Saturday, December 1, 2012

The End: National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month. This year, I finally decided I would participate. I signed up on the website, I outlined a little bit, I pondered it over in the week leading up to it... then I started two days late because I found myself with an outline but no real direction.

At the end of the month, I have accumulated just over 25,000 words on a single project. Sort of. Some of the pieces feel like they belong to distinctly different stories though in my mind they are all part of the same world. Some of it was world building, as opposed to the story arc of my main protagonist(s) (never even met the secondary protagonist).

My NaNoWriMo Graph
 Do I think I "failed"? Absolutely not. I may not have churned out the 50,000+ words of other writers, I may not have "WON" the event that NaNoWriMo is celebrated to be... but I wrote 25,000 words related to ONE project. That's a lot, given that I'm much more comfortable in shorter, smaller territories. I did fail though, in one important regard - and it's the one thing I believe kept me from generating the 1,667 words per day.

I failed to KNOW my characters very well. I didn't know my characters, so it was very difficult to invest in their story. Certainly I find their story interesting, or I'd have thrown it to the wayside immediately.

The pieces that got me to and beyond my daily word goal? Those were about characters I adapted from other half-formed stories in my mind, characters that I've played with and known in some regard or another (some of them for several years). These were easy. I knew their internal landscape. I could put them in situations of varying types and I'd know how they'd react, respond, what they'd get out of those situations, how they might change and develop... I knew them.

Kyern, though? The first of my two main protagonists? I don't know him. What I do know of him, he doesn't know yet. I know he's young, a little confused, and pretty much 'lost' in the world. He lives his day to day life and that's all there is. At the beginning of this story, he doesn't yet know ANY of the things that might make him more interesting. He's pretty much just a regular kid (young adult, but... kid) who has a very irregular destiny ahead of him. I found exploring his life, his daily routine, to be rather boring - but I needed to explore it to get to know THIS much about him. (I did discover an old man who is pretty interesting though). Novel-story progression is slower... maybe not as slow as my mind has painted it, but slower than a short story's nonetheless. I learned a lot from and about it.

I have to say that I did not get very much use out of the NNWM community. I don't need the pep talks, and I don't like the socialization aspects of it. I also don't like the competitive nature it evokes when it declares those who reached the 50,000 words "winners" - that means that everyone who didn't (even if they didn't give up) are losers... and that's incorrect. (If there are "winners", there are "losers" - that's how the dichotomy works.) Maybe I'm being overly semantic. Maybe I think that the people who really won are the people who will keep writing, who didn't stop writing even when they knew they weren't going to reach 50,000 words...

In any case! I participated, I did not reach 50,000 words in 30 days, and in the future I will not be participating within the "official" capacity again.

I wrote.
I outlined a novel (or series!) length story, which is something I've never done before.
This story is interesting.
I don't need a 30 day "writing competition" to tell me that I'm worthy, that I am a writer.

Maybe what really bugs me is that I don't think the word "won" even has a place in this process. I think there's did and did not.

I did:
A lot of things I'd never done before, including writing (almost) every day on a singular project.

I did not:
Reach the 50,000 word goal within one month.

When compared to one another? One of those things has significantly more weight than the other.

The end result is that NaNoWriMo isn't a fit for me. I'm very, extremely happy for those people who find it to be a useful motivator and tool, but now I know it doesn't serve the same purpose in my personal space.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Every Day

I know - it's been nearly a month since my last update, and everyone (who cares) is still waiting on my update about MileHi Con, not to mention the Storyboards I haven't kept up with since school started...

But you know what? It's okay. No one is gnashing their teeth or pulling at their hair over it, are they? If so, you have my sincerest apologies.

Ultimately, all of this is relevant to today. I could talk about the hypocrisy that is brought out in my country over this "holiday" wherein everyone is thankful, sharing, and giving... followed immediately (sometimes starting at the stroke of midnight) by rampant, sometimes even violent consumerism... but I think it's been said before.

I'm thankful for a lot of things, even if I don't say it all the time. Like the fact that I can hear a hawk outside my window - that's really an amazing thing. Or the people in my life... But, more relevant to this blog is:

I'm thankful that I have such a fulfilling life that writing in this blog has been a STRUGGLE to find/make time to do. I am so caught up in doing things that I love (sometimes that I just "need" to do, but love when that need isn't so great as to sleep deprive me) that this little things (lots of little things) fall a little to the wayside. I think about it, but I'm just doing things so often... I wouldn't be very thankful for it if I weren't engaged in so many other great facets of life...

Loved ones or not, holiday or not (for my international friends) - I'm thankful for you all, all year.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Books Multiply Like Rabbits

Last weekend (10/19 - 10/21), I attended MileHiCon, in Denver, Colorado. I'd love to sum it up in a single word, but that would require me being some kind of word magician like Lewis Carroll and creating a nonsense word that meant what I wanted it to mean due to other words not quite cutting the mustard. (That's a long sentence!)

There's a lot to tell! I cannot communicate to you how excited I am, or how - a whole week - I am still riding the high of being surrounded by authors of all gradients and immense talent. They are also full of splendiferous ideas and gracious hearts and humility and wonderful things of every sort. I've no doubt they are "just human" as well, which makes all the rest that much more sparkling.

I'm going to take a risk here. Let me explain:

Typically, I like the approach of "if I'm going to list/link some, I should do my best to list/link all" - but let's be honest here. That would be a MAMMOTH undertaking. What I will do, instead, is try to mention all of the authors to whom I listened on panels when I talk about their specific panels. For today, I wanted to talk about the big pile of books I bought.

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with each of the Guests of Honor (I even got to hang out with a couple of them, and engage a couple in earnest, if brief discussions). I'll admit it, even talking about it here, I am squee'ing inside. It's difficult to pick a place to start, so I'll go with... books!

I bought MANY books this weekend. And some of them have stories behind them.

Cherie Priest
I finally got to meet Cherie! A long time ago (about 12 years now), I had a LiveJournal (I still have it, I just don't use it so much), and through that LJ I met many wonderful people. Among them are more than a couple of ladies who have since become published and successful authors. (I feel there IS a difference between published and successful, I can talk more about that later if someone is curious.) Cherie is one of those ladies, and I've been so happy seeing her get her due from the publishing and reading world. As a result of meeting her, of being so excited to realize that she is as much of a genuine person in "real life" as she seems through her site & blogging, I purchased almost all of her books that I could find in print. Yeah. Major hetero-girl-crushing.
Books I bought and why:
Boneshaker
Ganymede
Dreadnought
These are the books that broke Cherie into the limelight. I'm pretty sure it's about time that I gave them a read.

Fathom

Cherie's first Publisher's Weekly starred reviewed book. Seems like it didn't get its due, and I've been excited to read it for many years now.

