This is my personal blog and does not necessarily reflect the collective views of Hard Limits Press

Thursday, December 22, 2011

SWTOR vs WoW

I played World of Warcraft for about five and a half years. I started about a month before The Burning Crusade came out and quit shortly after Cataclysm. I've been playing Star Wars: the Old Republic MMO since early access, roughly five days ago.

Here is my obligatory comparison post, brought on by the idiots that sadly populate the WoW forums.

World of Warcraft

There was a time when World of Warcraft felt like a great game. The Burning Crusade offered gripping storylines and a raid that remains one of my favorites (Karazhan) to this day. This still gives me chills and likely always will. At Blizzcon '09, while I was standing in line to beta Cataclysm, this played on the giant screen right over my head. I won't ever forget that moment.

I ran a heavy roleplay guild that raided on the side. That guild lasted the entire time I was in WoW, crossed several servers, and went through more than one shake up where people quit/joined. I am still proud of what we did. Despite being a bunch of roleplayers we managed to clear a decent amount of content and ran some truly epic and long ranging stories.

But I started to notice around Cata that the roleplay was what really made me stick to the game, and the roleplay was largely my creation and the creation of those guild mates who participated in my storylines. We discarded quite a bit of official lore because, frankly, it's largely awful. There are a couple of contributors to the canon who have never grown as storytellers, and often times too many cooks in the kitchen, and it more than shows. The emotional tone is uneven and often rings false, and while I thought both the Worgen and Goblin starting areas had flashes of brilliance, it was too little too late as far as I was concerned.

The other problem I had with WoW was that you basically had to rely on a huge group of other people to get anything done. If you want to raid (which I do) you pretty much had to pull in strangers to fill out your group unless your guild focused only on raiding and nothing else, and attracted members on that basis. This more than anything is what killed WoW for me. You try running with a bunch of people for months only to have them drop your raid and leave you high and dry, when you're more than half done and have put a ridiculous amount of work in to getting there.

So, it all left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. At the same time I mourned the loss because WoW had been, at one time, incredibly important to me. It kept me grounded through very difficult times in my life and introduced me to several friends I still have to this day. It helped form the basis for a lot of my fiction since I often tested out the base elements of plots on my players before polishing them up for a book.

Basically, I wanted to fall in love with an MMO again.

SWTOR is that MMO. (visual issues re: the UI aside)

WoW and its issues
One thing that always annoyed the piss out of me about WoW is that it clearly did not care for its RPers. Blizz fell all over themselves to stroke PVPer peen, followed by raiders, and left the RPers in the dust. Decisions were often made, story wise, solely from a class balance stand point and then shoe horned clumsily in to the lore if they bothered at all. It messes with immersion at a certain point and makes it hard for people to engage with the game, even on RP servers.

Every. Single. Quest. in WoW goes like this: Bring me six wolf pelts. Great, now bring me six dire wolf teeth. Repeat. Repeat. Okay, maybe not every last quest but believe me, it sure feels like it after awhile. Slog through the text pop up only to be told that for some reason, they need you to go fetch seven vials of kobold urine or whatever. Do you know what that is? A fucking grind. Take in to consideration that you must also locate the quest giver for this pointless murdering/gathering, but you must then return to him to present your trinkets. This doesn't sound like much but if you're doing twenty, thirty quests in a play session that time adds up.

Then there's the daily quest. Do the EXACT SAME grindy bullshit every day. And if you want to raid? This is not optional. The curve in Cata was so steep you had to farm emblems in order to even get in to some heroics, let alone raids. BAD. NO BISCUIT. The grind is one of the worst parts and the Skinner Box might captivate for awhile but eventually you just want to kill yourself and everyone around you. If I wanted unending tedium I'd work in an office. And they'd pay me. I wouldn't pay them fifteen dollars a month for the privilege.

SWTOR and why it's awesome

IT IS AN RPG MMO. Full stop. The end. In a way that says it all for me. Bioware is also responsible for Dragon Age, by the way, and I think that is a nearly perfect RPG experience. I had tentative hopes because of that performance and Bioware brought the things that really worked from their single player titles to this MMO effort. For example, everything is voiced. This alone is incredible. It immerses a player like never before. There's no stupid parchment pop up to read. There are also missions where your group can play together, and every character is given an opportunity to respond to NPC prompts. For me that immediately made me bond with the other characters. Brilliant.

There's a story. It's not about grinding your way to raid level as quickly as fucking possible. I am so sick of people taking MMOs too seriously. By that I don't mean, please show up to my raid unprepared because YOU'RE JUST HAVING FUN, GOD STOP BEING SO MEAN or, please come act like a dickwad and make us all waste our time because IT'S JUST A GAME, U GUYZ. But I do mean that maybe there are reasons to play an MMO other than throwing the KEWLEST LIGHTNINGZ. People on the WoW forums were complaining that leveling is slow, and what they're really saying is HOW WILL I MEASURE MY VIRTUAL DICK WITH YOURS IF I CAN'T RIDE THE PURPLE TRAIN AND OUTFIT MYSELF IN EPICS IMMEDIATELY.

Now me, I played for the first ten levels at least without even looking at my level bar. I was completely engrossed. It was so enjoyable I lost a whole day to it. It reminded me of how I would sit down to play DA:O, intending to play for an hour or two, and I'd actually play for eleven hours, easy. I can't tell you how much I have been enjoying an MMO that doesn't constantly make me feel inferior for not going on a joyless grind like it's a job for days at a time. The choices your character makes matter to the story. It's great, okay? It's great.

