Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review of "The Way of Kings"



When my identical twin and I were little, most of the time people thought we'd be exactly the same in every respect.  Au, contraire.  We always had different tastes.  Even our bodies are a little different.  We both have skeletal deformities, but in different areas.  We seem to be mirror image twins.  Our cowlicks and our crooked teeth are on opposite sides; even some of her internal organs are backward.


She liked math in grade school, I liked spelling, which is why we switched desks after recess.  Our third grade teacher was oblivious that she was doing ALL of the math and I was doing ALL of the spelling.  Our dastardly plan to pass third grade with flying colors was dashed when Mom tipped our teacher off.  DRAT!  FOILED AGAIN!


As teenagers, she preferred to work on the farm with our Dad, I went to work at a nursing home.  In college, she worked for degrees in chemistry, theater arts, and nursing.  My degrees are in music education, anthropology/sociology, and fine arts education.  Today, she's a nurse, and I'm a music teacher.

Despite the many differences, some natural, some done intentionally to buck others' expectations, the one thing we share is a love of fantasy and science fiction.  Hey, we'd already painted targets on our backs in high school by being decidedly odd.  Why not add the final nail to the proverbial social life coffin by adding swords and capes?  


Despite our mutual love of the genre, we can't even agree on a favorite author.  About the only author we both love is David Eddings.  (The Elenium and the Tamuli, not his more recent works.)  I'm really into Jim Butcher and Charlaine Harris.  Jen?  Not so much.  I asked her to do a review for my site because she reads totally different fantasy authors than I do.


Below is her first book review.  Thanks, Nurse Jen!  (I'd call you Jin-Jin, but that would be embarrassing, wouldn't it?)


Gladiator Meets David Eddings
By Nurse Jen

            When Scooter asked me to review some of the most recently published works, neither she nor I realized what a challenge it would be.  This reviewer is used to charting in shorthand about patients, not expounding elaborately on a specific author’s qualities.  Hopefully, you will be kind enough, dear reader, to overlook dropped articles and the like.  That being said, it is with great pleasure that I highly recommend The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.
            Sanderson describes a world where violent storms and spirits roam the planet, and a hero that arises from the lowest levels of society to protect all, including those that oppressed him.  Deserted by the god-like Radiants that once protected the populace from the Voidbringers, hope seems too far out of reach.  Fortunately, the Radiants left their near-invincible armor and weapons for mankind to use.  Unfortunately, they turned them on each other.  This is a tale of greed and losing sight of the true enemy, and is beyond a doubt enthralling.
            The plot Sanderson weaves is multi-layered, and therefore requires a great deal of exposition.  The beginning is a bit slow and can be difficult to enjoy a great deal, but stick with it!  The elaborateness pays off in the end for an astounding finish.  
            All in all, this reader highly recommends Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel and is already reading previous works by this author.  Enthusiastic readers such as me shall have to wait a while for the following novel, however.  No release date has been set according to Sanderson’s website www.brandonsanderson.com.  He seems to be occupied working with Robert Jordan on the Wheel of Time series along with other novels.  Check out his website for more information on his projects and exclusive looks at his upcoming work.  Enjoy yourselves, readers, this reader certainly did!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Blogger's Prayer



As I continue to muddle through my revisions, I paused yesterday to reflect how much the blogs I frequent every day have helped light the way, or at least the next step.  I hope that some day I can create a blog as good as the ones I've been reading.

Lord,

As I write tonight in my darkened office and meet countless others in pursuit of the same dream,
Thank you for those with humility and the grace.
Bless those who bring joy, laughter, and hope to the discouraged and downtrodden,
And for those who seek to light the way with wisdom and insight.
Bless those who set high standards for which to strive,
And a path by which to follow.
And may Your light and their examples guide my own writing journey.

Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fantasy Has Several Meanings, Really...



I teach during the school year and work at a hardware store during the summer.  The store atmosphere is pretty low key, which is really nice compared to the frantic pace of the elementary school.  Plus, I love tools and get an employee discount.  I agreed to work weekends occasionally through this school year in case they needed me.

I had found out over the last summer that two other employees liked to write.  What a coinkydink!  What are the odds that 3 of the 8 employees were writers?  I thought it was pretty cool, so I asked them what they wrote.  One said, "Sci-fi," and the other, an older retired, man said, "Fantasy."  How cool was that!  All three of us write speculative fiction!  He also told me that he wrote with people he knows via the Internet.  Wow!  I write and swap stories for critique over the Internet, too! I thought.

