Filk Friday: It's a Fanboy Christmas II

Friday, December 31, 2010

It's a Fanboy Christmas II is rather strange, but it's got some clever parts (and a few groaners like the part about the Vorlans in the second half). Luke Ski is one weird dude. You'll hear references to Wonder Woman, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Wonderful Life, Star Trek, and more. Yes, he really managed to put so many diverse movies and shows into one long holiday parody medley. Freaky--but funny. See how many references you can recognize.

Filk Friday: The Guild's Christmas Raid Carol

Friday, December 24, 2010

I've been a fan of The Guild ever since I discovered them from looking up more about Felicia Day. She was so cute as Doctor Horrible's romantic interest in Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog. Here is The Guild singing their Christmas Raid Carol. And if you don't know anything about them, they are a parody of online gamers. They are a hoot and a half. And Felicia Day is on my list of actress/writers I want to meet and not because she's the writer/creator of the webseries. She's sassy, spunky, and seriously determined to be herself.

If you want to catch some of their videos, here are a few.
The Guild-Episode 1: The Wake-Up Call
Felicia Day interview part 1 for
Day's acceptance speech for winning Best Female Actor in a Comedy Web Series at the StreamyAwards
Day talks about The Guild and DHSaLB at ComicCon 2008

And if you enjoy the webseries, you should check out Day's new comic book, released on December 8th. It looks hilarious.

Filk Friday: Yar har har, a piratical carol

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Bilge Pumps sing this awesomely piratical version of Deck the Halls. Have a jolly good time listening to this pirate musical comedy group from Texas.

It's Snow Joke

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Considering how much snow has been a hindrance for much of the US the past couple weeks, including for me getting writing and posting done, I thought I'd point out some thoughts about using snow in your writing, whether you are writing realistic fiction, genre fiction, or non-fiction.

People have different attitudes about snow. Some absolutely love it, like my son and my in-laws' dog; some fear it, especially when it comes to traveling, and some hate it. Sometimes opinions will change depending on the location, time of year, temperature, quantity, and how much wind comes with it. I'm sure many of you saw the reports about the Metrodome roof collapse from the sheer volume of snow that descended on Minneapolis, 17 inches according to the Buffalo News . When the setting of the story takes place in winter, consider these factors.

Location: Some regions are more likely to get snow than others. Tropical regions don't see any unless a sheer fluke of weather/climate change causes it to happen. A region that doesn't normally get snow is going to be more likely to panic over even a dusting than a region that is used to it, mainly with concern about what could have happened to cause such a shift in weather and what the effect would be on the ecology than the snow itself. Even though Florida hasn't had snow or much of it, the record breaking low temperatures has caused plants and trees to freeze over. Considering the importance of Florida's orange groves, this is a significant impact on the ecology and economy of their region.

Whether you keep the snow's effect on a local scale involving only a town or a larger scale where some areas are more affected than others, this a potential source of social, political, and economic conflict in your story. It could either be the primary conflict or one that serves as a backdrop to the personal conflict of your characters.

The other part of location that affects snow is the nearness or distance from a large body of water. Regions near a large lake or river will have more snow, at least until the water freezes over. And if near two or more bodies of water...well, you can imagine the increased effect. We have a local lake within a few miles of us as well as Lake Erie about an hour's drive to our northwest. Double whammy.

Time of year: When you expect to have snow, you usually make preparations: buying snow shovels, bags of salt, warm clothing, extra food supplies, and other necessities; getting the snowblowers and plows ready; and setting up the logistics of road clearing and travel. But when snow comes early, people might not be as well prepared as they'd hoped. This sets up conflicts with health and safety on both a personal and societal level. Travelers who get caught in an unseasonable snowfall might not have warm enough clothing to keep them from freezing or have enough food with them even if they do find shelter. Bandits may become more desperate, but at the same time, find that snow hampers their ability to raid on a large scale.

This problem also comes up at the end of the season. If people fail to maintain their preparations long enough or they've run out of supplies due to a long hard winter season, they could still have serious issues. Snow might hamper their ability to restock, whether it be because they couldn't get to town or because the town had run out of things when their shipments couldn't get through. This was a key issue in The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Time of year also affects the quantity of snow, which I will get to shortly. People expect to see more snow in the middle of winter than the leading and trailing edges of the season. This may lead to conflicting attitudes regarding preparations.

Temperature: Not only is temperature itself a great source of conflict, particularly extreme highs and lows, but it also affects quantity and quality of snow. When temperatures are closer to the freezing point of water, snowflakes tend to be fluffier and more packable. That's the sort that makes wonderful snow forts, snowmen, and snowballs. However, in lower temperatures, snow tends to be finer and more likely to blow off the ground in a gust of wind. That's part of the problem my family has been facing. Our driveway won't stay clear very well, even when it stops snowing, because the snow is so dry and light, that the wind keeps shifting it to the low areas, i.e. the driveway, forcing us to clear it several times a day.

With such a long stretch to keep clear, and in such bitter cold, it becomes an arduous task, even with a tractor and snowblower. And that is only feasible in the daylight. We're struggling to find someone willing (and smart enough to do it the intelligent way) to plow it, saving the snowblower for keeping the edges tidy and pushed back. Plus the plow would have the lights to do it in the early morning and late at night.

We've had our share of conflict the past week and half with trying to get to work, damage to vehicles, and getting stuck due to quantity, temperature, and wind. Since we've had so many problems with a passable driveway, we've had to walk through the snow to get our paper and mail, get our boy to the bus stop and back, and having to do repairs in the cold. This means putting on appropriate clothing to keep us warm enough in the combination of wind and temperature. People who don't take such precautions could end up with frostbite or worse. Even when you take care for warmth, there is still the problem of moving through such deep snow, which brings me to...

Quantity: Light snowfall is easy to walk through, though it can and does make roadways and sidewalks slippery. Slip-and-fall accidents, skidding vehicles, and multi-car pileups are more likely in snowy weather. Airports have delays even in just a moderate snowfall.

Deep snow causes its own share of problems even without extremely low temps or much wind by making it hard to keep roadways, tracks, and other passages clear for travel and shipment and for walking in it. People with skis, snowshoes, or other footgear for staying on top of snow just have to deal with coordinating the gear, so they don't fall, and perhaps have muscle burn and other injuries from unaccustomed activity. People who are used to the gear will suffer fewer problems than those who aren't.

Without that gear, people have to wade in it. Those who are in excellent cardio health will find this less strenuous than those who aren't as fit. I'd consider myself reasonably fit, but with having to push through snow that had drifted to knee height and deeper, I had to stop several times while going down the drive yesterday to catch my breath and ease my exertion induced nausea. I did better when I forced myself to stick to a slower pace, but it meant I was in the cold longer. Of course having to stop frequently didn't get me down to the mailbox any faster, so not really a difference after all.

Wind: Though it affects the snow itself less than the other factors, wind plays a significant role in the severity of snow conditions. It blows snow around which reduces visibility and creates problematic drifts. It can also create dangerous windchills that some people are forced to endure in order to deal with the snow and snow's problems. Sounds become distorted, making it hard to hear people calling for help.

For the most part, I enjoy snow. It looks pretty when it covers the ground enough to hide winter-brown plants. But when there is so much that it causes problems, especially when the wind exacerbates the difficulties, I don't like it. I'd prefer to have much less of it. Fortunately, since we live in an area that expects frequent snowfalls (lovely lake effect we have here *rolls eyes*), we prepare by keeping food stocked up for when we can't get into town. We might run out of preferred supplies, but we will be fed. We also have multiple shovels, a couple snowblowers, and lots of winter clothing. And a sled, perfect for pulling a small boy down to the bus stop.

I hope when you write about snow that you will keep these factors in mind. Don't forget to keep them in mind for your own winter weather care. Be safe.

