30 December 2011

The Winds of Khalakovo

by Bradley P. Beaulieu

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when I started THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO. It was recommended to me and though I purchased it this summer it took several months for me to get around to it. I am sorry I waited so long to read it. Bradley P. Beaulieu, paints a beautiful world that I could picture as I read. I am grateful that I had a small knowledge of Russia, thank you older brother who was obsessed with Russia during high school, but it is by no means required to enjoy the book.

THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO takes place in a society that is similar to that of Russia during the time of Czars. The population live on these small islands and are grouped together and ruled by duchies. The son of one of the dukes, Nikandr, is determined to find a cure to a wasting disease that is killing is sister and is now taking him. Not only is the population of some of the duchies being decimated by this disease but there is a faction of the populace who hold a grudge against the aristocracy. When the high duke is killed, Nikandr has to determine whether it was a freak accident or an assassination.

The characters are vivid, the plot moves along, though I wouldn't necessarily call it breakneck, and the magic system, did I mention the awesome magic using elemental spirits, is unique. I was excited to hear that there will be a sequel but the book ends in such a way that I don't feel like there is anything untold. I am curious to see what else Bradley P. Beaulieu will do with this world. This book isn't for young adults, but I was pleased it wasn't overly graphic in any way. Can I just add that this is one of my favorite covers. It is stunning and really helps solidify the world with airships and mystic creatures that cross between worlds.

This is the cover without the text. Isn't it just a pretty picture. I could see it hanging on my wall. It is pictures like this one that make me want to pick up painting again.The cover art is done by Adam Paquette.





28 December 2011

End of Year Summary 2011

I am looking back over what I accomplished last year and sometimes I feel a little down. I do not have a novel published. I have a few things in my home life that aren't exactly how I want them, though I have no complaints with my husband. He is so sweet and loving. I enjoy my job but it isn't my dream job. But as I went through everything I have accomplished I realized that even in my week to week work I got a lot more accomplished than I realized.

Chronological List of Flash Fiction
1. Fallen – 714 words – Science Fiction
2. Future of the Fallen – 1,229 words – Science Fiction
3. Roll Over – 915 words – Fiction
4. Waiting – 996 words – Fiction
5. A Necessary Evil – 433 words– Fiction
6. Cupid – 753 words – Fantasy
7. Valentine – 361 words – Fiction
8. Forbidden Resources – 975 – Science Fiction
9. Briar Patch – 995 words – Fantasy
10. Faces – 766 words – Fiction
11. Stone Cold – 654 words – Fiction
12. Ghosts – 507 words – Book
13. Trash – 972 words – Fantasy
14. Aftermath – 893 words –Fiction
15. Weight of the World – 787 words – Fantasy
16. Bear – 988 words – Fantasy
17. Onward – 296 words – Fiction
18. Forgotten Memories – 740 words – Science Fiction
19. Pretty – 968 words – Fiction
20. Fall of Civilization – 980 words – Science Fiction
21. Riding the Storm – 482 words – Fantasy
22. Thunder of Wonder – 260 words – Fiction
23. City Bound – 962 words – Fantasy
24. Reminiscence – 1,004 words – Fiction
25. Winning Ticket – 808 words – Fiction
26. Name Game – 830 words – Fiction
27. An Unopened Box – 943 words – Science Fiction
28. Angel of Death – 1,072 words – Fantasy
29. Storm Warning – 555 words – Fantasy
30. Karma – 1,009 words – Science Fiction
31. An App for That – 413 words – Fiction
32. After the Rainbow – 791 words – Fantasy
33. Prophecy – 1,032 words – Fantasy
34. Walk Alone – 95 words – Fiction
35. Death at a Funeral – 605 words – Fiction
36. Man of her Dreams – 974 words – Science Fiction
37. Escape Plan – 977 words – Science Fiction
38. Tears in the Darkness – 720 words – Fiction
39. Shivers – 998 words – Fantasy
40. Uncollected Souls – 1,020 words – Fantasy
41. Stairs – 945 words – Fiction
42. Haunted – 543 words – Fantasy
43. Playback – 1,020 words – Science Fiction
44. Birth – 3,434 words – Science Fiction
45. Every Other Thursday – 363 words – Science Fiction
46. A Hollywood Romance – 1,080 words – Fantasy
47. Story of my Life – 936 words – Book
48. Christmas Presents – 472 words – Fiction
49. Grandfather – 990 words – Fiction
50. Knowing – 811 words – Science Fiction

Flash Fiction Stats
Total number of words written: 38,638 (I took Birth out since it wasn't written as a weekly flash fiction)
Average story length: 788 words
Genres: Fiction (20), Fantasy (15), Science Fiction (13), Book (2)
Favorite Stories: Pretty, Winning Ticket, City Boud, Aftermath, After the Rainbow
Stories most likely to become something more (that aren't currently tied to a project): An Unopened Box, After the Rainbow
Average Title Length: 2 words

Published Stories
Run and Stand

Novels Finished
ReCON Currently 74,167 words
Death (NaNoWriMo) Currently 50,197 words

Goals for Next Year
Get 4 stories published
Submit novels to 2 places
Complete NaShoStoMo
Complete NaNoWriMo
Write a flash fiction story a week (At least 50)

25 December 2011

*Knowing

Intro: It probably would have been more appropriate to do a holiday story but I have had this idea on my mind all week. In church on Sunday there was a comment about how it was a good thing people didn't know their exact death date. I would like to think that people would be better but honestly I feel that a lot of people would find it an excuse which would push civilization over the edge.

The numbers hovered above the crowd and Laurel did her best not to look at them. It was hard. Everywhere she turned civilization glowed a like a doomsday clock. Exactly like one. She avoided her reflection as she pushed open the door to the building. The door panels were made of reinforced Plexiglas, which was the only reason they were still intact.

Inside was more of outside. Trash, debris, filth, and the dregs of humanity. She inched around the various piles and had to kick off a couple of groping hands. The staircase bred shadows and she always took a moment to steel herself before starting her run up to the third floor. On step seven she took an extra large step over a broken stair. On step twenty she caught sight of the second floor where a few people sat. They were the ones who could make the jump across the six foot hole between the stairs and the floor. At step fifteen she moved to stand against the wall and edged along the ledge for the last ten feet. The third floor had fewer people but more than the second floor.

A few people backed out of the way as she passed. Her gaze flicked to the numbers without thought. 12:05:21:10. 00:07:02:45. She turned away, her stomach roiling. Her own numbers. She'd avoided them for almost a year but she was sure they were close to 02:01:15:00. Or something. A child ran in front of her on chubby legs and for a moment Laurel could only stare. 25:11:25:31. Only twenty five and the child couldn't be more than four or five. The young mother scurried out from a room and scooped up her child.

The room at the end of the hall had no door. Laurel knocked on the doorframe and stepped in. A makeshift couch stretched across one side of the room, cinderblocks holding up half a mattress that had been stuffed with old clothes. A young man lay on the couch looking out the broken window which had been covered with chicken wire. In the winter she attached cardboard though she wasn't sure it actually helped.

"How are you feeling?" She avoided his numbers like a plague, more so than her own.

"Better."

She would have believed him save for the cough that wracked his body. His brown eyes were sunken and had anyone walked into the room they never would have believed them siblings, let alone twins. When they were younger she often dressed as him to play pranks. She pulled her attention back to Matthew. His brown eyes were focused over her head.

"Laurel?"

"Don't, I don't want."

"Your numbers."

"Matthew, no. I don't want to know. I am not going to live my life like every monster out there."

"Is that why you won't give me a mirror. You don't want me to know?" He turned his gaze away from her and looked out the window. "Yet you don't give me a chance to live."

She opened her mouth but Matthew held up a finger.

"I don't really want to live out there, but I am living the way you criticize the others for."

She sat down on the foot of the couch with her back against the wall.

"I will only ask one more time. Are you sure you don't want to know?"

"Positive. Even if I try not to, I know my attitude will change. Last day repentance and all that."

"So you live as if each day were your last?"

"If I did that I would be kinder to everyone and treat you better. No, I am not the best or the worst. I forget important information and am not a nice person."

When Matthew fell asleep Laurel got to her feet and looked out the window. Ever since the world had changed and people started seeing the countdown to their deaths, the life expectancy had decreased over the years. Anarchy reigned among all the cities. She gripped the chicken wire and felt it bite into her flesh.

As she turned back to Matthew she let out a moan. The red numbers above his head blinked at 00:00:00:00.

She knelt at his bed and cried. "I love you. I never even said that today." She pushed herself up and covered his body with a blanket. As she left the building her eyes caught her reflection. The numbers were a blurred mess from the warping Plexiglas and the tears still in her eyes.

"I didn't want to know anyway. I don't want to change." She walked away but couldn't resist a look back. At the distance the numbers were still blurred but it looked as if Matthew stood on the other side of the door looking through. She raised her hand in farewell and gave a small smile as he did too.