Bloodshot
Hellbent

Well, what can I say. She calls them her "Trashy Vampire Novels" but that's not what drew my attention. During a panel, she talked about the old vampire folklore that discussed one of the ways to escape the undead abomination was to throw grain or rice or sand or pebbles on the ground in front of the monster. It would then be forced to stop and count the discarded objects. All of this links to the notion of OCD, and Cherie said that her protagonist was "a vampire with OCD" - I was hooked. I've read the first chapter of the first book and am enjoying it.

CJ Henderson

What can I say? I've never been happier to be surprised. I went to the convention MAINLY to get a chance to meet Cherie and to HOPEFULLY sit in on some great panels. I didn't intend to have as great of a time as I did. In the course of things, I went to a panel that consisted of all of the Guests of Honor. At that panel, I had the opportunity to 'meet' CJ Henderson for the first time. His charisma and his no-bullshit attitude won me over in a heartbeat.

I am a living example of his belief that an author earns their fans one at a time. I didn't even really know who he was (I figured out later that I had done a lot of reading about his character Lai Wan), but after that... I had to read something of his. I browsed a local bookstore in the dealer room and found:

What You Pay For

Now, here's where things get even more amazing. Daring to dare, I went to the Autograph Alley and approached Mr. Henderson to get him to sign the book. Meek creature that I can be, I explained (apologetically) that I had not really known who he was, but he made such an impression, I had to pick up something of his from the store. I pulled "What You Pay For" out of my bag. He laughed - a short and surprised and utterly delighted sound. Turns out, the main character in this collection of stories... one of his first, and one of his favorites. Immediately, he flipped into the book and started reading to me, in Jack Hagee's voice. It was amazing; a lil mini reading just for me.

I've read a few pages (this seems to be a trend), and love it. I've always liked detective fiction (not mystery/crime, which I feel are SLIGHTLY different), and I think Jack Hagee and I are going to get along quite well.

Molly Tanzer
A Pretty Mouth

I saw Molly on a panel back at Denver Comic Con and immediately loved her hair. At MileHiCon, I got to meet her and even hang out a little bit (under the influences of some alcoholic beverage(s)). So very glad I did! As a result, I picked up her newly released book as well. I even got her to sign it! ...because why not? I've read a couple pages and am looking forward devouring the rest.
Eventually, my hope is to read and write at least a little review on all of this - as well as delve more into each of these authors' bodies of work. You know, and perhaps one day sit on a panel with them.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Banned Books Week

"The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame." - Oscar Wilde

Banned books. This week has been Banned Books Week. I know. I'm late. But it's never too late to read, and I can't imagine that extending awareness beyond this singular week is a bad thing at all. Brace yourself - there are a lot of links here, and I encourage you to share them, read them, absorb them all.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association and a long list of other rather upstanding groups.

I've been reading a lot about the subject, and it's always been in my periphery. My awareness of "banned books" began in elementary school when I witnessed several books being thrown into the garbage by my public school's librarian. When I asked why they were being discarded I was told that they had been found inappropriate. I asked what that meant. Our librarian explained that either the books had been found inappropriate for elementary school students' age groups or contained content that was inappropriate in general. Amongst these books were several from the Guardians of the Flame series by Joel Rosenberg. A brief description of the series:
Guardians of the Flame is a long-running series by author Joel Rosenberg and is arguably his best-known work. The series is about a group of college students who participate in a fantasy role-playing game, and are magically transported to the world of the game by their gamemaster.
Ever the curious child, and familiar with the game of Dungeons & Dragons (as well as the cartoon series with a similar story), I asked what was wrong with those particular books. "They promote Satanism." I kid you not... Someone decided that Dungeons & Dragons was Satanic (lots of people still seem to hold this belief) and that any book about imagination, about people traveling to another world, overcoming disabilities, being challenged to do the Right Thing... was inappropriate because it would inspire children to Worship The Devil (I really thought these ridiculous theories about fantasy-genre books and games would die by the time I hit my 30's - but they persist).

To this day, there are books that suffer because of this kind of ignorance. Religious groups are not the only offenders. So are too-vocal parents who never bother to read literature and only latch onto one aspect of a book - often misinterpreting it - and then feed a mob mentality into getting a book censored.

In equal turns, I have seen a lot of people saying "These books aren't banned. I can go down to my local bookstore and pick up a copy right now." This is faulty logic, but it is powerful logic, and easily convinces many people that there's no such thing as banned books in the United States. That information flows freely and ideas are not censored. In comparison to other countries? in comparison to previous decades? This is true, but it's not the Truth.

When an institution that has the word "public" in it chooses to remove a book from its shelves or its curriculum because someone finds the use of a word or an idea in it offensive, that is censorship, and that is "banning" a book.

Here's an example:

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. This book has been challenged in locations and removed from some. Why? During a book burning in the story, one of the many tomes incinerated is the Bible. This put people up in arms. "It talks about burning the Bible! How horrible!" ...except the point of the book is that, yes, it IS horrible, but if you continue to ban literature that offends or inspires people, then the Bible is going to end up on that list eventually. What other offenses might Fahrenheit 451 contain? Questioning authority, individual critical thought...? The major themes of Fahrenheit 451 are exactly the themes of arguments made by people wanting to STOP book bannings in public (especially educational) venues. 

By the logic that bans books like Fahrenheit 451, movies like The Matrix and Equilibrium should be banned, too. (Of course, we just take care of the "appropriateness" factor with ratings on films. Equilibrium was rated R for gun-violence, some language, and "drug-use" - despite the "drug-use" in the film being mandatory according to law.)

If you think it's not a problem, then also consider the Harry Potter series. In the early 2000's, I was stuck in a town I will not name for a short time due to an alternator in the car in which I was traveling having died... There were signs for book burnings, calling for people to destroy any and all Harry Potter books & paraphernalia because it brought children to witchcraft. Yes, this was in the early 2000's A.D. in a town large enough to be called a city.

I've kind of started rambling, but I wanted to say this:

Just because a book may no longer be banned on a government level (thus, the best word to use would be "outlawed"), doesn't mean the history of banning is something we should forget. We need to be aware of the types of books that HAVE been banned - not just in the United States, but all over the world - and guard against letting these sorts of things happen in the future.

Do a Google (or search engine of your choice) search and explore the tons of blog and news articles about banned books.

Educate yourself on just what book censorship is, how it happens, why it happens, what is happening with it now and has happened with it in the past. Don't just say "I don't see it, so you must be making it up." And, before you write off Wikipedia links, check out the source references at the bottom of articles - people have done the research, respect that and make educated decisions based on what you find.

"Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it." - Mark Twain

"Censorship is the enemy of truth -- even more than a lie. A lie can be exposed; censorship can prevent us knowing the difference."  -- Bill Moyers (transcription, video)

Stephen King's thoughts, from 1992.

Here are some informational links, if you are curious about what books are banned, how and why, and where.

Book Censorship (defined)
Challenging Literature (what it means when literature is challenged)
Book Censorship in the United States
Most Commonly Challenged Books in the United States
Books Banned By Governments

And particularly: About Banned Books (from the ALA, explaining a lot of the details on how and why books are banned)


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sundry: Updates & Plans

More than ten days gone by with nary a word for my blog. You have my apologies.

As I am getting my school work into some semblence of order, I will return to regular updates - I'm hoping for two per week. Is that too much, too little?

Here are some of the things I intend on talking about very soon:

Geek & Sundry did another Story Board! The guests: Bradley Beaulieu, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Amber Benson. "Concerning Characters" - I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts on this Board like I did the last one, and hearing yours!

I intend to, at the least, get back into the Friday Flash Fiction Challenge from Terrible Minds.

If I can get some other works underway, I will also be putting myself back into Six Sentence Sunday.

I encourage any of you to participate with these two little exercises - even if you only write "for fun" and have no intentions of being published. You can even use them as resources to find new authors to love (I think I've said that before).

I want to take a look at writer-organizational tools and talk about some of those as well. My friend, the Wayward Raconteur, has talked about mind mapping software and his excellent experience in using it already.

Also, if you are ever bored on the internet, go over and check out Geek & Sundry. No time for videos? I've compiled a list of Felicia Day's "Fave Five/Top Three" (whatever else they may've been called by now) links from her Flog episodes. You can find them HERE. They do need updated for the last couple of weeks, but there's still plenty of awesomeness to be had.

Are there topics you'd like to hear about in the realm of writing? (That's a big realm, don't think it applies only to novels.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Head Colds!

Head colds are pretty miserable. I distinguish the location in this case because typically my colds move very definitively into my chest and reside there most uncomfortably. This one has stayed firmly in my sinuses and is about 4 days through the process. This could go on for another week on the average. I am afraid it might.

Short - I'm still alive, though I wish I could get decent sleep. Getting a better grip on school & work and how to wiggle in some REAL writing, including practice.This includes returning to regular blogging updates.

Finished reading Kushiel's Dart, about 200 pages from the end of Kushiel's Chosen. I've looked at the successive trilogies, but I'm not sure if I will read them. I enjoy these immensely, and am afraid of encountering the same story with (slightly) different characters and growing bitter. This has happened before with other authors.

My editing skills continue to get a work-out, through my employment. I proofed & edited 52 single-spaced pages of text today. On cold medicine. Oof.

How is the transition into the fall months treating you?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sundry: School & Reading

It's been quiet for a little bit, and while I like to keep things here oriented around my writing, there's a lot of non-writing things that impact that craziness (writing, the desire - no, need - to write is a kind of craziness, a madness that you may not realize has a hold on you until you try to imagine with all of your imagination what it would be like to never do it again; then it seeps into your bones and makes you hurt for not doing it, compels you), so here's a little random update.

The fall semester started. This is my third fall semester at a community college; yes, I am taking 3 years to finish my Associate of Arts. With my age and the programs I want to pursue, I need levels 211 and 212 of a Foreign Language. If they had offered Latin, I might've taken it (having done 3 years in High School), but I opted to take Japanese. Given that this is a community college (and grossly underfunded, being in Colorado), I could not start Japanese I until my second fall semester. And so - I will graduate in the Spring of 2013, and I will have exploited the entirety of my 90 credit allowance in which to finish my degree. (After that, onward and upward.) I am taking a 13 credit hour load, which qualifies as full-time. Astronomy 102 (beyond our Solar System), American Literature pre-1865, Philosophy of Death & Dying, and Japanese III. This might slow me down a little. I refuse to let it stop me.

I am also still taking a few free courses over at Coursera. I encourage you to take a look.

Somewhere in here I am figuring out how to also hold down a job, since I actually HAVE one for the first time in a few years. Sometimes I forget I have it, since it's at my school (so, I'm always "going to school" regardless of activities pursued).

I finished and polished up the ~750 flash fiction piece intended for a contest. The six sentences I had previously posted for it no longer exist within its boundaries. I tried a little bit of Vonnegut's advice  (#5) and started closer to the end. I think it works. I hope it works. The winners will be announced within "one to two months".

I am reading two books right now, though one was a mistake to pick up randomly as it was part of a series; rereading Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey, and Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews. It's the second that is a part of a series (or is "sequence" the better word here?), though I haven't had too much trouble with it. There's enough information to go with the story without being confused, and the few references to past events or characters are couched in such a way that you get the idea of their importance and can recognize that they are from a previous story. I didn't pay attention when I picked it up, but it's okay. I mostly wanted to sample it and am now only 40 pages from the ending. Whoops?

I think I'll save "what sorts of blogs I read that have nothing to do with writing directly" for another time.

What bits of life keep you from writing? Or, even better, make you squeeze in the writing where you can? What are you reading?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Elder Black Pudding

Depression is a monster, and it's not even a very active one. It's more like a slime or a sludge or an ooze or a pudding, once you know what it is. It clings to your legs, slows you down, makes the struggle seem futile, until you want to give up because 'What's the point?'. Then it creeps up and swallows you. ... Elder Black Pudding Depression. (I enjoy the pun that is "inky death" in the descriptor of that link. Which is a good sign.)

It's not rational either. Anxiety & Depression feed one another, and both are extremely irrational. Crazy with a capital K.

I spent the better part of this last week practicing "fake it til you make it", without much success, but just enough to keep moving. That's why there were no blog updates containing any writing; I didn't do any.

Last night I finally pounded out a fresh 750'ish words, and over half of those are going in the can. This is not helping my ascent from the hole where that crazy part of my brain keeps telling me that I have nothing of value to contribute, but... it's still progress.

I am hopeful - and being kicked by my depression for every ounce I muster - that I will have offerings here to the muses, myself, and readers this week.

I also start school tomorrow.

In the meantime,  I wan to share words from other people about this monster (I'm afraid I don't have any witty titles for these):

http://critical-hits.com/2010/12/27/depression-dungeons-dragons/

http://www.elizabethmoon.com/writing-depression.html

http://www.nytimes.com/1994/11/14/books/exploring-the-links-between-depression-writers-and-suicide.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2011/05/writers-block-and-depression-why-you.html

http://hollylisle.com/live-to-write-another-day/ -- I really love Holly's stuff. Her voice is so honest.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Harry Harrison

It's been a week now, since Harry Harrison's passing and I feel like I've been remiss in not talking about it. While I've never written any real Science Fiction (my Flash-Challenge piece about Icarus is the closest I've gotten and has me learning a lot about Quantum stuff), it's always held a special place in my heart as a reader. I'm afraid I don't have any heavy insights to add to the masses offered all over the internet in the wake of his passing, but...

