different and wild ideas together but with a consistent voice behind them. Another part I love is that Marshall has a strong voice indeed.

Her stories sink their hooks into you from the very first sentence and won't let go. They are wonderfully paced and approach the lyrical nature of poetry at times. You can see the sheer joy the author takes in writing in every single word on the page.

Hair Side, Flesh Side fits nicely in the spot where literary and genre fiction meet. It wouldn't be out of place in a university-level literature course, but at the same time it can easily share shelf-space with any horror anthologies out there. This is a hard target to hit but Helen Marshall makes it look easy. I can only hope to be half as good as she is someday.

This is a book that will give you delightful nightmares. Take my word on that and go pick it up.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Dork Review: Zombie Vs Fairy Featuring Albinos

The stripper's back and she brought equally coked-out friends along for the ride. Really, that's the best way to describe Zombie Vs Fairy Featuring Albinos, the sequel/next in series effort from James Marshall following his stellar Ninja Vs Pirate Featuring Zombies. For some context you may want to read my review of NVPFZ here.

The puerile humor remains, along with the gore and over-the-top violence, though this book ups the gore while reducing the violence a tiny bit. That's okay though, because even with less violence it has enough to satisfy the truly demented reader.

The interesting part about ZVFFA is it's told from the viewpoint of a zombie, the hated foes of Guy Boy Man. It's an interesting flip, and allows Marshall to create an engaging character with Buck Burger, our zombie narrator. Buck is a part of the system and acutely aware of how depressed that makes him. A part of him yearns to be human again, which invites a comparison between it and Warm Bodies, but the stories are completely different. R from Warm Bodies is a young man unable to connect to the world while Buck is a middle-aged white-collar worker trying to figure out where his life went wrong.

Both have the same issue though, in that they're zombies.

Like NVPFS, ZVFFA is a book that works in layers. You can enjoy it on a purely infantile level as something an elementary school child with access to way too many horror movies wrote, or you can see the underlying complexity and sheer convention-defying balls that Marshall is truly writing with.

But don't take my word for it, go read it yourself.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Dork Review: Cascade Effect

It's always interesting to see traditional gender roles upset or reversed in fiction. After reading Cascade Effect I do believe we can safely say that this is Leah Petersen's wheelhouse.

Cascade Effect is the sequel to Fighting Gravity, and follows newlywed and newly-princed Jake Dawes as he navigates married life as the second-most important person in a star-spanning empire, the most important person being his husband, the Emperor.

Yes, it's one of "those books", as some people might say, a novel that dares to have gay characters without making a huge fuss about it. This is a common thread carried over from Fighting Gravity, and one that more authors should pick up.

The best way I can think to describe this book is it's a domestic sci-fi romance. There's scheming and plots galore going on in the background, along with a few digs at religious fundamentalism and some notions of class-warfare, but the core of the story is between Jake and his husband Pete, the monarchical Emperor. The story ebbs and flows around these too men and the conflicts in their relationship caused by things unsaid and the pressures of outside forces.

I do love the consistency of the characters in Cascade Effect. These are the same people we met in Fighting Gravity. Jake is still Jake; angry, headstrong, and stubborn to a fault. Half of his problems could be solved if he just learned how to bend and compromise, but if he did that then he wouldn't be Jake. He remains a man outside of everything and unsure who he can trust even as he loves deeply.

Aside from the consistency of the characters, Cascade Effect lets us see a bit more of the world Leah Petersen has constructed. I liked that this book involved itself more in the class struggle between the Empire's lowest and highest, putting Jake at the very centre of that struggle since he belongs to both groups simultaneously. It can be extremely hard to talk about class struggle and the poor without sounding too preachy, and I believe Leah manages to achieve this balance. Through the use of multiple different unclass characters she's makes them real to the reader in the same way they are real to Jake. They aren't saints but neither are they devils. They're just people.

My one criticism of the book would be that it doesn't spend enough time on the class struggle and the various plots going on around Jake while spending too much time focused on the relationships around him. At times it seems that Jake is filling the role of "woman who endures" from romantic fiction, and thereby has less agency than should be expected from a protagonist, no matter their gender.