Filk Friday: holiday theme song for merchants

Friday, December 10, 2010

Every Christmas season I play this song. One: Tom Lehrer is brilliant. Two: It still fits the season of sell, sell, sell. 'Nuff said.

Enjoy this Christmas Carol.

The 69 Test: Broken Destinies

Monday, December 6, 2010

I heard about the 69 Test from The Sharp Angle, where you look at page 69 of a novel for voice and if the story goes along with the premise. My novels: not too sure if they pass. None of them are even completed drafts yet, let alone revised much.

But here's page 69 from my contemporary fantasy, currently titled Broken Destinies. It's the most completed story I have right now thanks to NaNo. Though still just a young teen, Kaylin is the lynchpin in the current struggle between Order and Chaos because of her abilities.

Would this excerpt make you curious? Just remember it's still raw. But then so is my logline. Come to think of it, learning about the 69 test and pulling up this page helped me finally write my logline. But I think it works, more or less.

Lugh shook his head. “I’m baffled. The lab was under the influence of Chaos. I saw in her mind the person who shattered her, my old foe Balor. He loves Chaos. However, the person who grabbed Kaylin was extremely orderly. That was carefully planned. He had every move figured out, like how to keep her from calling for help, probably drugged her, which fits why she blanked so quickly. His car was nearby and ready. I’d imagine he has a specific destination in mind. Things probably arranged in advance. We should expect delays dropped in our path. I just can’t imagine anyone in my circle who would do such a thing.” He sagged in his seat. Probably felt to blame for this.

Madai understood all too well. He sat up. “Any of them Kaylin has met would have used a different method. She trusts them, so different tactics. Therefore, at most they would have reported to someone. And since all of your contacts who have been in her presence, have spent more than just a few minutes with her, I don’t think they could have hidden such intents from her.”

Lugh straightened. “You’re right. And the only people I’ve mentioned her to have met her. So we can almost safely say that my alerted contacts are above suspicion. Which brings me back to: the lab is Chaos influenced, but this man isn’t. How would he have learned of her and why would he have snatched her from our care?”

There was no answer to that.

They were following. That was Father Rafael's expectation anyway. The first phase of liberation went well. The actual snatch worked just like his plan, although he couldn’t see how she could have alerted her captors. He was sure they hadn’t been watching. And they’d taken too long to get outside if they had been. He might have had a fight on his hands if they had exited more quickly. Granted he’d been prepared for that as well, but it was a distasteful course of action.

But she hadn’t made a sound, not even a muffled yell through the rag. He’d expected yells, not the soundless fright. With no sound and no immediate visibility, how could she have signaled to anyone? Maybe they’d had cameras on the backyard. He’d looked but hadn’t found any.

Irritated writer/mom

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sorry for having nothing posted in over a week. Thanksgiving was way too busy with people getting sick just long enough to prevent them from taking their trip, totally hosing all of my plans for a quiet house.

My son is a kid, and he has a right to some of my attention, but when everyone is doing projects or watching tv, I can't just sit down and write. The tv is too distracting (I've only learned how to tune out Disney Playhouse and Nick Jr); and I get guilted for sitting at the computer when there's house projects that must-be-done. Yeah, lots of cleaning, furniture rearranging, and the folks' annual dragging-out-the-Christmas-stuff. I know my son enjoys it, but it's not my holiday. I had nowhere to escape it.

The cleaning I still have left is more of the rip-the-room-apart-to-find-____, especially when it's because other people move things that I've put down (because it looks like clutter). Right now it's trying to figure out where my son's library book went that he checked out a couple weeks ago, since tomorrow is his library day. I last saw it when I put it on his desk with his library bag. Not there now, nor is it on the shelf with his own books. Really makes me want to scream sometimes. I hate hate hate not being able to find things, and other people moving things without telling me drives me bananas. How am I supposed to know if someone else moved it or if I just forgot that I moved it myself? Because I've done that: swear that I know I put something in __ place, but when I find it somewhere else finally, that's when I remember, oh yeah, I took it here when I did this. Grrrrrr.

I know I'm a pendulum between cluttered and organized, but I expect to find things where I left them. Is that too much to ask?

I'm trying to be a writer, but since I have no private place to work, would it be rude if I told everyone to go away, get out of the house?

I'm going to face this again later this month, just like I did over Thanksgiving break, and I'm feeling invaded even though it isn't my house. The holiday broke my stride, and now I'm stumbling to get back into my writing pace.

Dragonforce and Final Fantasy X/X-2

Monday, November 22, 2010

Final Fantasy X and X-2 are a couple of my favorites in the FF line of games. I'll probably end up doing a post about them sometime in the future. Here's a couple of my favorite videos from them set to music from Dragonforce: Starfire and Where Dragons Rule. My other favorite, Dawn Over a New World, got taken off, and I don't have time to see if someone else has done one for that song. Just wanted to do something fun and quick, since I didn't get any writing done yesterday thanks to feeling vaguely ill most of the day and working a full shift at work. Enjoy!


Where Dragons Rule

I really wish that they hadn't done the speed metal thing in Where Dragons Rule after the beginning part. That was beautiful, and the speed drumming masks the good stuff in the rest of the song. I think the percussion could have been eased off and still kept the energy. But I love the song enough that it doesn't bug me too much. I just sing louder. Hehe. "In this land we've defended from all things dark and cruel, now we're defenseless in a land where dragons rule!" Raaaa!!

Filk Friday: Do-It-Yourself, a computer song

Friday, November 19, 2010

One of my family friends is a programmer, so when I got into filk, I started collecting computer related songs to share with her. Do-It-Yourself, also known as Mainframe, is a catchy little song about building your own computer from the things you find at home. You can tell Bill Sutton had fun with this song. The snark about the computer companies that were around at the time is smirk-tastic. Especially the cracks on IBM. This came from his tape: Past Due. It's an old song, and I only know about half of the references in the chorus, but it's entertaining anyway.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Drat! I had a fantastic self realization this morning after reading Jai's post about BookTV, and while trying to write out why it was such a lightbulb moment and what it had to do with what triggered it, my train of thought derailed.

Now instead of feeling invigorated, I'm depressed, because it really meant something to me, and I wanted to share it while it was still relevant. Stupid words flashed by too fast for me to catch them, and now I can't explain it without taking so long that the entire point is lost. A messed up sort of genius. I read something, and my thoughts pull up a bunch of things it reminds me of and connections it makes for me. But I have inadequate outflow of my thought process.

I'm sure there's the roots to an interesting alien encounter story I could pull out of how my brain works. Humans meet some race that doesn't have a strong verbal language but one of flashes of insight, references, memories. Maybe transmitted partly by telepathy. Sort of a combination of Juliette Wade's alien stories and that ST episode with that main phrase, "Darmok and [something] at Tinagra." Or something like that. I've even played around with the idea of a code based on song, movie, and book references, information wouldn't be exact, but it's a similar concept to the alien process.

Words just don't keep up. A real communication flaw when trying to deal with people who can think verbally at faster speed. Without telepathy or shared experience, it's tedious to get those thoughts across. And by the time I do, the meaning is lost. I don't even remember names well. Most people I remember their faces and references like "so-and-so from [place], met them at [event]."

Too bad I'll never write that story, because I'm still trying to hack out these other ones, and words don't like me. Not much of artist either. Too bad I can't paint with my mind instead of my hands. Look at that. Another potential idea that I'll probably never be able to utilize.

And in case you're worried about me, this is all just the frustrated flip side of the insight I made this morning about having connections to people. I have lots of connections and friends. And largely because I chose to become a writer. The physical act of writing/typing has kept me close to people I've met in person, through online mediums like chat programs and social sites, and the creative act of writing introduced me to people I now want to meet in person, though the online mediums of forums and blogs.