My only complaint thus far is that stuns last an absurdly long time. I won't mention the little bugs here and there because at this point they're totally allowed to have some kinks they've yet to iron out. The only other annoyance is that they've made lightsaber crystals so dependent on faction that if you get Light side points as a Sith you lose your weapon. That's silly to me.

I hope to god Bioware sticks to what it's genius at and keeps the MMO going forward in this fashion. The second they start trying to cater to PVPers and number monkeys, it's doomed.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Some good news and a book release (not mine...YET)

Hey guys! Supremely talented author Vivien Weaver has a debut novel coming out early next year.

Here's the blurb:

Cary and Lindsay Delaney have always known they were special. Warriors for God, their father said, meant to bring about the Rapture, and every moment in their family’s isolated Ozarks compound was spent preparing for that day. Cary’s paraplegic injury put an end to that dream, however, and the brothers, now estranged from the father who once exalted them, find a different kind of magic in the streets of Springfield, Missouri.

Dubiously blessed with the title prince and heirs to powerful táltos magic, the brothers find themselves embroiled in a struggle for the health of the World Tree, the structure that supports not only their world, but every world. The Tree is rotting, and it’s only a matter of time before the corruption reaches its heart. Can Cary and Lindsay make their own way despite those who would use them for their own ends?

A coming of age urban fantasy with a twist, The Wicked Instead combines the voice of a redneck haint tale with an unerring modern sensibility and sensitivity. As much about struggling to survive and the bonds forged between unlikely friends as it is about fantasy, The Wicked Instead will change the way you think about the genre.


Some fresh urban fantasy? Aaaaaw yeeeah.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

RIP and Occupy Seattle

"You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

--Steve Jobs

Remember that one, people. RIP.

So last night Viv and I went down to Occupy Seattle to donate some food. We were only vessels for the generosity of several local businesses, including PCC Natural Markets, Cupcake Royale, and Stockbox Grocers. Each and every one of these businesses is doing something worth checking out, from PCC's commitment to non-GMO foods to the Stockbox folks trying to combat food deserts. (Viv and I are lucky enough to have Stockbox in our backyard)

If local businesses, often struggling in this economy as the smallest fraction of our society grabs the biggest share of wealth, can offer some of what they do have for people trying to make a difference, it seems to me the folks with a shameful amount of wealth and power should be able to do that much more. There are a lot of wonderful and complex economic and political arguments out there, but to me it's an issue of the human spirit. Are we the kind of people who allow someone's house to burn to the ground because he failed to pay the fire service fee? Or are we the kind of people who come together and understand that ..."part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

None of you should be surprised that I support the latter sentiment.

When I was in a very low place, my best friend and his family took me in to their home. I had nothing. No money. No job. No way to directly contribute. When I asked what I could possibly do to repay him, he said three words: pay it forward. That's what we all need to do. I believe we are a social, collaborative species at heart and we've succeeded so well thus far because we have worked out all of these little ways of getting along and sharing resources. The current political climate is a direct threat to that. Dog eat dog diminishes us all.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A somewhat disjointed update

Oh my god you guys, my storyboard makes no sense from one draft to the next.

I am a pantser. I think I am almost incapable of planning in a linear fashion to the point where I can do a this then that outline. I love the storyboard because it lets me give some shape to my thoughts, but note to self: if you forget to move the pieces around as you revise, you sit there saying the hell was I thinking? every ten seconds.

Anyway. I've been quiet here because I have an exciting project going on in the background. Hopefully I can tell you all what it is soon. Suffice to say it is a lot of work, especially on top of grad school, though I am still pulling my weight in terms of grades. It's an accelerated program so it's whiplash inducing, but I'm learning plenty.

The apartment is nice and painted. Mulberry, chili pepper red, teal, and bright yellow. All that is left is my room, which will be leaf green. Speaking of colors and art, my cover design should be finalized sometime soon. I am so excited. The artist is very talented and his work fits my story perfectly. I can't wait to show that off, too!

Oh, and I've recently discovered Get Glue, which is an insane time waster. Still, they have 30 Seconds to Mars stickers so I am helpless before its dark power. If you're on there, come find me!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I want your novel soundtrack

Hey there, sassy ones.

I bet all you writer faces have soundtracks that get you in the mood to tackle that work in progress. I mention some of why music works for me in this post over here. There's a link, a conditioning where we link songs and feelings, creativity and lyrics. I want to know yours. What are you listening to while you write, these days?

Here's some of mine in no particular order. (you can assume everything Neko Case has ever done, and everything Florence and the Machine have ever done, too.)

The song to rule them all: Favorite, Neko Case

Videos have nothing to do with it. Tried to find the least obnoxious ones I could.

The Weepies, No One Knows Me at All

30 Seconds to Mars, Vox Populi

Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, Worship Me Like a God & Twenty Minutes of Oxygen


Hammerfall, The Unforgiving Blade

Waltz Across Texas Tonight, Emmylou Harris

Just a Thought, Gnarls Barkley

Be Like Water, Sarah Fimm

True Love, Mark Mallman (although this video is pretty rad if you're a Band of Brothers fan)

Red Hot, Jurassic 5

Wolf Like Me, TV on the Radio

Time is Running Out, Muse

More Than a Feeling, Boston

What Sarah Said, Death Cab for Cutie

Out Loud, Dispatch

Downtown Train, Tom Waits

This Fire, Killswitch Engage

Show me yours, guys! Tell me why you chose the songs you did, if you so choose.