They asked me to work a weekend earlier this month, and the store was absolutely dead.  It was so quiet I had no choice but to hear the 70's radio station that played the same songs on a 3 hour loop.  After humming, "I Will Survive," for about the fortieth time that day, I started writing stories on a notepad.  Mr. Older Retired Guy noticed, laughed, and we began talking about writing.

He asked me, "What kind of stuff do you write again?"

"Fantasy."

"Oh.  That's right."  He pointed at the notepad in my hand.  "What do you do with your stories?"

"I'm working on getting them published," I replied.  "I don't know if it will ever happen, but I made some contacts at a conference that have been helping me."

"OK," he said with a funny look on his elderly face.  "Is that like romance and stuff?"

"Sometimes."  Curious about his weird reaction, I asked, "What do you do with your stories?  I know you swap them around with other folks."

"Oh, well, we write them together, each from a different character's perspective.  First we figure out who's going to be dominant and who's submissive..."

EXQUEEZE ME?

"You know, sex stuff," he finished very nonchalantly.  He then started talking about his wife wanting to find a new church, and I chatted with gusto, thankful to get to a less awkward subject.  He wound up leaving early because the store was so slow.

An hour after he left, another employee called me in the back to tell me I had a phone call.  "I bet it's Aaron," I said, referring to my husband.

"Nope.  It's Frank's wife."

"What?"  I immediately began to sweat bullets.  I'd never met her before in my entire life, and now all of a sudden she wants to talk to me?  Right after he tells me all of the freaky things he does on his computer while his grandkids aren't there?

"Hello," I said, and nearly blurted, "Yes!  I know what your husband does online!  No!  It's not with me.  My stories don't involve leather, well, except for a saddle...for a horse....Hey, at least you don't need to worry about STD's!"

Thankfully, before I could verbally vomit, she said, "My husband was telling me about your opinion on churches, but couldn't remember the names...

Several days later, I finally realized that the reason he was so forthcoming about his online activities was because he thought I wrote S&M, too.  Next time I say that I write fantasy, I'm going to qualify it as something that doesn't involve whips and come-f(%#-me pumps.

Blog Title Change

After chatting with several folks via Twitter, I finally came to the obvious conclusion that I'm not writing urban fantasy.  "Duh!" you say, but in my defense, for some the definition of urban fantasy simply involves weird stuff in the modern world.  My modern world happened to be a cattle ranch 20 miles from the nearest town.  Definitely not urban, so I've changed the title of my blog to reflect my genre more accurately.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Genre Dilemma

Several months ago, I read a blog post about do's and don'ts for conference panels.  I would cite the author and post if I could remember where I found it, so I'm terribly sorry.  It may have been Janet Reid's, but I can't be sure.  One of the no-no's was asking a question that was truly a thinly veiled pitch.  


Example:  "How do you think a story about robots that pick your nose would sell?  I can show you what I'm talking about, as I have the manuscript in my hand."


Earlier today, I participated in my first UF Chat on Twitter.  It was a blast and the discussion was great, and the other participants seemed very knowledgeable.  Several of them are published, and I had a question I wanted to ask regarding the genre of my novel, The Rider of Nealra.  I was afraid to ask, just in case I might look like Robot Pitch Girl above.  Just before I actually asked, though, my toddler woke up and I had to leave.  Several participants were game to help, however, so I'm posting the question here.


What genre does my novel call home?  I used to think it was close to urban fantasy, and now I'm not so sure.  I may even need to change the title of my blog.


The Rider of Nealra Description
Called home to operate the family ranch and denied her only dream of becoming a musician, the hapless Ellie soon finds that the strange lights in the Badlands and the mutilated animals are harbingers of horrors to come.  On her own except for the mouth-breather Sven, she is helpless to hold back the tide of fear that washes over Wibaux, Montana.  When Ellie and Stinky the mustang pursue creatures that shouldn't exist, they tumble through a rift to another world, where magic is an infection fueled by the souls of the dead.  Ellie must choose between seeking a way home or saving an entire people from annihilation.