While catching up on some blog reading, I came across this post by Neil Gaiman where he shared scans of an article he wrote for Knave in 1984 (if you don't know, Knave appears to be the British cousin of Penthouse), where he interviewed Mr. Harrison. The scans are hell on the eyes to read, so I took the time to transcribe the article as I absorbed it. It is certainly worth sharing.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday; Anthony & Julie

Here it is, my first Six Sentence Sunday. This is from a flash-fiction piece I'm working on that must fit into 250-750 words. It's still in the first draft, but it's what's in-progress:


They might've made a clean escape if they had seen the trap. Maybe it was a tripwire, maybe something else; Anthony only knew that one minute they were running, hand in hand, and the next there was a jerk on his arm and their hands were wrenched apart. He turned back to see her sprawled on the concrete, a mass of debris covering her legs. Neither wasted time in getting her free, and they'd escaped down the nearest manhole. He didn't notice the blood until he went down the ladder after her. The rungs were slick with it.

Feel free to leave feedback (I encourage you to), and definitely go check out the other hundred-plus authors sharing their six sentences.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Starting "Six Sentence Sunday"

While prowling around the internet, I was directed toward this "thing" called Six Sentence Sunday as something to do on a blog. As I'm trying to maintain a level of writing here and use this blog as a motivating tool, I decided to look into it. I'm enjoying the Flash Fiction Challenge, so why not try this out? (I'll explain a bit more about what it is in a moment.)

I looked around the site and realized that a lot of the authors that were participating in this "blog hop" were romance writers, and I felt a little nervous. Maybe I had missed a note about the community? Maybe I shouldn't go poking my nose in? Of course, that's just my anxiety getting the better of me. I sent a quick note off to the site admin with my observations and an inquiry about whether there were preferences - I'm not one to go barging in where I'm not a good fit, and I'm grown enough to realize that it's not personal when it happens.

Much to my delight, I got a quick note back from the host, Sara Brookes. She explained why I was seeing what I was seeing and made it clear that I was very welcome to join in on the fun:
The only reason romance is prevalent is because I started it, and most of the people who joined in when I did were my author friends in the romance community (since I myself write romance). They brought their friends and so on and so forth. We have had, and continue to have, a wide variety and welcome anyone who wants to participate, regardless of genre. We'd be happy to have you hop right in!
This is one of the friendliest emails I've ever received from a site admin, a complete stranger. I can't really say anything else about it. That email left me feeling pretty good about things - feeling pretty good in general. (I also really like that she used the word prevalent instead of predominant. If I had more carefully considered my own email, I would've made the same word choice. I used "predominant" - probably because I was feeling intimidated.)

So, as long as I can remember and can keep myself writing and working on new things, I will start participating in Six Sentence Sunday regularly! (I know you're excited, right?)

What it is: Six Sentence Sunday hosts a list of links to blogs that are participating. By 9am EST on Sunday, participants are to have posted a blog entry containing 6 sentences from a current work in progress (WIP). What started out with one person grew to four people, and since February 2010 has grown to 150 links currently on the list for 8/19/12 (make that 151, as I've just added mine to the list - so I'll have a new post up two three days in a row when my SSS post lands Sunday morning).

I've linked the site a couple times here and will link back to it in subsequent Six Sentence Sunday updates - I encourage you to go check them out. Lots of six-sentence morsels out there, and you could discover a new author to love.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Flash Fiction Challenge: Opening Line

This week's Flash Fiction Challenge from terribleminds.com was to pick an opening line out of three. I went with "Thursday was out to get me."


No title, working or otherwise. Not so good at this PI stuff, but I do love it.

word count: 1375 (and still a sloppy, too-fast wrap up at the end)



Thursday was out to get me.

I played the video footage back again. Sure as shit, that was him and my gal, Friday, tucking bugs under my lampshade, and wiring my ficus in the corner. I knew I couldn't trust the girl - you can never trust a girl, but I didn't expect Thursday to turn on me. We'd been in business together for years. He was the Watson to my Holmes.

I sat back in my chair. It creaked and I sighed. We were so close to nailing the Mayor as nothing but a puppet for the gangsters. Thursday was supposed to be getting surveillance photos of the Mayor's afternoon closed cabinet, which pretty much everyone knew involved every mob boss head in the town. Even the cops knew, but no one cared. No one except my client, and she was going to be disappointed.

Who bought him off? Friday probably worked for one of the bosses, maybe even the Mayor directly, but who could buy Thursday? He hated everyone in town, except me. Seems I was wrong about that exception. I hoped they paid him good 'cause his family was going to need that cash when I buried his ass. Something was bugging me about the whole thing though.

Thursday helped me wire the video in my office. He knew it was recording twenty-four, seven and he knew I checked it before I came into the office every day. It didn't make sense that he'd plant bugs for someone else without taking out my feed first.

I hit replay again.

Friday kept look out the windows, flitting between them like an agitated bee. Thursday went to the lampshade first. Amateur move. He knew better. After the lamp, he pulled out a set of wires and went to work in my ficus. I love that ficus. It was hard to watch him rough it up like that, but there was something there. He looked nervous, and then - there it was. He looked directly at the camera and he looked scared. It all made sense now, but didn't make me feel any better.

Thursday wasn't out to get me - it was worse than that. I stopped the tape, pulled my phone out of my pocket. I dialed Mrs. Thursday. No answer. I called the kids' school, asked about them. Thursday made me an emergency contact, so they were happy to dish. The kids didn't come in today; Mrs. Thursday picked them up yesterday and said they wouldn't be to school for a couple days due to a death in the family. I hung up before I could say that there hadn't been, but if I didn't do something right there would be.

I dialed Thursday.

"This is Thursday." He sounded cool enough. I played along.

"Thursday, it's Vince."

"Vincent! Yeah, what's the problem boss?"

Thursday never called me Vincent. Nobody called me Vincent. "I locked the keys to my office back home. You in town? Able to come let me in?"

"Ahhh," he stalled. "No can do, Vincent. Death in the family and all, me and the missus are taking the kids out of town. I might not see you for a few days."

"Sorry to hear it, Thursday, real sorry to hear it. Let me know if there's anything I can do for you or the family. You know they are as good as mine, too."

"Sure, sure thing. We're hanging in there. Sorry I couldn't help you out with the key. If we weren't in such a hurry, I'd meet you halfway. Gotta go, Vincent."

"See you soon, Thursday." And that was it. We were really going to have to work on our code-speak if we both got through this. Best I could guess was they were listening in. Maybe it was only to his end, maybe it was to both, and maybe they were at the Halfway Inn. I had to assume Mrs. Thursday and the kids were there, too. I know that's how I'd do it if I were them.