23 December 2011

Variant

by Robison Wells

Last month I purchased VARIANT in accordance with the book bomb for Robison Wells. I then told my husband he was going to give it to me for my birthday. It was painful to wait a month knowing the book was in the house but that I couldn't read it. When I found out that Rob would be signing near where I live I told my husband I wanted my book signed. He agreed only if I got Rob to write "Happy Birthday." The signing was really neat and he obliged me by writing "Happy Birthday" in the book. When I started the book Tuesday night I was excited but I wasn't prepared for how much I would like it. I finished Wednesday morning and now I get to wait for the sequel. The nice thought is Rob told us that it wasn't a trilogy is it just going to be two books.

VARIANT is a YA dystopic novel. What is interesting about this book is that it isn't that the whole world is dystopic it is just Maxfield Academy, that I know of. Benson Fisher is a 17-year-old boy who has been shuffled around in the foster care system. He hasn't had many fond memories of living with the 30 some odd families and so decides to take the future into his own hands. He applies and is accepted at Maxfield Academy. When he arrives he can tell immediately that something is wrong, and it isn't just the fact that two students go running after the car that brought him. He expects it to be bad, but he doesn't have any idea how bad it is. The school is divided into three teams, more of gangs, Society, Havoc, and Variant. Even after Benson chooses a group he still feels alone. No one else seems to think it is important that they break free. Benson is put to the test as he has to decide what he is willing to risk in order to escape.

I knew VARIANT was going to be good. I didn't realize how much I would like it. I read a lot of YA books and with the recent rash of dystopic novels I thought I knew how it was going to be. I mean obviously it would have its own twist but I thought I would be entertained by something I would probably be able to guess from the end. I was wrong. The book not only has some very surprising twists, but I loved the characters. Benson is presented with moral dilemmas that at first I didn't realize were problems until other characters brought it up. It really made me think. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants something new and fresh to read.

21 December 2011

Summer Employment Part 3

My brother made the comment that I had said I was going to write about some of my summer employment jobs and only had two posts. So this is another post about my job at the amusement park.

One of the rides I ran was the child bumper cars. Unlike the adult bumper cars that have a pedal for power, the child bumper cars always move. As long as the child knows how to steer the car then they can cruise around the floor. The problem came when the kid didn't understand how the steering wheel worked. As the ride operator we had to keep our foot on a pedal to keep the ride going. Kids would drive their cars into a corner and then not figure out how to get out of it. The PA system rarely worked so we would stand there making hand gestures and yelling "Turn the wheel. If you want to move, turn the wheel." After parents came up and complained that their child needed another turn, without waiting in line, because their child's car didn't work. There were times I just wanted to tell them their child was too young and couldn't figure out the controls. Or maybe their kid was just to dense to figure it out.

The other event that often happened at the ride dealt with the children waiting in line. The line bordered the ride on two sides with a metal fence between the two. Some of the children really wanted to see how the ride was going and so stuck their head between the posts of the fence, and subsequently got stuck. I had to call the meds over on three different occasions for kids getting stuck. One kid screamed the whole time and his parents were mad at us. I was impressed that another kid who got stuck was pretty calm and his parents, also calm, told him not to do it again. When he finally got out he wasn't nearly as traumatized and he and his family laughed it off. I hope I am a parent that can keep everything in perspective.

19 December 2011

Happy Koloss Head Munching Day

Sorry about some of the posts going up late. I am better about getting the posts up on time at Blogspot because there is a scheduling feature. In honor of Koloss Head Munching Day I only have one tip.

If you want to write, make sure you read. A lot of people say to read the same genre you are writing, which is important. But reading anything in general will improve your writing and give you new ideas and styles.

18 December 2011

*Grandfather

Intro: One of my co-workers told a story about how her 90-year-old grandfather was kidnapped from his nursing home. I am glad that it turned out well, but it makes for an interesting story.

James hovered at the entrance rocking back and forth on his heels. No one paid him any mind as they walked across the foyer. He gripped the straps of his backpack and stepped further into the room. The woman at the desk looked up.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m here to visit my grandfather.” He let go of the straps and stuffed his hands in his pocket.

“Is he expecting you?”

James nodded. “I know where his room is, can I just go see him?”

“Of course. Don’t forget, visiting hours end at five.”

He hurried down the hall, looking into the rooms. One man sat alone, staring out the window at the snow drifting down on the already white landscape. The man’s cotton white hair was combed back and remained fixed in place as he turned to look at James.

“Do I know you?”

James gave a nervous laugh. “Grandpa, you don’t remember? It’s Parents Night at the school. I’m here to pick you up.”

Grandfather rubbed his jaw. “Tonight?”

He clenched his hands then forced them open. “Yes. Our ride is coming in five minutes. We’ll be back by eight.”

The old man looked at him for a second and James’s smile faded for a moment. “Grandpa?”

“Help me with my coat, Harold.”

“James. My name is James”

“Your parents gave you the wrong name. Now go get my coat, Harold. It is in the closet.”

When Grandfather had his coat on, James lent his arm and they walked out the side door. The snow still drifted down and they shuffled along the sidewalk. Grandfather looked up and let out a chuckle.

“Makes me dizzy just looking at all of the snow falling down. I remember when I lived on the farm we use to make tracks through the snow to get to the barns.”

James’s heart slowed the longer he listened to the stories of the man’s past. A car pulled up and the window rolled down. Kenneth’s face poked out.

“Is this your grandfather?”

“Of course it is. Let us in out of the snow. I don’t want him to get cold.” James pulled the door open and helped the man in. He hurried around to the other side and jumped in.

Kenneth’s father talked to the grandfather about recent current events. The responses from the old man were humorous and James found himself laughing at the cryptic jokes and funny stories. The five minute drive to the middle school went quickly and when Kenneth’s dad parked the car James’s stomach flipped. He held the door open and took the grandfather’s arm again helping him through the snow.

They shuffled down the hall to the home room classroom. Other students and their parents moved past them. Some stared openly at James and the old man. He flushed and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up.

“Harold, keep your head up. You should be proud of your heritage.”

In the classroom they sat down and James found himself sitting across from Nick and his suit dressed father.

“Who’s this?” Nick asked.

“I’m Harold’s grandfather.”

“You mean James.”

“You may call him James. But to me he will always be Harold.”

“Are you related to James?” Nick emphasized the last word with a small sneer.

“I’m his grandfather.”

“He doesn’t have a grandfather,” Nick said.

“Think about that statement for a moment and then tell it to me again.”

James looked at the old man and he winked. The teacher came in and the evening commenced. James read his latest story and showed his art projects. Nick and his father talked about the other students but never looked in James’s direction. He didn’t mind. As he talked with his grandfather he forgot for a moment the fact that he wasn’t like the other students.

“Excuse me, but there has been a problem.”

James’s head snapped up as the officer walked into the room. He glanced at the old man and felt all his fears come crashing down.

“What’s wrong?” his teacher asked.

“There has been a kidnapping. We need to return Mr. Johnson to his room.” The orderly moved past the officer and headed towards their table. “Come with me, Mr. Johnson.”

Nick turned. “Kidnapping. You mean you kidnapped an old man so you could have some family? You really are pathetic. Your mom too drugged to come with you tonight? And how about your dad? Or is he still missing?”

James’s face burned and he stared at the table. He hadn’t meant to kidnap everyone but when he got home and saw his mom passed out on the bathroom floor, again, he was too angry to think straight. He walked by the nursing home every day on his way home from school and it had been easy to ask Kenneth for a ride to school. All he had to do was find a willing accomplice to pretend to be family for the evening.

Mr. Johnson, that was his name, spoke. “I am sorry, but I am spending the evening with my grandson. I’ll be back by eight.”

“Mr. Johnson, you don’t have any family. You’re a bachelor.”

James felt another hand on his shoulder and looked up.

“You’re wrong. I do have a family. This is my grandson, James. Now, if you would excuse me we have some catching up to do.”

When the evening ended Kenneth and his dad gave him a ride back to the nursing home. James helped Mr. Johnson back to his room. The officer followed them in.

“I’m sorry about kidnapping you. But thank you for coming with me.”

“Anytime you need a grandfather, let me know.”

“Would you mind if I came by tomorrow? I mean, if you don’t have anything else to do?”

“I would love that. Have a nice evening, James.”

“Call me Harold. I think it suits me better.”

16 December 2011

Mistborn

by Brandon Sanderson

In honor of Koloss Head Munching Day on Monday I decided to review the MISTBORN trilogy, plus one. This is a high fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson. One of the reasons why I like Sanderson's books so much is because he is brilliant when it comes to the magic system. In the MISTBORN books he created Allomancy. This particular magic uses metals. When Allomancers ingest metals they can "burn" them to influence the world including dampening emotions or leaping great distances. The majority of Allomancers can only use one metal but there are a handful that can use all of them. They are known as Mistborn. The Koloss is a race in the MISTBORN books.