Problems
It's not urban fantasy, as it takes place in a part of Montana that is so isolated that "rural" isn't even a good descriptor.  The setting in the other world is like an amalgamation of equatorial Africa and Brazil.  It doesn't fit well with any other fantasy novels of which I am aware, so comparing it is difficult for me, but I'm hoping someone else has read another novel to which mine could be compared.


Do you have any ideas or opinions as to what genre my novel should call home?  I'm really leaning toward contemporary fantasy myself.

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Getting Old, and It Screws Up My Writing



Rant Alert!

Just as I find the portrayal of earthy elves to be pedantic, I find the portrayal of Christians in fiction a tad cliche.  Christians in the Christian literature I've read are too pure to be believable.  Christians in mainstream fiction tend to be either bigoted bad guys or shallow caricatures of what I feel it means to be Christian.

Please understand that I'm not advocating the censorship of authors who use characters in this fashion.  I also must say that after reading a few works of Christian fiction, I abandoned the genre.  There very well could be works out there of which I am unaware that address my criticisms.

Using these types of Christian characters bothers me for several reasons.  One, it reinforces both positive and negative stereotypes that separate Christians from others.  Two, those characters resemble no one I know, and it makes them unapproachable or unbelievable.  Three, my relationship with God doesn't resemble theirs in any way, shape, or form.

I approach Christianity both from a faith perspective and from a sociological perspective.  I understand that my beliefs are very unorthodox in many respects, but I must stress that I've come to these conclusions after years of study and debate.

  • I think the many denominations exist due to the way in which an individual's personality colors how that individual interprets God's word, and that they are healthy way to provide a home for all who believe.   
  • I think trying to somehow prove things in the Bible is anathema to what comprises real faith.  Faith is a conscious choice to ignore evidence to the contrary and believe anyway.  Trying to find Noah's ark, proving God exists, or finding a geological/meteorological explanation for how Moses crossed the Red Sea smacks of trying to prove it to oneself.  I choose to believe in God and his Son because He said so.  That's it, and Christians who argue that this and that are the real reasons for their belief overcomplicate things.
  • I know that any preacher or church that fills its pulpits by quoting Leviticus and bashing gays or whomever they have decided are beyond God's redemption has conveniently forgotten key verses that are contrary to their own pet beliefs.  ALL Christians have unconscious blinders and cherry-pick verses that validate their beliefs, but those folks take it to a new level.  They forget that Leviticus also says that flawed men can't be priests, women can't enter a house of worship while menstruating, and that Hebrew slaves may only be kept for six years.
  • I believe that God uses pain for many, many good reasons, and that the fact that bad things happen to good people isn't a sign He's abandoned us.  Bad things don't happen to good people.  Bad things make good people.

Please don't think I'm tooting my own horn here.  I'm trying to explain the pickle I'm in with my own characters.  My feelings about the way Christians are portrayed deeply influences how I've written my book, The Rider of Nealra.  One of my favorite authors is Jim Butcher.  Though his protagonist Harry Dresden is not really Christian in any way, his observations about faith and God can be quite profound.  I hope I can accomplish the same thing.

My characters are not pure people locked in a struggle with nefarious bad guys, as I find that a bit melodramatic.  They are flawed people.  Ellie, my female protagonist, has a deep faith but swears like a sailor.  Sinjay is manipulative and massages the truth.  Ehecatl has murdered to climb to the top of a brutal civilization of warriors, and Fritz was a Nazi doctor that worked with Dr. Mengele.  The individual paths of their lives converge for a short time to fight something far darker than themselves.

As such, I'm wondering if I've made the book neither fish nor fowl.  I'm wondering if it's too gritty, possibly even too violent, for the Christian genre, and too Christiany for the mainstream publishers.  I really wonder if I've written myself a manuscript that will never see the light of the publisher's desk lamp.  I don't feel I can write it if it doesn't feel true to me, but will all of this work be worthwhile?  Is it worth finishing?

What do you think?  Both about the portrayal of Christians and whether I should persevere?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Native American Prayer

I'm quite fond of the blog, Montana for Real.  The blog's author is from northern Montana, and I live in the south central area.

In my short stories and my novel, I reference Natives and Native languages quite a bit.  The link above takes you to a prayer in the Blackfeet language.  It's a great way to hear a beautiful poem in a Native language.

My Review is Up!

My latest review for the Portal of Sword and Sorceress, XXV is up.