I went down to my office and piled up the evidence we collected so far on the Mayor. I took pictures of it all and sent it to the phone I keep in my safe, then I burned my phone’s SIM card and tossed the phone into the compactor. I deserved a new one if I pulled this off without getting myself killed. I put the evidence in a briefcase and put on my good shoes. A man shouldn’t die wearing bad shoes.

* * *

Friday sat behind the clerk’s desk at the Halfway Inn, twirling a lollipop against her lips. “Hey Vincey, sweet of you to visit me at work. How’s business?” Pretty sure she was calling me a sucker. Also pretty sure she was right.

“It’s been better, but let’s not dance, sweetheart. I didn’t wear my dancing shoes. Where’s your boss?”

She started to play innocent, so I pulled back my jacket to show her my piece. “Why so serious, Vincey? Besides, I don’t know what you mean. Mister Crisper ain’t here.”

“Not Mister Crisper,” Crisper was the owner of this shoddy excuse for a flophouse. He didn’t have a clue what was going on below decks.

“I ain’t got no other boss but you, then, Vincey. But I can’t take a break til Mister Crisper gets back to take over the desk. You wanna wait up in 113?” She slid a key across the counter.

“That sounds like a great idea, sweetheart. I’ll get things ready for you.” If they were upstairs, they didn’t want any more of a mess than I did, that was good news in a tornado of bad. I took the key and went up the stairs.

One of the muscles was waiting outside the door. “That the stuff you’ve got on Mr. Calone?”
“Might be. Who’s asking?”

“Doesn’t matter. That the only copy?”

“These are all the originals from my office. No copy prints left there.” It wasn’t exactly a lie.

He grunted, seemed satisfied. “Give it to me. I take the case, I check it out. I walk away, you wait 10 minutes, and then you can go inside and take what’s yours.”

“Why don’t I just do it after I give you the case?”

“Wouldn’t want you following us, Mr. Doonan. And it gives the boys a chance to toss your place to make sure.” He grinned like he was the most clever man in the world.

I could wait and I wasn’t worried about them tossing my office. I’d eat my hat if they found my safe, and my shoes if they could crack it. I handed him the case and he shuffled through the papers and the pictures. When he seemed satisfied, he walked away, humming some song I didn’t recognize.

The hall was too quiet when he was gone. I started getting nervous. I put the key in the door knob after five minutes, but it wasn’t the right key.

I kicked in the door.

Thursday was tied and gagged, in a chair by the window. He was slouched forward and I couldn’t see his face, and I was glad. He wasn’t breathing. Mrs. Thursday was laid out on the bed, not moving. She probably wasn’t going to move again, judging by the amount of blood soaking the mattress. I didn’t see the kids. I kicked in the bathroom door. Both of ‘em, Lucy and Thursday Junior, were wrapped up like cocoons in the tub, but wriggling like worms. At least they were alive. I left them there to look at the scene a couple minutes more.

When I cut ‘em loose all they wanted to know was where was their mom, where was their dad. I made them put on a blindfold before I took them through the room, told them I would explain when I got them home.

I used the room phone to call the cops, though they probably knew exactly what had happened, since it was cop cuffs holding Thursday to the chair and his missus to the bed. They knew me, and the sarge let me take the kids home after a quick statement. I was their legal guardian now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Geek & Sundry: Story Board Episode 1 Recommendations

Nothing original here, just a list of recommendations made during the course of the Geek & Sundry Story Board Episode "Urban Fantasy: Threat or Menace?" and a couple of links that I forgot to put into my last post. (Putting them here as I don't expect folks to go back through a previous post to find two itty bitty links.)

I mentioned two authors that I forgot to link:  David Boop and Delia Sherman. Both were mentioned in the context of Interesting Things that they've said about genre and things revolving around the notion.

On to the recommendations! (This list is from the Info section below the above-linked video.)

Diana Recommends:

Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne
Jane True series by Nicole Peeler
The Black Sun's Daughter series by M.L.N. Hanover

Emma Recommends:

Topper; Rain in the Doorway by Thorne Smith

Jim Recommends:
The Twenty Palaces series by Harry Connolly
Alex Verus novels by Benedict Jacka

Patrick Recommends:
Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Christopher Moore
The Odyssey by Homer
A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare

In addition to these listed recommendations made toward the end of the panel, I made note of a few other books mentioned in the course of the panel conversation. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list (it's not very long either).

Last Call by Tim Powers
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (I'm not 100% sure this was mentioned - it could be I was just thinking so hard about it when they were talking about Urban Fantasy & its cousins filling the need for fairy-tales/myths/folklore that I think it was mentioned)
The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams (will be released Sept 4, 2012)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Geek & Sundry's Story Board: Urban Fantasy

I've learned that I love panels. They are akin to miniature lectures and there's always more to learn if you pay attention. So, this week, Geek & Sundry launched the first episode of their show Story Board, titled "Urban Fantasy: Threat or Menace?" It's not a traditional panel, but a "hangout" - I'm going to call it a panel.

Patrick Rothfuss (Kingkiller Chronicle) hosted with Jim Butcher (Dresden Files), Emma Bull (War of the Oaks), and Diana Rowland (White Trash Zombies) as guests. The whole thing was just over an hour long and well worth the time. It was obvious that they had a lot more to talk about, and it's a shame that it had to end at the hour mark. 

During the course of this panel they discussed several questions and I had several thoughts of my own that I wanted to put out there. Anyone is welcome to chime in with their own thoughts, here. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother sharing!

What Qualifies A Story As Urban Fantasy


Emma Bull opened the discussion saying she felt that to be an urban fantasy a story needed to be set in a city. Diana Rowland disagreed, saying that it only required the story to be set in the real world. Jim Butcher kind of wrapped up the discussion saying that the whole thing was really about bringing magic and monsters and other scary things to modern audiences.

For myself: If a story is not set in an Urban Environment, I don't feel like it should be called Urban Fantasy. This harkens back to my post about covers - like the cover, a book's shelving (what genre labels are REALLY for) promises something. Urban Fantasy promises two very specific things - not one or the other. It might be meeting the qualifications of Fantasy, but if there's no urban setting there should be no Urban label. Even the requirement of the Real World is a little shaky. Emma mentions Fritz Leiber's city of Lankhmar as a good example of a setting for what she'd consider non-Real-World Urban Fantasy.

This is also a good and solid example of how broken the idea of genre can be when you start talking about specific novels. The Wikipedia link there for Lankhmar lists the genre as Sword & Sorcery and Fantasy. (David Boop said, at Denver Comic Con, that genre is  dead and tags are the way to go. I tend to agree for pretty much these sorts of reasons.)