Yea. Me and words have a real love-hate relationship. I can't live without them, but they make me mad when they won't cooperate. Maybe later I'll try again to get across what I thought was so amazing and feel-good about what I'd realized almost 3 hours ago.

Scientific Progress Goes "Boink"

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Raise your hands if you recognized that title. Keep your hands up if you have a kid who resembles Calvin in some small way. Why yes, there's a bit of Calvin in my son. Why do you ask? *wink*

Calvin and Hobbes has been one of my favorite comics since I was a kid. Calvin is someone who would make an excellent writer if he ever applied himself to learning what his parents and teachers have been trying to teach. That imagination is amazing. He goes from seeing himself as a giant T-rex to Stupendous Man to Spaceman Spiff. He believes that his stuffed tiger is real when no one else is around (who likes to pounce on him) and has an evil genius when it comes to snowmen. He can believe in reverse gravity, suddenly growing larger, and that he can build a duplicator machine to make copies of himself to do his work. And he comes up with new stories on the spot to explain why he didn't do his homework.

If he'd just do his homework right away, he could take the time he'd spent dithering to turn all those stories into a book. Makes you wonder how much of Calvin was in Bill Watterson as a kid, doesn't it? Hehe.

What sort of flights of fantasy did you take yourself when you were growing up and have you used any of them to kickstart your stories?

Pep Talkin'

Monday, November 15, 2010

Time for some pep talks for anyone who, like me, has bogged down in their writing and needs some pick-me-ups. (I've got 21,152 out of 25,000 words. That's 3,848 more words to write by the end of today in order to catch up. And I work this evening.)

Since I don't have time to write much for you here if I'm going to clear much of that, I'm going to share links to some of my favorite pep talks on the NaNo site from both this year and past years. (They save all the talks.)

Mercedes Lackey's talk on the value of fanfiction for honing craft.

John Greene's talk on perseverance.

Aimee Bender's talk on experimenting with tangents that could lead to something better than what you'd planned.

Piers Anthony's talk on getting started even when all you have is a wispy daydream. (very funny, much like his Xanth novels)

Lynda Barry's talk on how hand writing your story can be an asset.

Meg Cabot's talk on not giving up on your battered WIP for Shiny-New-Idea.

Brian Jacques' talk on building that spark for others. I especially like the last paragraph.

That's all for now, but if you want to read more of these talks, check out this year's here and archived years over here. They've gathered an interesting group of writers to write the talks from most of the genres from what I can tell. Have a look even if you aren't a Wrimo. You may find something of particular interest to you.

Filk Friday: Star Trekkin Across the Universe

Friday, November 12, 2010

I'd wanted to find an SF song that somehow related to alien life. Something that would go well with what Juliette talked about on Wednesday. But, I had a terrible day with my writing yesterday. The character I was going to use to drive the conflict for the middle third of the book is the completely wrong personality for what I want him to do. By the end of the day I finally decided to quit trying to figure out how to mash the square peg in the round hole and just save him for a later story. So, I'm creating a new character from scratch.

But this means I'm now a full day behind on my NaNo story plus the bit I hadn't finished making up from last week. So, instead of getting a perfect song, you're getting a fun song. Here is Star Trekkin Across the Universe. I first heard it on the Dr. Demento: Songs From Outer Space compilation CD my husband bought a couple years ago. Enjoy!

Guest Post: Juliette Wade

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I am very excited to welcome the lovely Juliette Wade to the library. She just had a third story published in Analog: At Cross Purposes (just look at that awesome picture), and she's here to share some insights with those of us interested in creating alien societies. I hope you are all taking notes.

Using Animal Species As Inspiration For An Alien Culture

Many thanks to Jaleh for inviting me to do this post!

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the idea of using the physiology of Earth animals as inspiration for creating aliens. Catlike aliens have been done by Larry Niven and by Anne McCaffrey, for example, not to mention James Cameron! I've seen doglike aliens, and grasshopper-like aliens, and many different physical models. These models typically come along with a different kind of cuisine that fits the animal's diet - often raw meat in the case of carnivores!

Since I write about aliens a lot, I've discovered that many people have an immediate reaction against using animal models. They figure it's been done before, or that even though the aliens look like other species, they act far too much like humans.

This is sometimes true. However, if an alien species looks animal and acts human, that's usually because the animal model hasn't been pursued deeply enough. An animal model can give you a lot more than simply physiology and diet. If you really dive into your research about a particular species, you can find more information to inspire you in the areas of social structure, culture and behavior.

In order to show how this works, I thought I'd give a few examples from the animal-like aliens I've created.

Lizard fashion?
In my Analog 2008 story, "Let the Word Take Me," the Gariniki were based on geckos. I wanted them to be cold-blooded, and I wanted to see if I could make that have consequences for culture. An individual traveling the desert therefore took along "sun armor" to protect herself, rather than looking for rocks to hide under (they are a bit big for that!). A leather coat with air holes in it, covered with white feathers, would be a culture-based way for an individual to protect herself from overheating. And it looked nice, too!

Wolf language, wolf architecture?
In my Analog 2009 story, "Cold Words," the Aurrel were based on wolves. Wolves operate on a social model with strict rankings within the pack, so the culture of the Aurrel elaborated on this. Their language had different dialects for those claiming a dominant social position (Cold words) and those accepting a lesser social position (Warm words). Their language was also presumed to have evolved in a hunting context, where messages to other wolves on the run would have to be preceded by attention-getting barks - and I structured my English rendering of their language to reflect this. When dogs meet, they sniff out one another's intentions, often with very active confrontational behavior (whether or not they are friends), so in each home I put an entry room called the "confronting room" which would be essentially unfurnished to allow space for such greetings and potential fights. I also made the door into the "den rooms" of the house have slots, so that occupants of the house could smell who had come to visit.

Otter technology?
My current Analog story, "At Cross Purposes" (out now!), has an alien species, the Cochee-coco, based on river otters. I wanted these guys to have technology better than the humans in the story, but also to have technology very much unlike ours. I figured it would be too human-like to have otters sitting in chairs with keypads in front of them to control a ship... so I went back to otter physiology and behavior. A high metabolism means lots of frenetic activity for short periods, followed by intervals of rest and eating. Furthermore, a species accustomed to snatching fish underwater would easily re-adapt this to other purposes. So I had the bridge contain resting couches where otters could take breaks and sleep between their short shifts; I gave it an adjoining water-room full of fish for snacking and keeping up energy. And I had the ship's controls be three-dimensional, tactile holograms that swam by and could be grabbed (like fish) and manipulated by the individuals in charge.

This is just a small taste of the opportunities for culture that you might find in an animal species. If you're setting out to create an alien culture from an animal model, here are some steps I recommend.

1. Begin with physiology. Change it.
Take the basic animal appearance and make sure to modify it in systematic, obvious ways so that it's clear not all of the assumptions associated with the animal species can be imported without question.

2. Make a list of interesting physiological traits.
What you consider interesting is up to you. Metabolism might give you inspiration; so may diet and digestion. The physiology of the mouth is full of possibilities for alien language phonology. If the species has super-sensitive hands (as raccoons do), or excellent eyesight, make a note of it.

3. Make a list of interesting behavioral traits. Separate those that influence individual behavior from those that inform community behavior.
The body language typical of the animal species can give you a lot to work with when you have individuals talking and expressing their emotions. You can also find information that will help you create a larger society and its features, such as information about where and how breeding happens, or how many individuals typically live together, how much mixing there is of the sexes, etc.

4. Once you've compiled the animal features and behaviors that interest you, extrapolate.
Think about clothing and what its use might be. Think about what kinds of houses your people would live in, and how they would be structured. What do their special senses allow them to achieve that might not be possible for humans? How would small details of animal physiology be relevant to manners and other forms of cultural behavior?