MISBORN – Trilogy
The MISTBORN trilogy is made up of: THE FINAL EMPIRE, THE WELL OF ACENSION, and THE HERO OF AGES. The series starts out with Vin. She is a mistrusting street rat who is hired by Kelsier to help with a heist. Before meeting Kelsier she knows that there is something different about her but she isn't sure what. Under Kelsier's tutelage she comes to understand that she is a powerful Allomancer. As the book progresses she and the other members of Kelsier's band grow to understand the political nature of the Lord Ruler, an evil man who has ruled for the last thousand years. Vin also meets a young heir named Elend who isn't like other lordlings she's met. What is she willing to do to help Kelsier overthrow the current regime and can they actually succeed when no one else has? The books go on to continue the development of Vin, Elend and their friends.

The series seems like it is going to go one way but there are several places where it takes a surprising turn. It is not as if the plot twists are unlikely or a frantic grab at trying to vary the story but they are well thought out and developed. Sanderson does a good job of not giving the reader what they expect but what will improve the story. In THE HERO OF AGES this is especially true when he wraps up the story.

The Alloy of Law
This last month a fourth book in the MISTBORN world was released. It is a standalone novel and blends fantasy with western. THE ALLOY OF LAW takes place 300 hundred years after the end of the series. The story follows Waxillium Ladrian a man who has come in out of the wild to the city. He is use to being a lawman but in the city he doesn't have the same power and instead is just a civilian. With a rash of robberies and kidnappings his self-restraint is put to the test. With two unlikely helpers they find themselves in the middle of the mess despite his effort to stay out of it.

14 December 2011

Vacations and Layoffs

My husband and I were married on a lovely Tuesday afternoon. We spent the rest of the week in Yellowstone. At the time I was making more money and we knew that we would need the income with all of the expenses that comes with being an adult. I showed up to work on Monday and was met with a surprise. The cubicles were dismantled and the computers were gone. The one coworker I saw didn't say anything to me. She wouldn't even look my direction. I ended up calling another coworker who wouldn't tell me what was going on but just told me to call someone else. I called the manager and he told me he would be right over. I was then told the company had been dismantled, was given a severance check, and then escorted out of the building with all of my stuff already boxed up. I was terrified about telling my new husband that I was no longer employed. Two weeks later I had a new job.

Two years later I had another job and we were planning on heading to Pennsylvania to attend my brother-in-law's graduation. Two days before we left I was called into my manager's office. This was during the recession and there were four of us let go. I was once again put in the position that I had to go home and tell my husband that I had lost my job. This time not only did we lose the bigger income, but insurance as well. I was given a severance check this time as well. I thought about panicking but realized that at least I have a marketable skill and I wasn't about to let it ruin my vacation. Two months later I had a new job.

And my coworkers wonder why I am always panicked when we go on any kind of vacation, let alone a vacation that lasts a week.

12 December 2011

Editing - Part II

Last week I talked about what editing entails. I want to continue on that topic for a little while longer. Editing is good. Editing is necessary. But, don't let editing get in the way of writing. When you are writing your first draft it is important to keep writing. You aren't expected to get every sentence, every paragraph, and every chapter done perfectly. The first draft shouldn't be perfect. Some people get so caught up in making sure that their writing is topnotch the first time around that they don't ever get to finish their novel. You can go back and add in all the foreshadowing when everything is done. The problem with editing as you write is that you can get caught in an endless cycle of revising the first bunch of chapters because you keep remembering something else you should put in. Instead, keep notes of all of the elements you need to add in so that when you finish your draft you can go back and add what you need to.

11 December 2011

*Christmas Presents

Intro: I wanted to write a story that fit with the season.

"Ding, dong, merrily on high," Kirsten sand, screeching out the words as she danced around the living room.

Pauline glanced at her daughter with a smile and turned back to her sewing. A new baby was a difficult time, but around Christmas was heard enough. Baby Vincent had come five weeks early and there was only eight days left before the big day. The current sewing project was for her third child who was currently in school but would be coming home in half an hour. It was a new dress made from the fabric of one of Pauline's. Ever since Pauline came home from the hospital the day before, she spent every moment working on the projects. Even the hours she spent at the hospital was used as best as she could. She treasured the moments with Vincent but she was determined that none of the others should feel forgotten.

Kirsten started another Christmas song using the same melody, the only melody she knew which was more of a monotone chant. The doorbell rang and Pauline climbed out of the chair to answer the door. The woman at the door raised an eyebrow as Kirsten raised her voice for a rousing rendition of Jingle Bells.

"Can I help you?" Pauline knew the woman; she lived down the street and kept to herself.

"I was hoping I could help you," the woman replied. "I have some spare presents and understand that you might find a use for them." The woman lifted a bag and Pauline could see the boxes all neatly wrapped through the translucent plastic.

"Thank you." Pauline stepped out of the way and motioned for the woman to follow her. The artificial tree was decorated with stringed popcorn that the children had made with a babysitter while she and her husband were at the hospital the night Vincent came. Five presents rested under the tree one for each child, excluding Vincent and the current project, and her and her husband. The woman made a motion to set the presents down but Pauline waved her on to another room. There was stacked another pile of presents.

"I didn't know what to do. I didn't have enough for my brother's family. You see, his wife just passed away and we wanted to make sure they had a Christmas this year."

The woman set down the bag and clutched her hands. Pauline escorted her back to the door and waved goodbye. With Kirsten singing another set of lyrics she picked up the fabric and got back to the sewing machine to clean things up. When her husband got home after dinner, she would head to the hospital and spend the night watching over her son. The best present had been that her son had arrived in the world a little small, but alive.

09 December 2011

Hogfather

by Terry Pratchett

My husband is not a big reader. There are good reasons behind this but since he married me I have encouraged him to read more (read as: took away his television). While I would like to take credit I really have good authors to thank for his interest in reading. He have developed quite an appreciation for one of my family's favorite authors, Terry Pratchett. What really drew his attention to Pratchett was the movie HOGFATHER. So in honor of Christmas, I mean Hogswatch, and to show my appreciation, I will review HOGFATHER, Terry Pratchett's 20th Discworld novel.

Though HOGFATHER is the 20th novel, you don't have to have read any of the other books. All of the books are stand-alone. The story starts out with the Auditors of Reality hiring the Assassins guild to kill the Hogfather, Pratchett's version of Father Christmas. The Hogfather ends up going missing so Death puts aside his black robes and scythe for a red cloak and beard and becomes the Hogfather. With Death running around the city not understanding what exactly his temporary position entails his granddaughter, Susan, tries to figure out what has happened. She meets some unlikely characters and works with the wizards of the Unseen University to determine what she needs to do to return everything to normal. Well, as normal as it can be on the Discworld.

During my trip to Scotland a couple of years ago the movie version came out. The first half was shown on Christmas and the second half was shown on Boxing Day. I loved it. When I got home I told my family about it and when it became available I bought it. The first time I showed it to my husband he was a little skeptical until the narrator started talking. I mean what's not to love when the main character gives this rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk: "And then Jack chopped down what was the world's last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement, and trespass charges already mentioned, and all the giant's children didn't have a daddy anymore. But he got away with it and lived happily ever after, without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done...which proves that you can be excused for just about anything if you are a hero, because no one asks inconvenient questions. "

Though there are some differences between the book and movie I recommend watching the movie first if you're not sure this book is right for you. If you don't like the movie, I doubt you will like the book.

07 December 2011

December Birthdays

My birthday is in December, really close to Christmas. My husband's birthday is also in December. This is the reason why we were married in July. When I was growing up I had a mixed experience. My maternal Grandmother's birthday is also in December and when she was growing up her birthday was often forgotten or passed over. My mother made a huge effort to make sure I didn't have that experience. My siblings were forced to get me a birthday present with birthday wrapping paper and a Christmas present. They couldn't just hand me one gift and say "This is for your birthday and Christmas." Sometimes my siblings had to scramble because they had forgotten about my birthday but all-in-all my family is awesome when it comes to December birthdays. My friends on the other hand, not quite so much. I rarely saw a present or got a party from them. Now that I look back on it, I probably forgot a few birthdays and presents. I try not to forget birthdays now though it is a lot more difficult since my family is continually growing.

When I reached college I figured out the secret. If I want people to celebrate my birthday, I tell them. I have also learned another cool thing. There are a lot of sales that come around Christmas time. I get birthday money. This works out in my advantage. The other advantage is the majority of the population is in a good mood this time of year. My one word of advice is you never, ever, give someone a birthday gift and tell them it is also their Christmas present. If it is ridiculous in July why should it be okay in December?

05 December 2011

Editing

There is a difference between critiques and editing (at least in my mind there is). Critiques are more of a general this is what I liked, this is what I didn't like. They cover story points. Editing includes a critique but also gets in depth into word choice, sentence structure, and grammatical tips. It can be very disheartening to ask someone to look over your paper and have it come back with dozens of suggestions. I remember when I started going to a writing group I met a fellow and he asked if I would be willing to look over his story. I had known him for maybe two weeks and I said yes. When I sent him back the first 4,500 words it had 131 comments, which didn't include the text changes I made. He paid me back in kind and I really appreciated the effort he put into it. The trick is to only let people you trust edit your work. Don't spread it to a whole group unless you know and they know exactly what you expect from them. A lot of people have good intentions but you may never see any feedback or they may not give you the feedback you want.