Have a happy Campaign!




Monday, August 22, 2011

Vitameatavegamin

Allright, you guys. (I wish I could refer to you as my little monsters, but Lady Gaga kinda has the market on that one, hmm?) I am doing the Third Platform Building Campaign, courtesy of Rach Writes. Don't worry. This isn't me doing the literary equivalent of shilling for Vitameatavegamin. It's a way to get involved and pay it forward, because there's nothing I like better than building a thriving writing community. And maybe, just maybe, find a potential reader or two. :)

Dear White Wolf

It is with a heavy heart that I am going to miss the Grand Masquerade this year.

Earlier today, I read a twitter friend's comment about how he's done some of his best writing when he didn't have anything but the writing. That is, no games on his computer, no Internet, no nothing.

These two things go together in my mind, because I got my start writing Werewolf: the Apocalypse fanfiction. Oh, Werewolf: the Apocalypse. I still own over two hundred source books for that game, plus a good showing of titles from other White Wolf games. There was a time in my very early twenties when I had no Internet, and a computer so Frankensteined it would only run WordPerfect.

I learned something important about entertaining myself, writing very earnest, fair to middling tales of darkness, gore, and the limits of the human spirit. (plus shapeshifters!) Which is, of course, what White Wolf games tend to be about. And now, thanks to those same games, I'm a better writer. White Wolf helped me find my themes. It kept me hanging on through some very difficult times in my life, provided me a mental landscape I could use as an escape until I learned to construct my own.

So thank you, White Wolf. In many ways, you helped make me who I am.

Here's an excerpt from seventeen year old me:

"Testing the hearts of all gathered, She found that only Red Talon had kept himself pure, free of the Weaver and the Wyrm, and She set the great wolf at the edge of Her territories, charging him with keeping the tainted apes from spoiling Her bounty. Ever since we have guarded her Wyld places, never forgetting our sacred duty as so many others have. So, when you ask for a single place sacred to the Talons, that I can't give you. Our sacred places are all the places of Gaia still Wyld and free."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Donations

Thank you to Rachel Haimowtiz for donating a copy of Sublime to the Center for Sex Positive Culture!

The Center's mission is: "As proponents of sex positive culture, we believe that the appropriate uses of sex extend beyond reproduction. They include creating personal pleasure, bonding interpersonal relationships, promoting spiritual growth, and enhancing emotional and physical health. In a sex positive world, everyone has the freedom and resources to pursue a fulfilling and empowering sex life."

Thank you to Rachel once again for helping to promote a truly valuable set of ideas!

If you are an erotica author and would like to donate a copy of your work to the Center, please message me at tigergray27@gmail.com

Saturday, June 25, 2011

All is quiet

I haven't done much here lately because I've been hammering away on some big posts in the back of my mind. I have this thing where, contrary to popular advice about posting three times a week, I only post when I have something to say. I don't like filler and I don't like handing out run of the mill writing advice. That stuff is everywhere.

So today I bring you something that will hopefully inspire you to help out, instead of telling you how to market on twitter or write snappy sentences.

I volunteer for The Center for Sex Positive Culture. We're a diverse org that works towards acceptance of all consensual lifestyles and forms of sexual expression. We have sexy parties, but we also offer workshops, support groups, and the like.

We also have a library, devoted to related topics. That means we have everything from straight up erotica all the way through how to books, spiritual texts, and so forth, all dealing with sex, LGBT issues, how to negotiate a relationship (whether you have two, four, six people, whatever), how to perform bondage safely and so on.

This is where you come in! Do you write something you think would be a fit for the Center's library? Smoldering erotica? BDSM porn? Your journey through coming out, transitioning, whatever? Something I haven't even thought of yet? Then consider donating a copy or two to the Center.

If you're interested please email me at tigergray27@gmail.com

Yes, you get a tax break (possibly, I can't speak for certain about different states and so on) and I can send you the form for that.

Thanks everyone!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Love letter

I am featured on Writing the Other with a post about writing transgender characters. Thank you to S.B. for the opportunity.

The post itself: A love letter to spec fic authors

Monday, May 23, 2011

Eric's hospital bill

I was eight weeks early. I weighed four pounds and spent the first three weeks of my life in an incubator. So I'm posting this for little Eric, six and a half weeks early. A premature child often has more issues than a child born on time, and can represent a special set of challenges for parents, especially new parents. Please consider helping them, even if you've only got a dollar.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Matchbox Girls and character

I have been editing and writing like mad. As you may know I work for Candlemark & Gleam. (even though this is my personal blog, a disclaimer I have to include because I say fuck a lot.) We just picked up Matchbox Girls, and I think I'm the one who gets to uh. Treat it lovingly. Yeees. /schemeyhands

We're interdisciplinary over at good ol' C&G, so here's a little food/writing crossover to tide you over:

Aside from my love of writing, I love putting things in my mouth.

Food. I mean food, you filthy perverts. (this time)

Today I made steak and steamed asparagus. The other day I ate seared scallops out of the pan with my fingers.

It's the simple things.

But what, Tiger, does this have to do with writing? Well, we've all seen the surveys that ask things like: what is your character's favorite color?

Who gives a shit?

What does my character's favorite color--or in this case, food--have to do with anything if it's just a static one word answer?