5. Check the integrity of your system.
This is an important step to keep your animal features from taking you in twenty different directions and creating chaos. Just as animal behaviors intertwine and create a whole, so should the behaviors, activities and artifacts you create. Cultural systems interconnect in a myriad ways, and one behavior leads to or relates to another in a systematic way that makes sense to the individual and to the group as a whole.

I hope these thoughts give you some ideas for your own projects. Have fun!

Thank you so much for sharing your expertise in linguistics and anthropology, Juliette. It really shines in your stories and articles. Those of you who don't already have her on your blogroll or in your bookmarks are really missing out even if you don't write SF. Check out her personal blog and her writing blog. I've been following TalkToYoUniverse since shortly after I started this blog. She frequently amazes me with some sort of insight that I can apply to my own writing.

Her publications:
"Let the Word Take Me" in Analog Magazine, July/August 2008
"Cold Words" a novelette in Analog Magazine, October 2009
"The Eminence's Match" Eight Against Reality anthology, July 2010 (see my review)
"At Cross Purposes" in Analog Magazine, January/February 2011 issue, in stores now

October reading list results

Monday, November 8, 2010

Yes, I'm a bit late on posting this. I've been typing madly on my NaNo project this past week. My super speed anyway; I'm still a few hundred words behind. (I hope to make that up today.) But here is the list of books I finished in October and how I rated them on Goodreads.

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa (4 stars)
Wired by Liz Maverick (3 stars)
First Rider's Call by Kristin Britain (4 stars)
Dust by Elizabeth Bear (2 stars, got bored and took too long to understand what was really at stake, but not totally bad)
Blue Fire by Janice Hardy (5 stars)
Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (5 stars for each)
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (1 star)
The City and the City by China Meiville (4 stars)
Intrigues (book 2 of Collegium Chronicles) by Mercedes Lackey (wasn't on list, but it was a new release I'd been waiting for, yeah for more of Mags and his friends)

These ones will have to wait until December.
Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn
The Mermaid's Madness (Princess novels-book 2) by Jim C. Hines
Red Hood's Revenge (Princess novels-book 3) by Jim C. Hines
The Mirror of Her Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson
Fantasy Lover (Dark Hunter series-book 1) by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Firelight by Sophie Jordan
Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse series-book 1) by Charlaine Harris
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip

And remember to check out the guest post from Juliette Wade on Wednesday.

Filk Friday: A tribute to Evil in the comic Looking For Group

Friday, November 5, 2010

I just started reading the comic Looking For Group, but Richard is one hilariously evil dude. He burns up bunnies and cuts off gnome heads, all while delighting in the slaughter. Classic chaotic evil by D&D standards. The comic rips on online rpgs (especially WoW) for the character types and settings. I shouldn't be laughing, but he's got some of the best dialogue I've seen in an evil character. In strip 3 he formally introduces himself to the blood elf type character.

Richard: [booming voice] I am Richard, Chief Warlock of the Brothers of Darkness, Lord of the Thirteen Hells, Master of the Bones, Emperor of the Black, Lord of the Undead, [normal voice] and the Mayor of a little village up the coast. Very scenic during springtime. You should visit sometime.
Blood elf: Your name is Richard?
Richard: You were supposed to pay more attention to everything after that part.
Blood elf: [turns his back] Sure thing, Dick.
Richard: [glowers] H-uh. That's pretty funny. [fireball grows in his hands] FWOOM!
Blood elf: [now a pile of ash] I think I require the services of a healer.
Richard: Walk it off, you pussy.

This comic is gory but funny. On to the filk about Richard. {I don't recommend watching if you're squeamish, but otherwise let the laughter ensue.}

When You're Evil

Slaughter Your World (to the tune of Part of Your World from Little Mermaid)

Oh and sorry about Wednesday's post. I was busy working on my NaNo story. I'll put it up on Monday. And be sure to check out the post on Wednesday the 10th. Juliette Wade will be here to talk about using animals as a basis for creating aliens. It's a great article to accompany her latest story in Analog. "At Cross Purposes."

First day of NaNo 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sorry I'm so late with posting. I got dozy this morning after a bit of writing, took a nap, then awakened by kid's school saying he was feeling bad and needed picked up. Turns out they were being a bit paranoid. He's had a rash all weekend, but it was nearly gone. It flared up a bit from him scratching, and with his temp being up slightly and his throat looking red, they were afraid he had strep.

Doctor said nope. They can test throat swabs in 5 minutes now. Did you know that? I didn't. I remember they used to take a few days back when I was a kid. His doctor said that when kids are on an antibiotic, sometimes they get rashes from funky viruses and not to worry. He didn't need any other medicine. He also got the A-okay regarding the ear infection he'd had. That's all better.

Despite all the time eaters I've had today, I've managed to write a thousand words. After I put my son to bed, I'll get back to work to knock out another thousand. So far my writing stress level is still low. While I'm still using the delete key more than I probably should, I'm doing pretty well with not obsessing over phrasing, which slows me down.

Best of luck to my fellow Wrimos.

I'm tackling NaNo!

Friday, October 29, 2010

I finally decided that I'm going to go for it this year. My sign-up is done. NaNoWriMo, I'm gearing up my engines!

I've already added a few people as buddies, but if I haven't tagged you yet, feel free to tag me as one. This should be exciting. I'll be sure to show my progress reports each week, even if they're dismal. My project is loosely titled Broken Destinies set in my husband's homebrew game setting of Dark Messiah. (which refers to a comet, not a person) We've been discussing this story for months, so now I'm going to dig in and see what I can crank out.

Obviously, with all this writing, there will be no reading list for November. But if I do read anything, I'll be sure to tell you about it. Catching Fire and Mockingjay are sitting on the table waiting for me to get through them so they can go back to the library. I guess I know what I'm working the next couple days. ;D

Our (almost) wedding recessional song

Filk Friday is being hijacked to play a non-filk song. I couldn't find one I really liked that was about roleplaying, especially in light of the romantic bit about bringing two people together. You know, to go along with this week's theme. I suppose I will have to write one myself, but that might take me awhile. I write slow. And my music writing skills are waaaaaaay rusty (as in nearly-no-practice-since-high-school rusty).

Since I couldn't find a suitable filk song, and it'll take me too long to write one, I puttered and browsed for some other song to use instead. And it came to me. The two of us have shared from the beginning an appreciation for one very talented Harvard professor who had a way with humorous songs: Tom Lehrer. Chris thought we should pick a one of his songs for our wedding recessional. He even thought he had the perfect one.

I vetoed it. I was not going to go prancing out to the tune of Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, even minus the words. Too bad, so sad, ain't gonna do it.

But somehow it seems appropriate to play it today. (This is for you, darling.)

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park

This one is just an extra. It's a sort of joke between the two of us. I don't think we've ever sung it with a straight face.

When You Are Old and Grey

For the love of fantasy

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Two years after my first larp event, I got married. October 13th was chosen for one very important reason. Okay two. My husband wanted Halloween, but one of his best friends nixed that idea as they'd had other friends who'd married on that day and then split up. So he liked the idea of 31 -> 13. But my reason for the 13th was because it also commemorated when I met him. Almost exactly.

Remember that fey lord I mentioned on Monday? That was him. So you could say I met my husband on the day he got married. Har har har. Okay, so it's a lame joke growing older every year. Tough. ;D

I didn't talk to him at all that event. He was kept busy by the plot team, but he was memorable. Kinda hard to forget the sight of a big guy in a kilt, especially when he's part of the main plot. But I hadn't really taken any "special" notice of him.

However, he and his buddy, the mage who'd been so surprised during our introduction, had certainly noticed and remembered me. When I posted on the Pigeon Coop, the out-of-game forum for our NERO chapter, about how much I'd enjoyed my first event and was grateful to everyone who'd made it so much fun, the two of them responded by trying to lure me to the Halloween event at a nearby chapter. (I still have a printout of those postings somewhere.)