Self-editing is good, but it will not catch all of your mistakes, no matter how good you are. It is impossible to get your story perfect without having at least one other person look at it. Our minds don't always see what is actually there but what we expect to see. Before you ever send anything off to a contest, agent, or publisher, make sure that you have someone else take a look at it, not just a critique but an edit. The worst thing is to have your story sent off with grammatical errors or plot problems. There are agencies and people out there that will edit work for a fee. If you have the money, they can be worth every cent. If you don't have the money and are just sending it off to acquaintances don't rush them too much. A good edit takes time and if you aren't paying them you don't have much of a right to demand them to give valuable time to your charity case. The best case scenario is that your friend will like your story so much they want to finish it as quickly as possible and give you feedback.

04 December 2011

*Story of My Life

Intro: I am happy to say that I completed NaNoWriMo. It was close at the end but which is why there wasn't a story last week. Now that I have completed the novel I need to start on another one. This story is something I've had bouncing around for a year or so. I hope there is enough of a conclusion.

Killion sat on the bed with his feet tucked under him. Three men occupied the rest of the space. They weren't large men. Their presence was almost suffocating. The body art, piercings, and scars gave them bestial looks. But, it was their attitudes, their confidence, and their mental determination that pressed down on him. They were also his surrogate fathers, his teachers. Fighting techniques from Buckston who had the fewest scars. Investments and gambling from Shaw who always has the best stuff. Acting and literature from Alejo who changed his name every day. No one could tell where he was really from.

"You've been here for five years," Buckston said. "The rules of the prison state that you share your story with three witnesses."

"Do I have a choice?" He wanted these three, but wanted to put it off.

"Flip for it?" Shaw held up a coin and let it roll across his knuckles.

Killion gave him a flat stare and the coin disappeared but his grin widened.

Alejo drummed his fingers on his arms. "I don't know why you even asked." The Spanish accent fit the name, as expected. "Narrative. In third person."

"Really?" Shaw asked.

"Training in everything. Wasn't that what we agreed upon?" Alejo said.

"Just don't make him act it out and that is fine," Buckston said.

"Fine. Just go." Shaw said.

Killion closed his eyes and pictured the scene. "The gavel pounded down the sentence and Killion let out his breath. He had known what the answer was going to be before he arrived at the court, but he'd held on to a small sliver of hope that fate would be changed—"

"You're starting at the end of the story," Shaw said.

"Don't interrupt," Alejo said. "Go ahead."

"An officer laid a hand on his shoulder. He wasn't sure whether it was suppose to be restraining or reassuring. Not that he posed a threat to anyone. When the guard led him through the pushing throng in the realized that the guard was there for his protection. One face in particular caught his attention, a young woman. Tears streamed down her face and hate burned in her eyes."

Killion stopped talking and made a show of drinking from his glass. That face still haunted him.Just get it over with.

"She pushed through the crowd and grabbed Killion by the collar.

'How could you. He was only trying to help you.'

'It was an accident.'

'So they say.'

"She spoke the truth. He had planned every careful moment which had put this girl's brother in a coffin. It was supposed to have been his father in the coffin, but saying that wasn't going to change anything—"

"Father? Whose father? Yours or the boy's?" Buckston asked.

"Shush." This was from the others.

"Father wasn't true. Uncle was the politically correct term. Monster was the term Killion used in his head.

"He had everything set up perfectly. Killion was to get trapped and lure the monster into an accident that would leave everyone in peace. Maiming was expected, death was hoped for. No one had believed him when he said what the monster had done so this was the only way. The monster was a genius and had inadvertently taught Killion everything he needed to know to pull this off.

"The man didn't even have to try and save him. He had all the trip lasers set up a hundred feet away. The man came running but stopped just short of the trap. Killion watched and let out one last scream hoping the man would just take another step. He didn't. He turned away. His friend wasn't supposed to be there but he ran forward to help, thinking him really in danger. Killion's shout of warning came too late. It was a brutal death. Had the court realized it was planned they wouldn't have thought him innocent.

"A slap across his face. He was brought back to the courtroom. The girl was pulled back by another guard. The monster stepped forward. His face drawn and concerned. He placed a hand on Killion's shoulder.

'I'll see him home.'

"The monster stopped at the haunt on the way home. All of the tools Killion had used were found here, they were the least damaging. The man's latest prey was still lying around the room.

'Maybe I should let you join me. You did really well on that boy.'

"Killion snapped. The man was bigger, stronger, and smarter, but wasn't prepared. It only took those few seconds to end it. When he called the police he explained the situation and the next time when he was in court they treated him like the murderer he felt. He was tried for all the bodies and didn't raise a complaint. He should have stopped him."

Killion reached for the glass and frowned when he saw it was empty.

"How many had he killed?" Buckston asked.

"I knew of twenty."

Shaw sat down on the bed. "That's rough. Sorry it happened."

Killion looked up and smiled. "I'm not. The monster is dead and I have learned a whole new set of skills." He removed a brick from the wall by his head and pulled out a sheaf of dusty papers.

"What is that?" Alejo asked tracing the lines on the papers.

"A teleportation device. We're getting out of here."

"Out?" Alejo's accent slipped for just a moment. "I knew you were a special kid."

Killion looked around at the men, the least of whom was serving one life's sentence, and felt completely at home.

Maybe I'm the monster.

01 December 2011

The Three Investigators

by Robert Arthur, Jr.

Growing up with two older siblings I didn't always want to read the books written for kids my age. Instead I read books that I heard my siblings talking about so I missed reading a lot of juvenile books. Some of these books included THE THREE INVESTIGATORS. More people know about the Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys for good mysteries. I actually haven't read many of the other mysteries but when I was in Jr. High, I devoured THE THREE INVESTIGATORS and really grew to appreciate mysteries. These don't revolve around finding dead bodies. These revolve around evaluating seemingly impossible situations. Most of the time when they are hired the client is just confused as to why something is happening and then it blossoms into something more.

This series follows three thirteen-year-old boys who set up their own detective agency. Jupe (Jupiter Jones) is the one who gets everything going. His uncle owns a salvage business where the boys have their headquarters. He is smart and his intelligence is key in solving the mysteries. Pete (Peter Crenshaw) who is the athletic member of the team. He may not be as smart as the other two but he will see clues that the other two miss on occasion. The third member is Bob (Robert Andrews). He is the book worm and researcher. He works at the library pat time which gives him an in on doing the research. These boys are just cool. They all have distinct personalities, qualities, and traits. They aren't cardboard cutouts of each other but you really get attached to them and their relationship with each other is fun.

THE THREE INVESTIGATORS is 43 books long, each a standalone mystery. The first 10 are written by Robert Arthur which are the ones that I read. These cover everything from a treasure map, whispering mummy, ghost, museum robbery, and haunted house. If you have a reader who enjoys mysteries and doesn't want any of the fantastical elements but realistic situations and characters these are great books.

30 November 2011

Dirt Biking

This Thanksgiving my husband and I spent the weekend in St. George. I have been to Southern Utah dozens of times but St. George only a few times. We were a little nervous about what was going to happen but everything turned out spectacularly. We got along really well with all of the family, played games, ate really good food, watched movies, read, and I worked on my NaNoWriMo novel, not as much as I planned but enough. One of the best times we had was we went dirt biking.

I have never ridden a dirt bike before. In fact I have been four-wheeling but only about three times. I was excited and nervous. My dad owned a motorcycle and I have some fun mental images of his stories. I also have some not so fun mental images of the wrecks that I have heard about. I had no intention of riding without as much protective gear as I could. Even though it was fairly warm I made sure to wear my canvas jacket and trousers. The uncle who owns the dirt bikes required that everyone wear the helmets, goggles, and gloves.

When we got started I was really nervous because it wasn't like the ground was flat or even. It was probably a good thing there wasn't a speedometer because in my mind I was actually cruising, 30 or 35, when I was probably only going 10. At one point I came up this hill and realized the other side had a drop off. I couldn't get back on the path and headed straight for this cliff. Granted it wasn't really a cliff, it was only two feet, maybe just a foot and a half. I panicked and probably hit the front brake and ended up on the ground with the bike on my leg. One of my legs has a gnarly bruise longer than my hand span while the other is pepper with smaller bruises. My husband panicked when he saw me go down. I injured my pride more but I could see how people get so injured when riding. I am grateful I wore my coat because otherwise I would have ended up leaving part of me behind. I hope I get to do that again.

28 November 2011

Dialog Tags

Sometimes we are worried that the tone of our character isn't getting across just right so we add a dialog tag to make sure our reader understands exactly how the character is talking. Or maybe we are tied of the he said she said all the time. I mean why is he grumbled such a bad thing. The problem is that dialog tags draw attention to itself, unless that word is said. For us as writers we often see said repeated and try and change it up, but in this instance it is better to keep them as said. I don't know how many times I have heard this at different conferences so it must be true. Avoid fancy dialog tags and just use said.