Whether a character is the kind of guy that eats scallops out of the pan with his fingers is a whole other matter.

These little details speak louder than it seems as though they do. They clue the reader in to the fact that the character is a whole person, with all the connections and experiences and details that make up anyone we might encounter in real life. All the things that make the reader real also make a character breathe.

What I like about it most, when authors think at that level, is it tells me the author has spent a lot of time on this character. Nothing frustrates me more than author bias that the author hasn't even made an effort at examining. But when an author spends a lot of time puzzling out a character's psychology, the likelihood is they've avoided more of these pitfalls than they would have otherwise. The author cares, and so do I.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

Editing!

I am an editor and I am looking for freelance work. Read on! Contact me at surrya @ gmail.com.

--I am experienced! I am an editor for Candlemark & Gleam, an e-book publisher specializing in cross genre speculative fiction. I've also done editing work on literary fiction, but fiction with some element of the fantastic is what I want to handle. I DO read erotica and other adult works as well, as long as there's some magic!

--I want to keep my rates low, because I want to reach out to my community and be affordable to people looking to self publish or indie publish. Currently I'm charging ten dollars an hour.

--I will edit your first ten pages for free, so you can get a sense of my style, which is forthright but kind. I edit for content and also do line editing, and prefer to do them both at once.

--My turn around time for a full novel is approximately two weeks. A novella, around a week. A short story can be as quick as a day or two. This may vary depending on your project.

When you send me your piece, please include a plot summary. Also include as many supplemental materials as you can. What are supplemental materials? They can include the following: the blurb, the expanded synopsis, and themes. This helps me understand your writing goals. Please tell me your publishing goals as well, so we can work towards them together.

When it is time for payment, I will send you an invoice for your records. I prefer money orders or Paypal.

If issues arise:

If you discover that you do not prefer my style, you are free to go elsewhere with no hard feelings. However, I will ask for payment for any pages already edited.

Remember that I will not re-do my edits simply because you don't agree with them.


References: Please feel free to contact vivienweaver @ gmail.com.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ashrinn and Mal visit the astral plane

Mal looked down at the sword at his hip and Ashrinn only just managed to avoid laughing at his put out expression, despite the envy squirming in his guts. Mal hadn’t struggled at all. His identity and spirit blade had resolved themselves without Mal even having to try.

“What the hell?”

Ashrinn extended his magical feelers and scanned for threats as Mal spoke, unable to shake the caution that had been drilled in to him for most of his life. He didn’t detect anything in the immediate vicinity beyond Raietha and Khiriana. Raietha’s alien aura pulsed with quicksilver light, while Khiriana’s was that flickering fire he was becoming so used to living beside. He withdrew his psychic hand as though he had burned its physical counterpart.

“Swords and paladins just go together,” he answered, trying to keep his voice free of resentment, “and your blade is an expression of yourself.”

“An expression of myself?”

Malkai drew the blade, though he sounded scornful. Ashrinn whistled. A shining weapon, the silver-blue light it emitted not unlike the color of Malkai’s eyes. Sigils squirmed along the length, but Ashrinn couldn’t make sense of them. The blood channels burned electric blue.

“Ha, I always knew you were a little ray of light.” Ashrinn snorted, grinning.

“Shut up,” Malkai grumbled, sheathing it again. He folded his arms and in a rare moment of ribald humor, raised his eyebrows and said, “I showed you mine. Show me yours.”

Ashrinn pulled the sword from the decorated scabbard on his back, the jewel-hoofed doe depicted there forever frozen mid-leap. The snake familiar appeared now as an etching on the curved length of the blade itself, entangled with a rose. The design shimmered, outlined in fire.

“You’re making fun of me for having a fruity sword?” Malkai said. “A rose, Ashrinn?”

“I like flowers, you rube,” Ashrinn grumbled, “now shut your hole and pay attention.”

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why indie?

It seems like a requirement to do one of these posts these days, if you're a writer that intends to publish through a non-traditional company. So here's mine.

Freedom

I've heard more than one author say, in essence, that they don't want to go the traditional publishing route because it is too much work. I think this only adds to the stigma still in place about publishing that doesn't use the Big Six model--query, agent, pitch, etc--by implying and/or outright stating that us indies just can't handle it, man.

I'm confident that I could sell my book through the old school model. I'm not perfect and neither is my work, but I don't have writer guilt; I can call my work good because it is. I think I have something to say, and I think a group of other people will want to hear it. It's that simple. (Try thinking this about your own work sometime. It feels pretty good.)I have a query letter all written, and a synopsis.

But I've gravitated away from traditional publishing. Part of it is because I would have to change too many things about the story, and not in the oh no I can't let go of my precious darlings kind of way.

Furthermore, Vivien and I are talking about making our books part of the same overarching world, eventually culminating with a couple of crossover novels. We could never do this as debut authors in a traditional publishing world.

Genre restrictions/expectations

I don't write what is coming to be thought of as traditional urban fantasy. These days, most people expect a female main character in first person narration, with a badass professional life (vampire hunter, werecat, investigator) juxtaposed with a confused personal life. (often a love triangle or other unresolved romance) I've got the confused personal life down (and how!) but my other elements are outside of that boundary. At the end of the day I'm really cross genre, and indie pubs are more open to that, especially as the Big Six flounder financially.