After the luring part, there was a series of postscripts, the first two being my favorite considering my relationship to them now. Chris is my hubby; J is one of our best friends.
P.S. Chris thinks you're cute. So do I. -J
P.P.S. J wrote this, not me. -Chris
Adorable, right? A very nice boost to my ego, but I didn't make it to the event; I was committed to a conference that same weekend for my fraternity. (a co-ed service frat) In some ways, I regret that I didn't skip the conference, especially since, when I got there, I found out the money hadn't been sent in ahead of time. My frat brother still had it and turned it in when we arrived. (I was so mad at him that I got even by hooking up with friends from the National convention the previous year, instead of staying where he'd arranged. He was miffed, but that's what he deserved for not telling me he still had my check; he knew I'd changed my mind about wanting to go.)

Perhaps if I had skipped out and gone to the larp event instead, I might have hooked up with my hubby sooner. The conference was good, but the stories from the event were better. Werewolves and vampires and succubi, oh my! And the Charlie's Angels pose and the "stopping a troll charge with a Detect Magic spell." Sigh. The things I missed. I'll get Chris to tell you a couple of the stories sometime. So funny.

As it was, I got to know J pretty well, before I had a chance to know Chris. J had just moved nearby, so I saw him every week for D&D. He was very easy to talk to, even promised that if I wasn't married by the time my 10-year high school reunion came around, he would be my date. (For some reason, I was worried about that. ;) ) I even had a bit of a crush on him for awhile. In fact, Chris had once thought that because I'd met J first, he didn't have a chance. Shows that sometimes you have a better chance than you give yourself credit for.

Once I did start getting interested in Chris several months later, J helped foster our growing friendship. He even gave me a sprig of mistletoe in encouragement. He was delighted that two of his best friends were hooking up with each other and stood as groomsman at our wedding, though in a kilt rather than the mage robes.

Chris's college gaming friends weren't sure what to make of me at first. They are protective of each other, so when he started making trips to see me, they didn't know whether they should be glad for him, especially considering his previous relationship. Their first picture of me wasn't much help. Haha. Oh, the infamous "duct tape picture." I swear that's just shiny ribbon above the ruffle. He did not tape my legs together to keep me from running away. Honest. Hehe. (Aren't we cute?)

From the first meeting, one of their gaming nights, they welcomed me. It took awhile before I was comfortable calling them "our" friends rather than "his" friends, but that was because I needed convincing that they were serious about me being one of them rather than a hanger-on. Wonderful people.

Though my life has been no fairy tale, fantasy has brought me to my greatest treasures. God bless the dreamers.

From newbie larper to writer

Monday, October 25, 2010

Eleven years ago on the second Saturday of October, I attended my first live-action roleplaying game just one week after my first D&D game. Central Ohio was comfortable to be running around without a cloak. Just a beautiful autumn day, or so I remember it.

My roommate had talked me into giving NERO a try. However, she was on the plot team so would, therefore, be unable to help me much directly. She did help me create my character though, her PC's (player character's) sister: a gypsy healer named Rosa Moonshadow of the family of the Rose. There were only two other gypsies at the event, and they were opposites. Galena Berylstar didn't say much or speak loudly. She didn't have to; people listened to her. Reese Domashay never seemed to stop with the boisterous banter. His voice could be heard over combat. Not the greatest of examples for someone trying to learn the voice.

Due to my underdeveloped social skills, I felt awkward. I couldn't do the accent well, even when I could figure out what to say. Thinking on my feet: not one of my strengths. But I needn't have worried. Most of the players are considerate to new ones, lending their expertise to get newbies involved in the game. Various players came over and introduced themselves; one even took me and another first-timer on a brief adventure. We call it shepherding. Experienced players get new ones involved without overwhelming them with more than they can handle. At the time, I just knew that this big guy actually wanted us to enjoy the game as he taught us a bit about how to use our skills.

Sometimes when the plot shack is shorthanded, they look for volunteers to fill roles in between other mods. I joined a random group to be wolves bounding through the woods for an hour. When we were done and back in our own characters' costumes, one of my fellow wolves joined me at a table. He was playing an elf mage in a bright green robe and a black four-pointed star painted over one eye. With a touch of swagger, he sat across from me and held out his hand. "Greetings, I am Illaren. And who might you be?" Very bold that one. ;)

Now the funny thing is, my roommate had intended to ask this gentleman to shepherd me at the event. They'd known each other for awhile, and their characters had adventured together. However, RM had changed her mind and decided to surprise him, never telling him anything about me. But when the game had been getting started, she'd pointed him out and told me who he was in and out of game. My character didn't still know him, but I did. Part of why I didn't mind grouping with him for the wolf run.

So, with a touch of boldness myself, I looked up at him, batted my eyes, and said, "Rosa Moonshadow of the family of the Rose."

He rocked back. "Moonshadow?!"

"Yes, Moonshadow. Perhaps you know one of my sisters." Bat, bat, bat. I grinned, trying to keep from laughing at the shock on his face. I didn't know I had it in me to be so coy.

He settled. "Yes, I know Kestra. I haven't seen her in awhile. Is she here?" He was still looking at me like I'd turned into something odd. But it was too funny to take offense.

After I'd given him her "regrets," he departed to go find my RM. I followed. She was busy prepping another mod, but he ignored everyone but her. He mock growled in protest. "You had to make her a Moonshadow, didn't you?"

She gave him the same look I had. "Uh-huh!"

A fantastic beginning to a great friendship. Hehe. He stood as a groomsman at my wedding. But more about that on Wednesday.

The main feature of this event was a wedding between a fey lord and a human-turned-fey. The whole thing was hilarious. A dark fey lord came to interrupt the wedding, since the bride was race-changed, not a pure fey. While the fey lords were facing off, Reese was becoming such a distraction with his gabble that the dark fey lord cast silence on him. Hostilities broke off for a few moments while the light fey lord shook his hand in gratitude. It quickly resumed with them two of them shaking their fingers at each as they said, "Don't make me use this." "Don't make me use this." ("This" being a point-cast death spell.) Eventually, another interruption happened, and while the dark fey lord was occupied, the groom's mother laid the broom down and told the couple to hop across quickly. Wedding over.

Going to that event was one of the best things I'd ever done. I made many new friends and found a "safe" environment to practice social skills. I didn't do much of it that first event, but by being "someone else," I could relax my inhibitions and try out behaviors that I wouldn't normally do, like flirting. Everyone knows it's a game, and flirting is normal for gypsies. After all, the NERO motto is "Be all that you can't be!"

In addition to the friends and memories (like getting suckered into helping a kobold to go find his "long lost brother" and getting waylaid instead), larping also reawakened my creative spark. Roleplaying leads to stories. By going to events and more tabletop games, I was seeing stories from the inside. By creating back stories for my characters and retelling the adventures I'd experienced, I was practicing writing skills.

That led to toying with the idea of being a writer. I didn't know yet if I could do it, or if I really wanted to, but story ideas began to drift my way once my mind opened to the possibility. That sample of "bad writing" from earlier this month was from that first story. I'd started it over the summer, then worked on it some more for my creative writing class. If it wasn't for the fact that I'd had the roleplaying experience and been such an avid reader of fantasy, I might have given up after that class.

But I didn't.

I continued playing NERO, got involved with a few different D&D groups, practiced retelling those stories, and created more of my own. And even though I have yet to finish writing any of my stories, I know I want to be a writer now. I have the confidence to listen to helpful critiques. I study writing techniques. I come up with ideas. And it's all because of roleplaying games.

NERO LARP Introduction
Dungeons and Dragons

Filk Friday: Exclamations!