The City Is The New Forest (attributed to Delia Sherman)

There was talk about the Forest, and the City of modern days being the Forest of older stories.

I don't feel very strongly about trying to identify stories by genre, when I don't feel that genre is the right way to organize things, but there are certain aspects in Urban Fantasy (and within several other, related genres) that I find deeply interesting. Late in the panel, these authors discussed the gap that genres like Urban Fantasy are filling in the human psyche, in our need for stories. It is suggested that these stories fill our need for the Fairy-tale - which Rothfuss defined as "set in the Real World where something Other intrudes on that Real world" - and Emma Bull suggested that, instead of Fairy-tale, these stories fulfilled a need for Myth, becoming Contemporary Myth.

I don't disagree, but I think at this point, the topic started splitting hairs. Fairy-tales, Mythology, and Folklore share a very strong and central spirit. We've come to treat Mythology as "a way of explaining phenomenon in the world in the absence of science" - but what about the Minotaur? What about Io? What about a dozen other myths that don't serve to explain anything? And Fairy-tales have been relegated to the role of Moral Tale, when that's not at all what they were. Folklore may be a better compromise...

I don't think any of these things are necessarily accurate, either. People are disenfranchised with their regular lives, they need escapism. Urban Fantasy, just like Epic Fantasy, just like Science Fiction, and all the labels in between, serve as a source of that. Urban Fantasy is just much more easily digestible, which leads us into the next part...

World Building in Epic Fantasy vs Urban Fantasy

Rothfuss suggested that one of the major draws of Urban Fantasy was the lower amount of world-building required (this results in less effort for the audience to immerse in the story - they know the setting). Of course, Urban Fantasists disagree, but I find the arguments on their side of the fence to be fairly weak. Yes, the Urban Fantasist is still required to provide description - as Emma Bull said, "Not everyone has been to New Orleans." - but they are not obligated to create an entire world. We've been living one and building one for tens of thousands of years that they get to use.

By no means am I saying that Urban Fantasists have to do less work. No, not even a little bit. There's a lot of research required when you are working in the real world, but this fact remains -

Urban Fantasists do not have to build the world from the foundation up in the same way as Epic Fantasists. There is world development and a required good use of setting, but the Real World provides a vast body of foundational material that the Urban Fantasist doesn't have to create or explain.

Consider, for a moment, the things an Epic Fantasist must think about and create that an Urban Fantasist may take for granted:

  • Geography
  • Ecology
  • Cosmology
  • Physics
  • Geology
  • Biology
  • Cultures (and all that entails)
  • Meteorology
  • Population (Flow, Growth, Expansion)
  • Societal Structures
  • Technology
  • ...conventions of time-frames: paved roads, wheeled transport, electricity, water services, etc...


Needless to say, the list could go on. I might've spared you some -ologies if I'd thought about it...

Sex - Where's the Hot?

The panel also discussed sex in Urban Fantasy vs Epic Fantasy. I don't have much to say about this topic, I'm afraid. Rothfuss said it best, "Sex is important to the characters, but it is rarely important to the plot." There's a balance that a lot of authors don't know how to keep.

Of interest: Rowland said she was yelled at for not having sex in one of her novels, whereas Rothfuss was yelled at for having it in one of his.

Sex seems to be expected in the Urban Fantasy genre, and they attribute this to its close relation to Paranormal Romance. I admit to having a reluctance to go too far into these related genres specifically because of this relationship. For example, I have read 16 of the Anita Blake novels. In the beginning of the series, there was a very good ratio of story to sex. When the sex started to actually get in the way of a story, I stopped reading entirely. I hope Urban Fantasy doesn't fall into that trap.

If you want erotica, go to the erotica section.

Zombies

No literary discussion involving monsters, magic, or other such things would be complete without mentioning zombies. To wrap things up, I bring you this quote from Jim Butcher, with which I heartily agree:

"In the zombie apocalypse, it's not the zombies I'm worried about. It's the other survivors. Those are the guys who are gonna getcha."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Birthday Goals & Mux the Goblin

I didn't do this week's Flash Fiction Challenge (writing a situation from the PoV of both the antagonist & protagonist). I may save it for another day, though I am well beyond the usual Friday @ Noon deadline to play. (Who says you can't save your play for later?)

Yesterday was my birthday. I'm officially an old spinster at 31. I got two lovely cards from small humans (a friend's children), a little bit of birthday swag (including a copy of "Preludes & Nocturnes" the first volume of the 12 volume set "The Complete Sandman Library"), and an outing to some botanic gardens at the foot of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains here in Colorado.

My birthday present to me, however, was writing a new and complete story. The complete draft isn't finished, though I've written a summary of events and am working my way through those events. This way, I felt like I reached my goal ("finishing a new and complete story on my birthday") even though I did not finish writing the fleshed out story by midnight. With all of my other plans and a much needed nap, I didn't start writing until after 9pm. 1500 words later I'm not quite halfway through the tale and time was up.

 I'm still very pleased with my progress. I have a beginning, a middle, and an idea of an ending.

A little preview, from the first draft (trust me when I say this is VERY rough - there are places where I opted to just get the ideas down and worry about form later):



Monday, July 30, 2012

Coursera - Fantasy & Science Fiction

I recently signed up for a free course over at Coursera - Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. For anyone curious about how this course works, I thought I would do a little description of my experience so far, with my understanding of what will happen in the upcoming days.

The first session started last Tuesday and our first homework (a short analytical essay about Grimm's Fairytales) is due this Tuesday. Afterward, peers will grade the essays and the professor (Eric Rabkin from the University of Michigan) will post a lecture about the week's unit. Peer feedback is due by Thursday, at which point the submissions for the next assignment will open.

The lecture happening after the writing assignment is a mixed blessing. This keeps the students' work from being influenced by the professor's views on the piece(s). Whereas I typically have a better time generating essay topics via interactive discussion, the online course doesn't offer quite the same kind of environment. There are, however, forums set up and a lot of active discussions on them. I have posted to a couple of threads, but not entered into any conversations yet.

Next week's unit is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. (It just so happens that I picked up this book as part of my summer reading and started reading it a couple of weeks ago.)

The course will continue unfolding with the same structure, moving through the different texts in the syllabus: Dracula (Stoker), Frankenstein (Shelley), Stores & Poems of Hawthorne & Poe, The Island of Dr. Moreau/The Invisible Man/"The Country of the Blind"/"The Star" (Wells), A Princess of Mars & Herland (Burroughs & Gilman), The Martian Chronicles (Bradbury), The Left Hand of Darkness (LeGuin), Little Brother (Doctorow). It's a pretty hefty reading list, but I'm going to do my best to keep up with it, in addition to starting the Fall semester. (Of course I'm taking a literature course there, too.)