I think that genre restrictions have become more and more rigid lately. I think it's partly because traditional publishers become less and less likely to take risks as the purse strings tighten. I also feel that it ties in to the white washing of covers and so on, because they're conditioning readers to only search out a certain formula.

That's one of the major issues I have with the current interpretation of genre. We're conditioning people to only go for a single set of criteria. It's not entirely bad. If you want a certain kind of story it helps to know how to find it. At the same time it does mean a lot of interesting and experimental things fall by the wayside. Just today an agent posted a tweet about a novel she never forget, from about ten years ago. It pushed genre convention and that rendered it dead in the water. It would have a better chance today, perhaps, but I venture to say not a large one.

Money

Inaccurate royalty statements from traditional publishers.

Yeah.

So there's that.

Not to mention that an indie author just gets paid more, period. Or has the potential to get paid more. Most traditionally published authors never earn out their advance, and for a debut author that advance is usually in the realm of a couple grand. I think I'd rather take my chances on the e-book market through a different avenue, where I am offered a greater percentage of sales and the accounting is often less convoluted.

Whatever way you choose, write on you crazy diamond.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Disjointed thoughts about closure

Once, I was on the beach in a little town near Seattle. There was a storm. I remember not being able to see through the rain, which came down in such a way as to make the whole area seem unreal. The sand gave way under my right foot. I stumbled, but the ground kept pulling until I was in up to my knee, other leg folded under me at an awkward angle. There was nothing to hold on to, just wet sand that clumped under my grasping fingers. My father stood somewhere nearby, but for some reason he couldn't help me.

I have an easily aroused sympathetic nervous system. In modern life it isn't of much use, and serves to make me a panicky little creature that gets big shots of adrenaline for things like old ladies yelling at me and epic battles in video games. In situations like being eaten by the earth it sure comes in handy, though, because all I remember is howling and dragging myself free somehow even though it seemed impossible.

Revising this novel has been just like that, except its taking me months to free myself from the sand.

Revision is always work, of course. But this is something else.

I have a gift for assessing others, but I am completely obtuse about my own shit embarrassingly often. It took Vivien to make me understand.

When I started writing this book, my life was crumbling around me. I kept trying to grasp it, the same way I tried to cling to that sand, hoping for enough stability that I could at least not get further buried.

At some point, I stopped hoping I could drag myself out.

I won't bore you with the messy details but suffice to say that love is a fucking battlefield. And it's a particularly gory one when there's three of you and you never know where your rent is coming from or whether you can eat, let alone whether you can feed your pets, and everyone in the house has issues and mental illnesses they haven't properly dealt with. It takes fallen soldiers on that battlefield a long, long time to die.

The book was my escape. It made me feel like I had a purpose. Most of my major relationships were just so much sand. I had been unemployed for years. I put on twenty pounds. But when I wrote that piece of shit first draft, it didn't matter. I had a world that I had made, and I called the shots, and I had something to say that maybe mattered, just a little.

I believe in this story. It's good. There was a lot worth saving. But the revision hurts. Sometimes it's fucking agony. It took Vivien to remind me that when I wrote it I was standing in the middle of a storm. So much of my pain and longing went in to that thing. (don't worry. you don't have to read my embarrassing therapy if you pick up the book. I'm way cooler than that the second time around.) So of course, every time I picked it up that good old fight or flight response kicked in.

There's a phenomenon in psychology, where one forgets the link between a trigger and anxiety. I might get nervous every time I hear a seagull, but I might forget it is because there was one wheeling over my head the time the beach tried to eat me alive. And so it is with the book, where I'd forgotten that whenever I started to talk about these people I had created, it was because it felt like nothing else around me had any permanency.

That whole year, I listened to Neko Case more than anything else. Her music still makes me feel like I'm back in Bellingham, walking to the coffee shop. It was always playing in my headphones. So much of it, too, was connected to that longing, that pain. Armed with this knowledge of triggers and their links, I put on that same music and sat down to revise.

When that worked, I visited Bellingham. I put those albums on and sat on the same couch, in the same coffee shop, where I wrote the first draft. It helped.

During that visit, one of my friends asked what I wanted to get out of visiting. I didn't really know how to answer. Friends? Food? Coffee?

Oh, closure.

Of course.


Everybody's talking to me
But they just can't explain
Disappeared from all the pages
And nothing seems the same

Neko Case, We've Never Met

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Irn Bru

So, here's an example of fun things you can discover whilst doing novel research.

Google search terms: What was the most popular orange soda in the Uk during the 1980s?

Answer: Irn Bru

Irn Bru is basically Scottish Mountain Dew. Same horrid color not found in nature (though Irn Bru is orange and traditional Mt Dew is uh, 'green.') Irn Bru has ads like this:



I think we can all agree that's pretty awesome.

Here's the excerpt that features it. Just a little something somethin' to keep you all following this trail of breadcrumbs a little farther:

“It’s summer, Coren. You have to have orange soda in summer.”

Coren looked at him like he was talking total rubbish. Ashrinn wished for the radioactive orange Irn Bru he’d guzzled as a kid, but he supposed Stewart’s would suffice. They stood on the front porch of their home, and Coren, leaning against the doorjamb, had his arms folded over his chest. Ashrinn could see in his posture that his son didn’t want to be placated. Still, the boy relented and took the bottle.

Boy? Holy spirit, he’s seventeen.

Now there was a sobering thought.

He shot his son a sidelong grin. He did his best to fold in to a sitting position on the front steps. Coren bent to steady him, and Ashrinn tried to feel grateful instead of helpless. Coren sat too, his shaggy hair flopping in his eyes.