Friday, October 22, 2010

I've been a fan of the Brobdingnagian Bards ever since I discovered them on one of my meanderings to find new music. These two guys have done some great songs. Exclamations! is no exception. Huzzah!

If you want to find more of their music (especially better recordings), check out their website. You can also find them on iTunes. I'm bummed that they've gone separate ways now, but I can always hope that they might still do an occasional act together again in the future.

Janice Hardy: So You Wanna Be a Writer?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Azuranna is pleased to welcome her first guest speaker to the library: Janice Hardy from The Other Side of the Story, who will be giving us some suggestions about developing as writers. Tea, coffee, and cookies of many varieties are in plentiful supply, so feel free to help yourselves. (I don't recommend the troll biscuits; they aren't really to a human's taste.) Pull up a chair, rock, or cushion whenever you're ready.

Now that everyone is comfortable, the cavern is yours, Janice.

So You Wanna Be a Writer?

There’s a ton of information on the web about writing, querying, submitting, fixing your weak spots and improving your strong spots, but what do you do when you want to write, but have no clue how to get started? Or you’re not sure what to work on next to get to the next skill level? How do you turn it from a hobby to a possible career?

How much writing you’ve done and how solid your fundamentals are will determine how much work you might need to do to reach the professional level required for publishing. Here’s a general outline for gauging your ability and things you can do to get to the next level:

Beginner: You’re not sure the proper use of punct
uation, your grammar is iffy, and you’re not totally sure what the difference is between an adverb and an adjective. The only writing you’ve done is work or email related, maybe a few creative pieces here and there. It’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ve done nothing yet to improve your skills. Work on developing those basic skills as your first step. Read a few books on grammar and the basics of writing. Practice your writing so it’s formatted properly and the technical aspects are correct. Write about anything you want, but try to get in both dialog and exposition to get a feel for how it all works together.

Novice: Your fundamentals are good, but when people talk about things like POV and narrative drive you’re not sure what they mean. It’s time to learn the lingo. Writing has its own terminology, and advice is going to come in that language. To benefit from that advice, you first have to understand it. Familiarize yourself with the common terms and what they mean, as well as how to use them. Then try writing a story that utilizing these aspects. Pick one at a time if you’d like to make it easier and allow you to focus on how it’s done. The goal is to understand all the pieces so you can start using them to your advantage.

Apprentice: You understand the common terms and what they mean. Your writing skills are solid. You’ve written stories, but your feedback often contains phrases like, “nothing happens,” or “what’s the point of this story?” This might be a good time to work on story structure and plotting. Read up on things like conflict and character arcs. Explore the components that go into a story, such as how scenes and acts work, what sequels are and how they all string together to form a novel. Study what makes a good beginning, what happens in the middle, and how you resolve the story in the end. Try writing stories with complete story arcs that start somewhere, fulfill a plot, and then end with a resolution of some kind.

Intermediate: Your writing’s pretty decent and you know how stories are put together. You can
create plots and finish a story, but sometimes things feel a little flat. Feedback includes comments like “There’s too much backstory” or “you’re telling too much,” or “why are they doing this?” Try digging into your characters more and studying POV. Read up on character development, motivations, goals and stakes. Understand why they’re doing what they do and why they see things as they see it. Study how characters advance plot. Try writing stories that strive for clear goals and stakes, a solid plot, and character growth of some kind.

Advanced: You write well, can craft a good story and get compliments on your skills. But not every story is wowing folks, and you know you have a few trouble spots here and there to work on. Work on your weak spots, those things that are getting mentioned in any feedback you receive (or the nagging doubts you feel about your own skills. Trust your instincts). Try looking at your pacing and how you feed information to the reader. Study what makes a good story, and not just the mechanics of a book. You have the technical skills, now it’s time to develop your storyteller skills and find your voice (if you haven’t already). Write the types of stories you enjoy and keep writing them. Learn how to revise and polish. Study books on editing and crafting compelling stories.

Naturally, not every writer will fit into this exactly, and some folks will be better at one area that’s higher on the list, and worse at others, but hopefully it provides a general guide to help you decide what you might need to focus on next. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to work on the things that you feel need work. If your plotting skills are strong, work on character development or storytelling. If characters are your thing, work on plotting. The goal is to have a well-rounded skill set that you can use to get those stories down on paper.

Each writer will find their own way of doing things, but every one will still need good writing skills and an understanding of what makes a good story. Don’t feel you have to do it all at once. There’s a lot to learn, and taking it step by step will allow you to develop strong skills at every stage, so when you’re ready to go pro, you have all the tools you’ll need.

Thank you so much for visiting us today, Janice. You are welcome back anytime.

Blue Fire Blurb
Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

You can buy this book at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon. If you haven't checked out The Shifter or Blue Fire yet, you should. They are amazing.

Janice Hardy Bio
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.

Her website and blog
The Other Side of the Story Blog

Tangents and reminders

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sorry about yesterday's lack of post. I had a sick boy (still sick today, poor kid), and I had to go to work still, since my hubby was home. The post I was working on went way off track, and I ran out of time to write what I'd intended. I meant to write about how fantasy brought my husband and I together but ended up writing about my first live-action roleplaying event. Considering that's where I met him, I can see how I diverged. It would be too long to keep as one post, so I'm splitting them into two. They will go up next week, so that I can keep them together.

In the meantime, I hope to see everyone here tomorrow for Janice Hardy's guest visit as part of her blog tour for Blue Fire's release earlier this month. If you haven't been following along, you should. She's covered quite a diversity of topics related to her series and writing, and the month isn't over yet. If you missed some of it or want to reread any of the posts, here's the full itinerary.

Filk Friday: Hey There Cthulhu

Friday, October 15, 2010

Doing this feature has forced me to hunt for new songs. I now have another singer added to my favorites list: Eben Brooks. He not only has a great voice but he can sing well. Even though I'm not much of a fan of the original song "Hey There Delilah" (or HP Lovecraft), this parody is brilliant. I love the maniacal laugh at the end.

Anniversary time

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yes, I just had my blog anniversary a couple weeks ago. But today is a bigger one, my nine year wedding anniversary. I was going to write a long entry about how fantasy brought the two of us together, but since I didn't get it done ahead of time (changing up the blog layout instead), and I've got things to do today (wink, wink), you'll get it tomorrow. Have a great day!

Blog updates under way

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First step: new layout. The blue was pretty, but I wanted something with more flavor. Out of the ones I found, this was the best fit in layout and theme. It only took a few hours to choose and then customize the font colors. It might change again if I find a look I like better (dragons and books perhaps), but I'm pretty happy with how this turned out. I hope you like it, too.

Next step: add/update features. I'm thinking a page of treasures for collecting pictures and poems. I might also shift all my labels to their own page. Stay tuned. :D

First Contest Results

Monday, October 11, 2010

I received three entries for my first contest. I'd hoped for a bigger turnout, but maybe next time. :D For being off-the-cuff, all three are great poems. In the order I received them, here they are.

By Jai Joshi
Moonlight glinting off scales,
teeth shining like stars,
they sail through the air
watching the world.

Wisdom of ages
resides in ancient minds.
Passed on to humans
Deemed worthy of knowing.

Air whispers their names,
Wind brushes their bodies,
Flames of inner fire,
lighting the way.

From whose mouth is it spoken?
Who dares tell the truth?
That we are students of the flames
that watch the world.

By Kaycee Looney
Dark eyes etched with grace and wisdom.
Regality apparent in every slip of scale.
Arise from the shadows of myth,
Great beasts of lore, and claim your place
On imagination’s rugged landscape, where
None can equal your prowess and
Sing your victory to the realms of fantasy.