Still, lack of agency aside, Cascade Effect is a compelling read and the credit for that lies at Leah Petersen's feet. Nothing ever feels forced or lagging, and the book moves at a brisk pace. I'm a fast reader, but even I was surprised at how quickly I made it through. The only other author in recent memory I can think to compare her to is Mary Robinette Kowal. Both have the ability to make subjects I would normally find dreadfully dull and excruciating to read entertaining instead.

If you enjoyed Fighting Gravity pick up Cascasde Effect. If you haven't read Fighting Gravity then pick up both so you're well stocked for beach-reading while on vacation. Either way, enjoy.

Friday, March 15, 2013

My Ad Astra 2013 Schedule

Here's where I'll be and what I'll be doing/talking about during Ad Astra this year:


Right to Review - 7 pm Ellsemere East - Beverly Bambury (m), Adam Shaftoe, K.W. Ramsey

Readers have more outlets than ever before to voice their opinions about books and respond to texts on book sellers’ sites such as Amazon or social networking sites like GoodReads. Yet, like so many other things on the Internet, this is open to exploitation and the dilution of dialogue. What kinds of responsibilities do site owners, authors and readers have in negotiating these new critical environments?

Yay! Panel with Bev and Adam!
Serenity: 10 years Later - 8 pm Franklin - Serenity 10 years Later David Clink (m), Fiona Patton, K.W. Ramsey

It’s been a decade since Serenity flew into the sunset. How do the series and movie hold up? Is there hope we’ll see the browncoats again on the larger or small screen?  Come and celebrate 10 years of Firefly fandom.

Gassing about Firefly for an hour is guaranteed to be fun.


Swordplay! The Panel - 11 am Artic - K.W Ramsey and ?

Join our experts and discuss the myths and the truths about Eastern and Western Sword Play and sword-arts.

At this point I'm not sure who else will be up there with me. Chalk this one down as tentative at this point. If anything changes I'll make an announcement.
Books as Comfort Food  -  1 pm  - Ed Greenwood (m), adrienne everitt, Sandra Kasturi, Fiona Patton, K.W. Ramsey

Some books in our libraries just naturally soothe us. There are books we go to again and again to seek comfort and ease anxiety. Sometimes suffering a trauma will send you to a certain book- Let’s explore this phenomena and talk about what is really going on when we hide in a book.

Looks as if this one doesn't have a room assigned to it yet. No worries. It'll get figured out.

Writing High Fantasy - 10 am Ellsemere East - Marie Bilodeau (m), Catherine Fitzsimmons, K.W. Ramsey, Gregory A. Wilson

What makes an epic fantasy epic? What are the elements of high fantaty? With fantasy TV going mainstream is now that right time for you to focus on writing a fantasy novel? What are some should haves when writing fantasy? How about must avoid?

Okay, so this is this years "WTF how the heck did I end up on this one" panel. Last year it was a panel on book trailers. Oh well, I'm sure I'll have fun and contribute either way. Also I GET TO BE ON A PANEL WITH MARIE! Excuse me while I let out a manly squee.
Beyond Winterfell - 3 pm Beaufort East - David Clink (m), Chris Charabaruk, Sandra Kasturi, K.W. Ramsey

Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones discussion panel. Would you serve on the wall, forsaking everything? Which house do you thing deserves the iron throne. How do you feel about HBO’s treatment of the series? Did you even know about the books before? Join other fans in exploring the world of George RR Martin

Another topic that's going to be fun gassing about. Fair warning though, since this is near the end of the con I may have gone completely silly.

And that's my schedule, as it is. Keep in mind Ad Astra is still a few weeks away and anything can change at this point. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Dork Review: Food For The Gods

I've always thought the world needs more comedy/mystery books set in the time of mythic Greece, and Food For The Gods handily fills that need.

What's that you say? The world didn't need that? Hmm...guess we get a bonus then.

The best way to describe Food For The Gods is it's a detective story/comedy set in mythic Greece with the main character as an aspiring chef who needs to solve a horrible crime in order to put his life back on track. It has all the tropes you expect from a mystery but cunningly skewered, much like a roast lamb, and seasoned with comedy and divine appearances.