I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How I Lost a Chunk of Hair to My Grandma's Vibrator



When I was a kid, I used words like "snatch," "gay," and "gerbil," and "tossed salad," freely and without fear of double entendres.  This continued into college, and I couldn't figure out why people sniggered and tittered when I told them about the incident with Grandma's vibrator.

My mom has a very bad back and had a bad spell when I was about ten.  Being so isolated out on the ranch and with very poor insurance, Mom was trying to avoid having to go to the doctor.  Grandma thought that a few rounds with her vibrator might loosen things up.

Mom used it a couple of times, then my twin and I got to playing with it.  It reminded me of an art deco Kirby vacuum that neither sucked nor blowed, a heavy steel monstrosity with red vinyl upholstery.  The vibrations were powered by a spinning disc that was drilled intentionally off-center.  Crank it up to a couple hundred RPM and the disc made it vibrate quite violently.

The disc didn't have anything around it to keep it from wrapping stuff around it.  I asked my sister to use it on me one night, and I made the unfortunate decision not to move my hair to the side.  It sucked up about six inches of my hair so tightly my mother had to cut it away.

Many years later, some kind soul at Rocky Mountain College explained to me the difference between a vibrator and a back massager.  The hair was on my head, you perverts.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Earthy Elves Cliche




I've recently gotten into sword and sorcery, partly due to reviews I'm doing for The Portal, and also thanks to the freebie books from the World Fantasy Convention.  One theme that seems prevalent throughout sword and sorcery and high fantasy is the nature of the connection between elves and the earth.  I've also seen the same thing between witches or mages and the earth.  I do think that the connection must be there in order for the elves to feel, well, elvish, but I find the way in which it usually is done is growing a bit tiresome.

Take Chris Evan's A Darkness Forged in Fire, for example.  His Iron Elves, his setting, and the premise are completely different than what one would normally find in high fantasy and are very refreshing.  I realize he is more sword and sorcery, but I have to compare his book to high fantasy, as that is what I've read up until now.  I'm just starting to get into sword and sorcery.  Overall, I've really liked the book.  (Update:  I just finished the book and loved it despite my issue.)

However, the way in which he presents the Elfkynan and the Elves of the Long Watch is another matter.  In the story, the Elves of the Long Watch are elves that are completely integrated into the forest.  They know everything there is to know about the forest and see everything from the forest's point of view.  The Elfkynan are also forest dwellers with similar views, but to a less radical degree.  Speaking of the Elfkynan, an Elf of the Long Watch says, "...they have forsaken the stewardship that is their birthright.  These forests are yet children in this world and should not have been left alone to fend for themselves."  (Evans, Chris:  pg. 430)  In other words, the forest is a fragile thing that should be protected and preserved against undesirable change.

I feel a very close connection to my environment, but it feels nothing like the Elves of the Long Watch.  I have a much different paradigm, having grown up on a ranch in the plains and badlands of eastern Montana.  When one attempts to preserve nature, one tends to kill it.  If one tried to keep the range the same at all times, the damage would be horrific.

Constant fluctuations in natural systems are what makes them healthy in the long run.  Drought is a good thing when balanced by rainy periods.  It teaches a natural system how to recover.  My father severely grazes his range, right down to stubble.  A pasture that he's grazed looks terrible.

The key is that he then leaves the pasture alone for two years.  In those two years, the grass recovers and grows back thick from all of the manure left behind by the cattle.  The manure spreads seeds all over the place.  Noxious weeds, or weeds that spread rampantly, are kept in check.  The constant grind of hooves into the dirt works seeds into the soil around the water holes, which plants trees and shrubs that shoot up in the two years of rest.  The severe grazing also gets rid of old, dead plant matter that feeds prairie fires.  We've actually seen fires burn up to our fences, then go out.  The cycle of severe damage, followed by rest, creates a robust ecosystem.

In my view, this constant fluctuation of extremes is what embodies nature.  There are constant natural fluctuations in rainfall, temperature, and climate.  Sometimes these fluctuations last a season, a week, or eons.  Nature never stays static, and I've yet to find any earthy folk in a fantasy story that embraces this.  Every elf culture I've ever read values equilibrium, but the very soul of nature is change.

If the traditional elvish ideals float your boat, no biggie.  If an author, like Chris Evans, is using that traditional view to contrast and conflict with another, no biggie.  I'm just stating that the lack of variety is growing a bit cliche for me.