By Rebecca Hart
Azuranna's Library

The great blue dragon, Azuranna said to me,
come into the library, and you will see
magical stories of myth and lore.
Be you young or old,
there are adventures galore.

Just open a book and let your imagination run,
so many places to go full of glorious fun.

But never forget as your adventures unfold,
what intelligent words Azuranna once told.

Stay in school, do your chores, and read a lot,
and maybe someday the mighty dragon will reveal her story's plot.

Aren't they wonderful? I think I love them too much to pick a single winner. So all three of you ladies will get a bookmark with your print. Just email me your address and what color bookmark you'd like. It'll take me a few hours to make each one, so the sooner you tell me the color, the sooner I can make it.

Reading list update: I've finished The Iron King and First Rider's Call. Both were fabulous and make me want the next books.

Filk Friday: This Summer (The R2D2 Song)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Quick reminder: last day to turn in your dragon poems. So far I've received three entries. That's only three party favors going out. Come on. Give it a try. This is no uber serious contest. Just have fun. I'll be reposting all poems on Monday along with the winner.

For today's filk I give you This Summer (The R2D2 Song). I actually meant to share this last week when I discovered it, but the video kept locking up halfway through. Since it is playing fine now, I'm posting it. Mia has a great voice for her age (I'm guessing 8 or 9), and her tiny Leia buns are adorable. Her whole performance was adorable, actually. The working R2D2 gave it a nice touch. In the video notes, Claire Mix posted the lyrics and said that if anyone wants to perform the song, they just have to ask and she'll send the music. (It's her song.)

The City versus Forks

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

And the winner is...Oops. I can't open the envelope yet. You've got to hear how they performed before you get the ratings. Silly me.

The City and the City won the coin toss to perform first. Only reviews put this contender in front of me. The cover does nothing to call attention to it. Nor do I read many mysteries. However, I was vaguely curious about the overlapping cities concept. I wondered if they were partially out of phase to each other somehow. After all, how could it be possible that two cities could really be that overlapped and not interact with each other unless they were partially intangible to each other?

No, they really were fully tangible. People just unsee the people and buildings of the other city. Though more science-fictiony, being out-of-phase would have been easier for me to wrap my brain around, more plausible. Go figure. I spent the first half of the book trying to puzzle how the how and why of such an existence. It wasn't the, "How could the brain be able to be trained to ignore so much information?" It was the, "How could the brain know which information to discard?" And, "Why would you have to or even want to live that way?" Many of the citizens were happy with the divide. I'm still not sure I fully understand the why part, but I did finally get enough information to answer the how. Sort of. But don't ask me to explain it, because I'm not sure I can. I certainly couldn't picture it.

The story follows Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Besźel Extreme Crime Squad. His murder investigation of a young woman's death leads him through both Besźel and the neighboring (overlapping) city of Ul Qoma to discover something that could disrupt both societies on a fundamental scale. Check out Amber's teaser and review on SF Scrivener.

I almost gave up several times in the beginning. It's got that sort of gritty noir/old detective movie vibe going on, stories like Dick Tracy and whatever those other ones are you sometimes catch on Turner Classic Movies. Not much emotion from the detective but plenty of tenacity. Not really my thing, but I know some people like that style. That combined with confusion about how the cities even functioned made the first several chapters difficult to keep my interest. I stuck with it, because I'm tenacious myself when it comes to reading. I seldom give up on a book, and those cases usually involve emotions a good deal warmer than boredom and confusion.

Once I got the hang of the rules and Borlú was digging deeper into the underlying issues involved behind the murder, my fingers no longer reached for a bookmark. I didn't exactly enjoy it, but I couldn't leave Borlú's side until he solved the crime and learned what it would cost him. Even when I turned the last page, I still wasn't sure. But it's been a week, and I still find myself drifting back to the streets of Besź and Ul Qoma. The City and the City may have been hard reading, but I feel like I learned something from both the story and the storytelling. Maybe I did actually like it, just on an intellectual level rather than an entertainment level.

Then there's Twilight, the book I've been avoiding as best as humanly possible when you work in a bookstore. Vampires: not really my thing. I mean really not my thing. Especially when you add teenage angst. But if I'm going to despise a book this much, I should read it so I know the details of why. If you think I get too psychoanalytical, feel free to blame it on watching too many episodes of Bones, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and Rissoli and Isles.

I avoid sitcoms and soap operas. The melodrama and deliberate overacting make me flip channels faster than getting a clean diaper on a baby boy before he sprays. (So glad to be long past that part of parenthood.) Twilight read like a continuous sitcom, and Bella like a typical "star" of one. In other words, implausibly annoying.

She deliberately, and on her own, chooses to leave a place she loves to go someplace she finds depressing. Ok, maybe plausible. She was attempting to build a connection of sorts with her dad. But it would have been better to make that clear with the first sentences about how much she hates Forks and would rather be in Phoenix. I didn't want to be wondering that long about why she chose to make such a distasteful move.

She's seventeen or just turned seventeen and she's still that completely a klutz? That's the sort of gracelessness you hear about with young teens during growth spurts. Once past that point, they usually gain back at least some of their coordination. These days, if anyone was that severely lacking in coordination, they'd be checked out for some sort of inner ear imbalance or mild physical disability, thereby giving them a medical excuse to not do most gym activities. Plus she'd probably be medically supervised about the kinds of activities she should and should not be doing. Such as no walking in the woods without a cane or walking staff. If she was choosing to go without such devices despite doctor's orders, that's her own idiocy and pride, but there was nothing in the story to even suggest that she'd been examined for the cause of such extreme uncoordination or that her parents couldn't afford such an assessment. Not a single mention of the possibility of medical impairment. Normal gracelessness can be trained away, but did anybody ever bother to try help her get over that? No.

She should certainly get that drop-of-a-hat tendency to faint checked out.

Let's move onto the plot for a moment. Besides reading like a teen sitcom, Twilight also read like an attempt to create a modern edgy version of Tuck Everlasting, with vampires creating the immortality rather than a tiny fountain of youth in the woods. Think about it. Family of immortals. A normal girl getting romantically involved one of them. Discussion over ethics of her becoming immortal just to stay with her interest.

No. Sorry, that's a fail. Winnie actually learned something about herself and life by the end. Bella was exactly the same klutzy spastic angsty teen who got her own way. Spoiled rotten. I thought less of her by the end than I did when I started. I can give a character some leeway in the beginning, because I expect events (the plot) to instigate changes, forcing them to evolve in order to cope. For a character I'd supposed to sympathize with, she should have become a better, stronger person by the end. But no, she was just as helpless and spoiled.

Edward, who is supposed to dazzle, just made me mad. He complained about having to rescue Bella all the time, but he never taught her any moves to make her less helpless. He reinforces her inability by blatantly telling her she's helpless. Defeatist. If that had been me, I might have smacked him, even if it hurt me more than him to do so.

Then there is nothing substantial to their relationship. The only thing holding them together is pheromones and selfish desires. Every time they started to get a glimmer of something worth more than vampire sparkle, such as a discussion of music tastes, it gets drowned under the sludge of "Oh Edward is so hot. I can't live without him. I want, I want, I want." Gagtastic. That's the stuff of erotica, not real romance.

Here we are with the final scores.

The City and the City: hard to read in one sitting, dry and serious, complicated world/political situation, solid world building, and plot that maintains logic even through its intricacies.

Twilight: a fast read because I didn't care if I missed anything, primary characters with no admirable traits, almost no plot until the end, and an overdose of teen melodrama.

And the winner is...

...The City and the City! Congratulations, Inspector Borlú. I think I'll travel with you again sometime.

Old list, new list

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wow. A couple new folks around here. Welcome. Make yourselves comfortable in the nooks and crannies of the dragon's library. I hope you'll participate in my little anniversary contest to write a poem about dragons. A handmade bookmark for the winner and a dragon print for everyone who submits an entry. Contest ends this Friday. So far I've only received one entry. You can either post it in the comments of the original post or email it to me.