25 November 2011

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

by Jessica Day George

Several years ago I stumbled across what I call the “Polar Bear Fairytale.” I read a version of it and then came across a video version of it. Since it is a Norwegian tale and not Hans Christian Andersen, or Grimm’s fairy tales it felt fresh to me and I had no idea what to expect from them. When I started reading other books by Jessica Day George, I found this beautiful retelling of what I now know is the “East of Sun, West of Moon” tale.

Since this story doesn’t have as many adaptations to it, I highly recommend reading it, if only to get a sense of another culture. This is my favorite rendition of the story for several reasons. It has a sense of depth to the lass showing her strength and determination but also fear at what is happening in her life. I also like the fact that through 95% of the story the main character is only called “lass” or “pika” which means lass and yet I still felt a connection to her. She is a character that I admire. The mother of this story is someone who I wanted to trash most of the time but once again, Jessica wrote it in such a way that I could understand, though not agree with, what she was doing and how see acted.

This is a great introduction to Norwegian fairytales. It has all the classic elements we’ve come to expect and yet still keeps us biting our nails at what is going to happen next. I recommend this book to anyone. The other distinct advantage is this book is stand alone, though I probably wouldn’t complain if she decided to write more in the same setting with other lesser known fairytales.

23 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Every year when Thanksgiving comes around I really do get to thinking about what I am thankful for. When other holidays come around I am thankful for more specific things but Thanksgiving gives me a chance to really pause and take a look at my life. There are a lot of reasons to be positive about life but I don't think about it as much as I should. It is a lot easier to focus on the negative things in our life.

When I was in school I often remember filling out the goal sheets. They had short term goals: "What would you like to accomplish in the next month?" and long term goals, "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" I hated those. I mean how was I suppose to know? I had a lot of dreams at the time, depending on how old I was they ranged from owning a pet dragon (would still be cool), to being a rock hound (officially a geologist), to an author (most often and still true).

I look at my life now and though I can't say that I ever wrote down exactly what my life currently is, I am thankful for it. I am happily married with plenty of hobbies and a loving family. Though I have yet to publish a novel, I have written more than I ever actually thought I would be able to accomplish and still find joy in writing. I love where I live and have seen more places than I dreamed of. I have a lot to be thankful for this year and I hope that I can remember that owning a pet dragon isn't everything. I mean, I live with a pooka and she keeps my life entertaining enough.

21 November 2011

Conferences

There is a saying that it isn't what you know, but who you know. The same can be said for the business of writing. I hate to admit it, but many times it isn't someone's story getting sent into a slush pile that gets them published, it is the fact that they met with someone face to face and made a good impression. Granted, even after meeting someone face to face you still have to deal with a submission processes but it normally gets you to the front of the line. The big conferences always come to mind for example World Con and World Fantasy Con. What most people don't realize is that a lot of areas have smaller conferences available. For example where I live I can attend CONduit and LTUE.

Universities often have conferences as well as state run writing organizations. Granted, these conferences may not have all the big names, but they often attract the attention of editors and agents and many times you can meet them there. Conferences are also a great way to meet other authors and get advice on writing as well as the business of writing. If you do have to travel, get a group together to carpool and split a hotel room. This is a great way to cut down on costs and it is always nice to know you will have at least one other person you know there to sit next to or have dinner with.

20 November 2011

*A Hollywood Romance

Intro: I am behind on my NaNoWriMo so I am posting a revision of a story I wrote last year. Hopefully you can see an improvement and hopefully you still enjoy it.

Kirkpatrick turned off the television in disgust and threw the remote onto the couch next to him. Once again, Hollywood had taken a perfectly good monster and made it loveable. Werewolves, aliens, mutants, vampires, what was next? Two headed monsters with three arms? Nope. Never mind. That had been done too.

“If you’re bored why don’t you take a walk?” Gladys said leaning over the back of the couch and picking up the remote. She turned the television back on. “I’m going to finish the show.”

“You already know how it’s going to end.” Kirkpatrick said as he stood up and brushed at an impeccable shirt sleeve. “The tragic but amazing man will beat all possible odds against his own character and choose true love over nature.”

“But I can always hope,” she replied sitting in the recently vacated seat her eyes already glued to the flickering screen. They had been together for quite some time and he still didn’t get her.

He left the mansion and the blasted television. It was a misty evening and he could hear drops pattering against the dark leaves. Even though the house was located in the middle of the forest there were no animal noises of any kind. Just how he liked it.

The walk into town was uneventful. He would just stop in, take a quick bite and then head back home. At Main Street two women approached him. Though neither of them was completely sober, they could still walk in a fairly straight line and knew the alphabet.

“Hello, hot stuff,” one purred. “What are you up to tonight?”

He pursed his lips and regarded the women. The one who was more sober stared at him with wide eyes.

“Red eyes, white skin. What are you?” The bottle fell loosely from her hands a she scrambled away.

“Vampire?” The other one breathed, ignoring her friend’s hasty retreat. “Even hotter.”

Really?

Kirkpatrick waited for the next line which was always “But your hair is red.” He took great pride as a Scotsman. No one ever appreciated his ginger hair though because it wasn’t Hollywood.

“Will you please go on a date with me?” She clutched his arm tightly and looked up at him through her lashes. “Pluh-ease?”

No one had ever asked him out on a date before. He pulled out of her grasp and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “A chance at true love?” He asked.

“It would be epic,” she replied. “I’m—Faith.”

“And I’m Charles,” he replied flatly. A quick look at her driver’s license would reveal her true name but he didn’t care enough to even try.

“What a grand name.” She latched onto his arm again and tried to pull him towards a building. Her efforts were futile.

He slowly walked towards the building and paused at the door as she threw it open. He remained where he was as she dashed in. After a moment she came back.

“Aren’t you coming?”

Blast Hollywood. They make real vampires seem so drab.

“I don’t really feel invited,” he replied.

“Of course you’re invited, silly. Come in and have a drink.”

After twenty minutes he thought about vanishing into the night. This wasn’t nearly as fun as he hoped it would be. His date kept switching vocabulary. Some words came straight out of an eighteenth-century romance novel, no, probably not the books but the Hollywood knockoffs. Other times she spoke the meaningless jabber with her friends that mimicked their own written abilities. It gave him a headache. Despite her pathetic ability to keep him entertained, he kept his outlook bright. It would be worth it, in the end.

For the next four hours she paraded him around the town inviting him in to all the local hangouts. She offered him drinks but he always politely declined and ushered her on to the next place when she looked like she was getting too friendly with the beverages. At his urging they visited some dozen buildings Kirkpatrick had never set foot in before. Though he reeked of alcohol and cheap perfume, he was in a good mood. He rubbed his teeth with his tongue gauging the girl as they walked down the sidewalk.

“Wow, it’s nearly four and I’m not smashed. That’s a first.” She pulled away from him for a moment and spun in a circle on the sidewalk looking up at the few twinkling stars.

“Faith,” Kirkpatrick called. She didn’t respond. “Faith.”

“What? Who — oh. Yes,” she replied skipping back towards him.

“How about a walk in the park?”

“Will you protect me, Charles?” she asked, fluttering her eyelashes again.

“From all but the scariest of monsters,” he replied taking her arm and patting her hand.

They walked into the forest, away from the lights and noise of the city. He led her to a large tree and which stood at the edge of a still pond. Smoothly, with a smile playing across his lips, he pushed her back against the tree and could hear her heart beating rapidly.

“I owe you my thanks,” he said leaning closer, his cold breath in her ear.

“Why?” She nearly collapsed into him.

“Because you’ve invited me so many places I couldn’t go before.” His sharp teeth sunk into her soft neck. His mouth filled with the iron liquid, the only beverage he’d been craving all night. She struggled for a moment but it was simple to pin her back against the tree as he continued to feast.

“Let me go —” she faltered her eyes wide. Her life drained out.

Good, she was sober enough to realize what a fool she was. Her flesh flushed from the evenings activities now lay skeletal on the ground as he wiped his mouth. The night remained devoid of sounds as he smiled and crouched down next to her head.

“Was that epic enough?” He chuckled.

Her body made no splash as it slid into the pond. He whistled to himself as he strolled home still relishing the taste of her terror at his betrayal. The stars faded slowly in the sky, foretelling dawn.

Gladys looked up briefly as he sat down on the couch next to her. She’d put in another movie, but this one didn’t appear any different than the hundreds of others. It was late but in the basement, they didn’t have to worry about the sun reaching them.

“You know,” he said, moving closer to her. “Hollywood may not be completely daft.”

18 November 2011

The Weaving of a Dream

by Marilee Heyer

THE WEAVING OF A DREAM is a picture book that sticks with me for a variety of reasons. The first is that my paternal grandfather gave it to my family. The second is that the story line is one that still makes me slightly teary eyed (but that doesn't take much). The third reason is the artwork is some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Marilee Heyer brings the world to life.