“Though maybe it should have been Mountain Dew. It’s closer to Irn Bru than that.” Ashrinn said.

“Is that some Brit soda?”

“Yes. The only consensus on the flavor is that it tastes like Irn Bru.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

Malkai (MC 2)

Here's a little character piece for one of my MCs that I thought I would share with you all. (Boy, have I been writing with Vivien Weaver too much. (Not really, too much isn't possible!) Pretty soon I'll be saying might could. Anyway, here it is:


once a year we'd go see grandma and grandad in amarillo, and I'd be so excited because that meant we could stop at the Stockyard and get the best chicken fried steak I'd ever had. I mean, I know now that it probably wasn't that good, but it made me feel so grown up when I was little, being around all those real cowboys. Always had to have extra gravy.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A little author indulgence

“They have an arms dealer?” Mal said. Now that was interesting.

“Some redneck in a wheelchair and his brother,” Ashrinn said, “they got arrested a couple of weeks ago. Damage is done, though; the Cult is as outfitted as any terrorist militia.”

Where's the funny? Right here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

a Sacrificial Magic excerpt

"Want to go buy us some lotto tickets?"

Jericho looked over at her partner in the passenger seat, a big black motherfucker looked like he could fold even the toughest PCP addict in half.

"Man, don't packets of heroin ever pay off."

"Doesn't mean these street niggas know that."

"Shut up Williams, acting like you ain't street."

"Girl, you know you as street as me with an ass like you got."

Jericho snorted, laughing. Williams had a way of cheering her up even when the beat sucked worse than usual.

"You couldn't handle this ass anyway, motherfucker." Jericho said with nothing but love. "You might be built like a brick shithouse but I'd still climb you like a tree."

Williams grinned at her but he caught sight of their location and that cut him off.

"This is the place. Damned if I know what's going on. I said lotto tickets but the shit I've been hearing about this area doesn't sound like a bunch of heroin addicts."

Jericho parked the unmarked car near some overflowing dumpsters. There wasn't hardly shit around here, just closed store fronts tagged and wrecked. The city block, riddled with alleyways, looked like it had rotted from the inside out.

Like the city has leprosy, Jericho thought as she ad Williams waited for shit to go down, always pieces falling off.

"They gonna spot our rotation," Williams said, "this shit is hinky."

"They ain't gonna see the car," Jericho said, though she felt it too, that sense that something could go bad way too easy, "slow your roll. You sound like you the one on drugs."

Jericho could wait for a long time. When she was a kid she'd done a lot of waiting, when Mamma had to work at the strip club and couldn't find someone to look after her and her sisters. Williams never had gotten used to it, though, and he fidgeted in his seat.

"There," he said after what had to have been a solid hour, "you see that?"

She leaned forward and peered out the windshield. A dark shape, turning to go down an alley. Something just wasn't right about the way the guy moved.

"Yeah. What the fuck?"

"That's what I'm saying."

"It's where we're supposed to be. Not going to ruin all that fucking vice work because the nigga looks like an extra for Frankenstein."

She got out before Williams could argue with her. He hadn't seen the shit she had, working this lead. She'd never seen addicts feen so bad for their poison. Not even crackheads, and that was saying some real shit right there. She couldn't shake the feeling, then or now, that there was something wrong with their eyes. The way they stared right through her, the way they were the wrong color, somehow. And the fucking crazy talk.

But it didn't sound all crazy, she thought before she could stop it, sounded like a language.

She shook her head. She didn't have time for that right now. She heard the click of the car door as Williams got out to cover her, and she made sure her piece was loose in its holster. She didn't like drawing it. Too easy for a cop around here to get an itchy trigger finger, and nothing good ever came of that, but this time that deformed figure made it so not having it in her hand felt way too vulnerable.

The alleyway stunk like piss, but she couldn't say that smell didn't crawl up her nose at least once a day. Hardly bothered her now. The oily, greenish sheen on the concrete did, though. Dread and instinct played her spine like a cheap xylophone. One of the shadows broke away from the others obscuring the back of the alley, came towards her.

She pulled her gun and for a moment her and the shape faced off. Where the fuck was Williams, she wondered, though the rapidly eroding rational part of her brain told her about his heavy footfalls at the mouth of the alleyway.

"What the fuck are you?"

"You want my gift, human?"

The thing hissed. A hammering headache started right between her eyes and the world swam out of focus. Fuck, it's voice. She couldn't stand it. She tried to make her hand work, tried to pull the trigger, because all her worries about shooting someone who didn't deserve it had evaporated like the piss under her feet would when the sun hit it in the morning.

"Stay away. Stay away!"

It lunged. Not human at all. It's eyes. Holy shit, it's eyes. It all happened in seconds but in her mind it slowed down like the fucking Matrix, except she wasn't no chosen one and there was no way in hell she was getting away from the thing barreling towards her. It leapt, changed shape, it fucking changed shape, and when it hit she felt its claws like a set of red hot kitchen knives, ripping her open.

She stumbled back, disbelief shielding her from the soul burning pain she knew she was in, fell in to William's arms. The thing shot past her, big like a mastiff. She could hear Williams shouting, cursing, and it turned in to something else, a language that crawled in to her and squeezed her brain in a red hand.

Then, thank god, nothing.