Ok, the results of my September reading list.

Books I finished and their ratings out of 5 stars (3 means I liked it):
Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson {2.5 stars, meh}
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins {5 stars}
Stardust by Neil Gaiman {3 stars}
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke {3 stars}
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke {4 .5 stars}
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner {3.5 stars}
The Art and Craft of the Short Story by Rick DeMarinis {3.5 stars}
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card {3 stars}
Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale {5 stars}
Auralia's Colors
by Jeffrey Overstreet {4 stars}
The Princess Academy by Sahnnon Hale (wasn't on my list, but I read it anyway) {4.5 stars}

As you can see, I didn't get anywhere close to the number read I'd wanted, so all the leftovers are going toward October's list. Plus I added a few. Some are already checked out. Here's my goal for this month.

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn
The Mermaid's Madness (Princess novels-book 2) by Jim C. Hines
Wired by Liz Maverick
First Rider's Call by Kristin Britain
Dust by Elizabeth Bear
The Mirror of Her Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson
Fantasy Lover (Dark Hunter series-book 1) by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Firelight by Sophie Jordan
Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse series-book 1) by Charlaine Harris
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip
Blue Fire by Janice Hardy
Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (not waiting until Nov for book 3)
Red Hood's Revenge (book 3 of Princess novels) by Jim C. Hines.

These two I just read this weekend, so I'm counting them toward
October's list. I'll be commenting on them Wednesday. You'll have to wait for their ratings until then.
by Stephanie Meyer
The City and the City by China Meiville

I don't know how many of these I'll actually get through. By the end of September, I was starting to reach book overload. But, at least I tried several new books and authors. The few old favorites I squeezed in were comfortable relaxers.

Filk Friday: I Had a Shoggoth

Friday, October 1, 2010

Here's another Tom Smith gem. I Had a Shoggoth might be one way to introduce kids to various monstrous creatures such as werewolves, zombies, and vampires. Oh yes, and of course, the Shoggoth of HP Lovecraft.

Copied from the video description:
A kids' song, written for The Funny Music Project, and performed live at MarCon 2008. ASL signing by the amazing Judi Miller, who had no idea what was coming.

Song and video © 2008 Tom Smith. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike license.

Downloadable audio available at

Judi's signing makes the song extra funny. Even Tom was entertained. "That was worth diamonds, man." Then again, he gave her a great song to start with. Enjoy!

Embarrassingly bad writing

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Buried in the bad writing you are about see is a story kernel I plan to go back to eventually, after some extensive worldbuilding. I thought I'd share it since many of my writer friends this week have been displaying embarrassing bits of their own early writing. This story got criticized for all the wrong things by classmates in my college creative writing class, and the actual problems ignored. Here is the first scene of Chapter One: The Rescue.

Garath thought he was going to die. The midday desert sun was searing his battered body. He was bruised all over from the beatings they had given him last night and again this morning before being disposed of out here in the desert. They expected that the sun and animals would finish him off quickly, but he had managed to hold out this long. He had to, or else he'd never find out why this had happened to him. He tried to think back to it. No! Too painful! Can't deal with it! I must find a way to survive first.

But how? They had given him just the thread-bare clothes on his back, a broken piece of mirror, and a pair of worn-out leather shoes. They had jeered at him as they hung that jagged fragment on his chest, telling him it was so he could see how much he had fallen. The mirror scratched his chest and kept flashing the sun in his eyes every time he looked down. The thong was too short for him to slip it over his head and his fingers too sore and tired to untie it. He had no shelter, no food, no water. He knew he had to find these things soon or her would die. The sun had stolen much of his moisture already. There was so little vegetation out here, no available water, and he felt like a parched weed rooted to the ground. He tried to slow his breathing to conserve moisture. He saw the Ajanta Mountains to the north. If only he could reach the mountains. He could find water and maybe even people to help. If only. What am I thinking? The mountain range might as well be the moon. I'll never make it that far in like this. But I've got to keep moving.

His thoughts spiraled back to the painful reason he was out here. Betrayed! Who did it? Who turned them against me? And why? All he could remember of last night was that whirl of hateful faces. He couldn't think straight; he was too tired, too thirsty, in too much pain. He couldn't understand; it made no sense. People who had been his trusting friends all his life had turned against him violently. From the whirl, only one face stood out. His fiancee, a large bruise darkening on one cheekbone, looked at him with fear and left him, forsaken. That was when the beatings began and despair enveloped him like quicksand.

He forced himself past the heartbreak and back into the present. In getting up, his body shrilled with pain. He couldn't tell exactly how badly he had been beaten but knew that he was in poor shape. His ankle had twisted under him when he fell from the morning's rough treatment, and his arm hung awkwardly at his side. The pain from the attacks blended in with the pain from the fierce sunburn. Looking around again, he saw the Ajanta Mountains still beckoning him with the promise of safety but still out of reach. Just to the east of the range he noticed what appeared to be an oasis. It was probably a mirage or a trick of his suncrazed mind. But since he had no better choice of direction, he staggered toward it--hoping.

That's all I'm going to make you suffer through. I'm sure you noticed a vast number of rookie mistakes. Passive sentences galore, redundancy (egads, the amount of redundancy here), distant narration, bland and telling phrases, and more. The funny part is that my classmates loved this part. It was the next scene, of only slightly better writing, that threw them off. "There's this guy out in the desert! And he thinks he's going to die!...And then there's an elf." Much excitement-->letdown. Of course, there's an elf; it's a basic fantasy story.

Just goes to show why you should make sure your crit group accepts your story's genre. Then they are more likely to help improve your writing rather than complaining about the title or the mountain lion (in scene 2) being referred to as a panther. ("Panthers have to be black." No, no they don't; panther is a generic term. Sorry, I did my research. Rawr.)

Anniversary Contest and Announcements

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Friday was the one-year anniversary of the dragon's library being opened to guests. No big explosions or rampaging trolls to mark the occasion, though Azuranna would like to thank the dedicated pawful of visitors who have walked among her shelves and said hello to the fairies. She had hoped for at least a small village to take up residence nearby, but even the few of you have brightened her century.

In honor of the occasion, the library is getting some renovation over the next couple weeks. Watch for changes made and let us know what you think. I've set the pixies to work on determining colors, while the ogres ready their pickaxes to create a catalog room. There might be some other things I'll do around here to make it more inviting. Maybe a dining room?

As part of the celebrations, I am holding my first contest. (It seems the thing to do, isn't it?) As an ode to my favorite mythical creature, write a short poem about dragons in general or specifically about Azuranna, the great blue dragon librarian who is our host. Submissions are open between now and October 8. Post them in the comments here. I'll announce the winner on October 11. Since so many people are giving away books lately, the winner will receive a crocheted bookmark in their favorite color, a useful accompaniment for booklovers.

Since a party is more fun when more people show up, I'm passing out party favors. Everyone who participates in the contest will receive a 5x7 print of my first dragon drawing as seen on one of my early posts. Being a follower is not required. (Though new people will be gleefully welcomed.)

(I hadn't realized how much I missed the whimsy I started the blog with until I wrote this post. I hope you will all participate to help keep it going.)

In addition the contest and renovations, I've already picked up a couple guest visits to the dragon's library. What a great way to begin my second year of blogging. On October 20th, Janice Hardy will be passing through on her blog tour in celebration of her October 5th release of Blue Fire: book 2 of the Healing Wars trilogy. (My copy is already pre-ordered; I'm so excited!) Then in early November, Juliette Wade will be here. Her third Analog story comes out November 7, with cover art no less. These two lovely ladies are fantastic authors and bloggers. I hope you will give them a warm welcome.