Food For The Gods is exactly the kind of book I love coming out of smaller presses. It's inventive, irreverent, and gleefully mashes genres together. It's the third book in a row I've read recently that I've really enjoyed.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Dork Review: Shades Of Milk and Honey + Glamour In Glass

It's been awhile since I've done a review of any sort, so I thought I'd make up for that by posting a mega-double review of two books by the lovely Mary Robinette Kowal. Mrs. Kowal is the third member of the Writing Excuses team I've had the pleasure of meeting in person.

Have you ever wanted to read a Jane Austen Regency romance with magic added in? Then Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour In Glass are for you. No, really, that is the best way to describe them. Well, to describes Shades at least. Allow me to explain.

Shades of Milk and Honey, if you drop the magic called "glamour", fits perfectly in Jane Austen's world. It can be favorably compared to Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. In fact, I would place it above the other two because I find Mrs. Kowals writing style eminently readable.

I was never a huge fan of Jane Austen or Regency romances, and therefore resisted picking up these books for a very long time. That was my own misfortune. Both Shades and Glamour move along at a quick pace, the characters are well developed and believable, and there are many hidden gems for Austen fans and history geeks alike.

As stated earlier, Shades conforms tightly to the Jane Austen style of domestic drama, but Glamour busts out of that and sees the alpha couple formed in Shades traveling to France just before some major historical events take place. Without giving too much away I'll say that the major bit of history that does take place affects the characters without being the complete focus, which is a nice piece of storytelling on Mrs. Kowal's part. It's nice sometimes to see characters affected by history without it becoming the main focus of their lives.

I'd highly recommend picking up both Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour In Glass, especially if you're planning a trip somewhere warm and need a good beach read.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Marines Of Space and The Gamma Rabbit