Monday, February 7, 2011

My review of Strange Little Band

Check out the website for Strange Little Band

The world of Triptych is not unlike our own, but despite familiar cultural references and a collection of mundane day to day problems, Addison Harris and Shane Meyers have lives further complicated by belonging to a cut throat organization populated by super humans.

In the Triptych organization, anything goes as representatives of Homo Superior lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want. Affection is a thing to be exploited and genuine love is almost unheard of. Even children are potential pawns.

Addison Harris, resident self-described ice queen, thinks that she will have no trouble bearing a child for Triptych. She’s used to the scheming and already has only tenuous ties with her first child, daughter Ashlynn. What does she care if they want to breed a race of Homo Superior that also has alien blood?

One unintended psychic bond later and she finds herself in Shane Meyers’ office, informing the half alien scientist that he’s about to become a father. Professionally cool to one another at best before, Addison and Shane find themselves drawn to each other, first because of their unborn son and then because of mutual respect and attraction.

Of course, love is a weakness at Triptych, whether it be for an unborn child or for each other. Everyone from a sexual predator to a selfish boss want to split them up for their own purposes. Can Addison and Shane’s relationship survive?


The good


I do not like these people, but the true success lies in the fact that I want to read about them anyway. I very much appreciated that both Addison and Shane are sexual sharks, that it wasn’t the romance trope of the male main character brow beating and using the female main character until she declares it true love. They’re both terrible people when the story opens, and they use every weapon available to them to try and control each other. It sounds odd to say this about something that begins in a rather heartless place, but I appreciated that they always, throughout the book, seem as strong as the other even when behaving badly. They are equals, and I find that alone fairly revolutionary. As a romance, it automatically succeeds when I can’t help but return to the main characters, even if I wouldn’t spend a second with them in real life.

Another positive is that the beginning is gripping. The writing is tight here, because I immediately know what everyone cares about and what their motivations are. The author includes many point of view characters and while I think it would have been a leaner, meaner book without them, I have to praise the author for handling them in such a way that it made me feel as though there was a bigger, living world outside of Addison and Shane’s relationship. That only strengthened the story, rather than succumbing to a narrow and potentially stifling style that only included the main characters.

I also appreciate how the author incorporates psychic powers as being a fact of life. They feel like a natural part of the character’s existence, and are mentioned the way any mundane sense or ability would be mentioned. I enjoyed the way she used it to fuel and affect Shane and Addison’s romance, too, and the way both proud and abrasive characters opened up to one another, partly because of its deftly handled influence.

There are some great romantic moments, and I began hoping for Addison and Shane once they begin sleeping together—in the completely mundane sense—and find that they need one another’s company despite themselves. The author captures the contented, somnolent feeling of cuddling up to someone you are newly in love with.


The ugly


Unfortunately I think some of this unravels further on. Triptych, thanks to a character perspective near the beginning about taking a psychic child away from their parents, sounds like an oppressive holding pen for psychics and other similarly talented individuals. So when I read about Addison in the hallway wearing nothing but a nightgown, only to encounter Shane and have a grope session, I wonder as to the regulations on this place and the behavior of the people within it. It only became clear to me later that Triptych was less totalitarian and more Machiavellian.

This kind of muddled writing is a continuing theme throughout. I feel as though the author has some great ideas, but that they lack cohesion throughout the work. When magic is included as part of the plot to foil Addison and Shane’s relationship, it’s jarring because it isn’t mentioned as part of Triptych before that moment. It ends up feeling as though the author included things as they occurred to her, but did not go back to weave them in seamlessly from the beginning.

The biggest problem I see is that I am still not sure what the point of breaking Addison and Shane up is. It seems as though the experimental child Addison is carrying is the motivator, since he’s Shane’s only offspring and Triptych wants to test alien human hybrids. The enemies to the relationship use a variety of methods to drive them apart, presumably to get control of the baby, but then Addison and Shane retain custody of him and it doesn’t seem to matter, after all.

I admit, I like my romances to have a lot of plot and action. Addison and Shane are more like a drawn out hurt comfort tale. It spans twelve or so years, which I felt was too long. The initial break up is the classic misunderstanding that could be fixed if only they listened to their gifted daughter about sensing the spell responsible. (that’s the other thing. I can’t figure out why two psychic parents would so quickly dismiss the concerns of a child said to be gifted in those same areas.)

I didn’t see the need for the deus ex machina plot the children use on their parents to get them back together, either. I wanted Addison and Shane to get over themselves on their own, like they did in the beginnings of their relationship. I wanted to see them be more proactive, and I wanted them to come back to each other a lot sooner.


Final Thoughts


If you enjoy sensual, heavily interpersonal romance, I suggest you give this book a try. The paranormal elements are interesting and the characters manage to interest despite what should by all rights be cliché. There are some moments of true sweetness here that are worth a look.

Monday, January 24, 2011

First paragraph contest

Over at Nathan Bransford's blog, there is a contest for best opening paragraph.

I'm in! Here it is, since there's no easy way to go digging through the comments over there for it:

The outskirts of Tikrit.

The incongruity sickened Ashrinn like it always did. He and his Delta Force team had been locked in combat maneuvers for a long time now on the perimeter, and yet the shock of people killing each other in the shade of swaying palm trees never faded.

Too sensitive, Ashrinn. This is why they think you deserve that Section 8. The dreams are bad enough.

***

If I make it in to the finals, please vote for me!

Friday, January 21, 2011

my review of Broken

Upcoming from .