THE WEAVING OF A DREAM is based on a Chinese folk lore. The story is about a woman with three sons. She is the best weaver in the valley and between her tapestries and her sons' firewood they are able to make enough money to survive. One day when she is at the market she comes across a beautiful painting. She buys it and decides to make a tapestry on it. When the tapestry is complete it is blown out the door and is taken. The three sons must then decide whether to go after the tapestry or chose another path. When the youngest son is given the choice he shows true love and courage willing to risk everything to help his mother. And as with all of my favorite books his sacrifice is rewarded and things turn out wonderfully in the end.

I remember even as a child being entranced by the beautiful artwork. I knew the story and would just go through the pictures retelling the story to myself. When I got older I bought the book for myself just so I would be able to read it to my children. This is a picture book that I will always treasure. This book is one of the big reasons that I wished I could draw and paint so enrolled in an art class a couple of years ago.

16 November 2011

Book Bomb

I was trying to decide what to write this week when I thought about last week's book bomb. I like to consider myself a decent fan of the local Utah authors. The reason I got a Twitter account was because I wanted to follow them to learn about book signings and pretend to be cool because I read their Twitter conversations. There are times it is kind of sad to meet them in real life because I feel like I know them but they have no idea who I am. I just tell them that I am a fan and really enjoy what they do.

Last week, on Twitter, Larry Correia instigated a book bomb for Robison Wells who has had a run of extreme bad luck. The goal of a book bomb is to try and get a specified book as high as possible on the Amazon lists. It was really cool to follow the progress of VARIANT for the day. It did really well in both the top 100 and YA and was even #1 on the "Movers and Shakers" list. If all went well a lot of people were introduced to the book which will spawn a following and a dedicated readership.

There are times that I get caught up in how dark the world has gotten. I don't like reading the paper because it is the sad, disturbing, or malevolent stories that make the news. This book bomb reminds me of why these authors are my heroes. These authors are men and women who every time I meet them I admire them even more. They are good people who haven't been changed by their fame. These are the people who when they see a friend in need will do something about it. I didn't spend much on the book, which is actually going to be a birthday present from my husband, but it felt neat to be part of something that big. And hopefully not only will the money help, but there will be a larger effect because of the efforts everyone put in to promote the book.

14 November 2011

Showing Drafts

Once you finish writing it is always a huge temptation to start showing all of your hard work to everyone, not just your critique group. The only problem is it isn't the best idea to be waving around your draft of your novel. It isn't that you should be worried of people stealing your ideas. (I mean if someone who wants to write a novel can't come up with their own ideas then you probably don't have to worry. And truthfully I don't know anyone who would want to steal any ideas from me because I haven't proved that my ideas are actually worth anything.) It is that sometimes people don't understand the difference between a draft and a final product. If they are avid readers they may compare your draft to a final product that has gone through dozens of revisions and that can get discouraging. They may also try and give you advice on how you should change your novel including major plot lines and characters. Critique groups normally understand how much they should say when giving suggestions. Those who don't know you as well or your writing techniques may not understand what exactly you are looking for when you show them your draft.

13 November 2011

*Every Other Thursday

Intro: This month is NaNoWriMo so I didn't want to spend much time coming up with another story. I am already a day behind on my word count and couldn't justify writing a half day's worth on another story. So you get this story. I came up with the idea late one night of a planet who loses gravity on a regular basis for a specified period of time. I then realized that I didn't want to have a spiteful god who turned off gravity just for the heck of it, there needed to be a reason that gravity didn't exist. I then came up with the idea to have a space settlement with two orbiting moons that when the moons were in perfect alignment they overpowered the gravity generators. Now that my explanation is half the length of my story, I guess I should get back to NaNoWriMo.

Larry hurried to the next building listening to the warning bells. Two minutes until the moons aligned. He hated Thursdays. It didn't matter if it was an on- or off-week. When he got into the building he glanced around noticing the sign over the door. 'Capacity Level at 93%'. All of the stools, bolted to the floor like every other piece of furniture, were already taken and the majority of the wall space as well. He moved over to the wall fumbling with the straps. The countdown started.

"Fifty."

"The buckle's broken," the man next to him said.

"Why didn't you tell me that earlier," Larry said almost snarling the words.

"Thirty."

Larry looked around. One free buckle left but someone was already running towards it. He glanced at the counter 'Capacity at 100%'

"You got to be freaking kidding me!"

"Twenty."

"What are you going to do?" The man asked.

"Hang on for dear life." Larry looped the belt around his arm, the last person to use it must have been a child.

"Ten. Nine. Eight."

He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes.

"Moons in alignment."

His feet rose and soon his arm felt like it was being pulled from his socket. Others around the roomed screamed. Some always did. He felt like screaming but with the blood rushing to his head he worried he would black out. If he did, he would lose his hold on the strap and go sailing up to the ceiling. Going up wasn't the problem, it would be more of a problem when the moons left alignment and the generators once again worked.

Five minutes. His ears ringing and his vision black he fell to the floor. Life aboard the moon had seemed like a good idea. Losing gravity for five minutes every two weeks a small price to pay but this was too close a call for his liking.

"I hate Thursdays."

The man scooted down next to him. "Odd, I find that most people enjoy the experience."

As he turned away, Larry felt a laugh bubble up even as he calculated whether he had enough money to purchase a ticket to another settlement.

11 November 2011

The Giver

by Lois Lowry

I read THE GIVER by Lois Lowry when I was in elementary and it really made me think. It was the first dystopic story I read and though I didn't necessarily finish the book with a happy feeling, it is one that I have reread over the years. This is one of the books that I've read to my husband. When we finished the book he looked at me and said "That's it? That is how the book ends?" I don't recommend this book because of how happy it makes me, but because I still find myself thinking about it.

THE GIVER is about Jonas, an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a utopian society. The people who live there are very happy with their lives and there is little sadness or contention anywhere. Everything and everyone is made to be same. Their careers are chosen for them. At certain ages they receive certain rights, and lose others. Jonas is given the job to be the Receiver of Memories. He retains all of the memories that the government doesn't think the general populace can handle. These memories aren't only negative, but include emotions such as love, joy, even color and music. As the book goes on, it becomes apparent that while the people of the society think that they live in a utopia, it is actually not perfect. The more memories Jonas' receives the more he sees how flawed the society is. He has to decide whether to live in the society pretending that he is alright with everything, or try and find a new way of life.

This was one of the first dystopic novels that was written with young adults in mind. When you read this book you will probably see some similarities between THE GIVER, which came out in 1993, and some of recent books. I mentioned in an earlier review that the book MATCHED by Ally Condie reminded me of this book. There are two other books that form a trilogy of sorts but if you take this book as a single story, it really makes you wonder what happened.

09 November 2011

Obsessed Fans

I have felt strongly about this for some time, formulating what I will say regarding the topic of obsessed fans. Twilight has received a lot of flack about how obsessed the fans are. And I will say it is kind of scary how attached people are to the fictional characters. But the truth of the matter is obsessed fans come in every genre. (I even have a friend who I would call obsessed about hating obsessed fans. Every chance he gets he brings up how awful Twilight is and questioning why anyone would be willing to spend money on it and how they can't live without it. I find it ironic.)

Twilight isn't the only thing to have fans that are extreme. I am not a fan of watching sports so I really don't understand the riots that happen on occasion and I am not willing to shell out the money for season tickets. I enjoy the Star Wars movies, but I am not going to purchase a Stormtrooper uniform. I don't have any interest in nice car stereos. I am not one who scrapbooks. I don't see a lot of movies in theaters or buy movies. I am not into the latest fashions. I'm not even willing to pay for cable. I do enjoy anime and sewing, so once a year I try and make a costume. Some people would find that odd, but it is how I enjoy spending time with my husband. There are obsessed fans wherever you go and whatever you do. I am just glad that Twilight has spurred more people to start reading. I think anything that gets more people to read is a positive.

07 November 2011

Likeable Characters

When developing characters it is important to make them realistic. While I love comics, there are just times that I shake my head at Clark Kent. I feel that he is too perfect without enough flaws or weaknesses. I am more of a Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne. Their characters have a little more depth to me partly because they have to work, Peter Parker is always living paycheck to paycheck, or I can be like them, Bruce Wayne has gadgets, I can use gadgets. We don't know if they are going to survive because a lot of stuff can harm them physically and emotionally.

Not only do we need to make sure they have flaws, but they are still likeable. I have been reading a series recently where the characters are definitely flawed and they don't like to admit their flaws. There is nothing wrong with that. I don't like admitting when I am wrong. What really drives me up the wall is that I am now in the 6th book and they haven't improved. They still have the same flaws and they still have the same mightier-than-thou attitude. I get really tired of characters who I wouldn't want to deal with in real life. Granted one or two isn't bad but all of these characters have the same attitude that everyone else is wrong and they are right and they are going to make sure everyone knows how stupid everyone else is.