And in September? I'm looking at also taking Modern & Contemporary American Poetry taught by Al Filreis from the University of Pennsylvania (still on Coursera). It is another 10 week course.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Flash Fiction Challenge: Time Travel

Another wonderful Flash Fiction Challenge from terribleminds.com. This week's theme was "Must love time travel" and really - who doesn't? 

Tentative title: The Last Way

word count: 1000 (/confetti!)


The Christmas bulb cracked beneath her boot and she paused. The room was layered with debris - ribbons, tinsel, strings of lights, and ornaments. The whole place was a mess, and it reeked of several unpleasant things. The small hand of a plastic doll poked between the loops of a bow, pudgy fingers reaching for salvation. She squatted to take a closer look.

It was a gift from her grandmother, for her fifth birthday. Straight out of the box, its left eye wouldn't close when it was laid on its back. They were inseparable. She carried it to school, took it to bed, set it up on the edge of the tub at bath time. The doll even had its own presents under the Christmas tree for two years.

"Cassandra."  She pinched the doll’s hand, pulling it free of the holiday refuse. It was only the arm. She sighed and dropped it. As she stood, she pressed a button on a device strapped to her wrist.

"Too late again. The previous rescue attempts seem only to have worsened the situation. Scanning the premises for possible survivors." A hiss of static answered. She pressed a series of buttons and listened. The device offered no indication that anyone had heard her report. "Piece of shit."

A thump sounded from somewhere in the house. She took two long steps and flattened her back against the wall. There was no hope of moving silently across the remnants of the tree and its decorations, so she remained where she was, waiting. Another sound, a rattle – she recognized it as the doorknob to the hall closet – was followed by the creak of hinges. She inched along the wall, her left hand settling on the grip of her weapon. Someone was moving just as slowly and carefully as she. Her leg bumped against an umbrella that was precariously balanced atop a crumpled box. She grabbed it with her right hand.

The cautious steps in the hallway came to a stop. She took a deep breath to steel herself for what might be waiting. She swung her body around the corner, her pistol taking the lead. Time stopped; not literally, but for the woman in the hall, all things came to a temporal crawl. Down the hallway, not five feet from where she stood, was her, aged seven. She was barefoot, in her pajamas – the pink rosette nightgown that she’d kept until she’d worn holes in the elbows – with bruises up and down her arms. There was a cut on her forehead and so much dried blood in her hair.

“Mommy!” Her 30-years-younger self paid no mind to the weapon aimed at her and ran forward to hug the woman she thought was her mother. The woman would have to deal with the fact that she apparently had turned into her mother another time; a temporal disaster was flinging itself at her.

“Stop!” She lifted the umbrella and opened it. The obstacle startled the child and her sudden stop put her off balance. She teetered before falling back on her butt. “I’m not mom, honey, I’m not mom.” The little girl started to cry.

Her wrist radio crackled and a voice came through. “Icarus, can you hear us? Icarus!”  

She holstered her pistol, keeping the opened umbrella between her and… herself. “I read you, Tower. I’ve just found myself. I need back up.”

“Found yourself? How deep,” the hiss wavered; the voice on the other end was laughing.

“Send back up A.S.A.P., Tower, this is a temporal threat level Tau. Send Demeter. Repeat, send Demeter.”

“Demeter is on her way,” a sterner voice this time, “And we’re glad to reach you Icarus, thought you’d gone too far this time.”

The child had stopped her crying, listening to the fuzzy conversation. “Icarus?” She hiccupped the name.

Icarus lowered the umbrella, pulling it closed, setting the tip on the floor in front of her. “Yeah, that’s what they call me. And you’re Icara, right?” The little girl nodded. “Alright, Icara, please don’t cry. I know I look like mom, but I’m not mom, okay? I’m you, and as much as I would like to pick you up and carry you out of here, we can’t touch. Someone is going to come soon to get us, and carry you, okay?”

The girl picked herself up off the floor and walked back down the hall to the closet. She reached inside, pulling out a small bundle, and hugged it close. Icarus watched her younger self as she returned to the midway point in the hallway. “Okay, but only if Cassandra comes too.”

“Of course Cassandra can come.” She moved back into the living room, retrieved the discarded doll arm and tossed it to the girl, who refused to leave the hallway. “Is there anyone else here with you and Cassandra?”

The girl shook her head as she wiggled the arm into an opening in her bundle.

“Do you know how long you’ve been alone? With Cassandra, I mean.” She remembered how mad she used to get at her mother when she didn’t include Cassandra in questions or conversations.

“Since the weird earthquake.”

“I wasn’t here for that, honey, when was that? A few days ago?”

“I don’t remember. I stayed in the closet after mommy told me not to come out.” She hugged the bundle closer.

“Can you go down the hall into mommy and daddy’s room for a second, while I look in the closet?”

“No.” The refusal was immediate and as solid as stone. Icarus knew what was in there, then. The girl hadn’t stayed in the closet the whole time, but after what she saw in that room, there was little doubt that she did exactly as she was told.

Time ticked by in silence as the two watched each other and waited. When Demeter came, Icara fell into her arms and started crying again. Icarus watched them leave the house that she’d grown up in for 18 years.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Judging A Book By Its Cover

"Never judge a book by its cover" - this advice is meant to apply to more than just books and I've had success using it in my daily life. When it comes to books, I stand with it in spirit. In truth, however, I'm completely guilty of looking at a book's cover and moving on without giving its content the time of day. This case of hypocrisy is one I revisit now and then, and try to examine to see why I would proliferate this advice when I'm not entirely willing to follow it for myself. (I guess it's not unlike MOST advice in which we all traffic.)

Window Shopping


I'm no expert on the concept of cover design, or what makes things "pretty" - I only know what catches my eye, and what doesn't hurt it. Even when I'm not shopping for anything in particular, some aesthetics demand to be seen. For books, this means their spines need to be legible and attractive. Believe it or not - those plain black spines with plain white san serif fonts have a better chance of getting me to pay attention than the busy ones with script fonts. (A good title doesn't hurt here, either.)

When confronted with the facing cover, I have a soft spot for fantasy inspired art. At the same time, I like a simplistic framing device more often than a full-cover style.

The old Dragonlance novels, for example, had great cover art by Larry Elmore, but also a solid cover framing which allowed the title and the Dragonlance branding to present themselves without interfering with the art or looking too busy. When the publishers wanted to update the look of the books, they went to full cover art. I like those copies distinctively less and will go out of my way to find second-hand Dragonlance novels just for the older covers. Since that time, they did go with a compromise on the two styles, leaving a solid bar across the top and on the bottom, but switching artists (to Matt Stawicki).

Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné series also had a plethora of different cover styles. You can see them: Here. My favorite is the Gould series from 1983, followed closely by Yoshitaka Amano's Japanese covers the following year.


It may sound like I don't enjoy full-art covers, but I do! It's just a little harder to catch my eye with them. Especially in fantasy & science fiction - they all start to look the same after a while.

From My Shelves


First, the plain cover. This book had a dust jacket at some point, but I picked it up in a secondhand shop completely naked. This is Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural,  part of The Modern Library published by Random House, Inc. in 1972 (renewing the 1944 copyright, it says). Aside from the content (which is my true love, here), I love a plain cover. Gold lettering? Even better! Wide enough to display the title so I don't have to tip my head to read? We have a winner.



Next, the simplistic cover. Never mind that this is Stephen King (one of my favorite storytellers). I am in love with this cover aesthetic. This reprint of The Eyes of the Dragon was done by Signet Fiction (a part of the Penguin Group (US) Inc.) as part of a massive reprint of King's works, in the early 2000's (there's no reprint date on the copyright page, and different pages provide different reprint dates but most range from 2001-2004). In fact, my first large purchase of King's books came with this reprint line because I loved the covers that much. They are easy to read, they give a kind of coherence to the shelf, and they aren't very distracting - while still being pleasant to the eye.


Finally, the full cover art. I spotted this book in a bargain bin (more like a shelf, and on the bottom no less) in a K-Mart sometime around my 15th birthday. I hadn't read the first books in the series (it would take a few years more for me to have funds of my own with which to hunt them down), but this cover said I had to take it home, and made promises to me. It promised I would love the book, it promised me a struggling protagonist, or a sympathetic antagonist (I got both), and a different world. It delivered.

Promises Made, Promises Broken

Speaking of promises - a cover, to me, is a window into the kind of dedication and care that has been put into the creation of a book. I understand that, by and large, the author doesn't necessarily have any sort of say over their covers (and some shouldn't - writers are writers, not necessarily very good at presenting or designing a visual aesthetic). This decision lies with a publishing company's arts department. In the case of self-publishers and small press, however, the situation rests more with the author than not.

That being said - my criticism rests on both sets of shoulders equally. I've seen big publishing houses put terrible covers on books and I've seen self publishing authors go with amazing covers.

Whatever impression a cover gives, there is a promise that the inside of the book is going to deliver on it. Bad covers promise sloppy stories, pasted together from disjointed ideas, and bound inside a cover that serves as a train-wreck of a metaphor. Good covers promise carefully drawn characters, stories that follow some sort of logic (fiction need only follow its own rules of logic, not the real world's), and care given to - if not every word - the story overall.

While these promises don't always prove true, they are still the messages being sent by the covers.

It's hard NOT to judge a book by its cover, and I think that perhaps we shouldn't always be cover-blind. Despite that, I still try - now and then - to pick up a book with a cover that I don't like, but a title that I do, and give the interior a try. I also appreciate new & different covers that move away from the traditional forms. (Silhouette and semi-abstract styles, for example.)

Do you have book cover pet peeves, preferences, ponderings?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Flash Fiction Challenge: Noticed Android, Wondering Chamber

Using Chuck Wendig's own advice:
If something works for you, adopt it.
If something does not work, discard it.

I have opted to bend the rules for this week's Flash Fiction Challenge . Using a random sentence generator, CW came up with: “The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.” Present tense didn't work for me, so instead of using this as the first sentence, per the challenge, I am instead using the sentence as the main premise to get the story going.

Here we go:

word count: 773

The door to the Wondering Chamber stood at the end of a cold and sterile hallway. Six security cameras scanned every inch, though hardly anyone ever had cause to explore there. No one ever went into or came out of the room via this door; it was more of a formality of design than of function. Inside, bundles of circuit boards traveled into the room on a conveyor belt, passed through several nondescript machines, and then exited the room on the opposite side.

Once a week, a young girl - she appeared no more than nine or ten years of age - came to the window in the door of the Wondering Chamber to watch what happened inside. Sometimes she watched for just a few minutes, and sometimes for a few hours. When she was satisfied or had been entertained enough, she left the hallway, waving to each camera without looking at it. This girl was Alice, and her father owned the room and the hallway and the cameras and the building that contained them all.

When Alice named the room "the Wondering Chamber", there had been no objections. It was impossible to argue with the child and so no one did. In fact, most everyone did their very best not to speak to Alice at all. It wasn't that she was a bad child - on the contrary, she was a very well behaved child. She was also a very smart child, and when she took a stance, she had a way of becoming immovable on the subject. In addition to this, Alice was given everything she wanted by her father. All employees in the building were instructed that the girl was the highest authority on any matter aside from the running of the business, and that all topics related to business be avoided entirely when speaking with the child.

This caused several uncomfortable situations when Alice insisted on attending board meetings, or decided the view from a particular office window was her favorite during a round of conference calls.

It came as no surprise when Alice returned from her latest visit to the Wondering Chamber, sat in the tallest chair in her father's office, and asked, "Why do the cameras follow me in the hallway outside the Wondering Chamber?"

"For your protection, of course, my dear."  Her father answered this question every week. He did not look up from his paperwork anymore.

"You say that every week, father." Alice hopped down from the tall chair. "No one goes into that hallway but me, and no one can go into that part of the building except the people who work for you. Why wouldn't I be safe?"

"The world is an unexpected place, daughter. Don't you have lessons to do?"

"I finished them." Her father's office overlooked a network of cubicles. She watched the people in them. "Why is Mr. Robertson retiring?"

This question was new. "What?"

"He said he has worked here for 20 years and is retiring tomorrow."

Her father put his pen down on the polished wood surface of his desk. "He told you that?"

"I remember when you hired him it was just after my birthday. He can't have been here 20 years in less than just one."

Her father's chair creaked and she heard him stand up. Each step echoed in the room and he stood behind her, one fatherly hand on her shoulder. "That would be impossible, wouldn't it? Perhaps Mr. Robertson was trying out a new joke with you."

"No, father." The girl turned and looked up at her father. He smiled down at her, but it was not the way he usually smiled at her. "Mr. Robertson looks different than he did when you hired him, but you don't look different and I don't look different. I have not had another birthday party which happens every year, but he says he has had 20. Almost everyone in your meetings looks different, like they have had 20 birthdays. Why?"

Her father squatted down in front of Alice, both hands resting on her shoulders. His knees clicked, no one else's knees clicked.  "You are a very special girl, Alice." This was his answer whenever she asked why she could not see where the things went after they left the Wondering Chamber, whenever she asked why she could not go outside of the building except into the inside courtyard, whenever she asked why she never saw other children.

Alice made no response to her father, except to frown. He smiled in return, brushing her hair back and tucking it behind her ear. Alice heard a different click.