BrokenBroken by Susan J. Bigelow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am lucky enough to have an ARC of Broken, the upcoming release from e-publisher Candlemark & Gleam, on my Kindle. Thank you to Kate for giving me a chance to read this upcoming title.



I read this book in a single sitting. I’d already whetted my appetite for it with the sample chapters available on Candlemark & Gleam’s website (include link), and couldn’t stop thinking about them. So, I approached the book with a hunger that had to be sated all at once.



Michael Forward sees possible futures. Most of them include him being given guardianship of a young child, a child who can either make or break the world. His visions also include Broken, once Silverwyng, a former super hero turned street rat. He promises her that, should she help him, her lost ability to fly will return.



With only that dim hope to guide her, Broken decides to throw her lot in with Michael’s, and they journey with the baby they name Ian towards the future, the future where Ian brings all warring factions together in peace.



Of course, there are many forces who want Ian so they can raise him to be the great dictator they prefer, and therein lies the thrust of the novel. Michael, Broken, and eventually Monica dodge government enforcers, make friends with crazed revolutionaries, deal with hunger, cold and the challenges of having a child in their care on their journey towards the idyllic planet Valen and the shining future

Michael can still see for Ian there, no matter the challenges he and his friends face.



What truly stands out to me about this book is the atmosphere. Sparsely detailed, the scarcity of description feels deliberate rather than like an oversight. The sense of snow and deepening twilight skies hangs over everything. The tension is likewise pervasive, subdued, building quietly so that the few exultant or frightening moments you do get are all the more powerful.



The author has a tendency for taking the expected and remaking it to her own ends. We learn that Broken, a super hero who has since lost her ability to fly and fallen on hard times, loves cats. Normally I think I would find this device cheap, but in Bigelow’s hands I find myself empathizing with Broken when she finds a cat, murdered by the antagonistic Black Bands, in an alley.



Bigelow continues in the tradition of Watchmen and some of the grittiest Batman graphic novels, creating a dystopian super hero future (where aliens, alien politics and traditions also complicate matters) rather than subscribing to a more idyllic notion of those with extraordinary powers. There is no shining Captain America here, even if Sky Ranger, the head of the Extrahumans, strives to be like him. (and mostly fails)



In Bigelow’s world, the fascist regime has the power, those super heroes still conforming to their regulations acting more like government enforces than the vigilante dispensers of justice we’ve become used to in other works. The thread of identity is a delicate but complete thread throughout the book, as one of the most basic concepts of the genre, the super hero identity, is assigned in this world rather than chosen.



It is clear from the tone and what happens to the main characters that there is no safe place for those who want to live outside those rules, but one of the masterful things about this book is that as soon as you are about to become bogged down by hopelessness and tragedy, Bigelow gives you a little shining moment of peace, like the familiar golden glow from the windows of a home where you might rest for the night. I think it is important to give readers a place to breathe, and this book does that very well.



Michael Forward, the man who helps drive the story along with the eponymous Broken, is a classic example of the hero who does not want his destiny. This is summed up with an exchange between Broken and their friend, Monica, when Monica asks why Michael cares about saving humans when he doesn’t seem to get along with most of them. Broken simply replies that he does so because he can. The power of individuals to affect change is also a well realized theme here, and it is what keeps us cheering for our ragged band of main characters.



HERE THERE BE SPOILERS











The pacing is both good and bad. In places it is just right, choppy flashbacks interspersed with current reality in a way that is gripping. The beginning is wonderful, crammed with details that inspire further reading. However, towards the end, once Michael makes his decision and the major plot points are mostly resolved, we descend in to details that, frankly, I think could have been cut. Some of the tension—will Broken really fly, as Michael has seen in his visions?—is lost because this section drags in to mundane details.



I would have liked to see more of a connection with the man the women eventually give Ian to. The narrative never explains him, so he is simply convenient. In a way this works with the story, which is all about being disconnected from one’s self, other people, the divide between alien and human, but I would have liked some of that connective tissue to carry through here.



Some of the visuals are beautiful. As Broken begins to remember her past, she recalls the moment she realized she had super powers. Her healing factor comes about when she is pinched by a crab and her finger regrows, and that sky blue crab looms larger and larger in her memory with each recollection. Because the scenery otherwise is so gritty, it stands out for us too, sky blue in a setting otherwise made up of gray concrete and slush.



The subtle creepiness in this story is nicely shown when Michael, Broken and Ian meet Jaenene, a woman able to project an aura of peace. However, it is all too easy for Michael to sink in to that aura and lose sight of his goal. This is a nice analogy for how many people give up their freedoms to fascist governments, lulled in to a sense of security by empty promises.





***





All of Bigelow’s main characters, often heroic against their wills and desires, have feet of clay. But some rise above, realizing that in the struggle between freedom and fascism it isn’t the relative comfort of the people that matters, but rather our right to do what we like with our futures. Michael’s power of prescience shows us that there is no preordained straight path, only possible ends that are always in flux.





Broken is a smart, readable book, and despite some minor pacing issues I recommend it. It’s a well thought out contribution to dystopian super hero fiction, and I encourage everyone to immerse themselves in the thoughtful landscape and characters that, despite their rags and alcoholism and other trappings of desperation, manage to make you invest in them not in spite of these flaws, but because of them.











View all my reviews

Monday, January 3, 2011

reviewer quote of the day

"I like how your main characters keep trying to have a normal bromance."