If we don't create characters who we would want to associate with why would our readers want to? Flaws are good, personality flaws are good, but we have to make sure when all is said and done that are characters are likeable enough that someone will want to read the book to learn what happens to them. We don't want the readers to be rooting for the protagonist's death.

06 November 2011

*Birth

Intro: I entered this story for the Machine of Death anthology and sadly I wasn't accepted. Therefore, since I didn't have any time to write a flash this week, NaNoWriMo taking up all of my time, I present my story to you. It comes in at almost 3,500 words.

The wheels of Kira's skateboard clacked in the cracks of the sidewalk as she rode to the university. Every so often she'd push off with her foot, just to get that extra burst of speed. She liked feeling the wind in her face since she practically cloistered herself during the school year. Traveling between home, school, and work was the only time she had to enjoy the air. The cool air brushing her cheeks this morning almost made forget the disastrous weekend.

She did it on a dare, a bit stupid for a twenty-one year old to accept the dare in the first place, but she did. Pay a buck. Prick your finger. Learn your cause of death. Simple. Almost painless. For Kira, however, it was more than that. It wasn't just learning her death. It was a realization that her life would only be looking around the corner for her death. That was why the paper with her fate remained stuffed in the back of her sock drawer.

"Kira, wait up."

Kira leaned back, bringing the board to a stop. She popped the deck and caught the end as it came up. Lance jogged up to her. They'd known each other in high school and somehow their friendship had persevered through two years of college despite their differences in majors. Kira pursued a degree in finance while Lance reveled in the psychology department. After Friday night she wasn't sure he would come talk to her. Her heart fluttered for a moment, glad everything was back to normal.

"I can't believe you still ride that thing around," Lance said, adjusting his shirt after the quick jog.

Kira held the skateboard close for a moment, a look of mock shock on her face. She bumped her shoulder against his and continued walking towards campus. "I can't afford a car."

"Maybe if you didn't waste your money."

She didn't reply. Today she felt rich and probably could afford a junker of a car, but today was bill day. The Doppelt Company would call at five-thirty so until then, she could pretend to be rich. Lance knew that she helped pay the monthly bills that plagued her parents.

The Doppelt Company provided medical technology. It was the only company that agreed to help her parents during her birth. They hadn't come cheap but they had helped when no one else would. Five years ago when she went looking for them, their website had consisted of a phone number and their logo. Now they called on a monthly basis for her money and it meant her parents didn't have to pay as much. They gave up more for her than she would ever be able to repay.

"Why not just walk?" Lance asked.

She laughed and turned to walk backwards in front of him. "Why walk when you can ride? I like the wind."

"It's going to be the death of you," Lance grumbled.

Kira winced. She didn't mean to. Her heel caught an uneven crack and she stumbled backwards. Lance's hand darted out and he grabbed her shoulder.

"Sorry," he said. "Poor choice of words."

"Don't worry about it," she said it with a smile, trying to bring back the light mood. But Lance wouldn't look at her.

It had been because of Lance that she'd used the old machine in the arcade last Friday. It squatted in the corner of the room, lurking among the lights and sounds. Everyone who walked into the arcade stared at it for a moment, as if sizing it up, and then ignored it. Kira, Lance, and various other friends had been to the arcade dozens of times throughout high school. They too would stare at the machine and every time someone would say "Fifty bucks." The others in the group would laugh and then everyone ignored it. As far as she knew, no one ever tried it.

Friday night it was just Lance and Kira. Technically it was a date, but they both refused to call it that, just in case it went wrong. No need to panic.

"Fifty bucks," Lance said.

"Make it a hundred," Kira replied.

"Two-hundred," Lance said.

Kira raised an eyebrow and they both laughed. They moved further into the arcade making a beeline for the air hockey table.

"A thousand," said another voice.

Kira laughed and kept walking. Lance stopped.

"A thousand dollars?" he asked.

"For using the machine. Learning how you die," the man replied.

"Come on, Lance," Kira said, turning around to pull him with her.

She recognized the speaker as the arcade owner. He held up a wad of bills. The arcade was a whirr of colored lights and 8-bit sounds from the machines, but the people in the room remained still and silent. The man tossed the money to Lance. It was a fairly large stack and Lance flipped through it, looking at the different denominations of bills.

"It's yours, if you have the balls to prick your finger."

"Why?" she asked.

"Few people have ever touched the machine, but once someone does everyone will."

Kira could see the gears in Lance's mind spinning. A thousand dollars for either of them would mean rent and food for at least two months. Or paying off more of the eternal medical bills from her birth. Lance didn't work. His school schedule was wonky, giving him an hour here or there, but not enough free time together for a job. The fact that he even considered the money made Kira shiver. He was broke and desperate.

"Fine," she said. "It's not like it's actually real."

A crowd condensed around her. She'd never seen the machine up close. The black and gold box stood to her shoulder. Dust clung to the surface obscuring the writing on the top. Kira lifted her hand and brushed the dust away hoping no one saw her hand shake.

Machine of Death
1. Insert $1 into slot.
2. Press finger against pad.
3. Take fortune.
4. Enjoy the rest of your life.

"All I have to do is prick my finger?" she said.

The man let out a little smirk and nodded. She moved over to Lance who still clutched the stack of money.

"This is on you," she said and pulled out a worn dollar. Lance looked like he was going to protest. He reached for the money but then pulled it back. He ran his fingers along the edge of the stack.

The machine ate the dollar in the first try and a small yellow square lit up on the front of the machine. Kira bit her lip but firmly pressed her left index finger against the square. The prick was quick but stung more than she anticipated. She pulled her finger away and stared at the small red dot in her flesh.

The black machine made no noise and nothing changed. After a minute of nothing, the machine beeped once. Nothing else happened. A small part of her wanted to cheer in relief as she turned towards the crowd.

"Done. Thanks for the money."

"Look," Lance said, his voice low. Resting in a small alcove was a square piece of white paper. It was blank. This time she was sure everyone could see her hands tremble as she picked it up. Her fingers felt the ridges of ink on the other side but she folded it quickly and stuffed it in her pocket.

"My death, my business," she announced. "Come on, Lance. Let's get out of here."

Lance trailed after her as she walked from the arcade on shaking legs. The arcade owner laughed, not seeming to care that he'd just lost a grand. But then again, people now flocked to the machine in droves. The now-officially-not-a-date-night ended five minutes later.

As Kira continued walking toward campus, she pushed the memory away. She tried to think of another conversation topic.

"Thanks for money," Lance said for the hundredth time. "You sure you don't want it?"

She wanted it, but she didn't want it. If she took the money, she would always remember the square of paper. If Lance had it, she could forget it in time, hopefully."I told you, keep it."

Lance fell silent and matched his stride to hers. Finally he said, "Are you doing anything this weekend?"

"Not that I know of."

This time Lance winced. He looked ridiculous and it made her sick that such a harmless comment would make anyone flinch.

Kira shook her head and stopped walking. Neither of them would forget and that would always be a barrier between them. "I can't handle this right now. Bye, Lance."

She dropped the skateboard to the sidewalk and pushed off. It wasn't as if the relationship would have gone anywhere anyways. Kira knew she couldn't offer him everything needed in the way of girlfriend or later as a wife. Besides paying for bills that sucked more than half of her income, an accident and subsequent surgery as a child left her physically incapable of getting pregnant. But, being barren wasn't as big as the money. Money would always be an issue. Having it or not having it. She kept telling herself that if Lance didn't care about the money, he wouldn't have accepted the thousand from her in the first place. He never even let her handle it.

In the first class of the day, her favorite class, she focused on the lecture through sheer willpower. In her general genetics class she found herself doodling geometric shapes on the margins of the handouts.

"Earth to Kira. Come in, Kira."

Her elbow slipped and she looked up in surprise. Her professor stood in front of her, arms folded and tapping his foot.

"I see that you have decided to join us, finally."

"Sorry," she said and sat up straighter in the chair.

"Did you at least complete the reading assignment?"

Kira looked at her book and wracked her brain. She had read it, before everything happened over the weekend.

"Clones," she said after a painful silence. "It was talking about how to use DNA to create clones, like Dolly the sheep."

"Anything else that you can remember?"

"Human cloning is frowned upon?" She said.

"Something that isn't common knowledge?"

Kira shook her head, her face burning.

The professor frowned and moved back to stand in front of the class. "The term is derived from the Greek word for trunk or branch. There are several different types of cloning, can anyone tell me what they are?"

As a student in the back answered, "Molecular, cell, and organism," Kira sagged back into her chair. She tried to pay attention for the rest of the class and by the time the lecture ended she was glad to be out of there. The ride to work, with the wind blowing in her face, wasn't nearly as calming as she hoped it would be.

At five o'clock, after her six-hour shift from Hades at the call center, Kira wanted to barricade herself in her apartment and never leave. Her first reaction to the awful day was to call Lance, but that option wasn't open anymore. She hated to mope and decided to do something about it. With a mug of hot chocolate, she curled up on the couch and called her father. Her parents had moved the year before to a smaller, cheaper, apartment.