     Sergeant-Brother Atticus’ mikel-ceramite encased foot crunched a skull into powder as he and Attendent-But-Well-Armed-Brother Ficus of the Rampant Bloodspiller Legion stepped out of the drop-pod’s boarding tube. The pod was clamped like a lamprey to a hulking structure their cruiser’s sensor-slaves had detected emerging into normal space. The lights on the end of their holy grenadier rifles cut through the darkness, revealing a grimy metal hallway full of green plants and dripping moisture.
     Atticus wiped away the sudden condensation the covered the compu-auspext screen hidden amongst the baroque decorations on his clunky and oversized power armour’s left forearm. It showed a breathable atmosphere with the Terran norm concentration of gases and no known bio-agents. A grime covered sign caught Atticus’ attention. He walked over to it.
      “It’s just as I feared,” vox-cast to Ficus after he’d freed the sign it from it’s layers of dust. “The Tradem Ark.”
     “But it was lost centuries ago,” Ficus said, his voice tinny and flat coming the ancient speakers in Atticus’ helmet. “How can there still be air, moisture, or even enough energy available to explain this.” He gestured at the verdant life growing all around them.
     Atticus resisted the urge to shrug his oversized armoured shoulders and instead held up a finger, looked at Ficus, and said, “The ancients built many terrible and wonderful things. Then they sent them out into the universe and the spaces between dimensions. We can only guess at their motives and the terrors hidden inside.”
      If he didn’t know for a fact that it was impossible for the antediluvian lenses of their power armour to move, Atticus would have sworn Ficus managed to roll his armour’s eyes. The Attendent-But-Well-Armed-Brother’s verbal response was the appropriate, “As the Corpse-King wills,” expected of every well-heeled warrior-priest superhuman in a Marines of Space Legion and especially of a Rampant Bloodspiller.
     “Good,” Atticus said before switching to the wide-net vox-caster. “Alpha team has penetrated the structure. Confirmed this is the Tradem Ark. Priority is recovering and protecting the IP database.” The five other teams scattered across the hulk via drop-pods acknowledged. Atticus switched back to a narrow cast and said to Ficus, “Let’s move out.”
     As they trudged through the narrow and weed-choked corridors, Atticus tried to rein in his imagination of what they’d find in the Tradem Ark’s IP database. It was hard. After all, the right Informatical Productionus (IP) template would equip his Legion with something unseen for millennia. It could give them the edge in a universe filled with the armies of the mutated traitor Disorder Legions, the Munching Hordes of the Tyrannasars, and the feral green Borks.
     It also wouldn’t hurt the Rampant Bloodspillers’ prestige amongst the other legions of the Grand Kingdom of Humanity Resplendent, making the Drunken Wolves’ recent acquisition of a rotary plasma cannon look like yesterday’s protein gruel.
     In an effort to quash his imaginings at getting one over the Drunken Wolves, Atticus focused on the proper quiet reverence for the Corspe-King a Marines of Space should maintain while remaining alert to the world around him. He was almost in the proper state of divine insanity when screams invaded his vox-caster.
     “Sweet Corspe-Of-Earth and Sparkly-Throne!”
     “Get it! Kill it!”
     “Arrrgh! My leg!”
     “Not the face! Not the face!”
     Before Atticus could cut in the line went dead. “All teams report!” he called out. Three teams reported back. Atticus consulted his compu-auspext. Both of the missing teams had been in the southern section of the Ark.
     “Brave Attendent-But-Well-Armed-Brothers of the Rampant Bloodspillers Legion, the enemy has shown himself,” Atticus said, doing his best to make his voice sound resplendent over the tinny vox-caster. “We must not fail to meet him with our utmost hate and firepower. Go forth to the southern section of the Ark, root out the foe, and let him taste our holy grenades!”
     The other teams acknowledged his command with a hearty “For the Corpse-King!”. Atticus motioned for Ficus to increase his pace and they were off running.
      “Very motivational speech, Sergeant-Brother,” Ficus said on the narrow vox-cast.
     “Yes, thank you, Attendent-But-Well-Armed-Brother,” Atticus said, unsure if Ficus’ tone was reverent or sarcastic. He hoped it was the former, but with the poor quality of his helmet’s speakers and Ficus’ flat delivery it was hard to tell. It also didn’t help that Ficus was new to Atticus’ section. The Sergeant-Brother hadn’t had the time needed to get to know him before the Ark had been discovered.
     “So…do we have any idea of what we’re getting into?” Ficus asked.
     “Whatever it is I’m sure six of the Corpse-King’s Marines of Space can handle it,” Atticus said.
     “Oh, of course,” Ficus said. “I know there is nothing we can’t handle, but wouldn’t it help if we knew what killed four of our fellow brothers in under a minute before we go charging in guns blazing?”
     “Attendent-But-Well-Armed-Brother Ficus, I do believe you are lacking in faith and hate. You are not showing the proper blood-thirsty attitude expected of Marines of Space!”
     “My apologies, Sergeant-Brother,” Ficus said with his high-protein pancake flat delivery. “I wish merely to know what I must hate.”
     “Better, Attendent-But-Well-Armed-Brother,” Atticus said as he nodded. “We must have faith in the Corpse-King and move forward, trusting him to show us the object of our hate.”
     It was good thing that increased lung capacity was one of the first enhancements made to all Marine of Space recruits.
     Atticus’ helmet’s external audio sensors picked up the sound of grenade-fire. The compu-auspext provided a vector and he and Ficus altered course. Fresh screams echoed through the vox-cast.
     “Report! Who’s screaming?” Atticus broadcast. “All remaining Attendent-But-Well-Armed-Brothers sound off!”
     The vox-caster remained dead.
Atticus and Ficus turned a corner to find the remains of four of their fellow Brothers splattered across the floor, walls, and ceiling. Amongst the shredded piles of power armour, muscle, and tissue, sat a tiny purple bunny licking its paw clean.
     “What the…how the…?” Ficus said while Atticus’ blood ran cold. “It’s a bunny.”
     “That’s no bunny!” Atticus said, slowly backing away as he brought his grenaider to bear. “That is the dreaded Gamma Rabbit.”
     “The what now?” Ficus said.
     “Scourge of the spaceways, demon from the space between dimensions, fluffy destroyer of worlds.” He held up a hand to stop Ficus from moving forward. “Walk away slowly. We need to get back to the ship and perform the rite of Purificus Nuclearas on the Ark from a safe distance. It’s the only way to be sure.”
     “So to be clear, we’re running from a fluffy bunny?” Ficus said with that damnable flat tone of his. Atticus had to resist the urge to grind his adamantium reinforced molars.
     “Yes, Attendent-But-Well-Armed-Brother, but slowly and carefully so that we don’t provoke it.”
At that moment Ficus stepped on a bloody shard of mikel-ceramite armour and sent it skittering across the floor. It struck the Gamma Rabbit’s midsection.
     The Rabbit looked up.
     “Uh, Sergeant-Brother, it’s looking at me,” Ficus said with genuine emotion for the first time. “Its eyes are glowing. Why are it’s eyes glowing?”
     “It was nice knowing you Ficus,” Atticus said before he turned and ran.