"Hello, Dad."

"What's wrong?"

With just the two words he had known something was wrong. She wondered if that was why she'd called him, because she wanted him to know.

"Nothing."

He chuckled and she could hear him sniff.

"I can smell the hot chocolate from here."

It made her laugh, and a small bit of tension eased from her shoulders.

"Is it Lance?" he asked.

"You can figure everything out without me saying anything."

"Not everything," he said. She could picture him smiling, his blue eyes squinting almost closed as he did. "Why don't you tell me?"

She swirled the dregs of the chocolate in her cup. The last few sips were always the richest.

"I broke up with Lance."

"Why?"

"I just can't do it. I can't give him what he wants."

"Just because you can't get pregnant doesn't mean you can't have children. You should know better than anyone."

Adoption was always an option and she had no qualms about it. She loved her two younger brothers though they shared no blood. She winced, wanting to tell him about the bills she helped pay but she couldn't bring herself to. Now she sounded shallow. Kira was the oldest of three and the only biological child. During her delivery complications arose. She and her mother almost died in the process. It was almost a year before Kira came home from the hospital. She'd been small for her age but eventually caught up with everyone. Every three months she was suppose to have a checkup and the results were sent on to the Doppelt Company.

"There's something else that's bothering you."

She took a sip of the coco and the extra rich liquid settled in her stomach like liquid lead.

"Have you ever heard of something called the Machine of Death?"

"Machine of Death?"

She waited, hoping he would say more, yet wanting to take back the words.

"Why do you ask?" he finally said.

"There's one in the arcade, remember?"

There was another pause before her father laughed. "That Machine of Death? It's nothing but a prank. It's like an emo version of the old fortune teller machines they use to make."

He laughed again and she wanted to laugh with him, but it stuck in her throat. The weight in her stomach only grew with everything he said.

"We used to tease each other to go try it. It doesn't even work."

"Doesn't work?"

"We couldn't even get it to take the money," her father's voice was light hearted, too light hearted and almost pleading. It didn't add up.

"I should go," she said. "Talk to you later." She hung up.

He wouldn't call back. Not right now anyway.

She shuffled to her bedroom and lay on the bed, staring at the sock drawer. She couldn't decide what was worse, her father lying to her, or the fact that she knew the method of her death was written on a small piece of paper hidden in the back of her sock drawer. She tossed her phone on the pillow.

"How bad could it be?" she muttered and stood up, hand reaching for the drawer. "There's nothing to lose."

The phone rang. She didn't even look at it. Her courage faltered. The caller didn't leave a message. The phone rang again. She felt her determination slip with each ring. The caller never left a message. The fourth time the phone rang she walked over and picked it up without looking at the caller id. It was about time for the billing company to call.

"Hello?"

"Hi, honey. Am I interrupting something?"

"Mom?" Kira sat down on the bed and took a second to flip through her call list. Something was definitely wrong if her mother had called four times.

"I'm sorry to hear about Lance."

Kira flopped back on her bed.

"Maybe you should stay with us for a few days."

"I have school," Kira replied. "I can't commute three hours to school each day. I don't have a car."

"I don't — I guess you're right. Why don't we come up and visit you?"

Kira frowned as she looked around her small apartment. One bedroom, a bathroom, a small kitchen, and an equally small living room. Her parents couldn't afford a hotel, and there wasn't any room for them here.

"I'm fine. I'll come visit this weekend." She mentally added, "If I can find a ride."

"Are you sure you don't want us up there?"

"I'm fine."

The silence stretched over the phone and for a brief second she thought she heard her father in the background saying, " — couldn't know."

"See you this weekend," Kira said.

"Yes, of course. Make it a good week."

As soon as the call disconnected, Kira was on her feet. She pulled open the draw and snatched the fortune. The folded paper was smooth against her fingers. She opened it, keeping the message turned away from her and once again felt the raised ink. It drew her and though she knew it would burn her, as a moth to the flame, she turned the paper over.

Birth.

Her fingers traced the five letters, the weight in her stomach turning and wrenching. The word tasted vile in her mouth. It was like a sick joke, someone who was unable to have children dying due to a birth, just like her mother almost did. A birth would cause her death. If the Machine of Death was real, anyway. Obviously she survived her own birth, and she was certain it was anatomically impossible for her to get pregnant and give birth. That didn't leave many other options.

Birth.

The phone rang again. She glanced at the caller id this time, Doppelt Labs, and flipped it open. This call she'd been expecting. They always called the first Monday of the month at five-thirty. Like clockwork. The only thing certain in life was death, taxes, and medical bill collectors. She swallowed at the thought of death and pushed the thought from her mind.

"Hello."

"May I speak to Kira Patterson?"

"This is her," Kira said. She knew the routine after doing this since she had her first job at sixteen.

"Has your account information changed?" the woman asked.

"No."

"How much would you like to pay this month?"

"Five hundred."

"Would you like us to mail the receipt to you, or would you prefer to get setup online?"

"Online?"

The woman's voice could be described as chipper as she spoke. "It is a new process we are implementing, to better serve our clients. All of the bills can be managed through the secure server as well as tracking the progress of the work. If you have any complaints or questions there is always someone monitoring the site that can be of help."

"I don't think I have the rights for that, you might as well just mail the receipt."

"Of course you have rights."

Kira frowned. "No, I don't. I'm an anonymous donor." She added half to herself, "But I turned twenty-one last month. Could that be it?"

"You are listed on the account. I'll get you setup so you can see."

Kira moved over to her computer and followed the directions. The website looked almost the same, the name and a phone number, but now there was a sign in and password box at the top of the screen.

"Please let us know if you have any questions. We are especially interested in hearing from you."

"Yeah," Kira said, already typing in the information. A new window opened.

She barely heard the woman say, "Have a nice day," and hang up.

"The Doppelt company: Leading the World in Organism Cloning," she said reading the new information on the website. She clicked on the billing tab.

She knew the bill had to be large. Her parents had been making payments for twenty years.

"A million dollars? They paid a million dollars? For what?"

She clicked through the payment tabs looking at the number decrease from her own petty contributions and her parents' payments. They still had a long way to go. Maybe she could set aside eight-hundred each month.

Another link caught her eye.

"Notes," she read.

It looked like a blog, lines of text separated by dates. The date on top was from two months earlier. Her last doctor's appointment.

"Subject coping with extended stress of adult life. Vitals are in the normal expectancy range."

The next dozen entries were similar. She scanned down to a bigger paragraph of text.

"Subject entered the workforce. Worried about stress that comes from training. After three weeks patient shows exhaustion but body is coping well. All within range."

Further down she read.

"Setback in research. Subject suffered from internal injuries after being hit by a car. Surgeon removed reproductive organs that were damaged beyond repair. Will not be able to test theory of normal reproduction in Subject."

Birth.

Kira covered her mouth with a shaking hand. She scrolled down to the last entry on the page. Her birth date.

"Family made inquiry after daughter died due to complications from birth. DNA sequence retrieved from Kira Zero. Cloning process of Kira Prime to begin immediately."

04 November 2011

Maniac Magee

by Jerry Spinelli

I recently read THE HELP and it reminded me of MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli. My mother read this book to me when I was young and then I read it in elementary. The story follows a young boy, Jeffery Magee, as he learns what being prejudice is about. His family is dysfunctional and it pushes him over the edge one day. He runs away from home. He is an amazing runner and I loved the descriptions about him traveling through the various places. Everyone is amazed by his running ability. A year after running away he ends up in a town that is separated by color.

He is a white kid who ends up living with a black family and doesn't even realize the problems he is causing for them. All he sees is a family who is willing to take him in. As the book progresses he learns that though he doesn't see a difference between him and anyone else in town, there are a lot of other people who think it is wrong to mix between the whites and the blacks. The more he learns about the contention between the two sides of the town, the more he is determined to make peace between everyone.

This is a great young adult book that really made me realize how bad it was even when slavery had been abolished. I always wanted to be like Magee in the fact that he didn't care about anyone's race or skin color. The descriptions are fun and the characters are lively and unique. MANIAC MAGEE is an educational read if not entertaining as well.

02 November 2011

Women in the Movies

I am all for women's rights. I think it is important that women be able to vote and be treated as equals in the workplace. By golly, I like getting a paycheck determined by my ability to work and not my gender but I find some of the feminist movements a little bothersome and how Hollywood feels like they need to put a certain number of women in the movies. For example: I love the Lord of the Rings, I think they did a good job with the movies but I was bothered that they felt like they had to give the women more heroic tasks, not necessarily the ones they had in the books. I liked better how the women were portrayed in the book.

I am sure all of you have heard of a little show called Star Wars. Now what I want all of you to do is think of all of the female characters you can in the original trilogy. This isn't including the games and what not. Here are the female characters by name:
Leia
Aunt Beru
Mon Mothma (Rebel Political Leader)
Oola (Dancer in Jabba's palace)

And yet I have never heard anyone complain about Star Wars not having enough female characters. Leia can hold her own against the guys and still look good in a dress.