Let Me Explain. No Is Too Much. Let Me Sum Up.

I normally hate the idea of explaining a joke, but in this case it's kind of important. What I'm about to do needs context, otherwise people are going to think I'm not all there. (I'm not all there, but that's beside the point.)

Right after this post I'm putting up a story on my blog. This is the second time I've done this, and this time it's not because I failed to win a story contest. No, this is being done in protest of Games Workshop's recent actions in regards to self-published author M.C.A. Hogarth. They had Amazon pull her book Spots the Space Marine, claiming that they had exclusive rights/trademark on the words "Space Marine".

Now I'm not going to go off on a rant or in-depth commentary about this. That has been done by much bigger names elsewhere. No, what I'm going to do is post my own parody/protest story and invite you to read it and write one of your own. I'm a writer and this is my way of fighting against a gaming giant. Hopefully I'm not just tilting at windmills.

I'm also going to admit the story is a lot funnier if you're familiar with Warhammer 40K, the game system and miniature line put out by Games Workshop and their basis for attempting to claim domain over the term "Space Marine". To quote a friend, "It’s the marriage of Monty Python and Space Hulk, and quite honestly that’s a mash up that has been a long time in the making."

So please stay tuned for "The Marines Of Space and The Gamma Rabbit".

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Five Stages of Literary Rejection

Stage 1: Fear

Upon logging into your email:
"Oh, I just got a response from the editors of X about that piece I submitted."

Stage 2: Confirmation

Upon opening said email:
"And they rejected it."

Stage 3: Anger


Stage 4: Depression

 "I'm a hack who will never sell anything! I should stop writing and move to Outer Mongolia to herd yaks!"

Stage Five: Acceptance, Rewrites, and Resubmiting

"Wait, this one actually has some feedback. I could totally fix this story up, and I haven't put anything in with Y in awhile..."

Monday, January 14, 2013

So I Finished Writing A Novel Yesterday

Yup, it's official. I've finished the first draft of my second novel length piece of fiction. At just shy of 120,000 words it is by far the longest single thing I have written.

Some of you may be asking, "second novel length piece"? Yes, this is in fact the second thing I've written that could be considered "novel" length. The first was...lets just call it a trunk novel and leave it at that. It was a good thing to do but a terrible thing by the end. It taught me an important lesson though, that I could sustain the effort of writing a novel.

The big difference between that first novel and the recently completed one is that my second novel can be saved. Right now it's a first draft, a rough first draft, but I've learned so much during the writing of it, from writing it and a few short stories, that I can see where I went wrong and how to fix it. Not so with the first novel. I couldn't see anyway of fixing that one.

Here's a few other things I learned with this novel:

1. Don't outline as much - I spent way too much time working on an outline that ended up getting hacked to bits in the end. Next time I write I put in the major things I want to happen in each chapter and then work out how to do it when it comes time to write.

2. Prepare less - Going along with point one, I don't need to work out the full cast of characters beforehand, since I'm going to create characters as I need them anyways and change them as I write. I should also only worldbuild as much as required and leave as much blank space as possible.

3. Record more - Since there's going to be less prep and outlining on my next novel I will need to keep a set of notes on the important parts. Also, I kept having great ideas for the next draft as I wrote. If I hadn't been keeping notes on them I would've given in to the temptation to start revising before the first draft was done.

4. Finish the draft - As stated in number 3, it was hard to resist the urge to start revisions. I'm not talking about going back and inserting a little bit of foreshadowing for a piece I wrote later on; that I did do. No, I'm talking about when I realized the major flaws in the first draft and what needed to be done to fix them. If I'd done so I'd never finish though. Thankfully I listened to cooler and much wiser heads and pushed on to the end of the draft.

So where does this leave me? I have a draft and a plan, and after a short break I'm diving back in to make this the best thing I've ever written.